Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project – The Criterion Collection #685-690 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
December 10, 2013 by Dennis Amith
There have been many wonderful Criterion Collection releases for 2013 but “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project” set is easily my pick for the “Best Criterion Collection Blu-ray release of 2013”. If you are a cineaste, it’s a must-own set that I highly recommended!
Image courtesy of © 2013 The Criterion Collection
TITLE: Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project – The Criterion Collection #686-690
RELEASE OF FILM: Touki Bouki (1973), Redes (1936), A River Called Titas (1973), Dry Summer (1964), Trances (1981), The Housemaid (1960)
DURATION: Touki Bouki (89 Minutes), Redes (59 Minutes), A River Called Titas (156 Minutes), Dry Summer (90 Minutes), Trances (88 Minutes), The Housemaid (108 Minutes)
BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Color, Black and White (please refer to individual film for more information)
COMPANY: Janus Films/The Film Foundation/The Criterion Collection
RELEASED: December 10, 2013
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.
TOUKI BOUKI With a stunning mix of the surreal and the naturalistic, Djibril Diop Mambéty paints a vivid, fractured portrait of Senegal in the early 1970s. In this French New Wave–influenced fantasy-drama, two young lovers long to leave Dakar for the glamour and comforts of Europe, but their escape plan is beset by complications both concrete and mystical. Marked by dazzling imagery and music, the alternately manic and meditative Touki bouki is widely admired as one of the most important African films ever made. 1973
- 89 minutes
- In Wolof with English subtitles
- 1.37:1 aspect ratio
REDES Early in his career, the Austrian-born, future Oscar winner Fred Zinnemann (From Here to Eternity) codirected with Emilio Gómez Muriel the politically and emotionally searing Redes. In this vivid, documentary-like dramatization of the daily grind of men struggling to make a living by fishing on the Gulf of Mexico (mostly played by real-life fishermen), one worker’s terrible loss instigates a political awakening among him and his fellow laborers. A singular coming together of stunning talents, Redes, commissioned by a progressive Mexican government, was gorgeously shot and cowritten by the legendary photographer Paul Strand. 1936
- 59 minutes
- Black & White
- In Spanish with English subtitles
- 1.33:1 aspect ratio
A RIVER CALLED TITAS The Bengali filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak’s stunningly beautiful, elegiac saga concerns the tumultuous lives of people in fishing villages along the banks of the Titas River in pre-Partition East Bengal. Focusing on the tragic intertwining fates of a series of fascinating characters, in particular the indomitable widow Basanti, Ghatak tells the poignant story of an entire community’s vanishing way of life. Made soon after Bangladesh became an independent nation, the elliptical, stylized, painterly A River Called Titas is a grand epic from a director who has had a devoted following for decades. 1973
- 156 minutes
- Black & White
- In Bengali with English subtitles
- 1.37:1 aspect ratio
DRY SUMMER Winner of the prestigious Golden Bear at the 1964 Berlin International Film Festival, Metin Erksan’s wallop of a melodrama concerns the machinations of an unrepentantly selfish tobacco farmer who builds a dam to prevent water from flowing downhill to nourish his neighbors’ crops. Alongside this tale of soul-devouring competition is one of overheated desire, as a love triangle develops between the farmer, his more decent brother, and the beautiful villager the latter takes as his bride, resulting in a Cain and Abel–like struggle. A benchmark of Turkish cinema, this is a visceral, innovatively shot and vibrantly acted depiction of the horrors of greed. 1964
- 90 minutes
- Black & White
- In Turkish with English subtitles
- 1.33:1 aspect ratio
TRANCES The beloved Moroccan band Nass El Ghiwane is the dynamic subject of this captivating musical documentary. Storytellers through song, some with a background in political theater, the band’s members became an international sensation (Western rock critics have often referred to them as “the Rolling Stones of North Africa”), thanks to their political lyrics and sublime, fully acoustic sound, which draws on the Moroccan trance music tradition. Both a concert movie and a free-form audiovisual experiment, Ahmed El Maânouni’s Trances is cinematic poetry. 1981
