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Blu-ray Review: Bridge of Spies

A grippingly expressive espionage yarn, another exemplary entry in Steven Spielberg’s late-career period, receives a top-tier, must-buy transfer.

4.0

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Bridge of Spies

We first see Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) painting, alternately examining himself in a mirror to his left and polishing a self-portrait on his right. This resonant triangular image, with Abel himself comprising one of its points in the center of the frame, shows what he sees (in the mirror), what he documents (in the painting), and what we see (a middle-aged man in a cramped 1950s-era apartment in Brooklyn, painting amid the expressive sounds of a city in swing). None of these perceptions are entirely in sync, existing as shards of multitudinous realities that ultimately amount to whatever a beholder decides they amount to. With this image, director Steven Spielberg succinctly boils Bridge of Spies down to its essence.

Spielberg hasn’t been this obsessed with perception since Minority Report, blending that preoccupation with the discursive, politically charged comedy that coursed through Lincoln. Bridge of Spies dramatizes how spoken words, as an art form, manipulate point of view. Not long after Abel’s introduction, which ends in his arrest by the United States government for suspicion of serving as a Russian spy in the Cold War, we meet James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks), a prominent insurance attorney who’s discussing a case with an opposing lawyer in a posh bar. Donovan’s quite cognizant of perception (it’s his trade after all), and one of his clients is intent on settling a single incident, rather than the five the opposing attorney insists there to be. If a man hits five people in an automobile accident, has he been in one accident or five? The answer, to borrow from an old joke, depends on the competency of your attorney. Donovan appears to be shrewd and connected, so we assume the incident will be deemed singular. Later, Donovan’s tasked with overseeing a prisoner trade between the U.S., Russia, and Eastern Germany, and the idea of singular and multiple incidents is revisited with a delicious sense of circuitous repetition. Is Donovan overseeing one trade or two? The answer resides in how well he can play the Russians off the Germans off the Americans.

Bridge of Spies is also another of Spielberg’s morality tales about legal procedure as a charade masking the inherent chaos and subjectivity of social governance. Under the cloak of benevolent objectivity championed by various global government platitudes pertaining to “justice,” lives countless bureaucrats scurrying to orchestrate the most beneficial political play for themselves. In Lincoln, slavery was shown to be dissolved (at least legally) through an elaborate pissing contest, which resonated with contemporary viewers well-read on the controversies engulfing Affordable Healthcare. Yet the semantical tap-dancing that politicians, attorneys, judges, and police do, with the law as their script, serves to stave off the kind of anarchy that Spielberg shows in Bridge of Spies to be overtaking the border between East and West Germany as the Berlin Wall is hastily erected. But how long can porous laws avert such anarchy? There’s a sense in Bridge of Spies of an era on a precipice, of life as dictated by the perceptions of a vast populace that can be swayed to look another way with terrifying ease.

The elegantly intricate script by Matt Charman and Joel and Ethan Coen is loaded with references to perception as a malleable reality. Donovan is initially hired to represent Abel as he’s tried for espionage by the U.S. government, not because the Americans wish to see him represented, but so a point can be made about the firmness of the country’s Constitution no matter what the circumstance. (Like Lincoln, Bridge of Spies explores the present via the past, in this case commenting on contemporary immigration controversies.) Halfway through the film, there’s a bold, eerie image of people reading newspapers on a train all around Donovan, seething with contempt for his representation of the Russian. The newspapers’ headlines are subtly heightened visually, suggesting sandwich board signs advertising Donovan’s personal condemnation. At one point, Abel remarks that “the boss might not always be right, but he’s always the boss.” Even tossed-off dialogue circles the fragility of perception: When Donovan’s wife, Mary (Amy Ryan), asks for details on his trip (which he calls a fishing expedition) to dangerous eastern Germany, she asks him to give her anything to keep her from worrying, even if it’s a lie.

