Blu-Ray Review – Limite
Founded by filmmaker Martin Scorsese in 2007, the World Cinema Project’s goal is to find, restore and preserve films from around the world. To date the non-profit organization has restored over 750 films from around the globe. Working in coordination with the Criterion Collection, the World Cinema Project has now released 12 movies. The first six: Touki Bouki, Redes, A River Called Titas, Dry Summer, Trances and The Housemaid were released as volume No. 1. Volume No. 2 containing: Insiang¸ Mysterious Object at Noon, Revenge, Limite, Law of the Border, and Taipei Story has now dropped giving us six more gems of classic and obscure cinema from various countries, in some cases having survived authoritarian regimes deliberate attempts at suppression and destruction.
While this is a boxset with the films presented together, each movie is wholly of itself unique and speaks to specific ideas and emotions that embody the people who made them.
Filmed in Brazil in 1930 and screened for the first time in 1931, writer Mario Peixoto’s only film is a silent experimental creature, wholly original and uniquely personal. Limite features no standard or classical instances of a plot. Images, juxtaposed and translucent in symbolism are set emotionally and sometimes rhythmically to the music of French composer Erik Satie. Three people are adrift in a row boat, solemn and melancholic. Their lives, seemingly and hopelessly devoid of further purpose, float intertwined with their pasts. Flashbacks and visual asides pepper the screen, loosely telling each’s history leading to this current ennui.
Peixoto employs the rough concepts of Russian editor/filmmaker Sergei Eisentsein’s theory of montage, most specifically the employment of what Eisenstein referred to as “over-tonal” montage, which incorporates the sum of his editing theories as models for visual presentation to tell a story outside of one frame of image. Eisenstein’s theory suggests that two or more juxtaposing images ultimately tell a story. An image of a person driving a car followed by a cut and an image of the same person walking into a building tells us immediately someone went somewhere. It’s the basis upon which modern filmmaking is built upon.
However, even Eisenstein’s theories are just that and Peixoto is only employing the foundations themselves of montage as a means to express his ideas. The movie begins with a static shot of birds, vulture-like, preying upon a mountainside. This gives way to our three people in a boat followed by a woman behind bars in house. A man enters the house and the woman is released. Impressionistic not in timing but in revelation, images give us only an idea of these character’s lives prior to being marooned together in a boat, seeking an end to a perceived pointless existence.
Peixoto, who performed most of the crew duties for the film served also as the film’s editor. Transitioning with like-minded images in motion, he cuts from the wheels of a locomotive to a hand cranking the wheel on a sewing machine. The similarity in images carries a concept of something ethereal in the thinly strung narrative. A fish lies on the beach, sucking air, suffocating, signifying the end of one act and the beginning of another. Another person’s history, images of fish in baskets, then being sold in a market precedes a collection of images of mouths open, talking and jawing like humans do.
Existential in scope, our three drifters see little reason for continuation, which is perhaps why all three are here. They seem neither complete strangers yet not quite intimate. Their lack of further ambition either contradicted by or in lieu of the futility of trying to move. One of them grabs an oar in an attempt to paddle them out of their misery, but to no avail. Made at the same time as the 1930 coup that put Getúlio Vargas in power over Brazil, Limite quickly found itself under the censorship of the brutal, dictatorship Vargas led and became subject to oppression and the destruction of most known prints. Now, thanks to this serious restoration project from Martin Scorsese and Criterion, this unique, mesmerizing movie can be seen by a wide audience.
This comes as a digital transfer made from duplicate audio and film copied from an original 35mm nitrate print onto a celluloid acetate negative that was then subsequently thrown away and presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The soundtrack by Erik Satie was remastered in uncompressed monaural from mostly archival recordings of Satie’s performances while the original gramophone recordings that accompanied screenings of the movie were used as reference. The result is again an astonishing restoration.