- 88 minutes
- In Arabic with English subtitles
- 1.66:1 aspect ratio
THE HOUSEMAID A torrent of intimate obsession, revenge, and betrayal is unleashed under one roof in this venomous melodrama from South Korean master Kim Ki-young. Immensely popular in its home country when it was released, The Housemaid is the thrilling, at times jaw-dropping story of the devastating effect an unstable housemaid has on the domestic cocoon of a bourgeois, morally dubious music teacher, his devoted wife, and their precocious young children. Grim and taut yet perched on the border of the absurd, Kim’s film is an engrossing tale of class warfare and familial disintegration that has been hugely influential on the new generation of South Korean directors. 1960
- 108 minutes
- Black & White
- In Korean with English subtitles
- 1.66:1 aspect ratio
World renown filmmaker Martin Scorsese may be known for films such as “Goodfellas”, “Shutter Island”, “The Departed”, “Taxi Driver”, “Raging Bull”, to name a few. But Scorsese is also known for preserving movie history by providing support for preservation of projects through his non-profit organization, The Film Foundation.
And since 1990, The Film Foundation has managed to save more than 560 movies.
But as Scorsese has made an impact in film preservation in America, his passion for cinema extends worldwide and knowing that in certain countries, cinema has taken a back seat to other important economic concerns, or where cinema has been culturally marginalized, he wanted to find a way to restore these films but also giving them exposure and giving them a new life.
So, in 2007, Scorsese and a group of other filmmakers around the world, introduced the World Cinema Project (formerly named World Cinema Foundation) and have since rescued and restored nearly a dozen features and one short from over a dozen countries.
To help give these films exposure, several of these films will be released by the Criterion Collection through a new Blu-ray+DVD combo box set titled “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project” featuring the following films: “Touki Bouki” (1973), “Redes” (1936), “A River Called Titas” (1973), “Dry Summer” (1964), “Trances” (1981) and “The Housemaid” (1960).
Please visit our following reviews for these films:
Please refer to my reviews of each film that is included on the “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project – The Criterion Collection #685-690” Blu-ray + DVD box set on information regarding picture quality, audio and special features.
“Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project – The Criterion Collection #685-690″ comes with a 66-page booklet featuring the following essays: “Recalled to Life” a foreword by Kent Jones, “Mambety and Modernity” by Richard Porton on “Touki Bouki”, “El cine mexicano” by Charles Ramirez on “Redes”, “River of No Return” by Adrian Martin on “A River Called Titas”, “The Law of Nature” by Bilge Ebiri on “Dry Summer”, “Power to the People” by Sally Shafto on “Trances” and “Crossing Borders” by Kyung Hyun Kim on “The Housemaid”. Each Blu-ray and DVD are housed in cases that come with a slipcase.
With the release of “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project”, as a cineaste, you can’t help become grateful to Martin Scorsese and the many people involved in the restoration and preservation of films from countries all around the world. Countries that don’t have the economic means to spend the money (which is quite a lot) in restoring or preserving a film.
As Scorsese’s non-profit organization, the Film Foundation, has done for many American films, the World Cinema Project is doing the same for films from different countries. With the release of the Criterion Collection’s “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project”, this release is somewhat of a dream come true.
Classic films from different countries receiving the HD treatment. And the filmmakers featured in these releases are not only getting the exposure for a new generation of cineaste but also the Criterion Collection quality that we have come to expect from their films on Blu-ray and DVD.
With the release of “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project”, we get the Blu-ray and DVD release of six films: Touki Bouki” (1973), “Redes” (1936), “A River Called Titas” (1973), “Dry Summer” (1964), “Trances” (1981) and “The Housemaid” (1960).
