Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project No. 3
Established by Martin Scorsese in 2007, the World Cinema Project has maintained a fierce commitment to preserving and presenting masterpieces from around the globe, with a growing roster of more than three dozen restorations that have introduced moviegoers to often-overlooked areas of cinema history. Presenting passionate stories of revolution, identity, agency, forgiveness, and exclusion, this collector’s set gathers six of those important works, from Brazil (Pixote), Cuba (Lucía), Indonesia (After the Curfew), Iran (Downpour), Mauritania (Soleil Ô), and Mexico (Dos monjes). Each title is a pathbreaking contribution to the art form and a window onto a filmmaking tradition that international audiences previously had limited opportunities to experience.
The Criterion Collection presents their third volume in the Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project series, gathering together six more films from around the world, all recently restored by The World Cinema Project. The new dual-format box set presents Humberto Solás’ Lucía (from Cuba), Usmar Ismail’s After the Curfew (from Indonesia), Héctor Babenco's Pixote (from Brazil), Juan Bustillo Oro's Dos monjes (from Mexico), Med Hondo’s Soleil Ô (from Mauritania), and Bahram Beyzaie’s Downpour (from Iran). The films are presented in 1080p/24hz high-definition over three dual-layer Blu-ray discs (with two films per disc) and in standard-definition over six dual-layer DVDs (each film receiving a dedicated disc). Lucía is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and Pixote is presented in 1.85:1 (both being enhanced for widescreen televisions on their respective DVDs), while the remaining films are all presented in a 1.37:1 ratio.
All of the films have been painstakingly restored in 3K (After the Curfew) or 4K from the best available elements, and all of that hard work does show through very clearly. Dos monjes and After the Curfew are in the roughest shape, Dos monjes due to age and After the Curfew due to poor storage. Both show scratches and damage, and missing frames (Dos monjes has a lot of jumps), but all things considered the two films have turned out better than most could have expected I'm sure. The digital encodes are, at the very least, very good, so we do get a very film-like look for both films in the end, and it doesn't exasperate any of the existing problems in any way.
The remaining films end up coming out looking quite good, very film-like and clean with excellent grain rendering, but the most impressive restoration may belong to Downpour. The Iranian government destroyed the film after the revolution and the film's director has the only known copy, a theatrical print with burned in subtitles. Apparently this print was in horrible condition and the film required 1500 hours worth of work to restore properly. The hard work really pays off in the end because there's very little sign of deterioration, just a few scratches, marks and stains. The burned in subtitles are really the only thing that stick out, and a lot of the remaining damage circles those subtitles. The biggest issues is that the subtitles look a little blown out and they can disappear in the black-and-white imagery. Unfortunately digital subtitles have not been added to alleviate this issue.
There's little to say about the other films other than they look good, though Pixote, the lone colour film in the set, does have that green-ish, yellow tint that has plagued recent 4K restorations, though it's not too bad and, at the very least suits the film. Altogether, though, this set delivers an impressive set of restorations and presentations.
All six films are presented with lossless PCM 1.0 monaural soundtracks, Dolby Digital on the DVDs. There admittedly isn't much to say: they are limited by age or source materials in most cases, though both Pixote and Lucía manage to stick out. Pixote's magnetic track was apparently in dire condition but there's no sign of that here, with the track being clean and fairly dyanamic. Lucía features some "stylistic" additions to its soundtrack that come off harsh and distorted, but appears to be intentional; the track is clean for the most part.
Downpour, Des monjes, and After the Curfew have the weakest tracks, with Des monjes unfortunately missing some audio. The three tracks do sound a little distorted and harsh most of the time, and both After the Curfew and Des monjes feature prominent background noise, After the Curfew even featuring some loud, whirring-like noise in one small section.
I suspect in an effort to keep costs down, Criterion does skimp a bit on extras with these editions, and as always it's a shame. At the very least the material included is strong.
Martin Scoresese yet again provides 2-3 minutes introductions for each film, getting into details about the restoration, highlighting issues if there are any. For Lucía, Criterion presents a 33-minute making-of, Humberto & “Lucía,” featuring interviews with director Humberto Solás, actors Adela Legrá and Eslinda Núñez, editor Nelson Rodriguez, and filmmaker Enrique Pineda Barnet, all talking about the film’s production and the climate of the time.
