Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Abbas Kiarostami 1940-2016

The Wind Will Carry Us. The title of Kiarostami's film is from a poem by Forough Farrokhzad. Please click to enlarge the image.

Sohrab Sepehri

“Where is the friend’s house?” asked the horseman just at dawn.
The heavens paused.
A wayfarer took the bright branch from his lips,
conferred it on the darkness of the sands,
pointed with his finger to a poplar tree and said,

“Just before that tree
there is a garden path greener than God’s dreams.
In it there is love as wide as the blue wings of true friendship.
You go on to the end of the path that takes up again
just beyond maturity,
then turn toward the flower of loneliness.
Two steps before the flower,
stop at the eternal fountain of earthly myth.
There a transparent terror will seize you,
and in the sincerity of the streaming heavens
you will hear a rustling.
High up in a pine tree,
you will see a child
who will lift a chick out of a nest of light.
Ask him,
“Where is the friend’s house?”

(trans. Jerome Clinton.)

The friend = God in Sufi tradition.

Sohrab Sepehri

"Missä on Ystävän talo?" kysyi ratsumies aamun hämärässä.
Taivas pysähtyi.
Kulkija otti valonkorren suustaan, antoi sen hiekan pimeyteen
ja osoitti poppelia, sanoi:

"Ennen kuin tulet puun luo,
kääntyy lehväkuja, Jumalan unta vehreämpi.
Siellä rakkaus on vedensininen, ystävyyden levitettyjen siipien kokoinen.
Kulje sen kujan päähän, joka näkyy murrosiän jälkeen,
käänny sitten yksinäisyyden kukan suuntaan.
Kaksi askelta ennen kukkaa
seisahdu maan ikuisten kertomusten lähteelle.
Läpikuultava pelko valtaa sinut.
Kuulet kahinaa avaruuden virtaavassa avoimuudessa,
näet lapsen korkean kuusen latvassa, viemässä poikasta valon pesästä.
Kysy häneltä: Missä on Ystävän talo?"

– Sohrab Sepehri, runoelmasta Veden askelten ääni (1964)

Vain ääni jää. Runoja Iranista (suom. ja toim. Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila, WSOY, toinen laitos 2006) sisältää mm. Kiarostamin ja Sepehrin runoja.

سهراب سپهری
نام شعر : نشاني

"خانه دوست كجاست؟" در فلق بود كه پرسيد سوار.
آسمان مكثي كرد.
رهگذر شاخه نوري كه به لب داشت به تاريكي شن‌ها بخشيد
و به انگشت نشان داد سپيداري و گفت:

"نرسيده به درخت،
كوچه باغي است كه از خواب خدا سبزتر است
و در آن عشق به اندازه پرهاي صداقت آبي است
مي‌روي تا ته آن كوچه كه از پشت بلوغ، سر به در مي‌آرد،
پس به سمت گل تنهايي مي‌پيچي،
دو قدم مانده به گل،
پاي فواره جاويد اساطير زمين مي‌ماني
و تو را ترسي شفاف فرا مي‌گيرد.
در صميميت سيال فضا، خش‌خشي مي‌شنوي:
كودكي مي‌بيني
رفته از كاج بلندي بالا، جوجه بردارد از لانه نور
و از او مي‌پرسي
خانه دوست كجاست."

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Midori haruka ni / Far Off in the Green / The Green Music Box

緑はるかに / [Al di là del prato]. JP 1955.
    D: Umetsugu Inoue. Story: dal romanzo omonimo di Makoto Hojo. SC: Umetsugu Inoue. Cinematography: Isamu Kakita. AD: Takeo Kimura. M: Masao Yoneyama.
    C: Ruriko Asaoka (Ruriko), Minoru Takada (il dottore), Ayuko Fujishiro (la madre), Soichi Asanuma (Chibi Shin), Fumio Nagai (Noppo), Hideaki Ishii (Debu), Noriko Watanabe (Mamiko), Kenjiro Uemura (Tazawa), Kyoko Akemi (la madre di Mamiko), Frankie Sakai (Piero).
    P: Takiko Mizunoe per Nikkatsu. [The film was not released in Finland]. 35 mm. Col. 90 min
    Japanese version with English subtitles
    Da: National Film Center, Tokyo per concessione di Nikkatsu
    This print was struck in 1993 from 35 mm dupe negatives derived from a 35 mm color master positive, transferred from the nitrate three-strip Konicolor original negative
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
    Richness and Harmony. Colour Film in Japan (part two)
    Cinema Jolly, 2 July 2016

Alexander Jacoby, Johan Nordström (Bologna catalog): "The first feature length theatrical film shot in Konicolor, this musical action film for children is based on the novel of the same name by Makoto Hojo, adapted for the screen and directed by Umetsugu Inoue. Inoue was a prolific commercial director who worked not only in Japan but also, during the late 1960s, in Hong Kong, where he directed films at the famous Shaw Brothers studio, some of them being remakes of his own Japanese films. His Arashi o yobu otoko (Stormy Man, 1957) was one of actor/singer Yujiro Ishihara’s most characteristic star vehicles, and, like this film, typified the director’s creative use of colour."

"The film marked the debut of 14-year-old Ruriko Asaoka (b. 1940), who stars here as the daughter of an important researcher who becomes entangled with a spy trying to steal her father’s secrets. The cast also includes the talented comedian Frankie Sakai. Asaoka was to sustain a career in Nikkatsu action and melodrama pictures through the following decades, while Sakai brought his inimitable sly humour to a number of the vibrant dark comedies of Yuzo Kawashima." – Alexander Jacoby, Johan Nordström

AA: A children's film, an adventure film, a musical, a spy story with science fiction elements.

Ruriko enters the spy villains' lair to rescue his father, a scientist whose invention is important for humanity. Also her mother is in the clutch of the villains, being whipped to put pressure on father. Ruriko escapes, taking her father's secret formula with her, hidden in her green music box. Believing her parents are dead Ruriko meets in a cave in the forest orphan boys who have escaped from the House of Light, sporting masks which scare the villains. As the kids fight the villains on a suspension bridge the green music box falls into a river flowing to Tokyo. On their way to Tokyo they meet yet another orphan boy, and they are also joined by a girl whose mother is a singer in Tokyo. They try to find the music box in Tokyo, but there are many similar ones. There are interesting scenes in an antique store and at Union Circus which is a front for the spies. There is a happy ending, Ruriko's parents are alive, after all, and they decide to adopt the three orphans who have followed Ruriko. The girl joins her singer mother, as well.

