Take “After the Curfew,” recognized as the first Indonesian film ever made. Released in 1954, the film by Usmar Ismail spoke to the history of its country, telling the story of a former freedom fighter who can’t readjust to civilian life after the revolution that granted Indonesia independence from the Netherlands. This film really exemplifies the overall purpose of the World Cinema Project in so many ways. For one, it is deeply specific to its time and place, telling a story of postcolonialism in Indonesia in way that an outsider never could. It has a cultural specificity that feels essential to the films that WCP and Criterion chooses for these releases. But it is also not merely a historical document. Ismail’s use of light and shadow doesn’t reflect a culture crawling before it can walk in cinematic terms as much as a director who clearly watched works from around the world to adapt their visual language to his own purposes. It’s a fascinating piece of work.
So is the formally breathtaking “Lucia,” a Cuban film from 1968 that runs nearly three hours, telling a triptych story of three women named Lucia across three distinct time periods in the history of the country. Director Humberto Solas tackles the tumultuous history of his people by dropping viewers into 1895, 1932, and the 1960s, detailing how much progress comes through pain and often at the cost of humanity. It is a visually stunning film—each section has a different visual language—and sometimes shockingly surreal, playing out unlike anything Criterion has released in a long time. That’s another benefit of these releases—they pull a collection that’s often defined by white, European filmmakers to other parts of the world.
Hector Babenco is probably the best known of the filmmakers in this set, as the Argentinian filmmaker would go on to direct “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “Ironweed,” and “At Play in the Fields of the Lord.” Even the film included here in the set received the widest international release of the six, 1980’s “Pixote,” a film that Roger Ebert considered a Great Movie, writing, “”Pixote” stands alone in his work, a rough, unblinking look at lives no human being should be required to lead. And the eyes of Fernando Ramos da Silva, his doomed young actor, regard us from the screen not in hurt, not in accusation, not in regret — but simply in acceptance of a desolate daily reality.”