Joaquim Pedro de Andrade: The Complete Films
Brazil’s Cinema Novo movement is woefully underrepresented on English-friendly home video. Likely the most recognizable figure, Glauber Rocha, doesn’t have a single film available on DVD in the US. (Mr. Bongo has put out some titles in the UK.)
That makes Kino’s three-disc set of the complete filmography of Joaquim Pedro de Andrade all the more remarkable, offering a comprehensive look at a shape-shifting filmmaker whose work hasn’t been easily available in this country. Eight shorts and six features are included, and as one goes through the set, it becomes clear how vital it is for all these films to be presented together. Macunaíma (1969) is unquestionably his most famous, but no single film encapsulates Andrade’s style or concerns, which can shift radically from one work to the next. Having everything in one package really helps the viewer appreciate the diversity.
Andrade’s feature-film career began with a documentary, Garrincha: Joy of the People (1963), on the soccer legend who met a tragic end, before he moved to fiction with The Priest and the Girl (1965), a drama that at points approaches Dreyer in its austerity. A newly ordained priest (Paulo José) finds his commitment to his principles wavering when he meets Mariana (Helena Ignez), a young woman controlled by her caretaker (Mário Lago), who’s determined to marry her. The strictures of “proper” behavior are felt in Andrade’s compositions, making the film’s eventual hints at sensuality all the more deeply felt. It’s a superb film, and a real outlier among Andrade’s more sardonic work to come.
Macunaíma is something truly sui generis, an outrageous comedy that careens from scenario to scenario at maximum volume and absurdity, satirizing Brazil’s racial politics and militarized society. Macunaíma is born a fully grown man (Grande Otelo) to an indigenous woman (Paulo José) in the Amazon jungle, and endures all manner of abuse before he’s magically transformed into a white man (José, in an especially odd bit of double-casting), which provides him the opportunity for easy social advancement as he moves to Rio. There, he gets caught up in revolutionary politics and even fathers a black child of his own (Otelo again). Among the easily describable elements of the film: Cartoonish violence, assaultive sound design and a surprisingly downbeat conclusion.
Andrade continued to reinvent himself: The Conspirators (1972) is docudrama with a fatalist edge (I was reminded of Lucrecia Martel’s Zama), telling the real-life story of Tiradentes’ failed anti-colonial coup. Conjugal Warfare (1975) parodies the popular Brazilian sex-comedy genre with a trio of interlocking grotesqueries, where hate and sex are two equal and cooperating forces. The Brazilwood Man (1981) explodes the biopic, portraying writer Oswald de Andrade (no relation) by a male (Flávio Galvão) and female (Ítala Nandi) actor, both often sharing the screen and interacting with others in distinct ways.
The short films are mostly documentaries, aside from Tropical Lane (1977), a segment from an erotic omnibus film about a guy who wants to fuck a watermelon. Andrade contained multitudes.
The 1080p transfers, all sourced from new 2K restorations, are consistently impressive, from the beautiful grayscale separation of The Priest and the Girl to the riot of colors in Macunaíma. Elements appear to be in excellent shape across the board, with very minimal damage. Clarity, stability and fine detail are excellent. The uncompressed 2.0 mono tracks are consistently clean as well. No on-disc extras are included, but a booklet features a nice overlook of Andrade’s career in an essay by critic Fábio Andrade.
Cold Water (L’eau froide, 1994)
It’s a good time to be an Olivier Assayas fan, what with Arrow’s recent UK Blu-ray releases of Irma Vep and his first two features, Disorder and Winter’s Child. Even better: Criterion’s rescue of Cold Water, a film that never even got a non-festival US theatrical release, but is one of the French filmmaker’s greatest achievements, now finally available on home video.
Portraits of disaffected youth don’t get more fully realized than this, with Assayas’ on-the-verge-of-chaotic handheld camera work putting the viewer square in the middle of the frame of mind of teenagers Gilles (Cyprien Fouquet) and Christine (Virginie Ledoyen). There’s a class divide between these two, and their interests don’t seem particularly aligned, but their shared agitation at their lives’ stasis makes for a combustible attraction. First, they steal an armful of records from a store, leading her to get caught and pushing her into an even more precarious living situation when her dad hands her over to a mental institution. Then, their gambit to break out of bourgeois boredom escalates with a decision made during the film’s centerpiece sequence, a party at an abandoned house.