For “Touki Bouki”, in 1973, Sengalese film director Djibril Diop Mambéty directed “Touki Bouki” (which is Wolof for “The Journey of the Hyena”), a film that was shown at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival and would receive the International Critics Award. Also, to receive a Special Jury Award at the Moscow Film Festival.
While Mambéty only made a few films during his lifetime, each would receive critical acclaim and “Touki Bouki” would introduce Senegal filmmaking to the world.
Influenced by films from the French New Wave and created with a budget of $30,000 (which was obtained by the Senegalese government), Mambéty’s film would receive restoration courtesy of Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project, an organization with a goal to preserve and present marginalized and infrequently screened films from regions generally ill equipped to preserve their own cinema history.
And so the film was restored in 2008 at Cineteca di Bologna / L’Immagine Ritrovata Laboratory by the World Cinema Foundation and will be included in the Blu-ray+DVD combo box set “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project” to be released by the Criterion Collection in Dec. 2013.
And while the film was created back in 1973, the film still manages to be relevant to today’s viewers because whether or not you were born in a country and become passionate for another, there are always thoughts in your mind of wanting to move to another country and get away, in hopes that it’s better than the life you have had in the country that you live in.
And it may not just apply to another country but also another state or location. Many people have had those feelings before.
And for Mory and Anta, the story of these two characters who are educated but are stuck in the middle due to the hybridization of Senegal. Wanting a better life and for these two, seeing France as a form of elegance, wealth and power. Where the earliest forms of commercialism have started to become noticeable to those in Dakar, from the big buildings, the flashy clothing, the expensive cars, of course it will become noticed to those without money, especially those who were born in villages that have not accepted modern living practices.
So for Mory and Anta, they just want to be different and live differently in another country. And as songs such as “Paris, Paris, Paris” plays in the background and the two concoct schemes to make money in order to travel and leave Senegal to Paris, there is one side of having the dream of having a better life and moving, while others find out through reality that moving to another country is not going to solve one’s problems, in fact, it may just add another problem to one’s life.
I look at Mory and Anta’s story of two people having the dream of what they think Paris will bring to them, is more of two young adults wanting something different out of life and leaving home because life may be much better somewhere else other than their current home.
Is this a reflection of filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty? If there is one thing in his career that is constant, its to provoke the viewer to re-evaluate their thoughts of life and to re-evaluate their thoughts of life but also to reevaluate traditional and modern Africa and how European culture introduced hybridity to society.
Using surreal imagery and his inspiration from the French New Wave, “Touki Bouki” is a film that manages to incorporate griotic tradition of tribal storytelling while incorporating avante-garde techniques and with his films, to reinvent cinema.
There is no doubt a heavy use of symbolism throughout the film. Quite often we are shown images of cows/bulls and seeing them slaughtered, while we see Mory riding his motorcycle with the horned bull skull and seeing what possibly is him as a child riding a bull to lead the cowherd, there is no doubt that despite Mory’s talking of wanting to leave Dakar, he is different from others in the film who have accepted modernism. He’s more of a person that is not just wanting to accept modernism to make a drastic change of lifestyle. His roots were in the country not a man of privilege, not a man of education. What he is after is a dream perpetuated by commercialism and what people perceive from the French as having a better life because in his mind, having money easily equates to great life.
Anta on the other hand is a person who is educated as she is attending college, but her roots are similar to Mory. And her motivation of wanting to go to Paris, is mainly to follow Mory of where he wants to go because she is in love with him and she will follow his lead.
But I really enjoyed “Touki Bouki” for Djibril Diop Mambéty’s surreal style and because of his cinema influences, may it be French Nouvelle or even Neo-Realism, the film is non-traditional and different from other contemporaries of Francophone African cinema and is no doubt an important, classic film that will hopefully benefit from the exposure it will get from its HD release.
And I hope with Mambéty’s inclusion in the “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project” Blu-ray+DVD combo set may mean more cinematic releases of his films on Blu-ray.