There is a framing story in the musical format, to the sound of the music of the green music box.

The colour in the Konicolor world is somewhat stylized and sometimes a bit off, but this feels like a faithful presentation of it.

Salvatore Quasimodo: "Già vola il fiore magro" (a poem)

Salvatore Quasimodo. Photo from: Centro Cultural Tina Modotti.

Salvatore Quasimodo: Ja äkkiä on ilta. Kirjayhtymä 1962. The title of this Finnish edition, "Ja äkkiä on ilta", is Finnish for "Ed è subito sera".

    Già vola il fiore magro

    Già vola il fiore magro
    Non saprò nulla della mia vita
    oscuro monotono sangue.

    Non saprò chi amavo, chi amo,
    ora che qui stretto, ridotto alle mie
    nel guasto vento di marzo
    enumero i mali dei giorni decifrati

    Già vola il fiore magro
    dai rami. E io attendo
    la pazienza del suo volo irrevocabile.

    Salvatore Quasimodo: Poesie (Milano: Primi Piani, 1938)

        [Je ne saurai rien de ma vie
        sang obscur et monotone.

        Je ne saurai rien, qui j'aimais, qui j'aime
        maintenant que replié, réduit à mes
        dans le vent pourri de mars
        j'énumère les maux des jours déchiffrés.

        Des branches déjà s'envole la fleur maigre
        Et moi j'attends
        la patience de son vol irrévocable.]


En ole tietävä mitään elämästäni,
hämärästä, yksitoikkoisesta verestä.

En tiedä ketä rakastin tai rakastan,
nyt kun oienneena, jäseniini vähenneenä
maaliskuun autiossa tuulessa
arvioin luettujen päivieni vaivoja.

Jo lentää kuiva kukka
oksista. Ja odotan
sen peruuttamattoman lennon rauhaa.

Salvatore Quasimodo GIÀ VOLA IL FIORE MAGRO
Suomennos Elli-Kaija Köngäs
kokoelmasta JA ÄKKIÄ ON ILTA (Kirjayhtymä, 1962)

Déjà s'envole la fleur maigre / From the Branches Drops the Withered Blossom / [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.

Anno uno 10: Méliès Star Film 1896

1896. Cinema anno uno – Lumière!
1896. Year One of Cinematography
Programma 10 / Programme 10: Méliès Star Film 1896

Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
♪ Grand piano Donald Sosin
[cancelled: Introduce e ♪ grand piano Serge Bromberg]
There are no intertitles on the prints
Cinema Lumiere – Sala Officinema/Mastroianni, 2 July 2016

Serge Bromberg (Bologna catalog): "Magician Georges Méliès, owner of the Theatre Robert-Houdin in Paris, attended the first public screening of the Lumière Cinématographe December 28, 1895, and realized how valuable such an attraction would be for his venue."

"Alas, the Lumière brothers refused to sell him a cinématographe, so he went to Robert William Paul in England to buy his first apparatus."

"He started filming the most common subjects, documentaries, men playing cards, children, etc. until one day his camera stopped while filming the Place de l’Opéra, resulting in the first accidental stop-motion special effect."

"Méliès quickly specialized in trick films. He shot a series of films in his Montreuil garden, and built the first film studio in 1897 in the same place."

"Because Méliès destroyed his own negatives in 1923, he became the symbol of lost films, and discoveries of new title today seem almost impossible (220 films survive of his 520 productions)."

"This programme includes films shot by Méliès 120 years ago in 1896, which was his first year of production. Only a handful of titles survive of the 80 films he made that year." – Serge Bromberg

Georges Méliès: Une partie de cartes. From the right: Gaston Méliès, Georges Méliès.

UNE PARTIE DE CARTES. FR 1896. D: Georges Méliès. PC: Star Film (n. 1). DCP. 1’. B&w. Da: BFI – National Archive / Lobster Films. - AA: Scène de la vie bourgeoise. Georges Méliès's first film is an imitation, a copy, and a parody on the Lumière film Partie d'écarté (Catalogue Lumière 73, shot early in 1896). Three men smoke, drink, play cards, and read a newspaper. A waiter, a waitress, and a dog appear. More comical and exaggerated than the Lumière original. Sometimes called the first remake in film history, but the Lumière brothers made several remakes of their own films, too. A duped visual quality.

DÉFENSE D’AFFICHER / [Paste No Bills]. FR 1896 D: Georges Méliès. PC: Star Film (n. 15). DCP. 1’. B&w.  Da: Lobster Films. - AA: A comedy. "Paste no bills" says the ban on the wall. Two men engage in a furious fight to paste their bills on the forbidden wall. The slothful janitor is fired from le Théâtre Robert-Houdin.

UNE NUIT TERRIBLE / [A Terrible Night]. FR 1896 D: Georges Méliès PC: Star Film (n. 26). DCP. 1’ . B&w  Da: Lobster Films. - AA: A comic horror fantasy, a trick film. A man lays down to sleep, only to be harassed by a huge bug. Might Kafka have seen this?

ESCAMOTAGE D’UNE DAME CHEZ ROBERT-HOUDIN / The Vanishing Lady. FR 1896. D: Georges Méliès. PC: Star Film (n. 70). DCP. 1’. B&w. Da: Lobster Films. - AA: A trick film, a record of a magician's performance. The magician Georges Méliès makes a lady (Jehanne d'Alcy) vanish from a chair, then conjuring her skeleton only, and finally the complete lady. The film ends with a bow. Based on the act of the French magician Buatier de Kolta. This has been called the first trick film, but the recently rediscovered Une séance de prestidigitation (Méliès Opus 2) might have the distinction of the first Méliès trick film now. The first Méliès screening was on 5 April 1896, and during the same month the first Lumière trick film, Charcuterie mécanique (Catalogue Lumière, Vue N° 107 was programmed le 18 avril 1896 à Lyon. That film was screened as a bonus in the Anno uno 5 show in Bologna. Who was first?

LE MANOIR DU DIABLE / The Haunted Castle. FR 1896-1897. D: Georges Méliès. PC: Star Film (n. 78-80). DCP. 3’. B&w. Da: New Zealand Film Archive (Corrick Collection) / Lobster Films. - AA: Un film fantastique, a trick film. Georges Méliès as Mephistopheles and Jeanne d'Alcy as the lady. A giant bat turns into Mephistopheles who conjures a big cauldron and a hunchback monster. From the cauldron Mephistopheles conjures a woman and diabolical creatures. He makes everything disappear, including himself. Two explorers appear and experience strange things, invisible to them. One is teletransported across the room. A skeleton appears, turning into a bat, turning into Mephistopheles.  He makes the lady appear from the cauldron, and the explorer succumbs to her charm, but when he wants to kiss her, she turns into a witch. Four more creatures appear, one explorer jumps from the balcony, but the other defeats Mephistopheles with a cross. Sometimes called the first horror film, but also Un nuit terrible has a horror aspect. Low contrast.