But the games truly begin when Donovan gets to East Germany. As always, semantics must be strictly enforced and averted in equal measure. This trade between world powers is presented as comic bickering between an American attorney and European officials whose true identities and rankings may never entirely be revealed. Theoretically, the negotiation to trade Abel back to Russia and Eastern Germany, for an American U-2 pilot (Austin Stowell) and a college student (Will Rogers) at the wrong place at the wrong time, was initiated by Abel’s family, but that’s instantly ascertained to be a ruse by all involved, particularly by the hauntingly resolute Abel. Donovan hears of a family lawyer, Vogel (Sebastian Koch), a German nationalist who can’t meet Donovan at the Russian embassy in Eastern Germany for the obvious reasons, despite his status as the ostensible reason for Donovan’s journey to the embassy. Somewhere in this convoluted war of pretense, there’s also Schischkin (Mikhail Gorevoy), a probable KGB agent who bears a resemblance to Peter Lorre.

The film is based on a true story and some of it may have even happened this way, but Spielberg’s spinning another myth about the ambiguities of myths, how they comfort audiences, affirming their private ideas about themselves, at the dangerous expense of empowering manipulators. Over the course of this narrative, Donovan evolves from hero to pariah to hero again, eventually allowed to sack out on his bed as a self-consciously frumpy nice-guy father again, partially due to his own craftiness, yes, but within a larger, less governable blob of public opinion, shifting context, and blind luck. Donovan is a superb negotiator, but he could have just as easily been killed in Eastern Germany, who longs to be globally recognized by the U.S., and his family could’ve been arbitrarily snuffed out by domestic terrorists who take the Constitution on a case-by-case basis.

Which is to say that Bridge of Spies, in the tradition of most Spielberg films, is considerably less sentimental and comfortable than many may take it to be. Spielberg is an old-school classicist by now, a master crafter of images that often transcend the literal meanings of the material they ostensibly serve. This film’s supple, fluid, smoothly, positively Preminger-esque sense of framing and movement, not to mention the editing, which connects plot points via subtle rhyming patterns, can make a cinephile’s jaw drop. Spielberg’s virtuosic formality has long been its own reward, the intensity of its invention suggesting unresolved multitudes within the stories he stages. In the last two decades, however, the filmmaker’s worked with writers muscular enough to actively bolster and complement his showmanship, such as Scott Frank on Minority Report, Tony Kushner on Lincoln, and Joel and Ethan Coen on Bridge of Spies.

Bridge of Spies merges the Coen brothers’ ironic sense of history as a series of tall tales, comprised mostly of manipulation and delusion, with Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kamiński’s evocative images of loneliness and violation. When Donovan calls the police to report harassment, for instance, Spielberg covers the subsequent investigation of the house in nightmarish shadows, framing the throngs of reporters and embittered cops in long, leisurely, deep-focus takes, conveying an element of caged danger. Spielberg’s filmmaking doesn’t release tension via traditionally modern, inexpressively frenetic cutting. Every detail in every frame is hyper-tactile, exhilaratingly inescapable. Spielberg fetishizes 1950s-era America, particularly his beloved idea of the nuclear domestic unit, while understanding it to be a precious mirage that could be blinked away at any moment.

Image/Sound

This Blu-ray offers a feast for all the senses, abounding in clarity that far exceeds the theatrical presentation of the film. All elements of all planes of every image are in constant focus. Colors, particularly the blacks and blues, are luscious, nearly viscous, suggesting tangible extra dimensions within the frame. Whites often affirm the film’s theme of truth as existing in shards, splintering images, especially the white light reflecting off of the heavy rain in a notably expressionist chase scene. Textures are tactile, from the coats worn by the characters to the various tools of espionage used by agents to the gears and gadgets within the U-2 plane. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack aurally complements the hyper-detail of the imagery, often abounding in subtle exaggerations of everyday noises: of a rumbling train jostling riders on their daily commute, of the aforementioned raindrops hitting the pavement, of feet tramping across a shabby floor, of a spy delicately removing a razor to open a hidden piece of information. This presentation celebrates the beauty of exacting density.

