Monday, August 31, 2020

After the Festival: Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna, 25–31 August 2020


Film concert Sylvester (1924) at Il Cinema Ritrovato, Piazza Maggiore, Bologna, 29 Aug 2020. Photo: Lorenzo Burlando, Margherita Caprilli.

When the news was announced that Il Cinema Ritrovato is going to take place in real life and not only online, friends asked me if I'm going, and I replied: "I must go, but I hope they will cancel".

The catalogue was released online three weeks ahead. I spent two days reading, connecting my computer to a big tv screen with an HDMI cable. Normally, the paradox of the catalogue is that there is no time to read it until afterwards.

Everybody warned me not to go, but having read the catalogue I had no choice.

I returned from my forest retreat for a week to a Helsinki that was neglecting safe distances, face masks and hand hygiene. It was the opposite in Bologna where I felt relaxed all the time. If I'm not relaxed I cannot focus, but at Il Cinema Ritrovato I felt safe.

Everything was different. Numbered tickets had to be booked in advance. It was not permitted to change seats. It was still sweltering hot (around 32 degrees Centigrade or more) in the end of August. Wearing face masks from morning till night, also during screenings, did not make it easier.

I can watch movies without glasses, but for an accurate assessment of the visual finesses I wear glasses, and the combination of a face mask and glasses can be paradoxical because glasses tend to get foggy. I learned to manage all that. Safety first.

When I returned to unsafe Helsinki, I took the corona test at the airport and got the negative diagnosis (no virus) the day after. More than usually I had stayed in a bubble. Wearing that mask reduces the desire to meet people and engage in conversations. Such live exchanges are essential to the festival experience.

But I'm happy and grateful that they did not cancel the festival. Seeing the films in actual projections and visiting the events in person cannot be compensated by online access.

There were more venues than ever, and the catalogue was bulging with films of which only a small selection it was possible to see. As usual, I skipped the well-known and focused on films that can be hard to see on screen. I wanted to follow the retrospective of Gösta Werner, the great cineaste who I had the great pleasure to know personally, and considered indulging in the Henry Fonda retrospective, with some of my greatest favourite films, starting with Young Mr. Lincoln, but something's got to give.

The Frank Tuttle / Stuart Heisler double retrospective was a novel and illuminating concept, of two directors both richly deserving further study. Frank Tuttle's background in Paramount's elegant comedies and musicals provided a special background to films that are essential in the genesis of film noir. This Gun for Hire launched the hitman anti-hero of the screen in a way that resonates to this day, and catapulted Alan Ladd as a star.

Stuart Heisler was for decades a top editor in Hollywood before his career as a director started. Many films of his are topical for today's Black Lives Matter movement, including The Negro Soldier and Storm Warning. Heisler had also an original and passionate approach to women's films, such as Smash-Up (launching Susan Hayward as a grand melodrama diva) and The Star (metacinema with Bette Davis).

Ladies Should Listen (1934).
The Glass Key (1935).
This Gun for Hire (1942).
Hostages (1943).
Suspense (1946).
Hell on Frisco Bay (1956).

Among the Living (1941) .
The Negro Soldier (1944) .
Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947) .
Storm Warning (1951) .
The Star (US 1952).

The Annales approach has been distinctive and indispensable in Bologna. The Cento anni fà series started in 2003 with "The First Great Year of the Cinema: 1903", and that series still continues. In 2015, a parallel Annales series started with Anno Zero, of the first films released in 1895. This year the series went on with a changed title, "Century of Cinema: 1900", but for my own memory organization, I still call the series also "Anno Cinque". In the beginning, the Annales series were global and representative, but soon they turned Eurocentric and quite selective even at that. They are indispensable all the same. This year's highlights included a Méliès magic show: a delightful attempt to recreate the full Méliès experience. I saw the complete Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre show when it was reconstructed eight years ago in Pordenone, but this year's Bologna selection was exquisite; a smaller sample does more justice to individual films, all extraordinary records of the greatest performers of the age. Unique and outstanding was the Giancarlo Stucky collection made on the first cinema format specifically designed for home movie use: Gaumont-Demenÿ's Chrono de Poche.

