Appropriation can be a funny thing, as Djibril Diop Mambéty’s galvanizing “Touki Bouki” demonstrates
Then, about a decade later, the self-taught Mambéty — who had grown up in Senegal when it was still a French colony — made a white-hot film that held up Paris as an ideal destination and the Nouvelle Vague as the ideal aesthetic.
It finally took a contemporary American director — one who started his career in some of the ghettoized genres (especially gangster flicks) that so excited the French New Wave — to bring this admiration society full circle and reintroduce Mambéty’s saturated, discomfiting 1973 film to American audiences.
Martin Scorsese, of course, has gained considerably in stature since his early “Boxcar Bertha” days. Two well-received documentaries illustrated his omnivorous interest in film history and paved the way for the Criterion Collection’s exemplary new boxed set, “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project.” Since 2007, this foundation, founded by Mr. Scorsese, has restored 19 neglected but historically significant films and one short; six of these have been assembled here into a thrilling package. It’s like holding a masterfully assembled miniature film festival in your hand.
“Touki Bouki” could safely be described as the centerpiece, having cracked the Top 100 of Sight & Sound magazine’s most recent poll of the greatest films of all time. With its beguiling blend of African landscapes viewed through Mambéty’s kinetic, at times bratty ethos, it plunges the viewer into a milieu of club-wielding border guards and campy sugar daddies, of abattoirs (complete with a protracted grisly scene in which an ox’s throat is slit) and cliffside couplings.
Throughout the film, France looms immeasurably large: feared by the village elders, coveted by the young protagonists, evoked by a snippet of the Josephine Baker song “Paris … Paris” that is played in a seemingly endless loop.
Much of “Touki Bouki,” which Mambéty filmed for $30,000, shows the rebellious cowherd Mory and the university student Anta (Magaye Niang and Mareme Niang) conniving to earn boat fare to the promised land. Yet Mambéty mixes in meditative visuals, time-splintering montages and languorous fantasy sequences alongside the moneymaking schemes.
As the passenger ship finally arrives, one of the two lovers is suddenly compelled to sprint at top speed along the dock, away from the boat. The same ocean that hemmed in a young Jean-Pierre Léaud at the end of “The 400 Blows,” one of the defining New Wave works, suddenly proves equally unbreachable some 3,000 miles south. Or is it that finally being able to leave means you no longer have to?
While “Touki Bouki” is by far the best known of the initial six titles, the entire set is deserving of attention. “Trances” (1981) is a captivating documentary by Ahmed El Maânouni about the politically forthright Moroccan band Nass El Ghiwane, which has been variously called North Africa’s equivalent of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan. And fans of South Korean directors like Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook will flock to “The Housemaid,” an over-the-top psychodrama from 1960 by the cult favorite Kim Ki-young. With this expressionistic look at rats, murder, miscarriage and sexual obsession, Kim’s already tenuous ties to the prevalent realism of the era’s Korean cinema were severed for good. If that’s not enough of an enticement, a filmed introduction from Mr. Bong promises “the most sexually driven female character in the history of Korean cinema.”
The 1973 drama “A River Called Titas” is a tantalizing late work by the Bengali director and theorist Ritwik Ghatak, who had begun making art films just before his far-better-known peer Satyajit Ray, and whose output dwindled sharply in later years. It follows the interlocking stories of several people living in the fishing villages of pre-partition East Bengal. And in Metin Erksan’s 1964 film “Dry Summer,” which won the Golden Bear at that year’s Berlin International Film Festival, a Turkish tobacco farmer enriches his own crops and himself — at considerable cost to his neighbors — by damming the local river.
Perhaps most intriguing is “Redes” (1936), a documentary-style look at struggling Gulf of Mexico fishermen from a strikingly glittery behind-the-scenes team. The pioneering American photographer Paul Strand jointly wrote the screenplay and manned the camera, Silvestre Revueltas composed the boisterous score, and Fred Zinnemann (“High Noon,” “From Here to Eternity”) directed the 56-minute film with the prolific Mexican director Emilio Gómez Muriel.
The ocean may be equally formidable for the fishermen of “Redes” and the flawed, flamboyant hero of “Touki Bouki.” But thanks to Criterion and the tireless Mr. Scorsese, crossing the Atlantic — or the Black Sea, the East China Sea and the Bay of Bengal — has become a lot easier for adventurous filmgoers.
THE BIG GUNDOWN This 1966 spaghetti western, directed by Sergio Sollima and featuring Lee Van Cleef in his first leading-man role, now includes the 15 minutes that were cut when it was released in the United States. It comes complete with a bonus CD of Ennio Morricone’s score. (Grindhouse Releasing)
FAST & FURIOUS 6 The carjacking, car-racing, car-crashing, car-jumping (you get the idea) series returns, complete with seemingly every actor from the previous five films. Justin Lin directs once again, this time introducing a tank and a Soviet-era cargo plane among the wheeled combatants. “Hobbs is again played by Dwayne Johnson and his biceps, which get enough camera time that you expect the closing credits to include two arm wranglers, one for each,” Neil Genzlinger wrote in The New York Times in May. (Universal Studios)
THE HUNT Mads Mikkelsen won the best-actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his role as a mild-mannered kindergarten teacher in a small Danish village who is unfairly accused of child molesting. It is directed by Thomas Vinterberg, whose 1998 film “Celebration” dealt with a very different set of pedophilia accusations. “Mr. Vinterberg, like the French director Bruno Dumont, has a gift for evoking the atavistic side of human nature,” Stephen Holden wrote in The Times in July. (Magnolia Home Entertainment)
MARY POPPINS The children’s film celebrates its 50th anniversary with an all-new digital restoration, just days before “Saving Mr. Banks,” about the making of this 1964 movie, reaches movie theaters. (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment)
YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHIN’ YET Alain Resnais (“Last Year at Marienbad”) once again bends time and perception in this 2012 film, this time through a group of stage actors trying to replicate a long-gone experimental theater company’s performance of “Eurydice.” The film is based loosely on two plays by Jean Anouilh. “Some of the time, you are watching a movie within a play within a play within a movie,” A. O. Scott wrote in The Times in June. “At other moments, you are beholding three simultaneous performances of the same drama.” (Kino Lorber)
Courtesy of Eric G