This year’s festival organised by the Cineteca di Bologna was an incredibly varied programme of archive film. There were four different screens during the day and in the evening the popular open-air screenings in the Piazza Maggiore. With so many films on offer most delegates could see only about a quarter of the available films and there were many hard choices. About two thousand delegates attended, joined for many screenings by local cineastes. This year, for the first time, there were ‘kids screenings’ – great! The films themselves ranged from early in the silent era to fairly recent features.
One of the important strands was Letters from Chris Marker. This tribute to the filmmaker who died late in 2011 was drawn mainly from his early career. The Catalogue offered this quote: “I am an essayist … Film is a system that allows Godard to be a novelist, Gatti to make theatre, and me to make essays.” His distinctive approach to film is markedly different from most other filmmakers, whilst at he same time he has proved to be enormously influential. Among the more well known titles in the programme was La Jetée (1962), a philosophical exploration of science fiction, but also of Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Here was also Lettre de Sibérie (1958) where Marker takes an ironic and critical pen to some central cinematic conventions. Both of these films had been transferred to DCP, but to my delight my favourite, Le Joli Mai, was presented on 35mm. This has been restored to 145-minute version. This has to be one of the great works of cinema. Marker’s particular talents provide moment of beauty, lyricism, irony, criticism and of the slightly surreal. The film is notable also for the cinematography of Pierre Lhomme, co-director: and of the voice of Yves Montand reading the commentary. I hope we will get more in future years, especially one favourite I long to see again Grin Without a Cat (Le fond de l’air est rouge, 1977).
Japan Speaks Out! Singers and Swordsmen continued last year’ exploration of early Japanese sound cinema. The programme was curated by Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström, whose introductory double-acts were pithy and informative. I missed out on the ‘singers’ in 1930s musicals, but caught both some contemporary films and the ‘swordsmen’ in jidai-geki [period] films. There was Anu Imoto [Ino and Mon, 1935] a story of a brother and sister which is set between the contrasts of countryside and city. Sakasu Goningumi (Five Men in the Circus, 1935) was a rare film directed by Mikio Naruse. Kochiyama Soshun (1936) was a period Ronin film: i.e. samurai reduced to working for gangsters and merchants. The 35mm print was fairly dark and the plot was not the easiest to follow but I thought this a fine example with great use of studio settings.
Bigger Than Life: A Journey through European CinemaScope offered both films not seen for many years and some new [for me] surprises. Sammy Going South, one of my favourite Mackendrick’s was on 35mm though unfortunately the Eastmancolor process had faded to a noticeable pink. Miklós Janscó’s The Round-Up (Szegénylegények 1966) was fortunately filmed in black a white, a great format in anamorphic presentations. There were also two Soviet films in this format. Pečki-Lavočki (Happy Go Lucky , 1972) was directed by Vasilij Šukšin and followed a married couple from a State Farm making a long train joruney to a resort on the Black Sea, Odessa. The film focused on their encounters on the journey with other passengers: though there was also what I assume was a deliberate play with Eisenstein’s Potemkin with many feet on a stone staircase. The second Soviet film was Ijul’skij Dožd’ (July Rain, 1966) directed by Marien Chuciev. This film showed clear influences from the nouvelle vague and Michelangelo Antonioni. I was rather irritated by what seemed to me cinematic borrowings. However, a couple of fellow delegates were very impressed with the film.
The World Cinema Foundation had a series of restorations screened at the Festival. There was Ousmane Sembène’s seminal Borom Sarret (Senegal, 1963). Lino Brocka’s brutal but also moving Manila in the Claws of Light (Maynila sa mga Kuklo ng Liwanag, Philippines 1975). And a new film for me, Ragbar (Downpour, Iran 1971). I found the last a difficult film to assess, the opening appeared to meander but the second half developed strongly. I suspect that the film, censored and then destroyed by the Shah’s regime, needed a good knowledge of Iranian society to interpret. All these films have been transferred onto DCP: one of the advantages of this format is that it is likely to circulate more easily in the digital age.
There was a section of the programme Recovered and Restored, most of which I missed. However, I did catch the screening in the Piazza Maggiore of Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), restored in 4K resolution. I had wanted to see this film again after watching Amour (2012) several times. We had a brief extract of an interview with Emmanuelle Riva at the Cannes Film Festival. The Piazza was packed for this screening and I thought that the film merited it. Watching it after a break of quite a number of years, in a quality transfer, it seemed one of the masterworks of European cinema. From the opening shots of ash-covered lovers, through the riveting tracking shots in Hiroshima and the holocaust Museum there till the final moments in the early morning this was a fascinating and beautifully styled film.
There were an awful lot of fine films that I missed. These included most of a programme on War is Near: 1938-1939. A series of films either starring or directed by Vittorio De Sica. And a tribute to Bert Lancaster. I did catch for the first time Roberto Rossellini’s Amore (1948) with two incredibly intense performances from Anna Magnani. And there were a number of sound films directed by Allan Dwan, who also featured in silent programme. The one to note is The Inside Story (1948) which, believe or not, has a plot built round the mantras of John Maynard Keynes. There was also his fine 1954 western Silver Lode that manages to reference Senator Joe McCarthy.
I hope to write up some films in detail for the Blog. Meanwhile you can check out Il Cinema Ritrovato at its WebPages. Also check out the DVD awards, an annual feature which is a good guide for lists of presents you might like for birthdays. This was a great week for filmbuffs, a distinctive and richly varied treat.
Stills courtesy of Cineteca di Bolgona.