Needle-drop soundtracks tend to be derided for their thudding literalness, but Assayas shows it doesn’t have to be that way, first with the undulating weirdness of Bryan Ferry’s voice coming from Gilles’ and his brother’s radio, as they tune in to “Virginia Plain,” like a dispatch from another world. And then, during that party sequence that makes up the bulk of the film’s second half, the classic-rock hits pile up onto one another, an unseen DJ spinning Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Creedence and Alice Cooper. Nothing is a deep cut, and in plenty of other contexts, these familiar songs could seem uninspired. Instead, they feel true to what these kids would be interested in, and with no source ever visible, they straddle a strange divide between diegetic and non-diegetic that perfectly accompanies Assayas’ swooning camera. As Gilles and Christine make plans that are almost certainly doomed, it’s still impossible to not get swept up in the romance of the moment. Then: the ultimate puncturing of the fantasy in Assayas’ brutally perfect final shot.
Criterion’s 1080p, 1.66:1 transfer, sourced from a new 4K restoration, is excellent, showcasing the 16mm-shot film’s grain structure perfectly. Despite the on-the-fly nature of the imagery, which can be soft and/or out-of-focus at points, the image looks very nice, even projected on a large screen. Colors are muted but consistent. Damage has been almost completely eradicated. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is obviously at its best during the party sequence, but dialogue-heavy sequences are also solid, with clean and clear audio.
Extras are minimal: New interviews with Assayas and cinematographer Denis Lenoir are interesting but brief, and are accompanied by an excerpt from a 1994 French TV show that has interviews with Assayas and his two leads. An insert with an essay by critic Girish Shambu rounds out the supplements.
Les Parents Terribles (The Storm Within, 1948)
A true polymath, Jean Cocteau left his mark on the worlds of poetry, literature, theater and of course, film, where his adaptation of Beauty and the Beast and his trilogy of Orpheus-myth films are some of cinema’s most beloved fantasias. Given his diversity of artistic feats, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Cocteau’s filmmaking prowess wasn’t limited to surreal flights of fancy. Les Parents Terribles, based on his own play, is a clear-eyed dose of tragedy, and a sterling example of a theater-to-film adaptation that uses imaginative camerawork to open up the story’s confines.
Probably titled the way it was as a play on Cocteau’s earlier novel Les Enfants Terribles, Les Parents Terribles (retitled in English as The Storm Within) features a family full of dysfunction from all corners. The setup is classic farce: Grown son Michel (Cocteau regular Jean Marais) dares to break the bond with his overbearing mother (Yvonne de Bray) by venturing into a relationship with Madeleine (Josette Day). Mom isn’t happy, but neither is Dad (Marcel André), who unbeknownst to all, has also been seeing Madeleine.
What follows hews closer to melodrama than comedy, though Marais is a source of not insignificant humor as an oblivious man-child, clearly stunted by his unhealthy connection to his mother. De Bray’s performance borders on the overwrought, but for her, her son’s attentions are a literal lifeline, and her outbursts begin to make sense as we see just how intertwined the two are. What Cocteau does brilliantly is peel back the outward concern each character seems to be showing for one another to reveal the deeply rooted self-interest propelling each person. That’s especially true of Aunt Léo (Gabrielle Dorziat), who initially seems to be a responsible, selfless caretaker before her own past wounds come to light.
Besides a brief foray to Madeleine’s apartment, the whole film takes place in the seemingly labyrinthine family home, Cocteau’s camera peering down passageways or above from the ceiling. The setting is anything but homey, and in every room in the sprawling estate there seems to lie a secret that will tear these people apart.
Cohen’s 1080p, 1.37:1 transfer is sourced from a new 2K restoration, and the result is quite pleasing, with strong clarity and stability and healthy levels of fine detail. The image can appear a little soft, and there are a few quality dips, but it’s a solid presentation overall. Uncompressed 2.0 mono is clean, but limited by its age.
Extras include a new, enthusiastic introduction by Richard Peña, an archival interview with assistant director Claude Pinoteau and several camera tests. The original and re-release trailers are also included.
Mohsen Makhmalbaf: The Poetic Trilogy
When it comes to Iranian cinema, my mind immediately goes to the cerebral meta-fictions of Abbas Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi (obviously a reductive way to describe these two masters’ films, but a quick shorthand). The three films by Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf in Arrow’s extraordinary new set are working in a different mode, though the most recent and least successful has some meta flourishes. In Gabbeh (1996) and The Silence (Sokout, 1998) especially, Makhmalbaf’s sensual imagery is astounding, using vibrant color and intricate sound design as its primary narrative tools. Both films’ fable-like stories blossom into something profound by sheer force of their imagery.
In Gabbeh, an elderly couple (Hossein Moharami and Rogheih Moharami) washes their gabbeh, a traditional Persian rug, in a stream before being visited by the woman (Shaghayeh Djodat) depicted in the rug’s design. She tells them about her romantic longing for a man on a horse, but her prospects are continually dashed by societal forces that push her desires as a woman to the background. Djodat’s expressive face suffuses the film with longing and Makhmalbaf’s images of a teacher plucking colors from the fields and the sky or fabrics being dyed (flashes of Sergei Parajanov’s The Color of Pomegranates) gives the film a hypnotic quality that’s quite striking.
