Lucía / After the Curfew
A breathtaking vision of Cuban revolutionary history wrought with white-hot intensity by Humberto Solás, this operatic epic tells the story of a changing country through the eyes of three women, each named Lucía. In 1895, she is a tragic noblewoman who inadvertently betrays her country for love during the war of independence. In 1932, she is the daughter of a bourgeois family drawn into the workers’ uprising against the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado. And in the postrevolutionary 1960s, she is a newlywed farm girl fighting against patriarchal oppression. A formally dazzling landmark of postcolonial cinema, Lucía is both a senses-stunning visual experience and a fiercely feminist portrait of a society journeying toward liberation.
After the Curfew
This work by the trailblazing auteur Usmar Ismail struck Indonesian cinema like a bolt of lightning, illuminating on-screen, for the first time and with unflinching realism, the struggles of Indonesian society after the country gained its independence from the Netherlands. Giving voice to the frustrated dreams of a nation, After the Curfew follows the descent into disillusionment of Iskandar (A. N. Alcaff), a former freedom fighter who is unable to readjust to civilian life following the revolution that ended centuries of colonial rule. When he discovers that the ideals he fought for have been betrayed by a corrupt former commander, Iskandar is pushed to the breaking point. Steeped in the moody atmospherics and simmering psychological tension of film noir, this clear-eyed postcolonial tragedy paints a dark-edged portrait of a country no longer at war but still fighting for its soul.
The Criterion Collection is thankfully continuing with their mission in releasing films restored through Martin Scorsese’s and The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project with a third dual-format Blu-ray/DVD box set. The first volume in the set presents two films: Humberto Solás’ Lucía (from Cuba) and Usmar Ismail’s After the Curfew (from Indonesia), presented in the respective aspect ratios of 1.66:1 and 1.37:1. They share the same dual-layer Blu-ray disc while also each receiving their own individual dual-layer DVDs. Lucía has been enhanced for widescreen televisions on the DVD. After the Curfew was restored in 3K, Lucía in 4K. This review will focus primarily on the Blu-ray. Sampling the DVDs shows two solid standard-definition presentations that even manage to look fine upscaled.
The high-definition presentations are both impressive, and like the other films I’ve gone through in the previous sets, they exceed expectations, though still have some issues due to storage and history, one far more than the other. Lucía is by far the best looking of the two, despite some heavy stylization. The film presents three stories that share similar themes but are told in very different manners, which includes different looks. The first story is told in the manner of a melodrama and it highly exaggerates things, right down to a high-contrast look. The look of this sequence is very intense with blooming whites and overpowering blacks. Bright sequences look severely blown out and dark sequences (and dark areas) are the polar opposite. There’s no in-between. Impressively, the encode handles this aspect rather well and details are still clear, film grain even showing through.
The rest of the film doesn’t have as intense a look and gray levels offer more shades and better blending, resulting in better depth. Whites are bright but don’t bloom and black levels are inky while still offering shadow detail. Grain is still rendered well and there’s a nice photographic look throughout most of the film. Detail is also good, though I was rather shocked at the number of scenes that go out-of-focus, and this doesn’t look to be intentional.
Damage is surprisingly minimal: there are some minor marks and lines, but they’re very infrequent. The worst case of damage comes in the guise of mold, the remanence of which impacts a flashback sequence early on in the film.
I was actually expecting worse but it appears time has been generally kind to Lucía. The same cannot—rather sadly—be said for After the Curfew. It’s in rough shape, and though you can tell that it has gone through a very vigorous restoration (a brief restoration comparison shown in one of the features confirms this) there are still things beyond repair.
Most of the film is in decent shape, and the worst it gets is usually scratches or marks along the edges of the screen. Still, there are many instances where it spreads throughout the rest of the frame, where it looks like either the film has flaked or been burned or fallen victim to some chemical reaction and big marks and stains can run down and through the image. Multiple sources also had to be used and when things change it’s very obvious. The majority of the film looks pretty sharp and clear, but then the image will suddenly go soft and dupey, with scratches getting heavier and more frequent. There are also moments where there could be missing frames, though they could also just be rough edits/cuts.
Despite all of these issues the encode for the film is good, making sure to not further enhance any of these problems. It’s rough, but it looks like a film, and impressively detail and clarity are really good (when the source allows), delivering fine details without issue. Grain is also good, though can vary in texture depending on the source being used at any given moment.
Despite any issues I was still pleased overall, as the end results are free of noise and have a nice film-like texture to them.
Lucía (1968): 8/10 After the Curfew (1954): 6/10
Both films present lossless PCM 1.0 monaural soundtracks on the Blu-ray and Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtracks on the DVDs. Lucía is pretty clean, though has some stylistic flourishes thrown in where the audio will become severely distorted, all of which is clearly intentional. It sounds like dialogue may have been dubbed over (at least in parts of the film) and there is a certain flatness. But overall the audio is clean.
After the Curfew is pretty rough on the other hand. While it sounds as though pops and cracks have been controlled the track still sounds very scratchy and harsh, with dialogue that sounds hollow and tinny. There is also this odd effect a ways into the film where there is an odd noise, almost like a disk drive whirring (not really sure how to describe it). Ultimately I think it comes down to the condition of the materials.
Lucía (1968): 6/10 After the Curfew (1954): 5/10
I love these sets and I look forward to them, but the one thing that is always disappointing is the fact that they do go slim on the supplements, and I suspect it’s to keep the costs down.
Each film at least comes with an introduction from Scorsese, he talks briefly about the film, its importance, and shares some details about the restorations. Each film then gets its own bonus feature. Lucía receives a 33-minute making-of, Humberto & “Lucía,” which features director Humberto Solás, actors Adela Legrá and Eslinda Núñez, editor Nelson Rodriguez, and filmmaker Enrique Pineda Barnet all talking about the film’s production and the climate of the time. After the Curfew is accompanied by a rather fascinating interview with journalist J. B. Kristanto, who appears over video conference to not only talk about the film and its director, but to also talk about the state of film preservation in Indonesia and how the history is in danger of being lost forever due to varying political and cultural roadblocks that have made things difficult through the years. Kristanto has worked tirelessly to at least preserve historical records. He also explains why he suggested After the Curfew to be restored and Criterion provides a brief restoration comparison to show how badly the film was in need of it. The segment runs 19-minutes.
Sadly there’s nothing else, but if getting these sets out means keeping costs down in the supplements department, I'm all for it.
I love these sets and this is a nice way to start this new one. Though both films have issues in their presentations (one minor, the other far more severe), I’m still very impressed by the end results, the restoration work being as thorough as can be.