Saturday, June 30, 2012

Padre / [The Father]

Cento anni fa: 1912: Programma 12: Padri
A Hundred Years Ago: 1912: Programme 12: Fathers

Programme and notes by Mariann Lewinsky e Giovanni Lasi

“In recent years we have been able to follow, in the Hundred Years Ago/Cento anni fa section, the lengthening running times in the drama genre; and now, in 1912, two- and three-act films of 600m to 1,000m have become the international standard. If short films had shown us, in dramatically compressed form, whole lives via key episodes, like stations of the cross, now, with the longer film, a new possibility opened up – that of filling in the emotional dimension – and a new function, which remains crucial even now: “leading the self out of the confines of its everyday feelings into the freedom to participate in other people’s fates” (Viktor Klemperer, 1912). The father in Padre is cheated out of all he owns by his competitor, yet gives up a chance to get his own life on track, choosing instead to protect his daughter’s happiness. The film exudes the same emotional warmth as a work by Giuseppe Verdi. With the outward appearance of a tramp, a social outcast, the film’s hero attains the moral stature of a Jean Valjean. Sjöström, on the other hand, in his first film, Trädgårdsmästaren (with the director himself in the title role), brings us a cold power-hungry father, a rapist. Sjöström and scriptwriter Stiller put patriarchy in the dock as, after them, would Dreyer in Praesidenten (1919) and Olga Preobrazhenskaya and Ivan Pravov in Baby Ryazanskie (1928). The production of Padre took Italian cinema a step closer toward achieving the cultural legitimacy it had been pursuing for years: if starting in 1908 movie storylines drew from the tradition of ‘high’ theater and literature in order to elevate cinematography, in 1912, thanks to the release of Itala films, acting in movies became a ‘work of art’. This was no small matter. Film skeptics viewed the “silent art” as incapable of reaching the same expressive potential of theater due to the lack of sound: Ermete Zacconi acting in Padre changed this conception. Words were no longer the determining factor: on the screen great actors can do without them. The camera does not place limits on the talent of a showman; on the contrary, it emphasizes his ability to brilliantly hold together a scene, even if depending only on the art of mime, a ‘colossal’ presence, and the intensity of gestures. Regardless of Zacconi’s extraordinary performance, Padre is a fine example of the best Italian productions of 1912, with dramatic plots, similar to the feuilletons from the end of the nineteenth century, anchored in a new industrial reality with all of its contradictions. The envy between the classes, the cruelty of the business world, the harshness of social conflicts, all of these themes underlie the story. It’s a violent world, where money is the supreme force, where noble sentiments and altruism surface in bright contrast. The characters reveal their humanity through an introspective journey that was unusual for cinema at the time, while the action shares a realism with the acting style of Ermete Zacconi, the prototype of the Italian movie star.

Vader [the title in the print]. IT 1912. D: Giovanni Pastrone. PC: Itala Film. C: Ermete Zacconi. 35 mm. 891 m 46’ at 17 fps. B&w. Dutch intertitles. From: EYE Film Instituut Nederland. Saturday 30 July 2012, Cinema Lumière - Sala Mastroianni (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato). Earphone commentary in  Italian / English. Grand piano: Maud Nelissen. Introduced by Mariann Lewinsky.

AA: In her introduction at the screening Mariann Lewinsky pointed out that in the cinema, 1912 was a year of great actors, including Sarah Bernhardt, Albert Bassermann, and Réjane, but not necessary always in great films. The print of Padre stems from the Desmet collection.

The story of injustice: André is sentenced to many years of hard labour having been framed to arson. To silence his conscience Evariste Marny, the wily businessman who contracted the arson takes André’s little daughter Lidia into his custody. After 13 years in prison André escapes and assumes the identity of a bearded junkman, recognized by nobody, living in a criminal hideout. An incriminating letter used by the actual perpetrator of the arson for blackmail is seen by André. For the sake of Lidia’s happiness André agrees to conceal his identity, but when the arsonist sets Evariste’s castle on fire, jeopardizing Lidia’s life, André returns to the rescue and a final settling of accounts. On his deathbed Evariste, whose life has been saved by André in the fire, confesses everything.

Grand pantomime and high gesticulation in early cinema style. There is a fine deep focus composition in many scenes.

A wonderful print struck from a used source. The impressive colour is mostly realized via toning, but in the conflagration scenes there is red tinting

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