Kenji Mizoguchi’s staggering Ugetsu is a film of many riddles and paradoxes that unfolds with the illusory simplicity of a fable. Its initial straightforwardness, as a parable against the pitfalls of human greed, is a misdirection that leads the audience into a void in which objectivity and subjectivity intermingle, hopelessly and invigoratingly clouding rationality.
The narrative begins on the shore of Japan’s Lake Biwa in the 16th century, when the country was engulfed in civil war. Mizoguchi spotlights two neighboring families: Genjurō (Masayuki Mori) and his wife, Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka), and their child, Genichi (Ikio Sawamura); and Tōbei (Eitaro Ozawa) and his wife, Ohama (Mitsuko Mito). The heads of these families are broadly contrasted, as Genjurō is a serious potter while Tōbei is a stumbling ne’er-do-well whose dreams of becoming a samurai are ridiculous in lieu of his humble origins. (Mizoguchi is ruthlessly alert to the classism of the samurai code.) War is coming, and like many people unaccustomed to its savagery, Genjurō and Tōbei see only glory and self-actualization. The men wish to profit from the war so as to bolster their statuses in their wives’ eyes, while the women insist that the men are already enough for them.
It’s in this awareness of miscommunication that Ugetsu should particularly resonate with contemporary Western audiences, as Mizoguchi’s understanding of the tension existing between the sexes hasn’t aged an iota. The men launder their ambition through their women in a process of self-justification that reveals their feelings of inferiority. Patriarchy entraps men too, most clearly those of lower classes, nurturing a perpetual fear of impotency that’s ironically realized through the efforts to assuage said fear. Ugetsu’s early passages unfold with a hushed sense of inevitability, gradually building to a series of crescendos that will burst the men’s respective bubbles. A town elder warns the families to prepare for an incoming invasion, but the men are eaten up with dollar signs. Genjurō and Tōbei forge their wares and make a small killing at a village that’s experiencing an economic boom from the war, returning home with silver in their pockets. Genjurō buys Miyagi an expensive kimono, saying that he’s always wanted to shower her with such luxury. Whether or not Miyagi actually wants the kimono is immaterial.
Ugetsu is based on two ghost stories from Ueda Akinari’s collection Ugetsu Monogatari, which translates to Tales of Moonlight and Rain, and pivots on morals handed down from Japanese and Chinese cultures. Another significant influence on the film is the writing of Guy de Maupassant, which is evident in Tōbei’s narrative. These sources share with Mizoguchi’s work a heightened awareness of how we devise our own tragedies with our hypocrisies, and of how cruelty begets cruelty in an endless and self-perpetuating cycle. In Ugetsu, war is brilliantly evoked as an extension of the male ego: The Japanese civil war exists on the macro stage of society while the domestic tragedies of Genjurō and Tōbei occupy the micro. The civil war dramatically reconstitutes Genjurō and Tōbei’s families, scarring them in a fashion that parallels the destruction of the house of Lady Wasaka (Machiko Kyō), a spirit who enchants Genjurō while his own home turns to war-torn rubble.
The ironies here are elusively exponential, as a simulacrum of Genjurō’s dream—as the head of a house occupied by a beautiful, glamorous, and subservient woman—paves the way for his nightmare of rootlessness, which resonates with a postwar Japan that was occupied by the United States after losing its own quest for dominion. The film’s obsession with the splintering of families and the decisive castration and evolution of the modern male clearly parallels Japan’s crisis of identity following WWII, which Mizoguchi would explore again in Sansho the Bailiff.
On the film’s surface is the assertion that man shouldn’t be greedy, but Mizoguchi ultimately resists such pat categorization—and it’s this simultaneous explicitness and ambiguity that inform Ugetsu with its roiling power. Mizoguchi’s formalism brings to life the irresolvable thorniness of lust, longing, love, and self-hatred. The scenes between Genjurō and Lady Waska, set among a dream of what her palace once was and clearly modeled on the traditions of Noh Theater, are among the most erotic ever committed to film, expressing sex through heightened classical roleplay.
Lady Waska moves through the frame with a languorousness that’s true to our perception of her supernatural otherness, or, even more movingly, as a masturbatory illusion of Genjurō’s. They have tea together and Lady Wasaka complements Genjurō’s pottery, understanding that men secretly treasure flattery as much, if not more so, than women. They embrace on the floor in a 69 gesture that follows a long shot of Wasaka crossing a room, her hair down to the back of her knees, suggesting a serpent in a flourish that’s sexy as well as threatening. We believe Genjurō when he famously says that he’s never known such pleasure, as Lady Wasaka convincingly suggests capital-S sex as pure flesh incarnate, complemented by the sensuality of Mizoguchi’s legendary long takes and in-camera editing.