“Redes” is an important film in Mexican cinema. A film that would help jumpstart cinema during a time where barely any films were being made in Mexico, but also to help jumpstart the cinematic movement with Mexican filmmakers paving the way for more films about the country’s culture.
The film would bring together several big names in the photography and cinema community from the USA, Europe and Mexico and despite the challenges with different personalities, different visual styles and also talent who had their own protest, wanting more money and other factors that would cause the filmmakers some woe, fortunately the film was made.
“Redes” would foreshadow Italian Neorealism, about working conditions of the poor but what Carlos Chavez had wanted and that was for Mexican Cinema to be seen by masses not just in Mexico but all over the world.
But if you take away all the major players that was involved with this film and focus on the film at hand, what you have is a fantastic film that embodies a story of the human soul and to expose corruption.
Soviet cinema was an inspiration for this film, with films such as “Strike” showing workers fighting against corruption, for “Redes” it is a necessary film as it would become a voice for those who were struggling financially and being paid low wages.
We watch as one young man, who was hurt by the inability to pay for his daughter’s medicine and the family enduring the death of his daughter is a painful memory that haunts him. And the feeling that the fishermen have of making money on a day that produced a lot of fish, were a shock in the fact that they were underpaid.
No matter how much work they put in a 10-hour day, these men will not make money in a system where only the owner can be wealthy. And the politician who tries to win their votes by telling them that he will fight for them, is as corrupt as the wealthy business owner. But the redeeming character is Miro, a man who has lived through pain and the death of a loved one because of his corrupt boss with no moral compassion to give Miro enough money to rescue his daughter.
Miro is a symbol for hope in this film and he is the one that shows how unity among the workers is the necessary voice that can hopefully fight against corruption in the workplace.
And unfortunately, in today’s society, nearly 80-years after this film was made, these conditions and people being paid very low wages still exist in other countries. Practices that have long gone on for decades because the people are too scared to fight, to voice their opinion as their livelihood of their families depend on their job, no matter how low of a wage they make.
But no matter how old “Redes” is, the message is still relevant.
Of the films featured in the Criterion Collection box set “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project”, Ritwik Ghatak’s “A River Called Titas” is the longest film in the set and it’s also a film that may require several viewings to full get a grasp what is happening because of its many characters and interconnected stories.
During my first viewing, I got confused as certain women I thought was the same person to realize later that the women I was watching were actually quite different from each other. So, it require another viewing and even then, I feel I need to watch it again to get a better grasp on as I was so focused on the character of Bashanti, there were other characters that lend something to the film.
The first half of the film was no doubt the connection between the characters of Rajar and Bashanti, two women who are quite saddened by their life. Rajar who was married wakes up in another village after an attempted kidnapping and she doesn’t know her husband’s name as she was just arranged to marry him, let alone doesn’t remember how he looks like because when they were together, it was always in the dark.
She can’t just tell people that she was kidnapped and so, she is made to think by others as just a wanderer. But Rajar and Bashanti are able to connect with each other because despite not knowing each other’s pasts, they are like sisters who have similar lives and similar thoughts and thus they become friends.
Bashanti is often criticized for not marrying and being like the other women and until tragedy strikes, she is left with the boy that wandered alongside with Rajar, named Ananta.
Ananta is the son that Bashanti will never have. She feels like a mother with him but with Rajar gone, the connection and concern she once had towards Ananta started to change and when Ananta is reunited with his real mother, the loneliness of Bashanti begins to grow.
And the storyline would feature the drying up of the lake and how it affects the villagers who depend on the food and water for survival and as many people move away, Bashanti decides to stay.
The films is a theme of human suffering to the dependance on the lake but also to poverty. The film’s use of jumping storylines, many characters featured and going to connected storylines of various people, it’s a complex melodrama that even I feel one must watch several times to understand the plight of the characters. With my first watch of the film, I was too focused on the suffering of the women, but the film ended up becoming more than the suffering of women, it’s a suffering of people along the Titas river.
