Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project No. 1
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 generally ill equipped to preserve their own cinema history. This collector’s set brings together six superb films from countries around the globe, including Senegal (Touki bouki), Mexico (Redes), India and Bangladesh (A River Called Titas), Turkey (Dry Summer), Morocco (Trances), and South Korea (The Housemaid). Each is a cinematic revelation, depicting a culture not often seen by outsiders on-screen.
The Criterion Collection presents their first box set release of films restored through Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project, whose mission it is to help in restoring and preserving films from countries that may lack the resources to preserve and care for their own films. This dual-format release, presenting the films over 3 dual-layer Blu-rays or 6 DVDs (1 single layer and 5 dual-layer,) presents six films: Senegal’s Touki Bouki, Mexico’s Redes, India’s A River Called Titas, Turkey’s Dry Summer, Morocco’s Trances, and South Korea’s The Housemaid.
Trances is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and The Housemaid is presented in 1.60:1. The DVDs present their respective transfers in anamorphic widescreen. Touki Bouki and A River Called Titas are both presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1, and both Redes and Dry Summer are presented in the aspect ratio of about 1.33:1. Other than Touki Bouki none of the standard format films have any window-boxing present in the standard-def/DVD versions of the films. Touki Bouki features some slight window-boxing but the Blu-ray’s presentation also features this, so it seems to be something inherent in the master used. The high-definition transfers found on the Blu-rays are presented in 1080p/24hz.
A lot of work has gone into restoring these films and as a whole they’re all very remarkable. The digital transfers themselves, even though they can be held back by the source, are all mostly flawless with some minor exceptions. The transfers are all sharp where the source allows, and artifacts aren’t too much of an issue. Colours in the two colour films, Touki Bouki and Trances, look clean and natural, while the black and white transfers on the remaining films look mostly excellent, with strong tonal shifts, and superb gray scale, even though parts of The Housemaid can look a little boosted.
Film grain is present in all of the films and its rendering is pretty spot on, short of some noisy moments in A River Called Titas’ darker scenes. It can get heavy in the 16mm feature Trances but never looks artificial. In its case it helps in making its transfer look like a projected 16mm film. Artifacts aren’t too much of an issue on the Blu-ray versions of the films, except for the aforementioned noisy moments in Titas, but the DVDs do look a little more compressed with halos present in a few places.
The source materials vary, and each one seems to have its own rough history, which does hold back some of the transfers. Touki Bouki is clearly the best looking one of the bunch, with a near-perfect look. I actually don’t recall many blemishes in the source and the transfer itself is sharp and highly detailed.
Trances is also near-perfect, with a stunningly clean print only hampered by some archival and television footage presented in a few places. Dry Summer also comes off as one of the set’s better presentations, with another clean print and sharp transfer.
Those three films not surprisingly share one common trait: they all have transfers created from masters taken from the original negatives. The other films present weaker presentations, and it appears their short comings can be blamed more on poor storage conditions and the fact their masters were created from multiple sources.
Redes is easily the most beat up of the six films, and was put together from a duplicate negative and a positive print. The transfer is very sharp and doesn’t have any faults, but the source materials used are heavily damaged with a number of scratches, bits of debris, stains, missing frames, and more. But it’s still wholly watchable thanks to the fact the digital transfer itself is so strong. Titas also comes from a number of sources and the quality can vary wildly throughout. It can look shockingly good through much of its running time, with a high amount of detail and clarity, and only a few scratches a tram lines. But other moments, which obviously come from weaker sources, look incredibly worn, faded, and even blown out. If I were told some of the shots in the film came from a VHS source I doubt I’d be at all shocked.
The Housemaid possibly has the most interesting restoration. Most of the transfer comes from the original negative but reels 5 and 8 are apparently missing. The best source for these missing segments was a release print that had burned-in, handwritten subtitles that took up half of the screen. These segments went through a vigorous restoration process to remove the subtitles. Unfortunately this process appears to have left behind some artifacts that are plainly visible, such as blocks of pixels that appear to be dancing about. These segments are also heavily damaged with scratches and tram lines, and rather brutal contrast levels. The rest of the film on the other hand looks fairly spotless, so this makes the weaker sequences all the more noticeable.
Some issues obviously remain but as a whole the work put into these films is nothing short of astounding, and the digital transfers all deliver fairly filmic looks. Fantastic transfers all around.
All of the films present mono tracks, presented in lossless linear PCM on the Blu-rays and Dolby Digital 1.0 on the DVDs.