Extras

The supplements collectively mix archive footage of the historical events that inspired Bridge of Spies with brief testimonials from cast and crew about the shooting of the film. As is usually the case with Steven Spielberg, he tends to describe his films in terms that are far more banal than they deserve, inadvertently encouraging critics’ underestimation of him. There’s a brief history lesson about the Berlin Wall and the U-2 plane, but these segments are short and superficial. The most interesting footage shows Spielberg working with his cast and crew, blocking scenes, though there isn’t much of that to be found here. These pieces are painless, but they still add up to an unexceptional PR package.

Overall

A grippingly expressive espionage yarn, another exemplary entry in Steven Spielberg’s late-career period, receives a top-tier, must-buy transfer.

Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Sebastian Koch, Amy Ryan, Scott Shepherd, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Mikhail Gorevoy, Jesse Plemons, Dakin Matthews Director: Steven Spielberg Screenwriter: Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen Distributor: Touchstone Home Entertainment Running Time: 141 min Rating: PG-13 Year: 2015 Release Date: February 2, 2016 Buy: Video, Soundtrack

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Blu-ray Review: Forty Guns

Samuel Fuller’s libido-fueled, feverishly stylized B western gets a lavish reincarnation on home video courtesy of Criterion.

4.0

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Forty Guns

Though shot in a drum-tight 10 days, and on a low budget, writer-director Samuel Fuller’s raw, punchy noir-western Forty Guns isn’t a film of half-measures. As it acquaints us with Tombstone, Arizona, the parched Cochise County town where its action takes place, the 1957 film does so with an unbroken dolly shot that runs the entire length of main street, taking in something like 50-plus actors in choreographed motion and encompassing both an exposition dump and a startling zoom-and-pan reveal.

When Jessica Drummond (Barbara Stanwyck), the territory’s domineering land baroness, conducts her daily business via horseback, she does so with all 40 of her grizzled hired hands in tow, a thunderous spectacle trotted out for matters both large and small. And when a tornado rips over the hills, realized by Fuller and his crew as a high-powered dust storm that renders the landscape a grainy, swirling abstraction, Stanwyck is right in the middle of the fray; the script called for Jessica to be dragged along with the hoof of a runaway horse, and Stanwyck insisted on performing the daredevil maneuver herself, much to the chagrin of producers.

Bold expressionism and brawny physicality were staples of Fuller’s filmmaking career—qualities surely indebted in some part to his experiences as an infantryman and cameraman during World War II—and in Forty Guns the entire cast is synchronized with that sensibility. The film is possessed of an earthy eroticism, evident in a number of scenes dedicated to watching Tombstone’s men bathe openly under the afternoon sun, as well as in an insistent streak of sexual innuendo in the dialogue, wherein any talk of a man’s gun is quite transparently an allusion to his cock.

Upon the arrival of pacifistic U.S. Marshal Griff Bonell (Barry Sullivan), carrying a warrant for the arrest of Jessica’s rotten brother, Brockie (John Ericson), in town with siblings Wes (Gene Barry) and Chico (Robert Dix), the townsfolk’s dormant sexual energies are expulsed, with Wes angling for local gunsmith Louvenia (Eve Brent) and Griff himself going after Jessica. In a place where gunfire is the prevailing expression of emotion, violence and sex thus become intimately entangled—a link visually represented when Wes and Louvenia’s mutual desire is consummated by an eccentric down-the-rifle-barrel POV shot that Jean-Luc Godard would crib for Breathless only three years later.

This suggestive visual punnery aside, the structure of Forty Guns ultimately accommodates a shift from lewd flirtation to emotional vulnerability, with the at-first caricatured threat of violence becoming a real and deadly threat indeed, as new bonds are sewn and prior allegiances are fissured. Griff, having vowed to retire his six-shooter, awakens Jessica’s sensitive side in the process of spending time with her, breaking down her desperado roughness with his nonviolent, levelheaded enforcement of the law.

