My 20th Century (15)
Second Run, £12.99
With On Body And Soul, her first feature in 18 years, Hungarian director Ildikó Enyedi won the prestigious Golden Bear at last month's Berlin International Film Festival so it's an appropriate moment for Second Run to turn back the clock and re-release her beguiling and stylish black and white debut, My 20th Century.
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An award winner at the 1989 Cannes film festival, it follows the lives of orphaned twin girls Dora and Lili, both played in adulthood by bewitching Polish actress Dorota Segda. They're found asleep in a snow-covered Budapest street by two well-heeled Hungarian men who toss a coin to see which girl each one will keep. And so the sisters are fatefully parted.
The film begins in 1880 with the girls' birth and a magical opening scene involving talking stars and crowds flocking to see a marching band bedecked in Thomas Edison's newly-invented light bulbs. But the bulk of the narrative takes place from New Year's Eve 1900 when Dora, now a flirtatious good-time girl living beyond her means, spots Lili boarding the train she's on – the Orient Express. Lili, now a revolutionary anarchist, is on a mission of the bomb-making sort.
The sisters don't actually meet until an extraordinary closing sequence which takes place in a hall of mirrors, by which time both women have become romantically involved with the mysterious Z (Russian actor Oleg Yankovskiy), an intellectual and self-confessed libertine. Impressionistic, episodic, challenging and utterly mesmerising thanks both to Enyedi's image-making and the performance of her female lead, My 20th Century is a gem. Extras include a new interview with Enyedi, filmed by Duke Of Burgundy director Peter Strickland.
Lone Wolf And Cub (18)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, £49.99
The latest release in the genre-spanning Criterion Collection is this three-disc package of the cult, six film Lone Wolf And Cub samurai series starring Tomisaburo Wakayama as outlawed Ogami Itto, formerly chief executioner to the shogun.
Sword Of Vengeance, the first film, opens with Itto's fall from grace. Falsely implicated in a plot to destroy the shogun by a rival clan, his wife and household are wiped out by a troupe of ninja assassins. Instead of committing ritual suicide he swears revenge and, taking his infant son Daigoro with him, walks out of his old life into a new one tramping the countryside as a sword for hire. Cue ketchup-splattered mayhem as Itto thrusts, cuts and slashes his way through innumerable enemies.
Daigoro, who doesn't utter a word until the start of the second film, travels in the handmade “baby cart” that features in four of the titles (Baby Cart At The River Styx, Baby Cart To Hades, Baby Cart In Peril and Baby Cart In The Land Of Demons). But even the pram carries a sting: from its knife-containing handles to its bulletproof shell, it's spectacularly (and apparently infinitely) tooled-up. The date isn't clear, but we're in the period of the Tokugawa Shogunate and from the look of the occassional firearms on show, probably some time in the mid-17th century.
The films themselves are based on Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima's 1970 manga and were produced between 1972 and 1974, with Koike acting as screenwriter. Sword Of Vengeance and Baby Cart At The River Styx were cobbled together into one for Shogun Assassin, a 1980 English language version which Quentin Tarantino borrowed heavily from for Kill Bill (it's even mentioned by name at one point). And both the original manga comics and the film series have proved massively influential elsewhere too, directly inspiring graphic novels such as Frank Miller's Ronin and Max Allan Collins's Road To Perdition, for instance.
The six digitally-restored films are contained on the first two discs, with the third containing a host of features including an HD version of Shogun Assassin; a silent 1937 documentary about the making of samurai swords with an ambient score by New York composer Ryan Francis; and a new interview with Kazuo Koike, who also wrote another manga-to-film that influenced Kill Bill, Lady Snowblood. Great stuff.
Rivers And Tides (U)
Curzon Artificial Eye, £19.99
Shot in 2001 but released here in Blu-ray for the first time, Thomas Riedelsheimer's majestic and gripping film is a portrait of Scottish-based sculptor and land artist Andy Goldsworthy. Many in Goldsworthy's adopted country – and particularly those living around his home in Penpont, Dumfries and Galloway – will be familiar with his work, but what's fascinating about Rivers And Tides is the picture it gives of Goldsworthy's working practices and the sheer, brutal hard work that goes into making his art. We see Goldsworthy's almost frostbitten hands at work with icicles in sub-zero conditions in Canada or hammering ironstone into powder using a stone. We watch him knee deep in water, battling the wind which is about to bring down a flimsy construction made from bracken or lugging heavy stones across the foreshore after one of his trademark, acorn-shaped cairns has collapsed, mid-build, for the fourth time. His insights into his own work are just as valuable and the addition of a haunting score by improvisational guitarist Fred Frith simply adds to the magic. For anyone interested in forest schools or outdoor learning, this film should be mandatory viewing.