LE CAUCHEMAR / [The Nightmare]. FR 1896-1897. D: Georges Méliès. PC: Star Film (n. 82). DCP. 1’. B&w. Da: Lobster Films. - AA: A fantasy, a trick film. A man sleeps restlessly, dreaming of a woman, but it transforms into a dancing satyr and a Pierrot Lunaire: the wall of the bedchamber opens, an immense cartoon moon appears, three dream figures dance around him, and the man wakes up.

AA: Here we witness the genesis of fantasy, magic, horror, special effects, animation, and the art of transformations and metamorphoses in the cinema in the films of Georges Méliès sometimes called the first artist of the cinema, but for me the Lumière brothers were already artists, as well.

Afraid to Talk

Merry-Go-Round. US 1932. D: Edward L. Cahn. Based on: dalla pièce Merry-Go-Round di Albert Maltz e George Sklar. SC: Tom Reed. Cinematography: Karl Freund. ED: Maurice Pivar. AD: Charles D. Hall. C: Eric Linden (Ed Martin), Sidney Fox (Peggy Martin), Tully Marshall (Anderson), Louis Calhern (Wade), Edward Arnold (Jig Zelli), George Meeker (Lennie). P: Carl Laemmle Jr. per Universal Pictures Corp. [The film was not released in Finland]. 35 mm. 69′. B&w
    US © 1932 Universal Pictures
    C also: Gustaf von Seyffertitz (attorney Harry Berger, Ed's defense lawyer)
    Print from Universal Pictures
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
    Universal Pictures: The Laemmle Junior Years
    E-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti Londra
    Cinema Jolly, 2 July 2016

Dave Kehr (Bologna catalog): "Where, as the critic Robert Warshow famously noted, the Warner Bros. gangster films presented their protagonists as tragic heroes, their generic equivalents at Universal present no trace of the romantic individualism of a Cagney or Robinson; instead, they are cogs in a cold machine of corruption, functioning without conscience, remorse or even much sense of personal volition. Based on Merry-Go-Round, a controversial, widely censored play by Albert Maltz and George Sklar, Edward L. Cahn’s film remains faithful to the structuring principle implied by the title, portraying a closed circle of venality that seems to include every major institution in the nameless city in which it is set. When a bellboy (Eric Linden) witnesses a gang chief (Edward Arnold) rubbing out a rival, he dutifully reports to the District Attorney (Tully Marshall) – who promptly frames the boy for the killing."

"As an editor at Universal, Cahn made his reputation for his rapid re-editing of All Quiet on the Western Front, working in an editing suite set up on the train that was carrying the preview print from Los Angeles to New York. His assignment: to remove all traces of ZaSu Pitts, who had originally been cast as the hero’s mother but had to be replaced by Beryl Mercer when test audiences, accustomed to Pitts as a comedian, laughed when she appeared. Promoted to director, Cahn was soon working with Universal’s top stars (including Walter Huston in another portrait of civic corruption, the western Law and Order). Cahn’s mastery of tempo and counterpoint is quite evident here thought not unexpected; more surprising is his visual flair, which finds him revisiting some of the more abstract moments of German Expressionism with the cameraman Karl Freund."
– Dave Kehr

AA: The first established cycle of the gangster film as a genre started with Josef von Sternberg's Underworld. The Racket, Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, and Scarface all belonged to that stylized line of the gangster film. As did City Streets, which, however, was different in portraying gangsters as businessmen, launching a trend that culminated in the Godfather trilogy.

Startlingly different were the films by Rowland Brown: Quick Millions, Hell's Highway and the extraordinary Blood Money. These sinister films were not based on other fiction but apparently on the writer-director's first-hand knowledge. Brown's brief career as director ended with Blood Money.

Edward L. Cahn's Afraid to Talk belongs to the same rare class of the gangster film as the movies of Rowland Brown. It is a genre movie, but there is never a feeling of safety within genre convention. Instead, there is a pervasive sense of corruption and danger. Afraid to Talk contains the first screen credit of Albert Maltz who rose to the top of Hollywood's screenwriting profession, becoming a victim of the blacklist but finishing his career with work for Clint Eastwood.

The hotel bellboy Ed Martin is an eye-witness to the gangland murder of Mr. Slansky who is in the possession of incriminating records of corruption. Ed Martin identifies Jig Zelli (Edward Arnold) as the killer. But soon tables turn. Ed is fired, and he is himself framed and accused of the murder. The police, the justice system, and the city administration have been corrupted by the gangsters who use the documents to blackmail their victims. When Ed does not confess he is put through a third degree interrogation. He almost dies of the brutality and is taken to a hospital bed at the prison. But then Ed gets a top lawyer, Harry Berger, feared by the gangsters.

The most shocking sequence is the murder attempt of Ed while he lies on the hospital bed. Might this be the first appearance of the motif that reappears memorably in Criss Cross and The Godfather? The plot is to have Ed "found hung", but uncorrupted policemen rescue Ed from the noose in the nick of time and the corruption ring is exposed.

Interesting faces include Louis Calhern and Tully Marshall as corrupt lawyers. The opening credit music (not credited) is impressive, there is a torch singer and a chain gang dancing girl number. The story is contemporary with news flashes on breadlines and unemployment.

The good print does justice to the work of the master cinematographer Karl Freund.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Weda'an Bonapart / Adieu Bonaparte (2016 digital restoration in 4K by Misr International Films, TF1 Droits Audiovisuels and La Cinémathèque française)

Youssef Chahine: وداعًا بونابرت / Weda'an Bonapart / Adieu Bonaparte (FR/EG 1985). With Michel Piccoli (General Caffarelli) and Mohsen Mohieddin (Ali).

Youssef Chahine: وداعًا بونابرت / Weda'an Bonapart / Adieu Bonaparte (FR/EG 1985).