The challenges faced by people of different villages who don’t have enough to take in other people, let alone feed them but we see how the women become the strength of the characters in the film, no matter how stern and cold they can be at times. And this is where filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak’s Brechtian style of polemic and satirical situations come into play, while featuring human suffering in stories that jump around. Pacing may not be too simple for some people to follow because the story jumps from character to character, despite some people featured are not the protagonist, but they show a mindset of people around Titas.
But the fact is that while the film is based on Advaita Malla Barman’s autobiographical novel, filmmaker Ghatak has already suffered during the famine, during the partition and he has seen people barely surviving with what they are able to catch on the river. He saw poverty, he saw the best and worse of humanity and with the worse, plenty of human suffering.
And I can only imagine how Ghatak would feel today knowing that the Titas river is literally dying due to siltation (pollution due to silt or clay) and lack of dredging (picking up those bad elements and disposing of them).
The river that we see Bashanti’s father talking about the river disappearing has now become a reality and what is surprising is that this issue was discussed heavily in the film and not until 2013, are studies being done to figure out how to save the river.
But the problem of losing the river is important but that is just a small part of it. Like we see in the film of people starving or in need of water, imagine how bad things are now in 2013 with thousands of fisherman and farmers deprived of water and food because the Titas had dried up. The human suffering continues at an alarming rate and the more relevant this film is today because it was a problem then and “A River Called Titas” was an important film that Ritwik Ghatak wanted people to probably do something and make a difference. And that’s why I feel that this film was so ahead of its time.
As cinema, people were looking to be entertained my music, glitzy dance numbers and clothing while other films were artistic and complex.
“A River Called Titas” was not a film that was happy nor was the focal point on music or dancing. The storyline is very sad, a melodramatic film about people who depend on that river which is slowly disappearing. But there is also an artistic side towards the film, maybe not considered artistic at the time and more as unusual non-traditional filmmaking but just to see the camera work of emotional closeups, interesting camera work as one scene featuring young Ananta pushing a boat and the camera is behind him as the boat of people sail away and he is left behind. It’s a beautiful and memorable image from the film.
But the prime factor as we see the things he has experienced, the deterioration of a river, a deterioration of villages, community, unions, friendships and families being ripped apart almost devoid of any hope, people suffer from hunger, thirst and where will they go? What will become of them?
I really do feel that Ritwik Ghatak was a filmmaker ahead of his time and that’s what makes his work so special today as many cineaste are discovering Ghatak’s work decades after these films were released in theaters. And the fact that he is becoming more popular today, as more and more people are discovering his work.
And as Martin Scorsese’s organization World Cinema Project has dedicated in providing the funds for restoration and preservation, together with the Criterion Collection to give more exposure of Ghatak’s work and make you wanting to see more.
A wonderful addition to the “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project” Blu-ray and DVD box set, Ritwak Ghatak’s “A River Called Titas” may not be fully comprehended in one’s first viewing, but this complex melodrama is a great starting point in discovering this filmmaker’s work. And one can only hope we see more of Ritwak Ghatak’s oeuvre from the Criterion Collection in the near future.
Of the films featured in “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project”, Metin Erksan’s “Dry Summer” is a film that caught me by surprise.
For one, it was a Turkish film that captures one’s greed with efficacy as actor Erol Tas literally embodies the character of Kocabas Osman in the film.
His mannerisms are not just greedy but also perverted and maniacal. For one, he wants to deprive the villagers from water, at home, he believes that because he’s the eldest brother, he calls the shots. Then there is the slimy side to him that tries to get close to Hasan’s wife Bahar. Often starring at her legs and her body and making her do things and naively thinking that it’s for work, when Osman is of course having her do things for his own enjoyment.
And there is that side of him that is creepy as he often looks through a peep hole, trying to look at Bahar trying to undress or just spying on her that is for the most part, creepy.
