Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project has been discovering and restoring important international films since 2007 and has received 42 films from 25 countries in its 13th anniversary. Scorsese's mission is not just to save and protect these films, many of which would likely disappear into darkness and physical deterioration without the support of his Film Foundation, but to ensure that they are generally available to audiences worldwide. Scorsese's latest endeavor in this regard is the indispensable new Criterion box set Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project 3, which, like the two previous collections, collects six groundbreaking works from the library of the World Cinema Project and presents them in exemplary transfers with invaluable contextualizing additions. The choices here include Dos Monjes, a Gothic melodrama from Mexico that uses multiple viewpoints and an unusual flashback structure; Lucia, an even more structurally ambitious Cuban magician; After the curfew, Usmar Ismail contemplates a crucial moment in Indonesian history after the end of Dutch rule. Iranian New Wave Touchstone Rainfall; and the angry, darkly funny Soleil O. by the Mauritanian director Med Hondo. For me, the highlight of the set is a flawless retransmission of Hector Babenco's masterpiece Pixote from 1980, presented here in all of its searing beauty and brutality. Pixote is a neo-realistic drama that follows children and young people who move in and out of a brutal Brazilian reform school system. In the 40 years since its release, Pixote has lost none of its emotional power, and Babenco's razor-sharp technique is still impressive (no surprise that it was picked up for English language films like Kiss of the Spider Woman and Ironweed after Pixote's release) An interview with Babenco for the Visual History Project of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is one of my favorite supplements in the Criterion box. It's a pleasure to hear about his early career, from working as an extra in European genre films (including the original Django!) To directing the non-professional actors in Pixote and realizing his childhood dream of becoming a filmmaker.
UK label 101 Films just released a great new Region B edition of 1977 thriller The Deep. Based on Peter Benchley's successor to Jaws, The Deep follows a vacationing couple (Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset) who discover both valuable Spanish artifacts and a stash of illegal morphine while diving in Bermuda. You work with a local treasure hunter (Robert Shaw, who is essentially a more subdued version of his Jaws performance) to find the find, and take her on an adventure where the danger in the form of everything from an area king (Louis Gossett) walking towards her Jr.) to an aggressive moray eel. Under the direction of action specialist Peter Yates (Bullitt, The Friends of Eddie Coyle), the cast of The Deep offers loads of engaging, old-fashioned thrills and romance, and more than a typical level of engagement – the actors and crew did their best The result is one of the most impressive underwater footage ever to appear in a Hollywood studio release. The action sequences are positively impressive due to the simple fact that they are clearly Nolte and Shaw and everyone else in seemingly dangerous and difficult conditions – the pre-CGI set pieces are ingenious in their conception and flawless in their execution. The 101 Blu-ray offers some great insight into Yates' methods, from a standout commentary track by film critic Kevin Lyons detailing the image's production history to a vintage television special about its making. There is also additional footage from the three-hour TV version of The Deep and an interview with underwater art director Terry Ackland-Snow. I've long been a fan of 101 Films' special editions, and this is one of their best.
Another boutique distributor that has released exquisite special edition Blu-rays, Australian label Imprint, has released a beautiful new press of Sidney Lumet's 1996 drama Night Falls on Manhattan. Night Falls on Manhattan is one of Lumet's intriguing New York morals in the tradition of his former Serpico and Prince of the City. It is a detailed portrait of police officers, lawyers, criminals and the legal system that they are all trying to manipulate for their own ends. It's both an extraordinary piece of cinema (Lumet's subtle and rigorous visual design is as meticulous and effective as ever) and a classic piece of American drama that explores in full every psychological and social significance of the material. Night Falls on Manhattan also contains one of Lumet's quintessentially dynamic ensembles – it's worth going just to see Andy Garcia, Lena Olin, Ian Holm, Richard Dreyfuss, James Gandolfini, Ron Liebman, and a parade of other great artists juicy parts of Lumet's structured script. The limited Blu-ray from Imprint features two excellent commentary tracks, one from Lumet and one from Garcia, Liebman and producers Josh Kramer & Thom Mount.
Lena Olin also plays a major role in my final recommendation of the week, Kino Lorber's new Blu-ray of Sydney Pollack's 1990 political romance Havana. Like Lumet, Pollack's training ground was live television, and like Lumet, its best work combines the sizzling energy of it Medium with a classic attention to composition and camera movement, which favors long shots and complicated blocks compared to fast cuts and close-ups. Contrary to its critical reputation, Havana is exceptional in this regard, a beautifully constructed film that serves as a master class to convey character and theme through the camera. When it was released, critics compared it unfavorably to Casablanca, and while the political turmoil in Robert Redford / Lena Olin / Raul Julia's love triangle undoubtedly echoes this classic, I think the comparison is unfair; Havana is, to a large extent, a film in its own right, and it has a historical sophistication and moral complexity – especially when it comes to the Redford character, one of the most idiosyncratic the actor has ever played – that allow him to stand on his own . It needs to be re-evaluated, and the new Blu-ray from Kino is the perfect opportunity.
Jim Hemphill is the writer and director of the award-winning film The Trouble with the Truth, which is currently streamed on Amazon Prime and Tubi. His website is www.jimhemphillfilms.com.