وداعًا بونابرت 
    FR/EG 1985. P: Humbert Balsan, Marianne Khoury, Jean-Pierre Mahot per Misr International, Ministère de la culture (Cairo), Lyric International, Ministère de la culture (France), Renn Productions (Paris), TF1 Films Production. 
    D+SC: Youssef Chahine. Cinematography: Mohsen Nasr - colour. ED: Luc Barnier. AD: Onsi Abou Seif. M: Gabriel Yared. 
    C: Michel Piccoli (Caffarelli), Mohsen Mohieddin (Ali), Patrice Chéreau (Bonaparte), Mohsena Tewfik (la madre), Mohamed Atef (Yehia), Christian Patey (Horace), Hoda Sultan (Nefissa). 
    C also: Gamil Ratib (Barthelemy), Taheya Cariocca (la sage femme), Claude Cernay (Decoin), Mohamad Dardiri (Sheikh Charaf), Hassan El Adl (Cheikh Aedalah), Tewfik El Dekn (Le Derwiche), Seif El Dine (Kourayem), Hassan Husseiny (le père), Farid Mahmoud (Faltaos), Hoda Soltan (Nefissa), Salah Zulfakar (Cheikh Hassouna).
    The film was not released in Finland. 
    Restored in 4K in 2016 by Misr International Films, TF1 Droits Audiovisuels and La Cinémathèque française with the support of CNC, Fonds Culturel Franco-Américain, Archives audiovisuelles de Monaco e Association Youssef Chahine at Éclair laboratories and at L.E. Diapason studio, from the negative and the sound magnetic tapes
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna (Ritrovato e restaurato).
    DCP from La Cinémathèque française
    Introduce Gian Luca Farinelli, Frédéric Bonnaud (La Cinémathèque française)
    Arabic and French with English subtitles
    Cinema Arlecchino, 1 July 2016

Frédéric Bonnaud (Il Cinema Ritrovato 2016): "Thirty one years after being presented in the official competition of the Cannes Film Festival, Adieu Bonaparte returns in a new restored version. At the time, the film received a lukewarm, if not downright hostile, reception: several journalists judged the project ‘anti-French’ and it would not have been completed were it not for the direct support of the Cultural Minister Jack Lang, who was in the line of fire in almost all the attacks. In France, History is never written with a cool head and the idea that an Egyptian dared pit himself against Bonaparte (not yet Napoleon) could only provoke polemic."

"During the press conference Youssef Chahine, Michel Piccoli and Patrice Chéreau had to strenuously defend a film that didn’t respect the academic rules of historical reconstruction. It was judged a confused work and its absence from the Palme-winners forewarned of its failure at the box-office, where it was seen by little more than 50,000 people. But this matters little: the French-Egyptian alliance between Youssef Chahine and the producer Humbert Balsan was set, and would last for twenty years."

"It is its richness and complexity that makes Adieu Bonaparte a strangely contemporary film. It is as if History had validated all of Chahine’s intuitions, especially the most pessimistic ones about disaster in the Middle East, in particular in light of the mad hopes raised by the Egyptian revolution of 2011."

"Showing the people of Cairo asking how they should resist the French (under what banner? In the name of what?), Chahine is simultaneously a historian and a prophet. He does not condemn anyone, even if it is clear that he prefers the ardent humanism of General Caffarelli to Bonaparte’s genius for publicity, and he multiplies characters and points-of-view so that none of them is ever completely wrong or completely right. This interior split is typical of an Egyptian who had studied in California, an Arab intellectual possessing a universal culture, who was the greatest Egyptian filmmaker, free and cosmopolitan, hated by the powers-that-be and adored by the people. This is where the Renoir-like genius of Chahine resides. Adieu Bonaparte is his Marseillaise." – Frédéric Bonnaud

Cinando synopsis: "In 1798, Napoleon lands his army in Egypt, defeats the Mamluk [Mamelouk] warlords (the remnants of Ottoman rule), and goes on to Cairo. Three brothers, who are Egyptian patriots, chafe under Mamluk rule and reject the prospect of French domination. Bakr, the eldest, is a hothead, quick to advocate armed rebellion; Ali is more philosophical and poetic; Yehia is young and impressionable. One of Napoleon's generals, the one-legged intellectual Caffarelli, wants to make Frenchmen out of Ali, Yehia, and other Egyptians, opening a bakery where their father works, becoming a tutor, and declaring his love for them. Is tragedy the only resolution of these conflicting loyalties?"

AA: As the show started a half an hour late, and there were also long introductions, I could not stay until the end of the film because of another scheduled appointment. I saw 80 minutes of the film.

An epic on Napoleon's Egyptian campaign directed by the master Youssef Chahine. In the 1970s Chahine had founded his Misr production company. His films had considerable range from personal semi-autobiographical films to big budget historical epics. Starting from the 1982 French-Egyptian cultural exchange agreement Chahine's films were French co-productions. Adieu Bonaparte was produced on the biggest budget so far of an Egyptian film.

Patrice Chéreau offers a convincing performance as Napoleon, but although Napoleon is the primus motor of the action, he is not the protagonist of the narrative. In this Chahine is following the guidelines of Walter Scott on the historical novel: never make a great personality of history the protagonist of fiction.

Instead, we have an Egyptian family, and especially the three brothers Bakr (the rebel who incites the entire family to move from Alexandria to Cairo), Yehia (the literate one who has learned French from a young Alexandrian woman of Greek background), and Ali (the youngest one, the director's alter ego played by his favourite actor Mohsen Mohieddin).

Egypt is still under the last remains of the rule of the Ottomans (the Mamluks) and the resistance against the Mamluks and the French invaders who present themselves as liberators is incoherent.

The French protagonist is General Caffarelli (Michel Piccoli), a fearless soldier, scholar, and man of culture whose affection to the Egyptians is genuine. He has lost one leg by the time the film starts. During it he will lose an arm, and he will die in the siege of Acre in the Egyptian campaign.

Adieu Bonaparte belongs to Chahine's studies of the cosmopolitan tradition of Egypt, his vision of a great heritage where Muslims, Jews, and Christians co-exist. Instead of building a drama of clear-cut demarcation lines it blurs them by showing Caffarelli's profound sympathy with Egyptians, and also, characteristically for Chahine, developing a love story between men in Caffarelli's close relationships with Ali and his brothers.

Herodotus in his Histories acknowledged ancient Egypt as the main influence for Classical Greece. As we now know that means that the genesis of Western civilization is in ancient Egypt. Napoleon's campaign led to the rediscovery and renaissance of the magnificent Egyptian legacy. Ancient Egypt was probably the first universal civilization. Chahine, too, belongs to this great tradition.

