Established by Martin Scorsese in 2007, the World Cinema Project expands the horizons of moviegoers everywhere. The mission of the WCP is to preserve and present marginalized and infrequently screened films from regions of the world ill equipped to provide funding for major restorations. This collector’s set brings together six superb films from various countries, including Bangladesh/India (A River Called Titas), Mexico (Redes), Morocco (Trances), Senegal (Touki bouki), South Korea (The Housemaid), and Turkey (Dry Summer); each is a cinematic revelation, depicting a culture not often seen by outsiders.
Martin Scorsese has put together a collection of six films in an ongoing film series called 'The World Cinema Project'. This is the first set of films that Mr. Scorsese has chosen. 'The World Cinema Project' is set up to show us films from around the world that are culturally important and that might have gotten lost over the years, only to be restored to pristine quality for us to discover. And what better way than to release these "lost" films than have the best home-video company, Criterion, release this set in gorgeous high-definition.
Again, this first set of six films that were hand picked by Scorsese were made all over the planet and came out between the 1930s and the 1980s, which is a fifty year span of movies that you never knew existed. Among them are 'Touki Bouki' by Djibril Diop Mambety, which was made in Senegal in 1973; 'Redes' by Fred Zinnemann and Emilio Gomez Muriel, which was made in Mexico in 1936; 'A River Called Titas' by Ritwik Ghatak from India/Bangladesh in 1973; 'Dry Summer' by Metin Erksan from Turkey in 1964; 'Trances' by Ahmed El Maanouni from Morocco in 1981; and 'The Housemaid' by Kim Ki-Young, which was made in South Korea in 1960. All of these films are excellent, and you can see how each film influenced the legendary Scorsese.
'Touki Bouki' (1973)
Made on a budget of only $30 thousand dollars, 'Touki Bouki' or 'The Journey of the Hyena' follows a young man named Mory (Magaye Niang) who rides a motorcycle with bull horns mounted to the front of the motorbike. His girlfriend Anta (Mareme Niang) is madly in love with Mory, and the two dream of leaving Senegal for a better life in the capital city of love, Paris, France.
The two often talk about running away there, but reality is that they have no money, clothes, or the means to get there. But the two lovers are set on getting there and come across a homosexual man who invites them into his home to feed and look after them. But while he's in the shower, Anta and Mory rob the generous man of his clothes, cash, and his luxurious automobile. Their new riches quickly attracts a lot of attention as they make their way to a ship that would take them to Paris.
But what we see here is that Mory might not want to leave his home country and forget where and how he grew up, jeopardizing his relationship with Anta. Mambety captures the anger and childish behavior that commonly comes with young new lovers, as their dreams are big, but reality soon catches up with them. The locales are beautiful and the music, while chaotic much like Mory and Anta's relationship, tells a story of desperation as a young couple seeks a better life.
'Redes' first started out as a documentary from 1933, but was later turned into a narrative film that covered some of the same political and social issues of the time in Mexico. The American title of 'Redes' is 'The Wave', although 'Redes' refers to fishing net. It tells the story of a group of very poor fisherman living in a down-trodden village on the Gulf of Mexico.
These fisherman barely scrape by to feed, clothe, and house their families. A young fisherman named Miro (Silvio Hernandez), rallies the other fishermen to protest and demand better treatment and ask for more money from the boss Don Anselmo (David Valle Gonzalez). When push comes to shove, some of the fishermen think it's better to keep quiet in fear of losing what little money they do make, while others follow Miro in demanding a better and fair life. The fishermen are pitted against each other until an unfortunate event occurs, which leads the fishermen to band together as one.
During the production of the film, there were some real political issues that were going on, that forced some of the crew and writers to leave the production and strain some relationships. The film was shot silently, but audio was added in later, and Silvestre Revueltas's score is something of a masterpiece. 'Redes' is an early look at loyalty and a certain set of values and politics that is still relevant today.
'A River Called Titas' (1973)
'A River Called Titas' is a fairly powerful film set in the 1930s and was made by Ritwik Ghatak who was very ill with tuberculosis at the time. He died only a couple of years after he finished this film. This is also based on the autobiographical novel by Advaita Malla Barman, and it fells like a personal account of this person more so than a would be narrative film. But the film is beautifully shot and completely reminded me of the great works of director Satyjit Ray, with his long wide shots of gorgeous locations.
