Masters Of Cinema - The World Cinema Project Vol. 1 - Blu-ray Review

By some twist of the Universe, this site as a whole has somehow ended up in the middle of an unintentional mini-marathon of films which feature animal cruelty. Those of you who follow me on twitter will know this is neither a pleasant thing, nor a conscious choice. Be that as it may; Ben has recently seen Cannibal Holocaust, and listened to a Q&A where the director discussed the animal scenes in the film, and I have Heaven's Gate to watch, another film notorious for acts of animal cruelty during filming. Trances, the second film in this first volume of films restored by Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project and published by Masters Of Cinema, features a brief shot of sheep with its throat cut, still struggling and thrashing around and the third film, Revenge, has its own crimes to consider too.

Whilst those shots are unpleasant, they are nowhere near as unpleasant as two scenes in Dry Summer, which, whilst mere moments, I cannot escape from. In the first, a chicken is killed so that the antagonist can throw the nearly-dead bird at the film's leading lady (Hülya Koçyigit). Whilst she screams, the headless bird flaps and hops around in the background. In the second, in order to get revenge on Osman (Erol Tas) a local villager walks up to his dog, resting underneath a tree, and shoots it. This scene, in particular, is amongst the most callous acts of film-making I have personally ever witnessed.

Those scenes in isolation however, it is difficult to come to the conclusion that Dry Summer is a 'bad' film and in fact, arguably, it is probably the best this set has to offer. Director Metin Erksan imbues it with a tangible sense of a dusty dry season, right from the opening shot of Osman winding down the village roads atop his donkey. There's also a smattering of Horror tropes to observe and a lot of willingness by Erksan to take the eventual relationship between Osman and Bahar to some very odd places (note the scene which is essentially 'seduction by cow') and then some very terrifying ones.

Next in terms of its crimes against animals is Revenge (or The Red Flute as it appears to be known as on IMDb), which sees two characters comment on the fact that a goose is trapped in a net, before wandering away, the camera lingering on it whilst someone off-camera (presumably part of the crew) releases a dog to finish it off. Towards the end, a group of children have fun stranding a rat-like animal in the middle of a large puddle before one of them decides to set it on fire. At some point the apparently real rat does obviously turn into a fake one but quite when that occurrs is really open to anyone's guess (I'm personally going for some point after the original fire-lighting).

In a way, it's at least pleasant to report that the film itself has some more horrible content contained within it than the animal abuse, though this is saved to the final third, arriving too late to really have any impact on what can be quite a dull narrative at times. It leaves you watching Shinarbayev's technical mastery, which can be delightful; both in the straight shots of people talking apparently to camera and the occasional very long shots, such as an early announcement of death.

His story mastery though leaves something to be desired. The entire point of this is to convince us that it is about a family who are essentially obsessed with revenge. But the gaps between times when we see family members are so large, you don't leave with that impression, rather you end up thinking that perhaps the more interesting bits were left out somewhere, whilst the revenge story lurks in the background. By the time the 'revenge' story concludes, you could be forgiven for forgetting what the fuss was about in the first place.

Trances meanwhile is sadly forgettable full-stop, though some early footage of the band it follows, Nass El Ghiwane, in concert, coupled with from-car shots of Morocco do produce the trance-like state the film seems to promise. It's animal cruelty is thankfully brief, though none-the-less irking; a two second shot of a sacrificial sheep, twitching in its own blood.

It falls down eventually because of a reliance on watching the band members discuss inconsequential musings, ignoring their history and music. The subtitling is inconsistent and whenever it does pop up you're reminded that the topic of conversation isn't that interesting any way. There are similarities here to Benda Bilili! but where that had narrative drive, this has nothing and, very quickly, that fact starts to show.

The over-riding feeling from the box set is that these are films which it was worth Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project saving (aren't they all) but that simultaneously aren't that interesting or accomplished. For true cinephiles, there will be something to see here, something to tick off the list, but there's nothing here to trouble any 'best of' lists any time soon; unless someone is curating a 'best of' animal cruelty box set, an award for which this makes a strong argument.

Dry Summer



Founded in 2004, The Masters of Cinema Series is an independent, carefully curated, UK-based Blu-ray and DVD label, now consisting of over 150 films. Films are presented in their original aspect ratio (OAR), in meticulous transfers created from recent restorations and / or the most pristine film elements available.

Martin Scorsese Presents The World Cinema Foundation Volume 1 is released in the UK on Monday 25th November 2013

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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