In a week’s time, the 30th edition of Il Cinema Ritrovato will kick off in Bologna, Italy—and for the first time, I’m going to be there! It goes without saying that I’m really pumped to be attending—it will be a fantastic opportunity to catch up with friends and take in a lot of wonderful cinema. Below, I take a quick tour through the festival programme.
Naturally, the Ritrovati e restaurati (Rediscovered and Restored) section is a huge draw for me. The silent offerings include must-sees like Antony Asquith’s Shooting Stars (GB 1928), Fritz Lang’s Der müde Tod | Destiny (DE 1921), and the 1925 version of Stella Dallas (US)—none of which I’ve watched before, a perfect opportunity for me to catch up on the canon. There are also fun-sounding titles like Monsieur Don’t Care (US 1924); a rare Mexican silent, Gabriel García Moreno’s El puño de hierro | The Iron Fist (MX 1927); and old chestnuts like Flesh and the Devil (US 1926) and A Woman of the World (US 1925). The latter is a real hoot: Pola Negri stars as a glamorous Russian countess who decides that small-town America is the perfect place to mend her broken heart. But can the gentle townfolk really accept a (gasp!) tattooed woman? (“She did it for a man she loved!”) The romance part of the story scores negative points for writing and charisma, but it’s great fun watching Pola swagger her way around small-town America town, and the film includes several of the all-time classic intertitles. To wit:
Among the restored sound films, Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu monogatari (JP 1953) is top of my list to see on the big screen; I’m also very intrigued by Santi-Vina (TH 1954), a recently rediscovered Thai film that has been painstakingly restored.
The Cento anni fa programme, devoted to the films of 1916, is also high on my agenda. In the section précis, Mariann Lewinsky describes the difficulties in putting together this year’s programme, given the diverse audience—novice viewers alongside famous scholars; fans of obscurities versus those interested in gaining a representative picture of 1916 in film—and the fact that many of the heavy hitters have already been shown in previous editions of the festival. “1916 without Capellani, Chaplin, Weber, Nielsen, Dwan, Hart … maybe there is only dust and boredom left.”
But no need to fear that that is the case, as some real jewels will be shown. The 1916 section is divided into three sub-streams of Italian, (pre-Revolutionary) Russian and American production. Given that it’s the 30th edition of Il Cinema Ritrovato, the emphasis is on copies and restorations: materials of varying completeness, quality and format (even a 16mm!) will be shown, with all their inherent lacunae.
If I remember Silent Witnesses correctly, about a third of the Tsarist film production survives in some form. However, the films are mostly available in black-and-white copies. Lewinsky writes that several tinted nitrates of pre-Revolutionary films have come to light recently and been restored—tantalizing! One of the Russian films on offer is Yevgeni Bauer’s Умирающий лебедь | The Dying Swan with Vera Karalli, my favourite of his films; even if I’ve seen it several times before, I can’t pass up the opportunity to watch it on the big screen.
The Italian offerings include Lyda Borelli in Madame Tallien | Madame Guillotine and Ugo Falena’s Il figlio della Guerra | Son of War; also the Fabienne Fabrèges vehicle Signori giurati … | Gentlemen of the Jury …, which, in fact, I watched just recently on the European Film Gateway (a writeup will be posted for Diva December). Tough to know whether to watch it again on the big screen, or reserve that timeslot for something I haven’t seen before, as I normally try to do at festivals.
Also of note: traditionally, the Cineteca di Bologna launch the latest entry into their Cento anni fa DVD series at Il Cinema Ritrovato. I’m already on record as hoping for the wonderfully dramatic Menichelli/Pastrone collaboration Tigre reale, but I suppose chances are slim as it’s not programmed. (It was restored by the Museo Nazionale del Cinema in Turin, but the Cineteca di Bologna has done collaborations before). Perhaps we’ll see Madame Tallien on DVD, then?
Moving on from the silents: several sections are devoted to individual directors, actors, or other cinematic people. One of these is French director Jacques Becker, and despite his fame, I’ve never seen any of his films—not even the very canonical Touchez pas au grisbi (FR 1954). I’m especially interested in watching Casque d’or | Golden Helmet of 1952, starring Simone Signoret as real-life underworld figure and ‘queen of the apaches’ Casque d’Or (Amelie Élie), who was also portrayed by Hesperia in the rather uninspiring Anime buie | Dark Souls (IT 1916). But the directorial section in which I’m most interested is that devoted to Mario Soldati. He directed the second version of Malombra (Antonio Fogazzaro, 1881), previously adapted for film in 1918 with Lyda Borelli as the protagonist. Soldati’s 1942 version stars Isa Miranda, a wonderful actress who is something of an Italian Dietrich/Garbo. I can’t wait to see this one on the big screen, as well as Soldati’s other work.
Of less interest to me is the stream devoted to Marlon Brando, who I’ve never really ‘got’. Perhaps seeing him on the big screen would give me a greater appreciation?
Countering the machismo of Brando is the Marie Epstein, cineasta section, which looks at the long career of this actress, director, screenwriter, and archivist. Epstein is less well-known than her brother Jean, with whom she collaborated several times—including on La chute de la maison Usher | The Fall of the House of Usher (FR 1928), one of my all-time favourites. Another must-see film about a cinematic woman is the portrait Nur zum Spaß – nur zum Spiel. Kaleidoskop Valeska Gert (DE 1976-77), in which the inimitable Valeska Gert reflects on her life and especially her career as a ‘Grotesk-Tänzerin’ (grotesque dancer) in the cabarets of Weimar Germany. Truly ahead of her time as a dancer and performer, Gert also acted in several well-known silent films—one remembers her as the dress-shop owner/madam in Die freudlose Gasse | The Joyless Street (DE 1925), as the sadistic schoolmistress in Tagebuch einer Verlorenen | Diary of a Lost Girl (DE 1929), even as a maid in Renoir’s Nana (FR 1926)—and she is always memorable, enriching the films in which she appears.
But it’s not all about Europe and Americas. There’s an amazing-looking section on Japanese colour films, as well as streams devoted to Argentinian film and to Golestan, the first Iranian independent film studio, whose productions are considered the crown jewels of Iranian cinema. I’m not acquainted with either of the latter, so I’m excited to see these rarities. Moving East, among other films, the Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project stream will show works by Hou Hsiao-hsien (風櫃來的人 | The Boys from Fengkuei, 1983) and the prematurely deceased Edward Yang (青梅竹馬 | Taipei Story, 1985).
Let’s also not forget the section devoted to Universal Pictures, which features the restored King of Jazz (US 1930). Some weeks back James Layton and Crystal Kui talked with me about their work on a monograph about KoJ, so I’m looking forward to watching the film itself—and I’ll be very intrigued to see the results of the digital restoration. Likewise, the stream Alla ricerca del colore dei film: dal Kinemacolor al Technicolor (In search of film colour: from Kinemacolor to Technicolor) is a huge draw. Film colour—a truly fascinating topic.
And lastly, there’s the ‘cinema al fresco’. One of Il Cinema Ritrovato’s best-loved attractions is the series of open-air concerts in the Piazza Maggiore. This year’s silent picks are classics by Keaton (Cops, The High Sign) and Chaplin (The Kid, Modern Times), with live music performed by the Orchestra of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, conducted by Timothy Brock. Other nights see more recent films, such as Fellini’s Amarcord and Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence, so there is really something for everyone.
Clearly, it’ll be a big week! It’s going to be a blast. If any readers spot me, please come up and say hi. :)