Revenge / Limite
Early in the twentieth century, a child is raised in Korea with a single purpose: to avenge the death of his father’s first child. This is the crux of Revenge, a decades-spanning tale of obsession and violence, and the third collaboration between director Ermek Shinarbaev and writer Anatoli Kim. As much about Eastern philosophy and poetry as it is about everyday acts of evil, this haunting allegory was the first Soviet film to look at the Korean diaspora in Kazakhstan and Central Asia, and a founding work of the Kazakh New Wave. Rigorous and psychologically complex, Revenge weaves together luminous color imagery and inventive narrative elements in its unforgettable meditation on the way trauma can be passed down through generations.
An astonishing work of creative expression, Limite is the sole feature by the Brazilian filmmaker and author Mário Peixoto, made when he was just twenty-two years old. Inspired by a haunting André Kertész photograph Peixoto saw on the cover of a French magazine, this avant-garde silent masterpiece centers on a man and two women lost at sea, their pasts unfolding through meticulously orchestrated flashbacks propelled by the music of Erik Satie, Claude Debussy, Igor Stravinsky, and others. One of the earliest works of independent Latin American filmmaking, Limite was for most of the twentieth century famously difficult to see. It is a pioneering achievement of Brazilian cinema that continues to captivate with its timeless visual poetry.
Years after releasing their initial World Cinema Project box set (featuring a number of overlooked films from around the world recently restored by Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation) the Criterion Collection finally brings us their second volume featuring another six films. The third and fourth films in the set are Ermak Shinarbaev’s Revenge and Mário Peixoto’s Limite, both presented here in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Opting to release the set only in a dual-format edition (there are no separate DVD or Blu-ray only editions), Revenge and Limite share the same dual-layer Blu-ray and both receive 1080p/24hz high-definition encodes. Each film also receives their own dual-layer DVD presenting standard-definition versions utilizing the same masters.
Revenge was restored in 2K resolution and scanned from the original 35mm negative and a positive print. The restoration is impressive and the film could pass for a newer one thanks to the lack of much of anything in the way of source flaws. The digital presentation is also very strong, handling the film’s look incredibly well. The lighting in the film can be very intense at moments, causing a glow around objects and almost obliterating details in the process, but never quite reaching that. Colours look fairly good, though the overall look leans on the warmer side of things, everything having a slight yellow hue to it. The yellow hue doesn’t seem to throw off anything else, though, and the black levels are pretty strong, making the details in some of the film’s darker scenes easier to see.
The image remains sharp and detailed throughout, and grain is rendered very well, even when it gets a bit heavier. Again, I’m not too sure on the condition of the materials before the restoration (as I’ve mentioned before I think restoration demonstrations would be nice additions) but whatever the case the final presentation here is impressive and it is one of the better looking ones in the set.
Limite at one point was impossible to see so it had grown a fairly mythological status over the years. After being completed the film was only screened publicly a small number of times before being screened on a yearly cycle at the Faculdade Nacional de Filosofia (National School of Philosophy) in Rio de Janeiro. It was here that student Saulo Pereira de Mello saw the film and it would be Mello who would eventually undertake preservation steps with the film (the one source was in danger of disintegrating due to storage conditions), which would take it out of circulation until 1978.
The original 35mm nitrate print is gone, so badly decomposed it was discarded around the time Mello’s restoration efforts were completed. Since the original print is gone this new restoration performed by Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation picks up where Mello’s left off, scanning a duplicate negative and duplicate positive created from those efforts in 2K and before performing further digital restoration techniques on it.
There is one big problem with the image and it is related to the deterioration of the original source materials, which were so far gone there wasn’t much that could be done. Shortly after the 24-minute point mold and/or chemical stains get fairly heavy on the outside edges of the frame and over the next few minutes they begin creeping in more and more, slowly wiping away the image until it gets to a point where there’s more of the stain than there is of the actual film image. It’s at this point when it gets really bad that a black title card is inserted, explaining that the following sequence is lost and explains what happened in this sequence (I assume this was done by Mello during his original preservation efforts, based on his own memory). After this we get the image back, with stains still on the edges, but they begin to slowly secede until they’re finally gone. Nothing like this happens again throughout the film.
