What is it that makes Il Cinema Ritrovato so wonderful? What is the common denominator of film historians, restoration specialists, and archivists, who are joined every evening by the people of Bologna at the magnificent outdoor screening in the Piazza Maggiore? The simple answer is: the love of cinema. Something that is reinforced by the uncertainty of the future of cinema in general and the ghostly disappearance of opportunities for screenings of real film, much less under the privileged conditions that Bologna offers. I’ve repeatedly mentioned the festival’s collection of rediscoveries – themes, protagonists, and territories of 20th century cinema believed to have been lost. As a couple of our central objectives come to mind, a golden word flashes: pleasure. It emanates from everything
A most obvious case is the large collection of films from the year 1909. “One Hundred Years Ago”, the most beautiful form of time travel, was initiated six years ago and will now arrive at one of its peaks. The series curated by Mariann Lewinsky will showcase the most exciting documentaries and fictions about the life and imagination of people who lived exactly one hundred years ago, with two special tributes to the miracle of Georges Méliès, and – in the form of a reconstruction – to something that was born exactly in 1909: a film festival.
Another cascade of pleasure – color – will be a pervasive theme this year, and for some years to come. Color depended on invention and technology, but was never merely that. Still, it seems obvious that many of the most glorious and pleasurable instances of color film were experienced right after some new invention. That’s why our tour of several major systems, from hand-painted and tinted systems up to three-strip Technicolor, will be a treat. Alongside this, we’ll have the wonderful theme of wide-screen, most notably the original miracle of CinemaScope – a series now entering its sixth year.
As our regulars know, there are three cinemas - Lumière One is dedicated to silents, Lumière Two to the early sound period, and the third, the glorious 1950s cinema Arlecchino, to later attractions, more or less – some silents will be shown in the Arlecchino to magnify the power of their beauty. The fourth and fifth screening locations are, of course. the Opera House – where Marcel L’Herbier’s Feu Mathias Pascal, the greatest Pirandello film, will be shown with new music by Timothy Brock – and the Piazza Maggiore, ready to dazzle with the Festival’s opening film, Michael Powell’s and Emeric Press burger’s The Red Shoes, and at the end, with Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, both of them fantastic restorations. Several other eagerly anticipated restorations will be projected on the giant screen in the Piazza, including Jacques Tati’s Les Vacances de M. Hulot, Luchino Visconti’s Senso, a strong competitor for the greatest color film of all time, and one of the most essential, powerful films at the heart of American (and all) cinema: King Vidor’s The Crowd, accompanied by Henrik Otto Donner, the grand old man of Scandinavian jazz.
If color seems to be a timeless element (it isn’t), the theme of history, pure time, is equally important in our program. It’s always something that is both general and embodied in concrete films and their time, if anybody would care to, or be able to, separate these twin aspects. No other form of expression can do likewise. The selection of films on Vichy as “told by itself” gives us a kind of three-dimensional vision of time as it was. I emphasize the word history. The series on Vichy, curated by Eric Le Roy, is to the point: all kinds of films, that together describe the strangest atmospheres and the state of French cinema when humanity was at low ebb and the cinema flourished. History will also be palpably present in the series called “Doppio sguardo” (Double Regard): an opportunity to compare the censorship activities of France and Italy, curated by Laurent Garreau and the “Italia Taglia” staff.
Two retrospectives emanating from two very different Italian epochs provide another fantastic perspective: a collection of all the Maciste films from the 1910s and 1920s, and then Vittorio Cottafavi, who likewise worked with historical subjects and the peplum, which in his hands became a noble genre because he treated any genre considered marginal with respect, literary sophistication, and visual flair, always in the service of bringing pleasure. After last year’s delight with Josef von Sternberg’s films (we will continue to remember him with some special programs), we’ll offer the same for Frank Capra: most of his silents including several “invisible” treasures, and the fantastic, much too little-known beginnings of his sound film work. These are films that almost touch us physically.
What the “rarest” find in the vast program might be is probably a personal question. The Russian Jewish cinema, in the series titled “Kinojudaica” created by Natacha Laurent and Valérie Pozner, is one candidate: if the names of Michail Romm and Evgeni Bauer are known, others are not – and we are left once more wondering about the unjust nature of our sacred “film history” and given the opportunity to expand it.