This is also one of the first films to tell different stories from different characters who all intertwine at some point during the movie, and it's done very well. The film follows two good friends Kishore and Subol who both love a beautiful woman named Basanti. The two friends decided to build a boat and journey out on a fishing trip to earn Basanti's love. While on this journey, Kishore rescues a woman named Rajar Jhi and falls in love and soon marries her. On their way back home, their boat is attacked by pirates, but Rahar Jhi escapes unbeknownst to anyone and is discovered by people in a nearby village. Once Kishore and Subol arrive back, Kishore is an absolute mess as he thinks his new wife has died. Meanwhile, Subol marries Basanti, only to have Subol die at sea.
Soon enough, Rajar Jhi shows back up in the village with Kishore's son, but Rajar Jhi and Kishore do not recognize each other, but the two along with Basanti all work and live close together and even come in close contact with each other without knowing who each other is. As they grow older, the social and political movements are forcing their lives to become much more difficult. This is a very beautiful film, yet very tragic. Ghatak has a great eye and camera lens that captures the beauty of these cultures and their hardships. And even though some of the actors were non-professionals, the acting and dialogue was incredible, making for a very powerful film.
'Dry Summer' (1964)
'Dry Summer' is a great Turkish film that won several awards upon its release. This story focuses on two brothers who live on a farm. The older brother, Osman (Erol Tas), is an angry and aggressive older brother who believes that everyone should follow his orders, even if he is wrong. His younger brother, Hasan (Ulvi Dogan), is the complete opposite, as he is calm, collected, nice, and works hard on the farm. Hasan is in love with a beautiful girl named Bahar (Hulya Kocyigit), and wants desperately to marry her.
Her mother won't let the two get married until after the harvest, but once Hasan reveals his true feelings for her, she allows it. Bahar moves in with Hasan and Osman couldn't be happier for his younger brother. But things get super creepy as Osman begins to spy on them having sex and having impure thoughts of her while she and his brother are standing next to him. Meanwhile, Osman is builds a dam to irrigate his own farmland, and will not let his neighbors use the water. When this situation explodes, Osman kills one of his neighbors and manipulates his younger married brother to take the heat and got to prison for him, so that the family farm is looked after in the right hands. Oddly enough, Hasan agrees to this and leaves his new wife in Osman's care.
This is a great movie, but it's quite infuriating at the same time, as why would anyone allow this to happen? But director Metin Erksan wonderfully captures the two lead character's ethics and morals quite well, and illustrates the problematic Turkish values and customs very well on-screen. The sexuality in the film is quite impressive as Erksan shows several instances of metaphorical sexuality, rather than actually showing it on-screen. With it's wonderful Turkish score, 'Dry Summer' is one heck of a movie.
'Trances' is a music documentary and the very first film that was selected by Scorsese himself to be restored and remastered by his 'World Cinema Project'. Scorsese is no stranger to music documentaries himself as he made 'The Last Waltz', a few Rolling Stone documentaries, and even was a camera person for 'Woodstock' back in 1969. So it makes perfect sense that 'Trances' was his first choice for this new endeavor of his.
In fact, 'Trances' plays out a lot like 'Woodstock', with its concert footage, interviews with the locals and concert goers, discussions with the band 'Nass El Ghiwane' that his documentary is about, along with dance and music itself that captured the minds and souls of many people. 'Nass El Ghiwane' is a Moroccan band that doesn't play rock, blues, or pop music, but rather very basic and traditional music an beats with homemade and traditional instruments. Their music and their presence had such a profound and strange effect on people that director Ahamed El Maanouni had to document it.
Once their fans crowded the stage and the band started playing music, the audience started dancing, which morphed into their fans gyrating and flailing, almost like the music itself hypnotized them, hence the title 'Trances'. In fact, Maanouni shows a concert-goer in slow motion as her body switches from dancing to this strange trance. In addition to this, we get a glimpse backstage with the band as they discuss their music, their fans, and their music being bootlegged. There are also some interviews with locals and others about the time period and social climate that was going on at the time. This is a great music documentary, one that is unlike anything you've ever seen.