The historical reconstruction feels faithful, and the epic battle scenes are impressive.

The digital restoration is impeccable, the image is sharp, the colour is bright. The purity even borders on the clinical in its sharpness and brightness.

La mano dello straniero / The Stranger's Hand

La mano dello straniero / The Stranger's Hand. Alida Valli as Roberta and Richard Basehart as Joe.

Rapt à Venise / La Main de l'étranger. IT/GB 1954. D: Mario Soldati. Based on: dal racconto omonimo di Graham Greene. SC: Giorgio Bassani, Guy Elmes. Cinematography: Enzo Serafin. ED: Tom Simpson, Leslie Hodgson, Leo Cattozzo. AD: Luigi Scaccianoce. M: Nino Rota. C: Alida Valli (Roberta), Trevor Howard (maggiore Court), Richard Basehart (Joe), Richard O’Sullivan (Roger Court), Eduardo Ciannelli (dottor Vivaldi), Arnoldo Foà (il commissario), Guido Celano (questore), Jacopo Tecchio (Giorgio Luzzi), Guido Costantini (Peskovitch), Nerio Berardi (direttore dell’albergo). P: Peter Moore per Rizzoli Film, Milo Film. [The film was not released in Finland]. 35 mm. 87’. B&w.
    Versione italiana
    Print from CSC – Cineteca Nazionale
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
    Mario Soldati, a Writer at Cinecittà
    E-subtitles in English by Sub-Ti Londra
    Cinema Jolly, 1 July 2016

Emiliano Morreale (Bologna catalog): "One day, for fun, Graham Greene adopted a pseudonym and took part in a competition for stories written in the style of Graham Greene. He came second. His friend Mario Soldati asked him to produce a film story based on this idea, and thus La mano dello straniero was born. It is a classic story of the loss of childhood innocence set against a backdrop of espionage and intrigue: a sort of cross between The Third Man and Fuga in Francia. A child is searching for his kidnapped father in a noisy and hostile Venice with the help of a beautiful nurse and an ambiguous doctor. The cinematic encounter between Soldati and Greene is a curious one, and the story was perfect. Both men shared a Stevenson-like taste for adventure and a Catholic sense of suspense. Unfortunately, the production suffered from serious financial difficulties, while the Cold War espionage backstory had to be modified for political reasons until it was barely intelligible. However, the characters’ disorientation in the city remains one of the film’s strong points, together with the extraordinary figure of the villain, played by Eduardo Ciannelli. He is the heart of the film: an actor born in Ischia who became one of the great character actors of Thirties and Forties Hollywood (he had worked with Walsh, Hitchcock and Ford, amongst others) and was now promoted to the rank of protagonist. His character of a nihilist who reads The Decline of the West, aided by his worn features, is one of the details which, as is often the case in Soldati, unifies and justifies the whole film." – Emiliano Morreale

AA: Graham Greene had had his finest success in the cinema in Carol Reed's The Fallen Idol and The Third Man. The Stranger's Hand, directed by Mario Soldati, has elements of both. It is a Cold War story set in Venice, bringing back Alida Valli and Trevor Howard from The Third Man to another Graham Greene thriller. And it is an "end of childhood" story like The Fallen Idol. While The Stranger's Hand does not have a great reputation, it is an exciting and well-made film, and a treat for us interested in Graham Greene in the cinema.

I was only able to see the first 60 minutes of the film due to an overlap with Youssef Chahine's Adieu Bonaparte at Cinema Arlecchino.

I liked:

– the engrossing, operatic score by Nino Rota
– the wonderful cinematography by Enzo Serafin, who had a special talent in transforming a landscape into a soulscape (see Viaggio in Italia)
– the way Venice has been turned into a protagonist of the story, in a way similar to the use of Vienna in The Third Man. In this case the concept is not to turn Venice menacing (like in Don't Look Now). On the contrary, its friendly, beautiful and touristic ambience is an unpredictable background to the sinister plot.
– the plot belongs to the same tradition as Roman Polanski's Frantic: nobody believes that a disappearance of a person (in this case the little boy Roger's father, played by Trevor Howard) has taken place, and the first problem is to have others recognize it
– there is still an atmosphere of post-war unrest; for instance Roberta (Alida Valli) is a refugee
– Roger has not seen his his father, who is a major, in three years, and at first he does not even recognize him when he lies drugged on a hospital bed with a thick stubble
– this is Roger's lonesome quest at first, but then there is a team of three, a kind of an ad hoc family, consisting of Roberta, Joe (Richard Basehart), and Roger (this is where I had to leave for the next screening)
– the film is well cast to the tiniest parts, and as Emiliano Morreale states above, there is an interesting performance by Eduardo Ciannelli as the dubious doctor. He even meets Roger on sympathetic terms.

The print is watchable, with a duped visual quality.

Narayama bushiko / The Ballad of Narayama (1958) (2012 digital restoration by Shochiku)

The Ballad of Narayama (1958). In the poster image: Tatsuhei (Teiji Takahashi) takes his mother Orin (Kinuyo Tanaka) to the mountain to die.

楢山節考 / La ballata di Narayama.
    JP 1958. D: Keisuke Kinoshita. Story: based on the novel by Shichiro Fukazawa. Cinematography: Hiroshi Kusuda. ED: Yoshi Sugihara. AD: Kisaku Ito, Chiyoo Umeda. M: Rokuzaemon Kineya, Matsunosuke Nozawa.
    C: Kinuyo Tanaka (Orin), Teiji Takahashi (Tatsuhei), Yuko Mochizuki (Tamayan), Eijiro Tono (il fratello di Tamayan), Seiji Miyaguchi (Matayan), Yunosuke Ito (il figlio di Matayan), Danko Ichikawa (Kesakichi), Keiko Ogasawara (Matsuyan).
    P: Shochiku. [The film was not released in Finland]. DCP. Col. 98 min
    Fujicolor, Shochiku Grandscope 2,35:1
    Restored in 2012 by Shochiku
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
    Richness and Harmony. Colour Film in Japan (part two)
    DCP with English subtitles from Shochiku
    E-subtitles by Sub-Ti Londra
    Cinema Jolly, 1 July 2016

Alexander Jacoby, Johan Nordström (Bologna catalog): "Having helmed Japan’s first full-colour feature, Kinoshita became something of an expert in the new medium, as witness this extraordinary fable shot in exquisite and experimental Fuji- color, shown to best advantage here in a new digital restoration. Recounting a story based on a traditional legend about a community requiring its elderly people to go away to die on a mountain on reaching the age of seventy, Kinoshita, working in the age of postwar liberal humanism, fashioned a critique of traditional culture, but also expressed a sympathetic understanding of patterns of thought and feeling in the imagined community he depicts."

