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Blu-Ray Review: Martin Scorses’s World Cinema Project No. 3, From The Criterion Collection

The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, a labor of love spearheaded by Martin Scorsese, has breathed new life into over 40 often-overlooked films from across the globe.

Refer to the article to find the in-depth Blu-Ray review of some DVD copies.

Criterion Collection’s consistent release of these restored films on home video has been commendable, featuring individual editions of remarkable films like Ousmane Sembène’s Black Girl, Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day, and box sets of lesser-known titles.

Blu-Ray Review

While Criterion’s approach has leaned towards a more mainstream direction in recent years due to increased licensing by major studios, the company’s unwavering dedication to bringing these films to Blu-ray is reassuring.

Blu-ray review

Criterion has unveiled Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project No. 3, presented as a dual-format collection, with each film having its DVD and two films sharing a Blu-ray.

Although this review will concentrate on the Blu-rays, the content remains consistent across the DVD copies. The Films are:

Lucía (1968) Directed by Humberto Solás

Lucía, a grand cinematic endeavor, is structured as an epic but focuses more on interconnected themes than a grand narrative.

The film recounts three pivotal moments in Cuban history, each featuring a woman named Lucía, portrayed by different actresses.

Director Solás uses different genres for each part while maintaining a theme of the personal impact of political events on society.

Blu-ray review
Lucía (1968) Directed by Humberto Solás

The first segment, set in 1895 during Cuba’s fight for independence, follows an aristocratic woman, Lucía, who falls in love with a man involved in the conflict.

The film visually contrasts the opulent lifestyle of the upper class with the looming horrors of war, gradually shifting into a horror film as the narrative progresses.

The second part, set in 1932, portrays a middle-class Lucía who joins a freedom fighter against the regime, reflecting her doomed romance in the backdrop of an unsuccessful revolution.

The third segment, set in the 1960s, uses a comedic tone, depicting the clashes between a newlywed couple over gender roles in the revolutionary era.

Despite the lighter tone, it offers an honest portrayal of an imperfect revolution.

The restoration work on the film is commendable, resulting in a stunning visual presentation on Blu-ray, with solid clarity and detail throughout.

The film is accompanied by a brief introduction by Scorsese and a documentary featuring interviews with the director and cast.

Lucía presents a compelling exploration of Cuban history through the intertwined lives of three women named Lucía, offering a visually striking and thematically rich cinematic experience.

After the Curfew (Lewat djam malam, 1954) Directed by Usmar Ismail

Indonesian filmmaker Usmar Ismail’s exploration of postwar disillusionment in “After the Curfew” is not without its flaws, notably its somewhat contrived ending, foreshadowed by both the film’s opening and its title.

However, the film’s brooding portrayal of a man struggling to find his place after fighting as a revolutionary in Indonesia’s war of independence from the Netherlands is commendable.

Blu-ray review
After the Curfew (Lewat djam malam, 1954) Directed by Usmar Ismail

The protagonist, Iskandar (A.N. Alcaff), initially seems to have everything going for him upon his discharge from the army: a caring fiancée, Norma (Netty Herawaty), and a job arranged by his father-in-law at the governor’s office.

Yet, Iskandar is unable to acclimate, grappling with PTSD from his wartime actions and disillusionment with a society he perceives as corrupt.

Alcaff’s performance imbues the character with a poignant, Cassavetes-like intensity, adding depth to the portrayal.

The film’s most compelling moments juxtapose the hollow joy of a welcome-home party thrown by Norma with the somber domestic life of a prostitute, Laila (Dhalia), whose pimp was once Iskandar’s squadron mate.

Iskandar finds solace in Laila’s company, as her seemingly futile dreams of consumer goods in catalogs resonate with his disillusionment, offering a glimpse of delusional yet comforting hope in a bleak environment.

The film’s 1080p, 1.37:1 transfer from a 4K restoration presents challenges due to frequent celluloid degradation.

However, the restoration work is impressive, mitigating mold damage and maintaining consistent image stability.

The audio, sourced from multiple elements, exhibits occasional harshness and variable fidelity.

Supplementary materials include an introduction by Scorsese and a new interview with journalist J.B. Kristanto.

Overall, “After the Curfew” offers a compelling portrayal of postwar turmoil despite its shortcomings and is a notable work in Usmar Ismail’s filmography.

Pixote (1980) Directed by Héctor Babenco

Pixote, a seminal film in Brazilian cinema, marked an early success for director Héctor Babenco, who later ventured briefly into Hollywood.

The film is a poignant portrayal of the harsh reality children face trying to survive in a society that undervalues them.

Babenco’s approach sidesteps the trappings of poverty porn and miserablism, offering a harrowing yet emotionally sensitive narrative.

Blu-ray review
Pixote (1980) Directed by Héctor Babenco

Embracing a Neorealist approach, Babenco cast mostly nonprofessional young actors, including 13-year-old Fernando Ramos da Silva as Pixote.

Da Silva’s portrayal infuses the character with charisma and vulnerability, delivering an astonishing performance that captivates viewers.

Pixote stands out as it avoids presenting a narrative of corrupted innocence.

The film candidly depicts these children’s harsh realities, allowing audiences to connect with Pixote as a person rather than a cautionary tale.

The story follows Pixote and his makeshift family as they descend into a life of crime. Yet, Babenco remains focused on portraying their humanity, offering brief moments of grace throughout the film.