Not surprisingly the audio is held back by their respective source materials, which just haven’t held up over the years or were recorded with less than stellar audio equipment. Most of the presentations are fairly hollow, even tinny, and lack much in the way of fidelity and range. Distortion can also be a problem, as best shown in Dry Summer’s dialogue, which has a very off-putting, edgy sound to it. Redes presents the most source problems, even dropping audio here and there, and shifting in quality severely from sequence to sequence.
Trances, which provides plenty of concert footage, possibly offers the best audio. Though there’s no mistaking it’s a mono track for a 16mm documentary, the track delivers the film’s music with excellent range and volume levels.
Overall the transfers do what they can, and I feel in the cases of all six films this is about as good as it gets.
Though a rather impressive looking box set there is actually very little material on here, with each film only getting, on average, less than 20-minutes worth of material.
Each film in the set gets its own dual-layer DVD, with the exception of Redes, which is delivered on a single-layer disc. The Blu-rays each feature two films, with the first disc containing Touki Bouki and Redes, the second disc containing A River Called Titas and Dry Summer, and the last disc holding Trances and The Housemaid. The supplements accompany their respective films on each disc.
Each film receives an exclusive introduction by Martin Scorsese. They run about 2-minutes individually and present the filmmaker talking about how each respective film came to his attention, with his own personal comments about the film and some reflections on the restorations. None of the intros are particularly insightful but they’re all worth a view for some brief history on the restorations.
For Touki Bouki, an interview with filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako is included. He talks about the importance of director Djibril Diop Mambéty and his work, specifically Touki Bouki, while also covering its odd structure, the characters, and Mambéty’s style of filmmaking. It runs about 12-minutes.
Redes comes with a new 8-minute visual essay by Kent Jones, which covers the film’s production history and how everyone became involved on the project. It also offers some information on its release and restoration.
Filmmaker Kumar Shahani then accompanies A River Called Titas with a 16-minute interview where he talks about Ghatak’s brief career and work, and then offers his own thoughts on Titas.It offers some decent insights and may be one of the stronger interviews in the set.
Also strong is a 15-minute segment for Dry Summer featuring an interview with filmmakers Metin Erksan and Faith Akin, with Erksan’s taken from excerpts of a 2008 interview, and Adkin’s being recorded exclusively for this release. Akin recalls winning the Golden Bear for Head-On, technically a German film, though Turkey considered it one of their own. This led Akin to track down Dry Summer, the first Turkish film to win the award. Akin talks a little about the political climate in Turkey at the time, comments on Erksan’s style, his favourite moments in the film, the sexuality, and so on. This is intercut with Erksan’s comments where he recalls making the film and some obstacles that came up, like the censors who objected to a plot point which would have involved the older brother marrying the widow. He has some unkind (rather humourous) comments about those “useless people” who only know how to “get their salaries.” Akin provides some decent insight but I actually wish there was more footage of Erksan who proves to be a rather lively interview subject.
Trances presents a feature called On Trances, featuring interviews with Scorsese, musician Omar Sayed, producer Izza Genini, and director Ahmed El Maanouni (and a narrator,) and covers the film’s production and the band Nass El Ghiwane, also giving a brief history of the band and its members. It’s not altogether that lengthy (it runs only 18-minutes) but it’s probably one of the more substantial and in-depth supplements in the whole set, offering a bit more context behind the film.
Finally, The Housemaid comes with an interview with director Bong Joon-ho who briefly talks for 15-minutes about The Housemaid and its director. He mentions the elements he loves about the film and Kim Ki-young’s other work, as well as offering a political background for South Korea during the 60’s.
The set then comes with an excellent 64-page booklet covering the films and the World Cinema Project as a whole. Kent Jones first provides an essay about the project and its origins, and then each film receives its own essay: Richard Porton for Touki Bouki, Charles Ramirez Berg for Redes, Adrian Martin for A River Called Titas, Bilge Ebiri with Dry Summer, Sally Shafto on Trances, and then Kyung Hyun Kim for The Housemaid. The essays all fill in a decent gap that is left open by the disc features from an analytical standpoint and is worth reading.
It’s disappointing that there is so little on the set, but what is most disappointing is the lack of information on the restorations. With all the work put into these films you’d think there would be something on the restoration efforts, but short of a sample of The Housemaid found in the Scorsese introduction accompanying that film there is nothing. I’m hoping this will be reconsidered for future sets.
For such a large looking set the supplements feel surprisingly slight, and the omission of any sort of restoration demonstration is surprising and disappointing. But the video transfers are all of very high quality, despite issues that remain in some of the source materials. It’s an impressive set of films and it comes with a high recommendation, especially for those feeling adventurous.