1900 ANNO CINQUE (Century of Cinema: 1900 / Il secolo del cinema: 1900)
Lumière: Cinématographe Géant at the 1900 Paris Exposition .
Lumière: Indocina occupata .
Méliès .
Gaumont: Sieurin's French Collection (in Stockholm) .
Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre .
Nice Moves – British Film in 1900 .
Gaumont Chrono de Poche: Giancarlo Stucky .

Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström continued their epic project of programming Japanese cinema for heritage festivals. Yuzo Kawashima was revealed as the "missing link" between traditional and modern Japanese cinema, active from the mid-1940s until the early 1960s. I liked best his films conveying a strong community spirit (Tonkatsu taisho, Ai no onimotsu), but another prominent theme of his is the dissolution of that spirit in a new age of anomie. Kawashima was most highly regarded as a director of broad comedy (Bakumatsu taiyoden), which I need to revisit to learn to relate to.

Tonkatsu taisho / Our Chief, Our Doctor (1952).
Ai no onimotsu / Burden of Love (1955).
Ginza 24 chou / Tales of Ginza (1955) .
Suzaki paradaisu: aka shingo / Suzaki Paradise: Red Light District (1956) .
Bakumatsu taiyoden / The Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate (1957) .

Just when we thought that we already know Soviet cinema, Irène Bonnaud and Bernard Eisenschitz introduce to us many Soviet women directors in a rich collection of films that have been difficult or impossible to see. All talented and worthy in a "Women Make Film" age of rediscoveries. We saw the first film adaptation of Anton Chekhov's beloved dog tale Kashtanka (by Olga Preobrazhenskaya), highly personal and visually compelling films by Aleksandra Khokhlova, bold and engrossing Georgian visions by Nutsa Gogoberidze (the Ur-mother of a prominent film family in three generations), defiant and surprising works by Margarita Barskaya, a persecuted director who committed suicide during the Great Terror, a heroic Bildungsroman about the revolutionary generation by Vera Stroeva (simultaneously perhaps a Troyan Horse with a double-coded message), and Nadezhda Kosheverova's evergreen Cinderella, one of the most popular Russian films of all times.

Olga Preobrazhenskaya: Kashtanka (1926)
Aleksandra Khokhlova: Delo s zastyozhkami / An Affair of the Clasps (1929)
Aleksandra Khokhlova: Sasha (1930)
Nutsa Gogoberidze: Buba (1930)
Nutsa Gogoberidze: Uzhmuri (1934)
Margarita Barskaya: Rvanye bashmaki / Torn Boots (1933).
Margarita Barskaya: Otets i syn (1936) / Father and Son (1936)
Vera Stroeva: Pokolenie pobeditelei / A Generation of Victors (1936).
Nadezhda Kosheverova: Zolushka (1947) / Cinderella (1947).

Among the single highlights in the classics series a special discovery was Mohammed Reza Aslani's Chess of the Wind, a refined and poetic Iranian detective story, a true revelation of a film believed lost and never properly launched. Pietro Germi's Seduced and Abandoned, starring an already formidable young Stefania Sandrelli, remains a startling satire of patriarchy. Two Weimar classics from the golden year 1924 were seen in restorations. Paul Leni's Waxworks is his masterpiece. Lupu Pick's Sylvester is a work of purely visual poetry, and a new exquisite restoration does justice to it. Klaus Pringsheim's original score, one of the best original scores of the silent period, was heard at Piazza Maggiore for the first time in 96 years. My greatest favourite at the festival was Hiroshi Inagaki's The Rickshaw Man. It was cut in two instances of censorship by 20 minutes, and the cuts are still believed lost, but even in this unintentionally elliptic form the movie radiates timeless wisdom and mystery.

Mohammed Reza Aslani: Shatranj-e baad / Chess of the Wind (1976).

Hiroshi Inagaki: Muhomatsu no issho (1943) / The Rickshaw Man (1943) .

Pietro Germi: Sedotta e abbandonata / Seduced and Abandoned (1964).

Paul Leni: Das Wachsfigurenkabinett / Waxworks (1924).
Film concert: Lupu Pick: Sylvester (1924), with the original score by Klaus Pringsheim.

My immediate reactions on the last evening of the Festival: 31 August 2020 .

Il Cinema Ritrovato selections about which I have also blogged recently:
Esfir Shub: К.Ш.Э. Комсомол – шеф электрификации / K.S.E. Komsomol – Leader of Electrification (1932).
Marco Ferreri: La donna scimmia / The Ape Woman (1964).

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