The moment when Jessica seems to have fully emerged as a more complicated woman than she initially appeared is among the film’s most beautiful: When she and Griff find shelter from the aforementioned tornado in an abandoned barn, a lilting crane shot descends from the rafters to find the lovers entangled from head to toe in a pile of hay, the camera finally landing in an intimate two-shot to survey their nostalgic exchange without a single cut. It’s a scene of aching tenderness in the midst of bawdy farce and jolts of brutality, but such a commiseration of souls proves fleeting in a land of hardened alliances and quick triggers, and it’s this very union that acts as the catalyst for an accumulating body count.

The film’s tonal swing from goofiness to severity is best exemplified in the three Tombstone ambushes conducted by Brockie. The first, seemingly the result of a drunken whim, is a maniacal shooting spree played mostly for shock laughs (save for the mood-puncturing casualty of an innocent blind man), and concluded by Griff’s swift pistol-whipping of the terrified Brockie. Mirroring this is a more coordinated attack later in Forty Guns when a wedding is interrupted by a surprise bullet, immediately throttling the mood from revelry to tragedy—and leading to a hymnal-led funeral scene to rival those in John Ford westerns. Finally, the third ambush in Tombstone finds Griff again marching calculatedly toward a menacing scene, only this time unsure of the whereabouts of the aggressors. Fuller stages the scene as a high-wire standoff between three disparate points of threat, juicing the dramatic irony to a breaking point until Griff expertly diffuses the situation, but not without preventing another death.

Shot in black-and-white CinemaScope at a time when the format was largely reserved for color productions, Forty Guns‘s deep chiaroscuro anticipates the characters’ deadly impulses and the grave directions that the drama takes. It all leads to a climactic showdown of remarkable savagery that seems to confirm an irrepressible violence within the hearts of even the most upstanding among us—though it’s followed then by a studio-mandated corrective to it, a scene that partially aims to clear the dust churned up by such a bleak capper. Fuller includes a line of dialogue that complicates the uplift, but even if he hadn’t, Forty Guns‘s damning treatise on gun infatuation and the incapacity to transcend one’s nature had already landed its heaviest blows, leaving a bitter aftertaste that no smearing of schmaltz could quite undo.

Image/Sound

Studio-shot interiors are granted a superb degree of contrast, with the deep, inky shadows doing full justice to the film’s celluloid origins, in addition to mirroring the bottled-up anxiety and rage in the characters. Meanwhile, location work in the foothills of Arizona is awesomely vivid. When Barbara Stanwyck or Barry Sullivan ride across the landscape on horseback, the subtle gradations and tones of the arid ground are as compelling as the action being depicted. And suitably for a film at least partly about the destructiveness of firearms, the howling gun blasts heard on the audio track are enough to get the attention of the neighbors, if not too loud to overwhelm the at-times hushed dialogue and gentle desert ambiance.

Extras

The meatiest supplement here is “A Fuller Life,” Samantha Fuller’s affectionate feature-length tribute to her father’s experiences as a journalist, infantryman, and filmmaker, unconventionally presented as a series of readings from his autobiography, A Third Face, by directors and actors who knew him. Not all these participants seem equally enthusiastic about the project, and the documentary consequently has some dry, overly wordy passages. But the access to Fuller’s treasure trove of personal material—clips from his old bylines, footage from WWII, and production files—makes it never less than a fascinating excavation for acolytes of the artist.

Similarly rewarding in this regard are the three other bits of deep-dive Fuller content: an entertainingly candid 1969 interview with the director that can be played as a commentary track, a printed excerpt from A Third Face that goes into some detail about Forty Guns‘s production, and a newly shot interview with Fuller’s second wife, Christa Lang Fuller, and daughter that plays like a heartfelt stroll down memory lane. Rounding out the package is an essay by film scholar Lisa Dombrowski and a new interview by critic Imogen Sara Smith, who, in a welcome pivot from all the attention lavished elsewhere on Fuller, conducts a fairly thorough examination of Barbara Stanwyck’s performance in Forty Guns, hailing it as an impassioned summation of a career that was on the decline by the late ’50s.