'The Housemaid' (1960)
'The Housemaid' is a South Korean horror film and is extremely dark in nature and will mess with your mind for several weeks into the future. I'm willing to be that Japanese director Takashi Miike has drawn a lot of inspiration from this film, especially with his unrelenting and horrific masterpiece film 'Audition'. After watching this amazing film, I could only think what people thought of this back in 1960.
'The Housemaid' focuses on a music teacher named Mr. Kim (Kim Jin-kyu), who receives a love note from one of his students. He knows this is wrong, as he is married and a father of two, so he informs his bosses about the note, which the student in question is asked to leave. Soon after this incident, another student offers to help Mr. Kim look for a housemaid to help his pregnant wife and two kids at home keep the house up and get it baby-ready once again. The new maid shows up and Mr. Kim becomes quickly uncomfortable, as this new maid is young, beautiful, and could be able to seduce a married man quite easily.
We quickly figure out that this new maid is very strange, as she catches rats with her bare hands, spies on Mr. Kim in compromising situations, and of course, seduces him into sex, eventually becoming pregnant. After his wife tells the housemaid to induce miscarriage by falling down the stairs (which she does), the housemaid's behavior becomes more strange and violent, that involves poison and murder. It's a very chilling and haunting story, that could happen anywhere to anyone, which we are told during the movie. 'The Housemaid' is no doubt disturbing, but it's also very rewarding and beautifully made, if not chaotic at moments. You can tell that a lot of horror filmmakers have been influenced by 'The Housemaid' and its director Kim Ki-Young.
According to Criterion, 'Touki Bouki' is presented in 1.37:1 aspect ratio with a 1080p HD transfer. The transfer was created in 2K resolution from the original 35mm negative. The new restoration process brought the film's original chromatic elements to light, and produced a new 35mm internegative for long-term preservations. The colors here are incredible. The simply pop off screen at all times with excellent reds, greens, blues, and yellows. The film has a nice layer of grain and looks filmic and natural. All of the dirt, debris, hairs, and other scratches have been removed to the best of their ability and the image really looks clean. There are no image skips or instability here either. This video presentation is quite good.
According to Criterion, 'Redes' is presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio with a 1080p HD transfer. The transfer was created in 2K resolution from the best surviving materials, mostly being a 35mm safety negative and a positive print found in Mexico. This is probably the worst looking out of each movie in this set. Like Criterion said, the people dealing with the restoration and transfer only had to work with surviving B-List materials that were found, and not all problems could be fixed. That being said, this image looks very good. There is a nice layer of grain throughout, but the detail isn't sharp, but rather very soft throughout. Contrast looks decent here though and the overall image has good stability. This is definite the best presentation this could have, considering what they had to work with.
'A River Called Titus'
According to Criterion, 'A River Called Titus' is presented in 1.37:1 aspect ratio with a 1080p HD transfer. The transfer was created in 2K resolution from the original camera negative and a positive print provided by the National Film Archive in India. The opening credit sequence was completely re-done due to the very poor quality of the original. But this image is just fantastic and has been restored very well. Depth and detail are excellent here, even in the darker scenes. Closeups reveal great textures as well. The black and white levels are very well balanced with nicely rendered grays. This film is very natural looking and is the best it has ever looked since it came out. There are is some very minor banding, but it's nothing to write home about. Excellent video presentation here.
According to Criterion, 'Dry Summer' is presnted in 1.33:1 aspect ratio with a 1080p HD transfer. The transfer was first restored photochemically using the original 35mm camera negative. The opening and closing credits were re-done digitally, due to them being missing from all prints. This is a great looking image with good depth and detail. Closeups reveal fine textures and wrinkles in the actor's faces. The scenes in the daytime show off some great depth and clarity, and the night time scenes do almost as well. The black and white levels are very well balanced with exquisite grays. Stability looks great and most instances of debris and dirt have been removed, leaving this video presentation top notch.