"The film draws deliberately on the style and atmosphere of classical Japanese theatre. Keiko McDonald writes: “Using a wide screen and taking particular care with colour, spotlighting, curtains and sets, [Kinoshita] recreated the atmosphere of the classical Kabuki stage – even its blackhooded kurogo, which Kinoshita introduces as stagehands conventionally ‘invisible’”. Colour, she notes, is used in the film “to signal shifts in psychology”. Kinoshita himself declared, “This is my first work in which I tried a unique manner of presentation and colourization based on the Japanese traditional artistic style”. The great actress Kinuyo Tanaka gives a stunning performance in the lead role. Her dedication as a performer is exemplified by the scene where she sells her teeth; for the sake of realism, it is said that she had several of her own front teeth removed. Teiji Takahashi, playing her son, lost 15 kilos of weight during the shooting."

"Kinoshita’s colour experimentation did not end with this film; in Fuefukigawa (The River Fuefuki, 1960), he established mood by applying vivid strokes of colour to monochrome footage. A quarter of a century later, the story of The Ballad of Narayama was retold, in a contrasting style of harsh realism, by Shohei Imamura in his film of the same name, which scooped the Palme d’Or at Cannes." – Alexander Jacoby, Johan Nordström

AA: This first film adaptation of Shichiro Fukazawa's novel is the diametrical opposite to Shohei Imamura's naturalistic interpretation. Keisuke Kinoshita's version is boldly stylized, and there is an atmosphere of a ritual and ceremony in it. There is also so much song and music that there is an aspect of the musical.

The subject is the mythical practice of ubasute (obasute, oyasute, 姥捨て): in the distant past, in conditions of poverty, a very old parent was taken to the mountain to die in a form of euthanasia.

As Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström state above, Kinuyo Tanaka's performance is powerful as the old mother. Her transformation is so total that I had a hard time recognizing in her the vibrant star of Kenji Mizoguchi and many others.

Keisuke Kinoshita and his cinematographer Hiroshi Kushuda use Fujicolor in the Shochiku Grandscope format without inhibition. The maple leaves are burning red in the autumn. The field is shining in gold in harvest time. There is an emphasis on bright colour until in the finale the mountain top is full of skeletons and black vultures, and finally snow covers everything.

There are powerful performances and visions in the film, but the sense of duration is overstated and the long journey is needlessly prolonged.

The digital restoration is fine.

Anno uno 9 [B]: Lumière vedute colorate a mano

Exécution de Jeanne d’Arc (1898). Catalogue Lumière 964.

THIS SHOW I MISSED AS IT STARTED A HALF AN HOUR TOO LATE AND THE INTRODUCTIONS WERE VERY LONG. I include the list here to keep a complete record of the Anno uno shows in this blog. I only saw Néron essayant des poisons sur des esclaves screened also in the I primi Neroni show.

Ritrovati e Restaurati: Collezione Auboin-Vermorel – Lumière!

[Défilé du 96° de ligne, II] (Francia/1896-1898)
Danseuses des rues
Danse égyptienne
Le Lit en bascule
Néron essayant des poisons sur des esclaves

Mort de Marat (1897). Catalogue Lumière 749.
Mort de Marat
Entrevue de Napoléon et du Pape. Catalogue Lumière 750.
Entrevue de Napoléon et du Pape
Les deux ivrognes
Ballet: ‘Le Carnaval de Venise’, II
Sérénade interrompue
Evian: Procession de la Fête-Dieu II
Evian: Procession de la Fête-Dieu, IV
Querelle de matelassières
Exécution de Jeanne d’Arc
[Une rue à Naples]
[Procession à Capri]
Touristes revenant d’une excursion

Introduce Céline Ruivo
Accompagnamento al piano di Stephen Horne e alla batteria di Frank Bockius

Workshop: Antiquity in Cinema: The First Twenty Years (1897-1916) / 2: 1897-1909: I primi Neroni

Quo vadis? (1901, Ferdinand Zecca, Lucien Nonguet). Please notice "the Roman salute", a recent invention of D'Annunzio, soon to be adopted as the Hitler salute. Please click to enlarge the image.

Workshop: Antiquity in cinema: The first twenty years (1897-1916) / 2. 1897-1909 I primi Neroni
Introduce Maria White
Accompagnamento al piano di Stephen Horne e alla batteria di Frank Bockius
Cinema Lumiere - Sala Officinema/Mastroianni, 1 July 2016

Neron essayant des poisons sur des esclaves (1897) 1’. - AA: Nero tests poisons on slaves. Maria White introduction: Inspired by paintings. The intensity of Nero's look. The interest in death. The sadistic pleasure in death and suffering.

Quo vadis? (FR 1901) D: Ferdinand Zecca, Lucien Nonguet. 1’. Did. francesi. - AA: A hand-painted tableau. The duel of the slaves. The women dance for Nero. - The first of the many film adaptations of Henryk Sienkiewicz's novel is a one minute tableau. - Might this be the first appearance on the screen of "the Roman salute" (see image above), a recent invention of Gabriele D'Annunzio, soon to be adopted as the Hitler salute?

Nerone (1909).

Nerone (IT 1909) D: Luigi Maggi. 13’. Did. italiane. - AA: PC: Ambrosio. Tableaux, long takes, long shots, b&w print. A touchingly stiff representation. A histrionic acting style. Marks of decomposition on the print. Il trionfo di Poppea: Poppea incites Nero to slaughter. From a low contrast, worn source. Octavia is killed without further ado with a sword in the back. The people rise into mutiny. To quench the mutiny Nero lets burn Rome. Nero sees the people flee in horror. Nero sings while Rome is burning. Nero's remorse. He sees visions. The people demand revenge. Amore di libertà.

AA: In the introduction we learned that the first topic of antiquity in the cinema was Emperor Nero.

We remember André Bazin's remarks about "the Nero complex" in the cinema: the fascination of catastrophe. And Susan Sontag's essay on The Imagination of Disaster. Those observations are still valid.

Now we learn that they are among the cinema's earliest preoccupations.