We will see many fabulous actors. If there is any kind of competition, let the winner be Jean Epstein’s “paysage-acteur”, meaning the sea as an actor in a strong documentary/experimental film series that we can experience in its entirety. A master’s dedicated, poetic masterwork covers two decades of observations about the most unchangeable element in the world. Two small-scale portraits of notable personalities will likewise reveal films that almost nobody knows, even among our most knowledgeable audience: the director Eleuterio Rodolfi (1876-1933), who started as an actor and became a notable director of, for instance, a celebrated 1917 version of Hamlet. And Anita Berber (1899-1928), a legendary, androgynous figure of Weimar Berlin: a nude dancer, semwriter, prostitute, and actress whose short life flashes before our eyes in enigmatic images.
We also offer a series of films that show some 10-15 people in all walks of life, who cross each other’s paths with no clear-cut protagonist. For unknown reasons, British cinema made this a subgenre all its own, as evidenced by a quartet of films directed by Walter Forde, Victor Saville, Berthold Viertel and Carol Reed. Still on the rare side, the restorations and rediscovered films are, as always, a specialty of the festival: even one title can bring a visitor from afar to Bologna. This year we have Zampa’s Anni difficili (a masterpiece from the early neorealist period), L’Enfer (Henri-Georges Clouzot’s rediscovered unfinished film, never shown, with a sensational Romy Schneider), Sole (or the backstage of Alessandro Blasetti’s famous first film), Occupe-toi d’Amélie! (the personal favorite of its director, Claude Autant-Lara), and Gian Vittorio Baldi’s Fuoco! (1968), a modern masterpiece from the period when Italian cinema reached its greatest heights.
Even this year’s Chaplin section falls partly within this category, given how little the work of Harry d’Abbadie d’Arrast is known these days. He was one of Chaplin’s assistants and then became a very notable director, fondly remembered by a happy few. The Chaplin mystery, our fondest tradition, will be further elucidated by Cecilia Cenciarelli in a dossier-presentation on his plan to make a film about Napoleon.
The main principle of our program, to present old films as if they were new (and new films, already seen, as part of history), will be personified by our guest, the great Richard Leacock – the cameraman for Robert Flaherty’s last film, Louisiana Story, who became one of the most important American creator of the new direction of documentary called “direct cinema” on the American continent and “cinéma vérité” in Europe. Leacock’s A Stravinsky Portrait is a brilliant example. Finally, the human presence is all-important for us, and with it the voices of the greatest filmakers as filmed in the finest collection of interviews in television history: Cinéastes de notre temps, by André S. Labarthe and Janine Bazin. The great tradition of cinephilia – that we will continue in the passion of our eight days in Bologna - will be present as well in tributes to Bernard Chardère and Henri Langlois.
And in memory of Francis Lacassin, Franco La Polla and João Bénard da Costa, to whom I would like to dedicate this year’s festival. Franco La Polla was well aware that culture is not culture if it does not open itself to the world and to others, and he knew all too well that film is not simply about cinephilia. Perhaps bearing in mind the work of his favorite filmmakers: on the one hand, François Truffaut and Sydney Pollack for their deep, authentic humanistic approach; on the other, Billy Wilder and Groucho Marx (with whom he shared the same passion for cigars) for the transparency and wit of their words that played with life, taking it terribly seriously. He leaves us with a body of work on American film of enormous importance and lucidity.
Francis Lacassin was one of the few great scholars who dedicated a significant part of his own life to exploring pop culture, the system of cinema and theater, and public taste between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, probing and reconstructing the boundless world that fed literature, film, graphic design, theater, comics, creating a mass media system of which today we sense the enormity and wealth. From Gaston Leroux to Tom Pouce, from Vampires to Fantomas, from Musidora to Gaston Modot, if today there is an accurate geography of public entertainment and popular taste at the beginning of the century, it has been made possible by Francis’s intelligence, curiosity and meticulous culture. Lacassin was the true counter historian of the century of certainties (which all proved to be
João Bénard da Costa, one of our most loyal friends, the director of Cinemateca Portuguesa, and the partner of Manoel de Oliveira for decades through difficulties and victories, was a poet and a supreme poetic conductor of cinematic events, with the mind of a programmer impossible to match. He was the last example of an ever rarer breed: a man of incomparable film culture whose work is spiritually close and fully equal to that of the finest film directors. In this, he was as unclassifiable and as incredible as Langlois or Godard, with one difference: his jokes were better. You are most cordially welcome!