In The Silence, a young blind boy, Khorshid (Tahmineh Normatova), uses his superhuman hearing to make money for his family by tuning instruments. But he’s easily distracted by the noises around him, often losing his way on the way to work because of a musician’s song or even workers pounding and shaping metal containers. With the landlord impatiently waiting for the rent back home, Khorshid’s inability to do his job becomes even more consequential, but his earthly failures only allow him to fully embrace the mysticism of living in a world of sound. Again, Makhmalbaf’s use of color is stunning, converting the film’s spirituality to tangible images.
In documentary The Gardener (2012), Makhmalbaf struggles to make that same leap, as the film’s engagement with spiritual ideas sits on the surface, and the digital imagery only contains hints of the beauty that came before. With his son Maysam, the filmmaker visits a Bahá’í Faith center in Israel, and the bulk of the film plays out like a promotional testimonial video made by the center itself, as worshippers explain their attraction to the faith. The meta wrinkle involves Maysam and Mohsen filming each other with their small consumer digital cameras and discussing the purpose of the film. An early bit of narration asserts that Maysam will focus on the negative aspects of religion while Mohsen will focus on the positive aspects, but aside from a few forced conversations between the pair, this never really plays out. A third, unseen cameraman captures a lot of the interaction between the two, which weakens the film’s supposed dual-perspective approach. There are some nice shots here, particularly those using a mirror, and Maysam chiding his dad for shooting so much boring footage of the gardener is amusing. But the film never feels fully formed.
Arrow’s 1080p, 1.85:1 transfers for the two earlier films, sourced from new 2K restorations, are gorgeous: filmlike, vibrant and sharp, with superb levels of fine detail. The Gardener, presented in 1.78:1, has the expected digital artifacting due to its source, but looks pretty good, all things considered. The uncompressed mono audio in the earlier films is clean and reasonably dynamic, while the stereo track for The Gardener is adequate, if expectedly a little thin.
A nice selection of extras accompanies the films: an audio commentary for Gabbeh from Godfrey Cheshire, whose extensive 1997 Film Comment piece is also reprinted in the booklet, as well as two interviews with Makhmalbaf, one newly conducted by Jonathan Romney and an archival one focusing on The Silence. Trailers and stills are also included, while the stacked booklet also features an introduction from Makhmalbaf and an essay by Negar Mottahedeh.
The Criterion Collection
One could make a strong case that Shampoo is Hal Ashby’s best film, infused with the right amount of chaos and just far removed enough from the era it depicts to skewer it with perfectly calibrated cynicism. I can certainly understand preferences for Ashby’s warmer comedies; every laugh in Shampoo is a bitter one. But the way the freewheeling self-absorption of Warren Beatty, who cowrote with Robert Towne, slowly evaporates, culminating in a stark “the party’s over” final shot, makes for a film propelled by its own withering stare at its protagonist.
Of course, hairdresser George Roundy (Beatty) is also on the receiving end of plenty of withering stares from the women he beds in between supremely confident but unfruitful attempts at starting his own salon. Girlfriend Jill (Goldie Hawn) can barely keep his attention for more than a few minutes, while older lover Felicia (Lee Grant, in an Oscar-winning performance) knows he’s only using her for her wealth. George sees her husband Lester (Jack Warden) as a prime candidate to lend him the money he needs, but he gets distracted by Lester’s mistress, Jackie (Julie Christie). Even Lester and Felicia’s daughter (Carrie Fisher) looks at George with condescension. She gets what she wants from him too.
Set on the night of the 1968 presidential election, just before Watergate was set to explode into public view, the film depicts shallow people obsessed with trivialities, though the women tend to be much more self-aware than the men. In the midst of this energetic farce, Beatty’s George stands as the perfect avatar of oblivious American self-interest. Made seven years after the film’s events are set, it’s clear this guy wouldn’t have learned anything in the intervening years. Same goes for the intervening decades since the film was released.
Criterion’s 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer is sourced from a new 4K restoration and looks excellent, handling the fairly grainy film with aplomb, with fine detail never getting lost even during low-light scenes. The color palette is on the drab side, but is consistent, and damage is basically nonexistent. This is easily the best the film has looked on home video. An uncompressed mono track sounds excellent, while a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track doesn’t add much.
Extras are on the very thin side. All we get are an archival interview with Beatty from 1998 and a new conversation between critics Frank Rich and Mark Harris. Rich also contributes an insert essay. The transfer makes the disc an easy recommendation, but a fuller selection of supplements would’ve been nice.