The film’s 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer is a visually stunning presentation with explicit imagery and remarkable detail, thanks to a 4K restoration of the original 35mm camera negative.

The audio quality is also excellent, presented in uncompressed mono.

Additional content includes an introduction by Scorsese, shedding light on the tragic fate of da Silva and emphasizing the film’s real-world relevance.

Furthermore, a filmed introduction by Babenco and excerpts from a 2016 interview with the late director are included, providing insightful context for the film’s inspiration and creation.

Dos Monjes (1934) Directed by Juan Bustillo Oro

Early sound films can be an intriguing mix of excitement and awkwardness, providing opportunities for innovative experimentation and presenting potential missteps.

Juan Bustillo Oro’s Dos Monjes embodies both aspects, featuring a solid narrative that somewhat undermines the film’s structural inventiveness and visually striking German Expressionism-inspired style.

Blu-ray review
Dos Monjes (1934) Directed by Juan Bustillo Oro

The story revolves around a monk named Javier (Carlos Villatoro) who unexpectedly attempts to murder Juan (Víctor Urruchúa), a newly arrived monk in the monastery.

The film takes a proto-Rashomon approach, first presenting Javier’s perspective and then Juan’s, utilizing differences in costume and distinct camera setups to distinguish the two accounts visually.

However, the love triangle involving a woman named Ana (Magda Haller) is rather uninteresting, and the film’s exploration of perspective and truth feels less compelling than intentionally leaving a character in the dark about specific facts.

Despite these narrative shortcomings, the film’s visual elements shine, particularly in the scenes set in a Gothic monastery, where cinematographer Agustín Jiménez effectively captures the stark shadows of empty rooms.

The film culminates in a surreal and captivating finale that delves into Javier’s tormented psyche.

The 1080p, 1.37:1 transfer of the film, restored from a 4K restoration of the 35mm duplicate negative and a 35mm positive print, exhibits persistent but well-mitigated damage in the form of fine vertical lines.

The image clarity is impressive, albeit slightly soft, with some dropouts from missing frames. The uncompressed mono audio, while somewhat flat, is adequately clear.

Supplementary materials include an introduction by Scorsese and a new interview with scholar Charles Ramírez Berg.

Soleil Ô (1970) Directed by Med Hondo

Mauritanian filmmaker Med Hondo’s bold and satirical debut, “Soleil Ô,” was a labor of love completed over several years due to budget constraints.

The film’s unconventional production history is reflected in its disjointed yet deliberate nature, adding to its artistic merit.

The film encapsulates a potent blend of anger and joy, showcasing the director’s expansive stylistic vision and relentless critique of a profoundly racist European society.

Blu-ray review
Soleil Ô (1970) Directed by Med Hondo

Through the lens of the protagonist, brilliantly portrayed by Robert Liensol, the film unflinchingly exposes various forms of racism, from overt discrimination in employment to the fetishization of Black individuals by white women.

Hondo skillfully weaves these encounters into a compelling narrative, highlighting the inherent similarities between visceral animosity and intellectualized prejudice.

The film’s visual presentation is a testament to its restoration, boasting a 1080p, 1.37:1 transfer sourced from a 4K restoration of the 16mm original reversal positive and duplicate negatives.

The result is a spotless image with impeccable handling of the original 16mm grain.

The uncompressed mono audio also effectively underscores the film’s musical elements and experimental soundtrack.

Supplementary content includes an introduction by Scorsese and a 2018 interview with the late Hondo, providing a fitting tribute to the director’s impactful work.

Downpour (1972) Directed by Bahram Beyzaie

Bahram Beyzaie’s “Downpour” is a poignant exploration of a blossoming romance and the obstacles it encounters within an insular community in a Tehran suburb.

The film depicts Mr. Hekmati’s attempts to integrate into the community as a new teacher, his pursuit of romance with Atefeh, and the challenges they face amidst the prying eyes of the community.

Blu-ray review
Downpour (1972) Directed by Bahram Beyzaie

Beyzaie masterfully creates a world that feels authentic despite the presence of a somewhat caricatured antagonist, Rahim.

The longing between Hekmati and Atefeh quietly grows, leading to a climactic rainstorm sequence that symbolizes an impending change, although the film ends with unresolved tension.

The film’s restoration, presented in a 1080p, 1.37:1 transfer, sourced from a 4K restoration of Beyzaie’s personal 35mm print, is particularly impressive, given the challenging circumstances surrounding the surviving copy after the Iranian Revolution.

The restoration has resulted in a nearly pristine digital transfer, luminous blacks and whites, and abundant fine detail.

However, the English subtitles, while burned-in, have some issues, such as frequent untranslated lines and poor delineation.

While somewhat flat and with occasional distortion, the uncompressed mono audio still offers a satisfactory experience.

Supplementary content includes an introduction by Scorsese and a newly filmed interview with Beyzaie, who has been in exile in the US since 2010.

Additionally, the set is accompanied by a booklet featuring essays by various authors and restoration notes, adding depth to the viewing experience.

Whether someone who casually watches movies or is a committed film enthusiast, this Blu-ray review promises a visually captivating and immersive experience to enhance your home entertainment collection.

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Ashish Maharjan
Ashish Maharjan
Ashish, a seasoned editor and author for World Cinema Paradise, intricately weaves creativity with precision in his writing, establishing himself as a prolific content creator. Renowned for clarity and captivating storytelling, Ashish has cultivated a devoted readership, driven by his unwavering passion for words and commitment to excellence.

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