Sunday, June 24, 2012

Les Hommes de la baleine / [The Whalers] [2012 restoration]

FR 1956. D: Mario Ruspoli. DP: Jacques Soulaire, Mario Ruspoli - 16 mm - blown up on 35 mm for distribution. ED: Henri Colpi, Jasmine Chasney. M: Gilbert Rouget. Commento di Jacopo Berenizi [Chris Marker] interpretato da Gilles Quéant. PC: Argos Films. HD Cam. 26’. Versione francese / French version. From: Argos Films e Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna. Saturday 24 July 2012, Cinema Lumière - Sala Mastroianni (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato). E-subtitles in Italian / English.

Restored in 2012 by Cineteca di Bologna in collaboration with Argos Film. The restoration, carried out at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory, was based on the best available elements. The digital restoration of the image was made on the 2K digitization of the 35 mm blow up, printed when the films were released. The restoration of the soundtrack was based on the original optical negative.

Florence Dauman: “Les Hommes de la baleine, shot around the same time John Huston was filming Moby Dick, robs the American movie of its justifications” (Eric Rohmer). It is “a documentary of extraordinary interest: this film shows us that in a few of the Azores islands whale hunting with a harpoon is still practiced today like it was in the times of Moby Dick” (André Bazin). “While Mario was abroad in his role as ‘crank turner’ for Connaissance du Monde, Henri Colpi was editing the short of the film-conference and Marker was writing the commentary for it. On his return, Mario found the film complete, the inspiration of which did not seem to correspond at all with his […] but Mario, the good prince he was, demonstrated his satisfaction afterwards since the critics had applauded this partnership” (Anatole Dauman in Souvenir-écran). Quoting Flaherty, Ruspoli was able to make viewers live “the greatest death on earth” through film. Rohmer wrote: “The standard suspense of fictional films is replaced with a sense of insecurity created by the unsteadiness of the camera and its abrupt décadrage when the beast hurls against the fragile boat. We must admire the audacity of the cameraman and the intelligent framing of the images chosen”.” Florence Dauman

AA: A wonderful and amazing Melvillean movie a hundred years after Moby Dick. They still did it in the same way on the Azores then, and Mario Ruspoli had his own personal approach to the Flahertyan way of filming tradition. Ruspoli is also one of the great documentarians of the sea, like Cousteau. He is a great action director, covering the thrill and the excitement of the whale hunt. And he sees the big tragic picture of us destroying the environment and the priceless life in the ocean. "The killing takes seven hours... the ultimate spasm... the greatest death". The flag is stabbed into the flesh of the moribund giant.

I am grateful that this powerful movie has been rediscovered. Although the best experts have been at it, perhaps the source materials have been in very bad shape. The vitality of nature is missing in the visual look of the HD Cam, that quality that we can usually take for granted even in 16 mm footage.

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