Mizoguchi’s masterful staging conjoins the war narrative and the supernatural symbolism with frightening finesse, sometimes in a single shot, such as when Genjurō returns to his destroyed home searching for Miyagi, strolling out back only to re-enter the front of the residence to see her impossibly manifested, cooking by a fire. Embracing the flow of Japanese scrolls, Mizoguchi perfected an art of fluidity, blending expressionism and heightened neorealism in a manner that heightens each aesthetic via unlikely juxtaposition. When Genjurō and Tōbei’s families flee their invaded village, they sail into a lake of mist that suggests the River Styx, matter-of-factly guiding the audience out of a war film into a horror film and back into a war film yet again.
Later, as Miyagi collapses from a stab wound, we see her die as her killers enjoy their spoils in an elegant and devastating contrast of what war means to men and women, and to multiple variations of the empowered and the powerless. While Miyagi dies, Genjurō has the privilege of retreatment into an ecstasy that is, itself, enabled by male carnage. Ugetsu is a tragic and irreconcilably rapturous poem of violation. In the tradition of many male directors preoccupied with the atrocities suffered by women, Mizoguchi expresses his compassion through a pronounced and cleansing pitilessness.
Sourced from a new 4K restoration, this disc offers an image that’s substantially better than Criterion’s 2005 DVD edition. Quite a bit of debris, grit, and lines have been removed from this transfer, greatly bolstering an overall sense of richness and clarity. The blacks are much deeper and more stable than in prior editions, while the whites are softer and more varied. There’s also a greater tactility to this image, which is evident in the textures of the landscapes, the water, and the often pained and impassioned faces of the characters. The monaural soundtrack has been similarly refurbished, boasting fewer hisses and a more vibrant and delicate palette of diegetic and non-diegetic effects. The score, a classic in its own right, resounds with an especially diaphanous subtlety.
Yes, this is the same package that accompanied Criterion’s 2005 DVD edition of Ugetsu, but these supplements would be difficult to improve upon, as they offer an invigoratingly deep dive into Kenji Mizoguchi’s career while shedding light for Western audiences on the Japanese postwar culture that informed the film. The audio commentary by critic, filmmaker, and festival programmer Tony Rayns begins on a playful note, with Rayns conceding that many of his observations stem from a Mizoguchi book that he never finished. This drollness permeates a commentary that invaluably elaborates on the evolution of the filmmaker’s aesthetic over the decades, while riffing on the sorts of politics and personal relationships that inform art.
Rayns also discusses at length Ugetsu Monogatari, the story collection that partially inspired Ugetsu. This discussion is complemented by the interview with the film’s first assistant director, Tokuzo Tanaka, who shows us Mizoguchi’s oft-revised working draft of the film’s script. Meanwhile, “Two Worlds Intertwined,” a 2005 appreciation of Ugetsu by Masahiro Shinoda, abounds in beautiful and incisive observations, including the memorable assertion that the film includes “so many realities that they turn into a kind of fantasy.” (Shinoda also elaborates on the intricate, multi-cultured layering of the film’s score.) The 1992 interview with cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa is the shortest on the disc, but still affords the legend the opportunity to compare vintage and contemporary methods of visual storytelling.
Tying the room together, so to speak, is a 150-minute documentary, Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director, which ingeniously weaves its own making into its narrative. The filmmakers retrace Japanese landmarks that are significant to Mizoguchi’s life, in the process providing Western audiences with a revelatory spatial sense of locations that were instrumental in the Japanese pre- and postwar film movements. Rounding out this package are trailers, a characteristically superb essay by Phillip Lopate that juggles Western and Eastern philosophies with surgical finesse, as well as the Ugetsu Monogatari stories that informed the script.
One of cinema’s mightiest and most bottomless of accomplishments has never looked or sounded better, with a vintage supplements package that provides invaluable analysis of Japanese film culture.
Cast: Masayuki Mori, Kinuyo Tanaka, Machiko Kyō, Eitaro Ozawa, Mitsuko Mito, Kikue Mōri, Ikio Sawamura, Ryōsuke Kagawa Director: Kenji Mizoguchi Screenwriter: Matsutarō Kawaguchi, Yoshikata Yoda Distributor: The Criterion Collection Running Time: 97 min Rating: NR Year: 1953 Release Date: June 6, 2017 Buy: Video
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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