Saturday, July 02, 2016

Déjà s'envole la fleur maigre / [The Children of Borinage] (2016 digital restoration by Cinematek, Brussels)




Jo kuihtuu hento kukka / Già vola il fiore magro. BE 1960. D+SC: Paul Meyer. Cinematography: Freddy Rents. ED: Paul Meyer, Rose Tuytschaver, Roland de Salency. M: Arsène Souffriau. C: Domenico Mescolini (Domenico), Valentino Gentili (Valentino), Luigi Favotto (Luigi), Attilio Sanna (Attilio), Dolorès Oscari (Dolorès), Giuseppe Cerqua (Giuseppe), Louis Vander Spieghel. P: Paul Meyer, Maurice Taszman per Les Films de l’Eglantine. Original in French and Italian. DCP. B&w. 82 min
    Restored by Cinematek (Brussels) from the original camera negative in 2016
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
    Ritrovati e restaurati
    DCP with English subtitles from Cinematek (Brussels)
    Introduce Nico Mazzanti + la figlia del regista Claire Meyer
    Cinema Arlecchino, 2 July 2016


Nicola Mazzanti (Bologna catalog): "Buñuel meets Rossellini in the landscape of the Borinage, blackened by the dust of the carbonnages, the coalmines, and of the terrils, the hills created by the waste of the mines."

"The best movie ever made on the cruelty of emigration, the timeless lie of ‘social integration’, the pains of displacement and the shameless depths of human exploitation is shot by a filmmaker who could and should have become the best Belgian filmmaker of his generation, had the system allowed him to keep producing films. But Paul Meyer made the mistake of telling the truth. First, he had told the terrible story of a worker forced to sleep with her boss in the twenty relentless minutes of Klinkaart (savagely attacked in Catholic Belgium). With Déjà s’envole la fleur maigre he dares to unveil the truth behind the Italo-Belgian Treaty that would send Italian workers to Belgium in exchange for much needed coal to feed the industrialization of Italy. Although Déjà s’envole la fleur maigre earned awards in Italy (the Porretta festival, the anti-Venice father of Il Cinema Ritrovato) and was lauded in Cannes by both the “Cahiers du cinéma” and “Positif” as the work of the great new talent of a Belgian cinema otherwise largely dormant, Paul Meyer was ostracized and basically forced out of Belgian film production. This restoration is intended to do him justice."

"Engraved with the deep black of the coal dust and the oppressive grey of the Belgian sky, Déjà s’envole la fleur maigre uses the bodies, the accents and the faces of non-professional actors to bring us the lives (as true and real as only fiction can do) of a group of kids, sons and daughters of Italian immigrants. Today, when we rediscover the faces of the kids filmed by Paul Meyer, we cannot but be reminded that not so long ago, we were the refugees and the migrants."

"Although over the years the film gained the status of a mythical work, only one 35 mm print of Déjà s’envole la fleure maigre survived. The restoration project (which includes the restoration of the body of Paul Meyer’s work) was based on the original camera negative, deeply scarred by the mistreatment typical of a very low budget production." – Nicola Mazzanti

AA: The Italian veteran immigrant worker Domenico notices the little newcomer boy examining birds' nests and eggs. "Non toccare le uova". Instead, Domenico introduces the boy to the coal-mining district, condensing his lesson into four words: BORINAGE (the name of the famous Belgian place), CHARBONNAGE (coal mine), CHOMAGE (massive unemployment), and SPERANZA (hope).

Borinage is a famous place in the history of art. The young Vincent van Gogh worked there as a priest but was fired by the Church because he identified too much with the workers who toiled in desperate conditions in the underground hell of the coal mines. (A few years before Paul Meyer Vincente Minnelli's Lust for Life had been "partiellement tourné dans les villages de Hornu et Wasmes"). Henri Storck and Joris Ivens made their documentary classic Misère au Borinage in the same district during the Great Depression.

The workers get coal dust in their lungs. As we at my office at KAVI in Helsinki are located opposite the open coal hill of Helen the Helsinki Energy Company we are getting an impression, too, of what miner's lungs might be.

When Paul Meyer directed his masterpiece in Borinage the coal mines were already being closed, and the area was the site of the highest unemployment rate in Belgium. A Sardinian father has invited his family to join him in Borinage although he is half-unemployed. The children know no French, but they play with other children, and the young ones contact other young ones, negotiating a cultural shock in dating manners.

Paul Meyer combines approaches of the lyrical cinema and the documentary. The protagonists are not actors but real people playing parts close to themselves. There are passages of a stream of consciousness, and the tempo is leisurely. This is not a story-driven film but a work that attempts to catch the intensity of the real time, the real place, and the real being in Borinage in 1959.

Much of the film has been made from a child's perspective. The hills are prominent: from them we get establishing views in great panoramic shots. The hills are also used by the children as slides. There the little newcomer meets a priest with flowers and fish. The presence of the nature is intensive not far from the mines.

The music includes fairground and park orchestra music and songs, including a song to Salvatore Quasimodo's poem which gave the title to the film [tbc].

A poetic vision of society, change, childhood, longing, and homesickness.

Paul Meyer's film was a labour of love. It took him 32 years to pay back his debt for the film to the Ministry, as we heard from the director's daughter, Claire Meyer, who introduced the screening.

The digital restoration has been conducted with great skill and taste from difficult source materials. It looks clean and even, with a fine grayscale, but when you clean the image digitally there can be a difficulty with nature footage.

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