But that is what the film prides itself on, a character that is selfish, vile and will do anything for himself, while his younger brother Hasan is the opposite. Caring for the villagers and not wanting his brother to deprive them of water, while he and his wife Bahar are madly in love. So much as these two lovers can’t wait to have sex and for the most part, with the direction of Metin Erksan, he manages to capture sensuality, sexuality and greed in his film.
The film manages to capture the anguish of the villagers who are deprived of water which feeds their families and farming is their livelihood and of course, when these things happen, especially without compromise, bad things happen.
And to show how bad things can happen, this leads to two disturbing scenes that involve animal cruelty.
While I personally don’t want to spoil the film for those watching, these two forms of animal cruelty are something I must discuss.
The first revolves around Osman who likes toying with Bahar with his creepy ways and we watch as he cuts a chicken’s head off and while the chicken is flapping and moving without its head, he throws the carcass towards Bahar.
The second was the biggest shock for me. I have seen many older films with animal cruelty and most typically they are of animals in the wild, horses, rabbits, cattle. And usually, these scenes are either in the context of a characters meal, the illegality of poaching for skin, fur, ivory or bones. Or like one of the films such as “Touki Bouki” (which is also included on “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project”), showing a cow getting decapitated at a slaughterhouse.
But with “Dry Summer”, in order to show how people can be cruel with their livelihood is being taken away from them, there is revenge and in this case, village farmers wanting to show Osman not to mess with their lives and so they kill his dog.
We see a golden lab sitting in the shade and a rifle shot shooting the once calm dog which screams in pain before dying and seeing the blood dribble from its body.
I probably could imagine that back in 1964, animals used in the film and animal cruelty for the sake of plot development was unnerving but common practice, as every country has had some form of cinema showing a death of an animal or animal that was hurt and was euthanized.
And for us watching these scenes of animal cruelty, either one puts up with it and looks at it as a form of how cinema was back then in the past, while the other part of you is so sickened or angered by what you have seen, you can’t help but be shocked, saddened and upset with the scene. So, if you are an animal lover, this is something to be aware about.
Despite the unfortunate scenes of animal cruelty, the film is an intriguing highlight for Turkish cinema. It was a film made with a small crew, it was a film that was well-acted, well-paced and for the most part, utilizing techniques by Erksan and crew to get the best shot on camera.
The storyline is captivating because you are so emotionally invested in seeing if the selfish Osman will get punished for his actions or will he get away with his misdeeds.
Metin Erksan’s award winning “Dry Summer”Turkish film is a fascinating, unnerving film that has received wonderful restoration and is deserving of its inclusion in the Criterion Collection’s “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project” Blu-ray + DVD box set.
“Trances” was my first introduction to the music of Nass-El Ghiwane and Ahmed El Maanouni’s film “Trances”.
And it was rather fascinating for me to see this legendary Moroccan band Nass-El Ghiwane, perform in front of a live audience and have so many people of all ages, showing up to the venue and literally become captivated by the band and their music.
As I watched the band perform and to hear them play the traditional instruments and music influenced by Gnawa music (ancient African Islamic spiritual religions songs and rhythms), I was also drawn in my the complexity and the deepness of the lyrics performed by the band. But like many people we see in the film who are literally put into a trance while listening to their music, I found myself drawn into their music.
The film may not seem so different from today’s musical documentaries from showcasing live performances to behind-the-scenes footage to see a personal side of a band. But back when Ahmed El Maanouni filmed “Trances”, we got to see each member and their mindset. With the long hair/mustached Larbi Batma and the spectacle wearing Omar Sayed more as the vocal members of the group, the film shows us a side of Morocco during the ’80s but also archived footage of Morocco’s past, its rocky relationship with Portugal (as Morocco and Portugal have been involved in hundreds of years of war hundreds of years ago).