Overall

Samuel Fuller’s libido-fueled, feverishly stylized B western gets a lavish reincarnation on home video courtesy of Criterion.

Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Dean Jagger, John Ericson, Gene Barry, Robert Dix, Jidge Carroll Director: Samuel Fuller Screenwriter: Samuel Fuller Distributor: The Criterion Collection Running Time: 80 min Rating: NR Year: 1957 Release Date: December 11, 2018 Buy: Video

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Blu-ray Review: Let the Corpses Tan

The solid audiovisual transfer will allow home viewers to fully experience Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s unrelenting, expressionistic assault on the senses.

3.5

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Let the Corpses Tan

Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s Let the Corpses Tan might rekindle a familiar debate regarding style and substance in art and whether the distinction matters in discussions of aesthetics. Riffing on 1970s-era Italian crime films, Cattet and Bruno Forzani get so lost in their catalogue of fetishes that they lose grasp of the snap and tension that drive even a mediocre heist narrative. That’s partially the intention here, as the married Franco-Belgian filmmakers are aiming for a wandering bloodbath that stews in their characters’ obsessions, which presumably parallel their own, but those obsessions often feel trivial, distracting from the abstract plot.

In Let the Corpses Tan, Cattet and Forzani announce their self-consciously derivative intentions with explosions of paint that suggest blood as well as the act of ejaculation. This link—between art, sex, and violence—is the thread purportedly uniting the film’s various shoot-outs, sexually and religiously inflected fantasy sequences, and odd camera angles, lurid color stocks, and splintered editing. Luce (Elina Löwensohn) is a painter living out among the jagged and sunbaked cliffs presumably somewhere along the Mediterranean, where she drinks, works, sunbathes, fucks, and keeps the company of a traditionally motley collection of misfits. Some of these misfits have just robbed a truck carrying hundreds of kilos of gold, brutally killing several guards and police officers in the process. These acts are played nearly for comedy, with explosions of blood that echo Luce’s splattering of paint against canvases. And the crimes bring the police upon Luce’s desert idyll, triggering a shoot-out that spans the majority of the film’s running time.

The film’s desert setting is memorably beautiful and punishing, and Cattet and Forzani milk it for quite a bit of its erotic potential, gazing at Luce’s often nude body as she sweats in the sun while the coterie of grizzled thugs ogle her. Pleasurable for their own sake, such scenes also affirm the notion of the gold heist as a re-channeling of unfulfilled sex. A little of this symbolism goes a long way, and amusingly so, though Cattet and Forzani keep indulging jokey metaphors, from a lamb roasting sensually on a spit to a martyr fantasy in which Luce is tied nude to a stake, her breasts lactating champagne.

The latter sequence offers a juxtaposition of cruelty and sadomasochistic sex that might’ve been startling in a film less grab-bag in nature—if, say, the scene had been allowed to serve as a narrative culmination, suggesting that the heist and hostage situation inspires in Luce a reckoning with forbidden desires. In this context, however, it feels as if Cattet and Forzani are merely adding another whimsy to their woodpile in order to certify their bona fides as cult rebels. There’s another violent and sexual fantasy sequence later in the film, which seems present just to give the audience a nude shot of another actress, and the images are festooned with leather, guns, insects, skulls, and seemingly endless close-ups of the bad-ass bank robbers’ faces.

Let the Corpses Tan is diverting when watched for 10 minutes—and which 10 minutes you choose doesn’t really matter, as the film runs in circles, re-digesting its conceits as characters stalk and kill each other. In the end, Cattet and Forzani’s pastiche is less reminiscent of Italian crime films than of Quentin Tarantino’s own brand of orgiastic cinephilia, and this contrast elucidates why Let the Corpses Tan feels so hollow. Though Tarantino is also a trickster enthralled with formalist gimmicks, his best films have emotional texture, expressing the longing that drove him to movies to begin with. Cattet and Forzani are too cool for such vulnerability.

