Thursday, October 08, 2009


[The film was not released in Finland] [Rails] IT/DE 1929. PC: S.A.C.I.A. / Nero-Film. D: Mario Camerini; story: Corrado D’Errico; SC: Mario Camerini, Corrado D’Errico; DP: Ubaldo Arata; AD: Umberto Torri, based on designs by Daniele Crespi; CAST: Käthe von Nagy (The Girl), Maurizio D’Ancora [Gucci] (The Boy), Daniele Crespi (the seducer Jacques Mercier), Aldo Moschino [later Giacomo Moschini] (a Casino regular), Mario Camerini (a gambler at the Casino); 1868 m /22 fps/ 74 min
From: La Cineteca Italiana, Milano.* E-subtitles in English, grand piano: Antonio Coppola. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, 7 Oct 2009.

From the GCM Catalogue: "The silent films of Mario Camerini have only recently been rediscovered, thanks to some felicitous finds (his debut screenplay, Le mani ignote, and his earliest film as director available today, Voglio tradire mio marito, by the Cineteca del Friuli, and his later Maciste contro lo sceicco [US title: Maciste in Africa], and Kif tebbi, found by the Cineteca di Bologna). Other works remain lost, including Jolly, La casa dei pulcini, and Saetta principe per un giorno). However, Rotaie [Rails], which marks his transition from silent to sound film (although the 1931 sonorized version was not edited by him), has for some time been regarded as a classic, at least in the history of Italian cinema. With the as-yet fragmentary Sole by Blasetti, it composes the diptych of the so-called renaissance of Italian cinema following the production crisis of the late 1920s. For those not given to accepting values passed down passively, this status as a national classic – still little-recognized in a broader European context, despite its being a German co-production and the presence of Käthe von Nagy as star – seems to bear with it the risk of a contemporary over-valuation, resulting from its status as a “film of the rebirth of Italian cinema”. If it is true that Camerini started his career as a great filmmaker from the very beginning (even more so than his cousin Augusto Genina, whose greatness as a director steadily grew over his entire career), this might be revealed by his earlier silent films, if they existed. However, since we no longer have the purported masterpieces Jolly and La casa dei pulcini, today we must rely on Kif tebbi as the sign that his early talent might perhaps have been even greater than the long-known classic sound phase of his career.
Fortunately, this suspicion is unfounded. Although little-known internationally, Rotaie has all the marks of being a meeting-point between the European avant-garde movements, the Expressionistic mainstream, and that realist irresolution that has rendered the best Italian cinema so great. Like its contemporary, Genina’s Prix de beauté, it features a splendid travel sequence inside the compartments of a train, but with a more social variant, and we may hypothesize that the equally splendid sequence of the woman walking through the compartments of a train in Traviata 53 by Vittorio Cottafavi – a director whose début film, I nostri sogni, brilliantly refreshed the centrality of Camerini in Italian cinema – is the arrival point of a cinema, at once both Italian and European, which has been most astute in examining the defeat of passions within society. The happy ending of Rotaie, the inclusion of the protagonists in the world of work, is less social-fascistically inclined than one might imagine.
The casino sequences are the true hub of the film, and it is no coincidence that it is here that Camerini brings himself into play with the largest close-up of that sequence (his sole appearance in any of his films, apart from that almost “snatched” snapshot in his later Delitto quasi perfetto [Imperfect murder]): it is in these sequences, which are almost as obsessive as Jacques Demy’s, that Camerini arrived at the Lang-like result (and it would be he who subsequently produced a rather weak “sequel”, alas, to Lang’s Indian diptych) of making the strength of love win, causing the loser to renounce his desire for revenge. That loser, the film’s villain, was played by Daniele Crespi, also the film’s production designer. Crespi (1893-1954) was a key figure in the transition from silent to sound films in Italy, a champion of Futurist and avant-garde dreams who also appeared in Blasetti’s Resurrectio (and worked on Steinhoff’s Die Pranke). Bearing the same name as a 17th-century Lombard artist, Crespi is the forgotten emblem of the lost “rebirth” of Italian cinema. – Sergio Grmek Germani. * A version of the film also survives with synchronised music by Marcel Lattes, which was distributed by Cines without the approval of the director. This version was passed by the censorship on 30 June 1930 and was released in Rome in March 1931. There is no record of a public screening of the silent version and Camerini himself could not recall if it was ever released.".

I saw this impressive film for the first time. The cinematic expression (cinematography: Ubeldo Arata) is an example of the prime of the silent cinema in the late 1920s: a full command of eyeline matches, montage, shot sizes, camera movement. The film is constantly exciting to watch. - This is a film about the illusion of modernity. The two young people are dazzled by urbanity, by the promise of the gambling hall, of la dolce vita. - There is an alternation of realism and glamour in the visual world of the film. - There is a fascination with the machines: the trains, the roulette, the factory. - The narrative is conservative: it is about reconciliation with and resignation to the facts of life. The finale is a celebration of work and industry, maybe showing a Futuristic connection between the ideals of Soviet Russia and Fascist Italy. - I would guess this film has never belonged to the internationally recognized classics of cinema history, but it deserves to be ranked together with the contemporary visions of Ruttmann, Vertov, Murnau (Sunrise) and Hitchcock (Blackmail). - The visual quality of the print is often very beautiful, and sometimes (e.g. in the beginning) it betrays defects in the source from which it has been made.

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