The film also gives a dedication to one of their deceased members, Boujemaa H’gour and how he was instrumental in convincing Omar to abandon Egyptian music for bssat, Moroccan folk theater. But the most vocal is Larbi Batma, a poet but also a man who no doubt likes to get his point across. But also going into discussion about Aïcha Kandicha, a historical figure from the 16th century.
What’s interesting is in the context of how Kandicha’s name is used in today’s vernacular to spook young boys of not doing anything bad or this mythological old wrinkly, toothless woman (or fairy ogre) would go after you. But when Larbi talks about her, its more about how she was Morocco’s first resistant. A woman raped by a Portuguese soldier, killed him and then later died in battle.
I’m not an erudite on Moroccan history or mythology to know if its factual but the way he talks about her with so much passion, I found very interesting because most of the time I have read about the name, it was more in a scary story, not a positive one.
But also getting to see the mindset of various members, especially when it comes to piracy and protecting their interests to just being friends and having fun with one another.
But the heart and soul of this music documentary is the band’s music and how they have captivated a generation or two and still today, many who discover their music are inspired by their music and lyrics.
While it’s one of those films that people either get it or don’t, you’re not going to find any Western type of drama that would be featured in something like the Maysle Brothers film “Gimme Shelter”, nor is it about the production of a concert and its fans such as Pennebaker’s “Monterrey Pop Festival”.
If anything, “Trances” has a similarity to music documentaries about the music and personal side, but unlike the typical rock or pop star that celebrates extravagant lifestyle or touring worldwide, these are people who are not in the music to make it rich, they are doing something they love and know that their music inspires thousands upon thousands of people who find inspiration with their music, especially the well-written, poetic lyrics. Some to the point that they are caught up in a trance when they dance to their music.
While I know this film has a special place in Martin Scorsese’s heart and it was the first film restored by the World Cinema Project, it’s great to have a music documentary included in the Criterion Collection’s “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project” and the fact that the special feature follows up with the director Ahmed El Maanouni and a few members of the band in 2013.
Overall, Ahmed El Maanouni’s musical documentary showcasing Moroccan band Nass-El Ghiwane, is a wonderful inclusion for Criterion Collection’s “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project”!
Kim Ji-young’s “The Housemaid” was an unnerving, frightful film back in 1960.
One can easily call it the “Fatal Attraction” of South Korea, the film is considered one of the greatest Korean films ever made and it all comes down to pacing, the use of tracking shots to show one happens in one room and what happens in another. The careful placement of a character to showcase sexual attraction and fatal attraction, “The Housemaid” was eerily creepy as it was a film that took a hardworking, good Korean family and by bringing a young maid into the picture who is poised to destroy the family by conquering the family patriarch is very fascinating.
While it’s ending may seem a bit of campy for today’s audiences, especially those who are familiar with the 2010 film which is more horror, creepy and bloody, the 1960 version has so much going on that you can’t believe this South Korean film was ever made during the 1960′s. Fortunately, the film was able to be made during the transitional government of Korea 1960, but for it to show violence against a family, the sexuality of the film and its shock value for its time, because of its bold nature, Kim Ki-young’s breakthrough film would become a major influence due to its storyline but most importantly the way the film was directed and how scenes were carefully planned.
It’s a melodrama that really captivates you due to its unnerving storyline and I can only imagine how this film went over with audiences back in 1960.
The film also marks a time when Korea was going through changes and the class structure of who is successful or wealthy became a part of culture but also women looking for a role in society to earn money for their family. The women depicted in the film are working in factories, the mother of children earns money by sewing, etc. and how a middle-class family is able to take in a maid. A difference between this film and the 2010 Im Sang-soo film which takes the family out of the middle class and makes them wealthy.