Peter von Bagh
Welcome to Bologna
There are tenacious threads and fragile ones connecting many of the films of our twenty-third year. Starting out with a rediscovery made right in the middle of festival preparations: two 1909 films of the Ballets Russes, which had just arrived in Paris. It is a rather remarkable coincidence because Cinema Ritrovato 2009 opens with a film that pays homage to the great era of Russian ballet: The Red Shoes, the restoration of which Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker-Powell have pursued for various decades. The Red Shoes is also a film that better expresses the complexity, obstacles, joys and pains of the creative process, and, as fortune would have it, this year we are also presenting L’enfer de Clouzot; this miraculous work by Serge Bromberg brings back to life one of the most fascinating creative adventures of cinema history: the project conceived, initiated and then painfully abandoned by one of the finest film directors – the challenge was too great, even for him. Unfortunately there are few films that reconstruct failed projects, but they are all beautiful; often films that do not reach completion are much more revealing about important creative issues than completed ones. The theme of the impossible, which is not only a part of the act of creation, finds a home at Cinema Ritrovato. Even if you will see many films in a way you never even dreamed of seeing them, some experiences will leave you with the feeling of having glimpsed a mirage. Sole is a sensational example, one of the greatest Italian movies lost forever. The discovery of a backstage reel gives us a much better understanding of what Blasetti’s film was like, yet it also sharpens the painful awareness that we are unable to see it in full.
Loss becomes wealth with the work of censorship, a beloved activity of those in power and in vogue since the very existence of images. By comparing what was cut in France and in Italy from the post-war to the beginning of ’68, we can see just how different the two most similar European peoples are, just as we will see how the scissors turned on the very people using them, from De Gasperi to De Gaulle. The USSR, however, was much more adept at the art of concealment, as the program Kinojudaica demonstrates. Just as an example, we will be showing the only Soviet film that talked about the holocaust before the 1960s!!!
For those in search of the truth, a walk through the films of Vichy provides a fine demonstration of how reality can be manipulated, but also proof of how an artist (Jean Delannoy) can break the rules and spark the liberating applause of viewers who understood the intelligence behind what they saw on the screen. For those in search of the real, we suggest starting out with the program of Italian actuality films from 1909: a beautiful, pre-fascist Italy and images that move us because they express a beauty about to be lost forever. For those who believe that documentaries are more powerful than fictional films, we suggest the series of six marvelous films about the sea by Jean Epstein, who said “the actor who gave me the most satisfaction was the island of Ouessant, with the people who live there and all the water.” Those who believe in documentaries cannot miss this occasion to meet Richard Leacock. From Louisiana Story to his documentaries on Stravinsky, Kennedy and the concerts of the great hippy era in America, Leacock delivers us the texture of reality in a personal and powerful way.
In 1909 the first movie star was born. His name was Cretinetti. Those who love stars will be able to experience on our large screens the likes of Anita Berber, Socrates the parrot, Asta Nielsen, Maciste, Barbara Stanwyck, Conrad Veidt, Ava Gardner, Alida Valli… 1909 was the year of Griffith, who made 140 films, and you can see some of the masterpieces from that year in the program curated by Tom Gunning. For those who love well-known masters, by visiting our theaters they will find Georges Méliès, Charlie Chaplin, Frank Capra, King Vidor, Mario Camerini, Jacques Tati, Vittorio Cottafavi, H.-G. Clouzot, Autant-Lara, J.-L. Godard, Sergio Leone. For those who love the less well-known, there will be Rodolfi, d’Abbadie d’Arrast, Viertel, Zampa, Labarthe, Abdes-Salam, Baldi, Yang. Those who love music can listen to the notes of Ennio Morricone and Verdi, in addition to the musicians playing live accompaniment to silent films, Timothy Brock, Henrick Otto Donner, Antonio Coppola, Alain Baents, Maud Nelissen, Neil Brand, Donald Sosin, Marco Dalpane and Gabriel Thibaudeau.
We can keep weaving together the themes, artists and films that we are presenting, but all the possible combinations do not do justice to this unique and unrepeatable event that for twenty-three years takes the form of one week called Il Cinema Ritrovato. While we continue to be surrounded by the temptations of the web, better made DVDs, and productions that increasingly fail to touch our hearts, losing ourselves day and night in the films of Cinema Ritrovato is like returning to the origin of pleasure, like oxygen for our eyes and our minds.
Welcome to the source of passion for eight wonderful days.
Giuseppe Bertolucci and Gian Luca Farinelli