World Cinema Project 3: Criterion Blu-ray review

... but Lucia (Adela Legra) refuses to be tied down in Humberto Solas' Lucia (1968)

With volume 3 of their World Cinema Project box sets, Criterion has released another treasure trove of largely unknown (in the West) features spanning five decades and six countries, from the Expressionist horror of Mexico’s Dos Monjes (1934) to the Neo-realist horrors of life on Brazil’s streets in Hector Babenco’s Pixote (1980), with stops in between in Indonesia, Iran, Mauritania and Cuba.

The good, the mediocre and the annoying

Calvin Lockhart as big game hunter Tom Newcliffe aims to bag a werewolf in Paul Annett's The Beast Must Die (1974)

A couple of recent disappointments from Indicator – excellent editions of two mediocre movies (Guy Hamilton’s Force 10 From Navarone [1978] and Paul Annett’s The Beast Must Die [1974]) – are offset by the terrific French television series of adaptations from the Maigret novels and stories by Georges Simenon, fifty-four feature-length movies centred on a magisterial performance by Bruno Cremer as the famous detective.

Who are we to laugh at the past?

Peter Falk in his first starring role as Nico in Julian Roffman's The Bloody Brood (1959)

We tend to feel superior to the styles, attitudes and behaviour of earlier generations, forgetting that we’ll probably look ridiculous to those who come after us. Two Kino Lorber Blu-rays, Julian Roffman’s The Bloody Brood (1959) and Robert Thom’s Cult of the Damned (1969), offer interesting time capsules.

Poetic noir from Criterion

Temple (Miriam Hopkins) suddenly finds herself in a world stripped of security in Stephen Roberts’ The Story of Temple Drake (1933)

Although separated by fifteen years, the Depression and World War Two, Stephen Roberts’ The Story of Temple Drake (1933) and Frank Borzage’s Moonrise (1948) have quite a bit in common, stylistically and thematically; each centres on an outsider character brought low by guilt, who ultimately finds redemption through self-knowledge, and each uses richly Expressionistic black-and-white photography to create a feverishly claustrophobic atmosphere to trap its protagonist in a seemingly hopeless situation.

Back to the ’70s

Waldo and Axel (Bo Svenson) practive wing-walking in George Roy Hill's The Great Waldo Pepper (1975)

Revisiting movies from the early 1970s, I recently watched Howard W. Koch’s rather ugly cop feature Badge 373 (1973), with Robert Duvall as a rule-breaking, racist misogynist NYC detective; Willard (1971), Daniel Mann’s adaptation of Stephen Gilbert’s dark horror novel Ratman’s Notebooks; and two features by George Roy Hill, his faithful adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s Slaughterhouse-Five (1972) and his most personal, and best, film The Great Waldo Pepper (1975).

Year End 2019

Ahmad (Babak Ahmadpour) searches for his friend in an unfamiliar village in Abbas Kiarostami's Where is the Friend's House? (1987)

The usual year-end round-up – not necessarily the best movies or disks, but some of the ones I most enjoyed, from high art to entertaining trash. The sheer range of what’s available should lay to rest any lingering rumours about the demise of physical media.