Image/Sound

On the whole, Kino Lorber’s transfer leans a bit on the dark side, leading to more muted reds, greens, and golds, especially throughout the film’s daytime sequences. Still, the graininess of Manuel Decosse’s 16mm cinematography is ably preserved; the acute textural details found in the film’s endless array of close-ups of sweaty, expressive faces and objects in motion are beautifully rendered. The nighttime sequences, often shot with a blue filter, still offer ample contrast between the deep black shadows and carefully lit bodies that move gracefully in and out of them. The 5.1 surround and stereo sound tracks are particularly impressive, offering an evocatively layered and full-bodied mix that highlights the film’s intricate sound design. The crackle of fire, creaking of leather, and bursts of gunfire sit forward in the mix, replicating the sensorial overload of the theatrical experience.

Extras

Film critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Queensland Film Festival Director John Edmond, who have known each other for years, evince an amiable rapport on their engaging audio commentary, and while this frequently leads them into light-hearted digressions, they do manage to cover a large amount of ground regarding the cinematic influences that inform Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s aesthetics. Their discussions of ’70s Italian crime films, gialli, and spaghetti westerns are informative if a tad predictable. More fruitful and compelling are the stretches where their talk veers into the unexpected, such as the influence of Satoshi Kon on the filmmakers’ sense of narrative structure and the film’s playful warping of time through rapid-fire editing. Perhaps most enlightening is when Heller-Nicholas and Edmond link Let the Corpses Tan, for its plethora of associative metaphors and reliance on sexual and religious iconography, to George Bataille’s Story of the Eye and the work of Kenneth Anger. The only other extra included is a theatrical trailer.

Overall

Kino Lorber’s edition of Let the Corpses Tan is fairly slim on extras, but the solid audiovisual transfer will allow home viewers to fully experience Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s unrelenting, expressionistic assault on the senses.

Cast: Elina Löwensohn, Stéphane Ferrara, Bernie Bonvoisin, Michelangelo Marchese, Marc Barbé, Marine Sainsily, Pierre Nisse, Marilyn Jess Director: Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani Screenwriter: Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani Distributor: Kino Lorber Running Time: 92 min Rating: NR Year: 2018 Release Date: January 8, 2019 Buy: Video

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Blu-ray Review: A Dry White Season

This powerful apartheid drama still burns with outrage and conviction, and it receives an excellent A/V transfer from the Criterion Collection.

4.0

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A Dry White Season

The opening shot of A Dry White Season depicts two young South African boys, one black and one white, laughing and merrily playing ball with each other. This moment of harmony, a tacit reminder that racism is learned, is soon torn asunder by the viciousness of South Africa’s apartheid system. The forces of division at work in the country are charted after the tranquil opening, with the black child, Jonathan (Bekhithemba Mpofu), arrested and brutally caned for attending a peaceful student protest and the white boy, Johan (Rowen Elmes), seen playing rugby with schoolmates who are, of course, all white. Soon we learn that Jonathan’s father, Gordon (Winston Ntshona), works as a gardener for Johan’s father, Ben (Donald Sutherland). When Ben sees the bloody cane marks on Jonathan’s buttocks, he immediately begins rationalizing the actions of the police, unable to admit that they acted irrationally. Johan, upon glimpsing the same wounds, can only gape in horror.

Director Euzhan Palcy spends much of the film’s first act visually delineating the extent to which South Africa has been divided under apartheid. In the black townships of Soweto, for example, there’s scarcely any vegetation to be found in the drab, arid ground. Meanwhile, Ben’s home and other white communities are verdant with irrigated, perfectly manicured lawns. And while Ben has a friendly rapport with Gordon, he never forgets his assumed superiority to the man, who must address his boss as Mr. Ben in even their most informal moments. Ben’s initial inability to consider that the police crossed a line with Jonathan changes when the boy is killed and buried in an unmarked location. When Gordon attempts to find the whereabouts of his son’s body, he too is abducted, tortured, and murdered, leaving Ben so stunned that he’s shaken from his oblivious privilege.

