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 fourth film in the set is Mário Peixoto’s Limite, 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), Limite shares the same dual-layer Blu-ray with Revenge but receives its own dual-layer DVD. The Blu-ray presents the film in 1080p/60hz while the DVD presents a standard-definition version utilizing the same master.
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. 6/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
The film is silent but comes 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. 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 Limite.
Not to suggest that any of the others films in this set aren’t deserving of their own stacked releases from Criterion—because they are—but I have to admit a certain shock that this film didn’t get its own individual release. I may also question Taipei Story and even Mysterious Object at Noon not getting their own editions but I guess I understand the risky/economical reasons leading to packing those with the other films in the set. Again, not saying the other films don’t deserve their own editions but if getting them together in a set is the only plausible way to get them on home video at all, so be it.
Still, Limite seems like the one title that would be a real no-brainer for its own edition, loaded with a number of scholarly supplements and features about its history. Though I’m glad to finally get it (and in what is a pretty great box set) I feel a bit disappointed it only gets a couple of supplements.
Scorsese provides another introduction, again talking about the film and its directors, as well as the restoration itself, covering a couple of minutes. This is then followed by 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.
I liked the background history and enjoyed Salles’ observations about the film’s unique visual style, but it just feels like the film needs a more elaborate special edition. Still, I’m glad we got something and at least the features we do get are good. 3/10