Euzhan Palcyís A Dry White Season receives a new Blu-ray edition from the Criterion Collection. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode. The release is making use of a new 4K restoration scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
Unsurprisingly the restoration work and encode are pretty much near-perfect, the only possible negative I could throw at it maybe being some crushed blacks in a handful of darker scenes. The film is rather grainy looking (a bit surprising), but itís rendered very well, remaining clean and natural throughout, which lends to the excellent level of detail that is always present throughout the film. Depth is excellent, colours are gorgeously saturated (the blue skies look lovely indeed!) and black levels are consistently strong for the most part (again, some crush creeps in there). And other than a still image that looks a bit off at the end, the print looks fine and damage is never a concern.
The film was made 30 years ago, but it could almost look like it was made just recently. 9/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Looking over the features initially doesnít bring a lot of promise: it looks like fairly standard material. But the material ended up being incredibly rewarding in the end. First is a wonderful conversation between Euzhan Palcy and Scott Foundas. Despite the discussion only being about 35-minutes, it still manages to be an amazingly dense and fascinating one. The two talk about how she came to get into filmmaking and her first film, Sugar Cane Alley. That opened the doors to her doing A Dry White Season, which gained her studio support, and she shares stories about putting the project together (particularly a wonderful one around her asking for permission from the author, who was reluctant to sell the rights to Hollywood). She explains how she modified the story, adding more from the perspective of the black characters in the film (the book was primarily from the white perspective because the author felt that was the only way he could make white people care), and she felt she had to change the ending (and the reasons make sense, and she covers this in another feature on here). She then shares all sorts of details about some of the dangers she faced making the film, how Brando came to be involved, how she cast the roles, the filmís music, and its eventual release. She then talks about the difficulty in getting projects after off the ground, and the reasons for the difficulty are fairly depressing though I guess not surprising. All around, though, itís an incredible interview, one of the best Iíve seen in a while.
Palcyís participation doesnít end there and we get another wonderful interview with her with Five Scenes. This 29-minute feature is sold as the director talking about five specific scenes in the film. Itís actually far more than that, allowing the director to get into more about the research she put into the film, how much more she was able to bring with her involvement, and she even talks significantly more about Brando and the issues that came up afterwards (the actor, who she worked well with, was annoyed that she cut out a moment from the court room sequence because she felt it deadened the impact). This was great and Iíd say itís actually a bit of a shame that Palcy didnít participate in a commentary.
Following this are then a few quick archival features. Thereís a 3-minute interview from 1995 between Palcy and Nelson Mandela, where the leader talks about the womenís role in South Africa. This is followed by an interview with Donald Sutherland performed on NBCís Today to promote the film. He talks about the film, whether it would be commercial, and then briefly laments about the performance of the Montreal Expos. The features then close with a short bit of footage from an awards ceremony in South Africa, where Palcy received the Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo, the countryís highest honour for a foreign dignitary.
Criterion then includes an insert featuring an essay by Jyoti Mistry, addressing the story, how the film exposes apartheid, and what happened with South Africa (and Palcy) after the filmís release.
In the end itís not a lot of material admittedly, and Iím surprised Criterion didnít take the opportunity for some historical features on South Africa from this period, but the two features with Palcy are really incredible and add a lot of value all on their own. 7/10