The remainder of the film tracks Ben’s attempts to get answers for these shocking events and the fallout it brings to both Gordon’s family and his own. Seeking justice for Gordon, Ben takes his case to a human rights lawyer (Marlon Brando, giving perhaps his weariest and least showy performance), who can only solemnly urge the man to drop this case, as it will never be upheld by an apartheid judge and will only bring him misery. This grim prophecy soon proves true as Ben’s increasingly zealous quest to broadcast the atrocities of the government earns him the enmity of a brutish police captain (Jürgen Prochnow), alienates his wife (Janet Suzman) and daughter (Susannah Harker), and enrages Ben’s colleagues and friends. It even brings further horrors onto Gordon’s surviving family, who are systematically harassed and evicted from their home in retaliation for Ben’s behavior.

In maintaining her focus on both families rather than just Ben’s, Palcy traces the pervasiveness of apartheid’s methods of reinforcing the status quo using everything from social stigma to outright violence. That Ben, riddled with guilt and horror, tries to honor his dead friend and ultimately makes things worse for Gordon’s widow is held against the man, but the director nonetheless foregrounds the near-impossibility of an individual resisting a regime devoted to an ideology like racism. Palcy does occasionally confront Ben with his ignorance, as when he wistfully tells his black driver, Stanley (Zakes Mokae), how they’re both equally African as he reminisces about growing up on a farm, only for Stanley to sarcastically bring up other aspects of “real” African life, such as having to carry one’s ID papers everywhere or being thrown in prison. Ben, embarrassed, trails off and falls silent. Yet Ben is consistently presented with complexity and empathy as he slowly becomes politically aware, and if A Dry White Season ultimately illustrates the high cost of true allyship in a system of segregation, it nonetheless also respects the willingness to make that sacrifice in the face of injustice.

Image/Sound

Sourced from a 4K restoration, Criterion’s transfer retains the thick grain of the film but marks a significant upgrade in color depth and texture from previous home-video editions. In particular, the bright shades of the white communities pop in comparison to the impoverished and infertile soil of drab Soweto townships, and the blood spilled by bullets and torture looks especially vivid. The lossless stereo track nicely balances the predominantly dialogue-driven soundtrack with the occasional bursts of chaotic violence in the police’s crackdowns on demonstrations, losing no fidelity at any point.

Extras

A half-hour interview between director and co-writer Euzhan Palcy and critic Scott Foundas digs into the former’s life, from her childhood cinephilia to her art studies in France and early support from François Truffaut. Palcy offers copious insights into her career and her approach to A Dry White Season, from building out the source novel’s black characters to her clandestine trips to Soweto to interview survivors of security force arrests and torture. Palcy also contributes an interview in which she breaks down five of the film’s scenes from the research went into them to her filming. Impressively, Criterion unearthed a long-sought interview that Palcy conducted with President Nelson Mandela on the first anniversary of his election in which she questions him on the future he envisions for South Africa. A 1989 interview with Donald Sutherland is also included, as is footage of a 2017 South African National Honors Awards ceremony in which Palcy was bestowed with the Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo for her work in illuminating the anti-apartheid struggle to the international community. Finally, a booklet contains an essay by film professor Jyoti Mistry, who explicates how Ben is developed as a genuinely moral agent and not simply a bystander to atrocity.

Overall

This powerful apartheid drama still burns with outrage and conviction, and it receives an excellent A/V transfer from the Criterion Collection.

Cast: Donald Sutherland, Janet Suzman, Jürgen Prochnow, Zakes Mokae, Susan Sarandon, Marlon Brando, Winston Ntshona, Thoko Ntshinga, John Kani, Susannah Harker, Rowen Elmes Director: Euzhan Palcy Screenwriter: Colin Welland, Euzhan Palcy Distributor: The Criterion Collection Running Time: 106 min Rating: R Year: 1989 Release Date: December 12, 2018 Buy: Video

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