According to Criterion, 'Trances' is presented in 1.66:1 aspect ratio with a 1080p HD transfer. This was a digital transfer and as created in 2K resolution from the original 16mm negative. This music documentary looks amazing. However, let it be known that this 16mm negative was blown up to 35mm, so there are a few instances where detail gets fuzzy. During the darker scenes when there is not enough light on stage, things get a bit murky, but overall there is great depth and vivid detail throughout. Colors look great and are very natural and don't seem to be overly saturated. There are also a few instances of minor warps and debris, but it's nothing to really write home about. Stability is excellent, giving this video presentation solid marks.
According to Criterion, 'The Housemaid' is presented in 1.66:1 aspect ratio with a 1080p HD transfer. This transfer was created in high-definition from the original camera negative, which was found in 1982 with even a couple of reels missing. In 1990, a rare complete print was found and was used to restore the missing reels. Interestingly enough, there were actually hand-written subtitles that had to be digitally removed, which made the whole restoration process very difficult. Throughout the film, there are varying degrees of detail, clarity, and color contrast in regards to the black and white spectrum. There is a nice layer of grain here as well. There are still some instances of debris and dirt, and some warps here and there, but overall, this is as good as this film could look, given the circumstances.
All six films in this set come with a lossless LPCM 1.0 mono track and they all sound great, considering how how the films are and how difficult it was for some of these movies to be restored and remastered. Dialogue is generally very clear and easy to follow, although on 'The Housemaid' and 'Redes', some of the dialogue have pops, cracks and some hissing. But, these two films were the most difficult out of the six movies to restore.
The other four films all sound a bit better than the previous two films mentioned and have a fuller sound. The dynamic range is quite limited throughout, although with 'Trances', the sound is quite robust. 'Touki Bouki's soundtrack is also quite immersive as well. But with each film coming with a 1.0 mono track, you can't expect a whole lot lively noises from your surround speakers. But with the gunfire in 'Dry Summer' to the vehicle roars in 'Touki Bouki', every soundtrack is clear and excellent. And of course, Criterion provides excellent subtitles with each film. Each one of these audio presentations is outstanding, despite some of the flaws in due to age.
Introductions by Martin Scorsese (HD, 15 mins) - Martin Scorsese introduces each film and was recorded in 2013 specifically for this Criterion release. He discusses how he came to choose each one and some fun facts about each film.
Kumar Shahani on A River Called Titas (HD, 16 mins.) - Filmmaker Kumar Shahani was a student of Ritwik Ghatak, and he discusses being his student and his film 'A River Called Titas'.
Metin Erksan and Fatih Akin on Dry Summer (HD, 16 mins.) - A 2008 interview with Metin Erksan and a 2013 interview with director Faith Akin, as the two discuss Erksan's film 'Dry Summer'. They discuss the political and social climate of the time period as well as some of the production stories. They even go into how it won some prestigious awards.
Abderrahmane Sissako on Touki Bouki (HD, 12 mins.) - Filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako discusses 'Touki Bouki' and its director Djibril Diop Mambety and how big of an inspiration the director was to his people and other filmmakers. This interview was recorded in 2013 as well.
Visual Essay on Redes (HD, 8 mins.) - Here is a visual essay that goes into how the film 'Redes' was preserved and restored, along with its history and production. Filmmaker Kent Jones wrote the essay in 2013.
Scorsese On Trances (HD, 19 mins.) - Scorsese himself talks about this documentary film and how much he loves it. Also, the director and members of the band discuss playing their music for their fans at this point in time. This was an excellent extra and was recorded in 2013.
Bong Joon-ho on The Housemaid (HD, 16 mins.) - Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho talks about this disturbing horror film and how big of an impact it made on Korean and horror cinema. This is a fantastic watch and was recorded in 2013.
Criterion Booklet - Here is a 64-page illustrated booklet with essays, technical information, and much more.
Volume one of Martin Scorsese's 'World Cinema Project' is simply awesome. Each film is unique and excellent, showcasing the time period it was made in. It's no wonder that Scorsese is one of the best directors of all time and this truly shows his appreciation and understand of film from all around the world. The video and audio presentations are all top notch with tons of amazing bonus features. You don't need to think twice about owning this Criterion set, as they have simply hit a home-run with this release. This is a must-own.