Despite that one large concern which was beyond repair (the image is completely gone) the end result is really impressive. Yes, there are still a number of source issues outside of those large, intrusive stains. There are scratches, marks, dirt, fading on the edges, pulsing, flickering, and other noticeable stains, but the surprising aspect is that all of these things are really very mild in the grand scheme of things. They’re noticeable, but rarely intrusive to the final image (again, outside of that one lengthy section of the film).
I was especially impressed by the level of detail in the image. Yes, there are moments that are softer than others but on the whole the level of detail is pretty high. There are long shots of beaches or fields or village streets and the fine object details really do pop out with an extraordinary amount of clarity. It’s really just stunning how good this image can look. Film grain is present and it can get heavy at times, though this isn’t too surprising. There are a few moments where I found the grain a bit clunky or pixilated, a little unnatural, but on the whole it looks very good. Contrast looks strong and black levels look good, with nice tonal shifts in the grays, but there are plenty of moments where the blacks look faded and more grayish, but I blame this on the source materials.
In the end, all things considered (and despite what may appear to be a low grade), I think this really does look good. The source again limits it in a number of areas, and the damage gets really heavy during one small section of the film (to the point a whole scene is missing) but the restoration work has really cleaned up what it can and the final encode really delivers a film-like and stable image that’s far sharper than I would have expected. It was a very pleasant surprise.
Revenge (1989): 8/10 Limite (1931): 6/10
Revenge's Russian soundtrack is delivered in lossless PCM 1.0 mono. Range and fidelity are both limited but the track has been cleaned up pretty thoroughly and I didn’t detect any severe problems like pops or drops, and background noise is minimal. Dialogue and music are both clear.
Limite is a silent film but comes here with a score presented in LPCM 2.0 stereo. This audio probably comes from Mello’s original restoration but the notes make mention that the “original gramophones” (I’m guessing Peixoto’s) aided in the restoration.
There is a faint but occasionally noticeable hiss in the background but the audio otherwise sounds quite good. Range is quite wide, the audio not coming off harsh or edgy during the higher, louder moments. The audio is spread out nicely between the front speakers and fidelity is excellent, almost like you have your own orchestra up front. It’s quite nice.
Revenge (1989): 6/10 Limite (1931): 8/10
The set presents six films, each film coming with an introduction and then another video supplement. This review will focus specifically on the features included with Revenge and Limite.
We yet again get more introductions featuring Martin Scorsese going over each film and their restorations, each lasting a couple of minutes. Revenge also comes with a new interview featuring the film’s director, Ermak Shinarbaev. In the essay about the film found in the box set’s included booklet, Kent Jones mentions that when Shinarbaev talks about his work it’s usually in relation to his work with writer Anatoli Kim and that proves to be the case here. Shinarbaev starts by talking about how he first started collaborating with the author (convincing the writer to work with him proved to be difficult) and then he goes over the films he made with the Kim. He also talks about the difficulties in making a film that takes place a little bit in Korea, especially from a historical perspective, as he had no information available to him in Kazakhstan about Korea, so everything in the film revolving around Korea he completely made up. The 19-minute interview proves to be a really valuable inclusion, especially when he gets into historical details about the Korean population in Russia and the Soviet Union.
Limite comes with a short 14-minute interview with filmmaker Walter Salles, who goes over how hard it was to see the film and his reaction to it after finally being able to see it. He also talks a bit about Peixoto, how he discovered film while living in England, and how he came to make Limite, which originally started as a script to be directed by someone else.
Though these World Cinema sets are great, the one disappointing aspect is that each film in the set usually only gets one substantial extra. And not to suggest that any of the others films in this set aren’t deserving of their own stacked special editions from Criterion—because they are—but I have to admit a certain shock that, at the very least, Limite didn’t get its own individual release. At the very least the supplements we do get are good.
Revenge offers one of the best presentations in the set while also offering a great interview with the film’s director.
Age hasn’t been entirely kind to Limite but this presentation still managed to exceed my expectations: it’s a very sharp, filmic looking presentation, and not as badly damaged as I would have expected. My one disappointment is that this is one of the films from this project that seemed most likely to get its own stacked special edition but alas that’s not to be. At the very least the supplements we do get are good.