I have been recently reading Seneca's essays and letters. Seneca was Nero's tutor and adviser, and as long as Nero was under-age, probably a key influence in Roman affairs. But when Nero came of age he turned out not to have been an apt pupil to the Stoic philosopher. Accused of conspiracy, Seneca was forced to commit suicide. Nero has been a warning model of mad autocracy ever since.

Let's observe that in the Nero story there has been little or no interest among film-makers to the wise part of his reign (the Seneca influence). And in filming Quo vadis? the interest in the Christian message is tamer than in the sadistic excess of Nero, and in the cinema's very first Quo vadis? the focus is solely on Nero. Let's also observe that Seneca belongs to the pre-Christian philosophers that have been among the most highly regarded during even the most purist stages of Christianity.

Quo vadis?, the novel of the Nobel laureate Henryk Sienkiewicz, was about the triumph of the spirit over the sadistic atrocities of Nero. In the first film adaptations the triumph of the spirit was ignored, and only the atrocities were displayed.

It would be interesting to learn whether Hitler had seen Enrico Guazzoni's film adaptation of Quo vadis? (1913).

The Last Warning (2016 digital restoration by Universal Pictures)

Viimeinen varoitus! / Le dernier avertissement / Die letzte Warnung. US 1929. D: Paul Leni. Based on: dal romanzo The House of Fear di Wadsworth Camp. SC: Alfred A. Cohn, Robert F. Hill, J. G. Hawks. Cinematography: Hal Mohr. ED: Robert Carlisle. AD: Charles D. Hall. M: Joseph Cherniavsky. C: Laura La Plante (Doris), Montague Love (McHugh), Roy D’Arcy (Carlton), Margaret Livingston (Evalinda), John Boles (Qualie), Mack Swain (Robert), Slim Summerville (Tommy). P: Carl Laemmle Jr. per Universal Pictures Corp. DCP. 78′. B&w.
    2016 digital restoration by Universal Pictures (see restoration bulletin beyond the jump break)
    DCP from Universal Pictures
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
    Universal Pictures: The Laemmle Junior Years
    ♪ electric piano Maud Nelissen (not Donald Sosin as announced)
    E-subtitles by Sub-Ti Londra
    Cinema Jolly, 1 July 2016

Dave Kehr (Bologna catalog): "Merrily rifling through a whole bag of tricks, from animated intertitles to careening camera movements, director Paul Leni seems to anticipate the cinematic exuberance of Orson Welles in this comedy thriller from the tail end of the silent era (although the film was released with a score, sound effects and a dialogue sequence, the print that survives, and has been beautifully restored by Universal’s in-house digital team, is the silent version Universal provided for theaters not yet equipped for sound)."

"A veteran of the German expressionist cinema in its humorless hard core years (Hintertreppe, Waxworks), Leni revealed a lighter side when he arrived at Universal in 1927 to direct the ‘old dark house’ comedy thriller The Cat and the Canary. The Last Warning features the same star, Laura La Plante, in a similar context, though this time the murder mystery is set backstage at a haunted Broadway theater – Leni’s imaginative redressing of Universal’s already-venerable Phantom of the Opera stage."

"Secret passageways, trapdoors, a masked villain, clutching hands – The Last Warning has them all, served up in high style by Leni and cameraman Hal Mohr. Even the identity of the killer is, by the standards of the genre, a delightful surprise. Sadly, it would prove to be Leni’s last film – the director died of sepsis a few months after its release, at the age of forty-four."
– Dave Kehr

The Last Warning. Margaret Livingston as Evalinda.

AA: Paul Leni was a veteran artist – artist blacksmith, painter, graphic artist, caricaturist, illustrator, adman, Expressionist, and perhaps a member of Der Sturm, who had worked for Max Reinhardt, Joe May, Ernst Lubitsch, and the military film unit Bufa – before he started to direct after WWI. He kept getting better. He mastered the Kammerspiel in Hintertreppe with Leopold Jessner. He directed the beautiful horror dream fantasy Das Wachsfigurenkabinett, for Kracauer the last summit of the golden age of Weimar cinema. With Guido Seeber he designed animated short riddles (Rebus-Filme). At Universal Studios he launched the haunted house trend with The Cat and the Canary and The Last Warning. He also directed the Charlie Chan thriller The Chinese Parrot (believed lost) and the Victor Hugo masterpiece The Man Who Laughs. Paul Leni died young but he left a mark on both Weimar cinema and Universal horror.

I only saw 30 minutes from the beginning of The Last Warning due to an overlap with one of Bologna's Anno uno screenings. Paul Leni displays his delight in animation and art graphics from the start. The camera is unhinged, there is a whirlpool, caleidoscope impression of the bright lights of Broadway with neon montages, dancing follies, and superimpositions. The acting is overdone, there is a bit too much of eccentricism. There is an image (see above) that feels like an anticipation of Mummy Bates (a central figure in the Universal Studio Tour).

(I rushed to see that Anno uno screening. It started 30 minutes too late, and there were so many introductions that I never got to see the films I wanted to see before I had to leave again to the next appointment. I should have stayed to see The Last Warning to the end).

A top restoration job from Universal Pictures. The visual quality of the sources used is variable. In the beginning the quality is weak, but it gets much better.

Khest o ayeneh / The Brick and the Mirror (2015 digital restoration)

Khest o ayeneh / The Brick and the Mirror. The taxi driver Hashem (Zackaria Hashemi) and his girlfriend Taji (Taji Ahmadi)

خشت و آینه / Khesht va ayeneh / Mudbrick and Mirror / Adobe and Mirror / Brique et miroir / [Mattone e specchio]. IR. Years of production: 1963–1964. Year of premiere: 1966. D+SC: Ebrahim Golestan. Cinematography: Soleiman Minassian. ED: Ebrahim Golestan. C: Zackaria Hashemi (Hashem), Taji Ahmadi (Taji), Jalal Moghadam, Masoud Faghih, Parviz Fannizadeh (uomini nel caffè), Manouchehr Farid (il poliziotto), Mohammad Ali Keshavarz (il dottore rapinato), Jamshid Mashayekhi (il poliziotto con il braccio rotto), Mehri Mehrnia (la donna delle rovine), Forough Farrokhzad (la passeggera del taxi). PC: Golestan Film Studio. [The film was not released in Finland]. DCP. 130 min
    Black and white in scope
    Restored in 2015 from the Chicago Film Studies Center’s 35 mm release print
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
    Golestan Film Studio, between Poetry and Politics
    From: University of Chicago Film Studies Center.
    Farsi version with English subtitles
    Cinema Lumiere – Sala Scorsese 1 July 2016

Ehsan Khoshbakht (Bologna catalog): "Iranian cinema’s first true modern masterpiece, Brick and Mirror explores fear and responsibility in the aftermath of the Coup."

