Blu-ray Review: World Cinema Foundation Volume One

Overall rating: 3/5

This box set gathers together three neglected films from around the world in loving restorations.

First up is Metin Erksan’s Dry Summer (1964). On paper, an old black-and-white film from Turkey might not sound all that appetising, but it’s an absolute corker and quite the opposite of the dull but worthy offering you might expect.

It concerns a greedy landowner named Osman (Erol Tas) who cuts off access to the spring on his property, much to the fury of his neighbours. “Water is the earth’s blood!” they exclaim, and reprisals inevitably ensue. Meanwhile, Osman also has his eye on Bahar (Hulya Kocyigit), the drop-dead gorgeous wife of Hasan, his easygoing younger brother.

At its core, Dry Summer is the most simple and basic of melodramas, but Erksan shoots with enormous inventiveness and flair. Pictorially, it’s a stunner, with every frame looking like it could have been torn out of the pages of a 1950s Time Life, and it also has a confident, spaghetti western swagger. For example, the first glimpse we have of Bahar is when she gets his attention by flashing a mirror in his eyes, dazzling him and us at the same time – it’s a wonderfully arresting intro to the one character in the whole story who has the measure of Osman. On top of that, a soundtrack of clangy zither music adds to the visceral, sunbaked feel.

His moustache bristling with machismo, Erol Tas is mesmerising as the villainous Osman – and the sight of him drinking milk straight from a cow’s teat is one of the most disturbing things you’ll ever see. But then the whole film is mesmerising, a wonderful rediscovery. The audio is a little tinny on this transfer, but the sharply dramatic, high contrast cinematography looks glorious. A five star classic, and this box set is worth buying for this film alone. (5/5)

Revenge (1989) couldn’t be more at the other end of the scale from Dry Summer’s brutal simplicity. It revolves around the murder of a child and a father’s desire for retribution, but it’s not a conventional revenge story, or a conventional anything else for that matter. Instead, spread over three decades from 1910 to 1940, it follows a wandering, unpredictable course as the father tries and fails to exact an eye for an eye, and then entrusts the duty to his sensitive, poetry-writing son.

A mystical, elliptical, fairy tale-like film about the urge for violence and the need for grace and compassion, It’s a bit of a head-scratcher at times, but very assured and compelling, with a powerful otherworldly atmosphere. Helmed by a Khazak director and scripted by a Korean-Russian writer, and with a story that shifts from Korea to China to Russia, perhaps the most striking thing from a modern perspective is the film’s focus on rootless, stateless characters, with national borders and individual identities equally porous.

The picture is just a little soft at times, but it’s another very strong transfer, with the costumes and landscapes coming up vibrantly. 3/5

Trances (1981) is probably the least accessible of the three films on offer. About the Moroccan band Nass El Ghiwane, this is a documentary in the loose-jointed idiom of the 1970s, with lengthy concert footage intercut with scenes of bustling street life (one of the band members drives around in a rusty little Fiat) and long chats about musical influences.

Quite what you get from the film with depend, obviously enough, on how much you like the music of Nass El Ghiwane, which is more rhythmic than melodic and is therefore unlikely to suit all tastes. But even if you are a fan, the documentary still has its flaws – a lack of structure and context makes it hard to glean a clear storyline about the band from the assembled footage, while the band members themselves come across as guarded and standing on their dignity, revealing little of their human side. That said, it’s undoubtedly a vibrant snapshot of a place and time, and the audio on the Blu-ray transfer in very good. 3/5

The video introductions by Martin Scorsese aren’t much to write home about, but the box set comes with a nice, thick booklet.

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