And because it was a time where people were becoming per-occupied with becoming successful, many may wonder why would a man let things spiral so out of control within his family for the fear of losing his job. And unlike today’s society where people can quit or get fired from a job to work at another similar or different position, in Asia, people carry their occupation as a form of respect. And for the character of Dong-sik Kim, with a family, a child who is disabled, a new home, piano and trying to have that lifestyle of being “successful”, it’s the moral issue of placing moral status too high and the family becoming trapped in their situation.
With the release of the film as part of “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project”, this is the version that features the two reels that were originally lost. A restoration that required the eliminated of the English subtitles from the two reels that were found and it was an arduous process that required quite a bit of funding and also the use of scientists to devise a program to help eliminate any blemishes left by the removal of the subtitles.
Special features include a comment from Martin Scorsese about the film and its restoration but also an interview with Bong Joon-ho, a director who discovered Kim Ki-young films during the ’90s and how the director influenced him as a director and how using the “dark morality” factor in his films (which include “The Host”, “Mother”, “Memories of Murder” and most recently “Snowpiercer”).
So, “The Housemaid” is one of the major challenges that the Korean Film Archive had faced in restoration and also giving exposure to the films of Kim Ki-young to a worldwide audience in 2013 and one can only hope that Criterion considers releasing more Ki-young films in the very near future.
If you enjoy films such as “Fatal Attraction” or want to experience a dark Korean ’60s melodrama, “The Housemaid” is an enjoyable film which has earned its reputation as one of the greatest Korean films ever made. Kim Ki-young’s “The Maid” is a wonderful addition to the Criterion Collection’s “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project”!
For those who are familiar with the work of Martin Scorsese’s “The Film Foundation” non-profit organization and their dedication to film preservation, the announcement that Scorsese would be doing the same through the World Cinema Project to help regions around the world that are ill equipped to preserve their own cinema history by restoration and preservation of their films, but also giving these films a chance to receive exposure for a new generation of cineaste.
From the six films presented in the Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray+DVD release of “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project “, I am so grateful that a set featuring films such as “Touki Bouki”, “Redes”, “A River Called Titas”, “Dry Summer”, “Tranes” and “The Housemaid” were incldued, as it gives people a chance to be exposed to the film work of Djibril Diop Mambety, Emilio Gomez Muriel (with Fred Zinneman), Ritwik Ghatak, Mertin Erksan, Ahmed El Maanouni and Kim Ji-young.
Each of these filmmakers have made an cinematic impact in their countries. Some who are even more respected and beloved post-humously because their films are seen as a masterpiece for their time but also how bold they were in releasing these films, during difficult times or were able to capture a period of time for that country and to see things that were bad back then, unfortunately these issues are still part of that country’s woes as they are not sure how to deal with these issues.
From “Redes” and its underpaid workforce who slave away for hours to get paid a few cents or as seen in “A River Called Titas” as people continue to suffer without the river. No fish, no water and its affecting the livelihood of people, farmers and as things get worse, just the thought that until 2013, now there will be studies to figure out how to prevent the river from dying.
“Touki Bouki” introduced us to a side of those who were born in a country and dreaming to leave to another country for a better life, “Trances” is a film that introduces us to the Moroccan band Nass-El Ghiwane and how their music not only puts many of their fans into a trance but also have captivated thousands with their lyrics of hope. While “Dry Summer” shows us the horrors of greed. And “The Housemaid” which was released many decades before its remake and showing us a side of a changing South Korea but also an unnerving storyline that you can’t help but be captivated and creeped out by it.
Overall, the Criterion Collection Blu-ray + DVD release of “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project” is one of the better box sets I have watched from the Criterion Collection. And I can only hope that the Criterion Collection will continue releasing a set as part of the World Cinema Project series as there are so many films from their restored films list that I hope, receives the Criterion Collection and the quality as we have seen with this Blu-ray +DVD Box Set.
There have been many wonderful Criterion Collection releases for 2013 but “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project” set is easily my pick for the “Best Criterion Collection Blu-ray release of 2013”. If you are a cineaste, it’s a must-own set that I highly recommended!
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