"With its title alluding to a poem by Attar (“What the old can see in a mud-brick/ youth can see in a mirror”), Golestan’s first feature mixes dream and reality, responding to the changing climate of Iranian society, the failure of intellectuals and corruption in all walks of life. It was also the first use of direct-sound in the Iranian cinema, with minute attention given to environmental sound (emphasised by the lack of score) which complements the claustrophobic use of widescreen."

"The film’s production began in the spring of 1963 with a small crew of five, and without a finished script. The only written part – the driver and the woman in the ruins – became the basis for the first shoot, followed by improvised scenes in the vegetable market of Tehran. The breakage of the anamorphic lens during the shooting of a scene in the Palace of Justice delayed production. On June 5, 1963, while the crew awaited the shipment of a new lens from France, a protest arose against the arrest of Ayatollah Khomeini. This added to the atmosphere of tension and fear depicted in the film."

"With production resumed, the interior shots of Hashem’s room (comprising 40 minutes of the completed film) took five weeks to shoot, followed by a four-week shoot for the precinct and orphanage scenes. The film was premiered on January 12, 1966 at the Radio City cinema in Tehran. It played there for three weeks, but was dismissed by critics as “arty” and “pretentious”. Those who saw The Brick and the Mirror as a realist film were baffled by the long soliloquies given by characters. Jonathan Rosenbaum has described the spirit of the film as “a mix of Dostoevskij and expressionism”. The soliloquy form reflects both Golestan’s regard for Orson Welles and the oral storytelling and frequent use of metaphor in Persian culture."
– Ehsan Khoshbakht

آنچه در آينه جوان بيند، پير در خشت خام آن بيند
What the old man can see in a brick, the young one can see in a mirror

– Attar

AA: The story has some affinity with Charles Chaplin's The Kid, Eduard Johansson's Naslednyi prints respubliki [The Crown Prince of the Republic], and Coline Serreau's Trois hommes et un couffin. A baby is abandoned on a taxi driver's back seat. The film is about the baby's fate, how she turns everything upside down in the taxi driver Hashem and his girlfriend Taji's lives. The adventure with the baby is also a journey of exploration in society: Tehran, Iran, the mid-1960s. Ebrahim Golestan had worked in non-fiction for 15 years, and The Brick and the Mirror has also great documentary value.

Ehsan Khoshbakht reports above that the title of the film is derived from a poem by Attar (Abū Ḥamīd bin Abū Bakr Ibrāhīm (ca 1145 – ca 1221;  ابو حامد بن ابوبکر ابراهیم‎‎) / Farīd ud-Dīn (فرید الدین) / ʿAṭṭār (عطار, "the perfumer" / Attar of Nishapur). What young ones can see in a mirror, grown-ups can see even in a brick.

Watching Michelangelo Antonioni's "trilogy of solitude" my mother (who had seven children) once remarked: "they don't have children". (Meaning: if they had some, there would be no problem of solitude). There are children in Golestan's film which has an affinity with Antonioni. The ending of The Brick and the Mirror can be compared with that of L'eclisse. And the presence of children (and the decision about the responsibility for them) is the essential difference between Antonioni and Golestan.

Iranian cinema, more than any other, is famous for the centrality of children, and it is interesting to observe the centrality of the baby in this, the foundation film of modern Iranian cinema.

There are many enigmas in The Brick and the Mirror. Why was the baby abandoned? Why do Hashem and Taji not move together? Why do they have to keep absolutely silent at night? Behind all this there is a profound sense of unrest. There is no security of hope for the future.

Against all odds Taji would like to keep the baby and establish a family with Hashem. Immediately Taji is very good with the baby. She knows what to do and takes the initiative. She is deeply hurt and disappointed when Hashem takes the baby to the orphanage. "I thought the child would bring us together".

Hashem is not the irresponsible scoundrel that we expect from the "three men and a baby" stories in which men are rascals – adolescents – at first, until the baby grows them into men. Hashem acts responsibly from the start, and he is deeply disturbed when he hands the baby over to the authorities.

Shaken by Taji's powerful reaction Hashem returns to the orphanage taking her with him, but it is no longer possible to identify the baby. There is a frisson like in Italian neorealistic films (the endless rows of pawned sheets in Ladri di biciclette) when Taji scans hundreds of orphan babies, smiling, crying, rhythmically moving. "Babies need touching, proximity".

The ending is open. Hashem cannot wait any longer, and he disappears into the traffic of the big city. Taji remains at the orphanage.

The milieux in The Brick and the Mirror are memorable. The abandoned construction site. The crowded café, a center of social life. The police station. Hashem's room with very little privacy. The orphanage.

The visual style is based on stark realism, with forceful cinematography in black and white and scope by Soleiman Minassian.

There is a dynamic structure between the noise and bustle of the big city and spaces and moments of silence and emptiness.

Hashem is a survivor. He is wary of promises, as "a man's word is like a pit". At home, "behind each window, an evil eye, a wicked tongue". He exercises. On his walls are images of musclemen. He works hard. He is not cynical but he does not want to take a responsibility that he is unable to carry.

Taji would desire nothing more than a baby, to be a mother.

Hashem cannot sleep with the lights on. Taji cannot sleep with the lights off. Perhaps a sufficient reason why they cannot live together.

The satirical account of bureaucracy brings to mind Russian classics like Tolstoy and Chekhov.

The Brick and the Mirror is a film based on a sense of duration, durée in the sense of Bergson. In studies of Russian literature an essential term is "being", byt (быть). For instance: "to be or not to be" = быть или не быть.

To convey the sense of being in a real place in a real period of time is the highest achievement of the cinema. That was what Abbas Kiarostami was famous for. But he belonged to a distinguished pre-existing tradition, and the highest level had already been reached by Ebrahim Golestan, for example in The Brick and the Mirror.

There is in contemporary film criticism a misleading discourse on "slow cinema". For me a film can be slow in the sense of boring when it is based on fast edit and ceaseless action. And a film of the highest intensity can be made without plot or action, like Béla Tarr did in The Turin Horse.

There are prolonged episodes of no action (the abandoned construction site, the overcrowded orphanage) in The Brick and the Mirror, but it always emanates a high intensity of being.

The visual quality of the DCP is clean and fair, but it has perhaps not been manufactured in the highest possible resolution.