Girlfight

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Synopsis

Bullied by her father at home and feeling adrift at school, Diana Guzman (Michelle Rodriguez) finds refuge in an unexpected pocket of her native Brooklyn—a timeworn boxing gym, where she learns to channel her strength, discovers a sense of community, and falls for a rival fighter. In Karyn Kusama’s raw, understated feature debut, Rodriguez commands the screen with both tightly coiled intensity and deep wells of vulnerability as a young woman hitting back at society’s expectations and her own personal demons. Capturing the full emotional weight of Diana’s journey and the kinetic thrill of bodies in motion, Kusama crafts a singularly uncompromising story of self-realization.

Picture 9/10

Karyn Kusama’s Girlfight receives a Blu-ray upgrade from The Criterion Collection, presented on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation is sourced from a new 4K restoration taken from a scan of the original 16mm A/B negatives.

While Criterion may have deemed the film's appeal too limited to justify a 4K edition, it's a shame because the film would likely look even more impressive in that format. Even in standard high-definition, it looks solid, rendering grain and details well, with only a few slightly buzzy moments in darker shots. This results in a sharp, film-like appearance and a satisfying level of detail, not hindered by the 16mm source.

Colors appear vibrant, with sharp bursts of violet and red, and black levels are incredibly deep without crushing shadow detail. The restoration has cleaned up the source print wonderfully, with only a few minor marks and no significant print damage. Overall, it's a solid image.

Audio 8/10

The DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround soundtrack isn’t showy, but the mix is efficient and effective. The film’s score and music are spread nicely to the surround channels with subtle bass, while the dialogue, focused in the front channels, is sharp and clear with a decent range. Ambient noise within the gym and boxing settings subtly utilizes the surround channels, enhancing the overall atmosphere.

Extras 7/10

Criterion puts together a decent set of supplements for the film, starting by porting over director Karyn Kusama’s audio commentary from the 2001 Sony DVD. It's a serviceable, production-centric commentary where Kusama recalls the film’s lengthy journey from inception to release. She discusses how budget limitations necessitated certain compromises, which she feels sometimes worked to the film's advantage (such as the opening shot). She also delves into casting Michelle Rodriguez in the lead role despite her inexperience, the film’s music, and, notably, the editing process and maintaining the film’s pace.

Kusama manages to avoid dead space, covering every aspect of the production while also exploring the film’s characters and story. This is complemented by two new interview programs recorded exclusively for this edition: a 26-minute interview with Kusama and a 21-minute discussion featuring editor Plummy Tucker and composer Theodore Shapiro. Kusama’s interview both summarizes and expands upon topics covered in the commentary, discussing her film influences and inspirations (humorously noting her mother took her to see Eraserhead when she was 10, not knowing what it was). She also talks about her film school work (with clips included), her boxing experience, and translating the sport's physical aspects to the film.

Further discussion on the film’s development, script, and editing is well-served by the Tucker/Shapiro interview. Tucker delves into the technical aspects of editing sequences to find their emotional core, with Shapiro’s score playing a supportive role. A 7-minute featurette narrated by Kusama showcases storyboards for two of the film’s boxing scenes, illustrating the thought process behind framing and editing.

The disc is rounded out with the film’s original trailer, and the insert includes a well-written appreciation by Carmen Maria Machado, providing the only academic angle in the release.

Though it's disappointing that Michelle Rodriguez didn’t participate in an interview, Criterion has still assembled a solid set of features that reflect on the film’s production.

Closing

Overall, Criterion’s Blu-ray edition of Karyn Kusama’s Girlfight is a commendable effort, delivering an impressive A/V presentation.

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Directed by: Karyn Kusama
Year: 2000
Time: 111 min.
 
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 1219
Licensor: IFC Films
Release Date: May 28 2024
MSRP: $39.95
 
Blu-ray
1 Disc | BD-50
1.85:1 ratio
English 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround
Subtitles: English
Region A
 
 Audio commentary featuring Karyn Kusama   New interviews with Karyn Kusama, editor Plummy Tucker, and composer Theodore Shapiro   Trailer   An essay by author Carmen Maria Machado