After the Curfew is accompanied by a rather fascinating interview with journalist J. B. Kristanto, who appears over video conference to not only talk about the film and its director, but to also talk about the state of film preservation in Indonesia and how the history is in danger of being lost forever due to varying political and cultural roadblocks that have made things difficult through the years. Kristanto has worked tirelessly to at least preserve historical records. He also explains why he suggested After the Curfew to be restored and Criterion provides a brief restoration comparison to show how badly the film was in need of it. The segment runs 19-minutes.
Pixote does end up being "stacked" in comparison to other titles in the series in that it gets two (yes, 2!) other supplements, not just one. There is a brief, 2-minute prologue made for the film's U.S. release, featuring director Babenco (and the film's young start, Fernando Ramos da Silva with his family) offering context for American audiences by explaining the conditions in areas of Brazil and how laws preventing children under the age of 18 begin charged for crimes has led to them being used by criminals to commit crimes for them. There is also a 22-minute excerpt from a conversation with Héctor Babenco, running 22-minutes and featuring the director talking about his early life and then Pixote. He has apparently had his eye on filmmaking since he was a child, and he recounts here the experience of working at a Argentinian hotel during a film festival (seeing the likes of Truffaut and more) and then how he went to documentary filmmaking and then Pixote (which came from a documentary he had been working on prior but couldn't finish). It's a terrific recounting of his early career while also providing a brief look at Brazilian cinema of the time.
Dos monjes features a new interview with film scholar Charles Ramírez Berg (performed remotely), who talks about early Mexican cinema, which was saved from bankruptcy after the advent of sound. He then talks about the film's director, how he completely revamped the generic melodrama script he received for the film, and then talks about the film's narrative structure, which would have been revolutionary at the time (it apparently didn't connect with audiences and was a failure). He looks at how the film gives you pieces of the story through the two perspectives, and how the subjectivity of each storyteller is worked in there (which goes right down to the shades of the clothing being worn). Berg also talks about the influence of German expressionism on the film (which led to the film being labeled more of a horror film at the time) and some of the film's impressive shots, especially for an early sound film. It's an unbelievably great interview at a pretty swift 19-minutes, giving a great primer on early Mexican cinema while also delivering an in-depth analysis of the film.
Soleil Ô's directore, Mel Hondo, shows up in excerpts from an interview conducted in 2018. Hondo recalls first discovering film and how, after a move to Paris, he found his way into filmmaking. He explains the racism he experienced, pointing out how the subtle things could build up, and this led to him making Soleil Ô, which he explains in the opening was more therapeutic. There are also stories around filming that are sadly not all the surprising, like where he recalls shooting the scene between his protagonist and the blonde woman out in public. What's made me smile a bit, though, is how he still seems shocked to this day that the film managed to get a release, and he expresses how thrilled and surprised he was when he found out Scorsese's foundation had chosen his film for restoration. The interview runs around 21-minutes.
Bahram Beyzaie’s interview for Downpour, running around 29-minutes, was filmed exclusively by Criterion (remotely) for this edition. The filmmaker talks about his upbringing and culture and how that led to him making the film. Not being a Muslim, he explains how the film and his beliefs eventually offended the Iranian ministry of culture after the revolution (it appears a big part of it had to do with how women are represented in the film), leading to his film being banned and him losing his job. Even while making the film he ran into difficulties, he explains, since he had to shoot in multiple locations (since Tehran was going under heavy construction) and had to abide by the religious beliefs of the locals in the neighborhood. This led to his script being constantly scrutinized to make sure it passed the smell test. It’s an interesting interview, showing how the film ends up being a reflection of Iran pre-revolution.
Like the other sets, Criterion also includes a booklet. It starts off with a foreward by the head of research at Cineteca de Bologna, Cecilia Cenciarelli, who talks a little about the World Cinema project and the painstaking work that goes into tracking down the best elements for the restorations. This is then followed by individual essays for each film, offering keen analysis and contextualization: Dennis Lim for Lucía, Adrian Jonathan Pasaribu for After the Curfew, Stephanie Dennison for Pixote, Elisa Lozano for Dos monjes, Aboubakar Sanogo for Soleil Ô, and Hamid Naficy for Downpour. Though some scholarly content would have been welcome on the discs, the booklet does manage to fill the gap rather well, while also clearing up any questions the viewer may have.
Again, it's disappointing that Criterion limits the features on these releases, but the material they do provide is solid, and if keeping the costs down means they can release more of these sets, I don't mind.
Another wonderful set in the series, it delivers six fascinating films featuring impressive restorations. Highly recommended.