This was the 30th year of this archive Festival and it has changed a lot since I first attended in 1994 Then about 200 people filled the old Lumière cinema for a varied programme of both silent and sound archive films. The silent films were shown just that way, though in the evenings when we moved to the Teatro Communale any silent films did have a musical accompaniment. This year about 2,500 registered guests plus a cross-section of the film appreciation population of Bologna filled numerous venues for a programme in which one person could only see about a fifth of the titles. There were three auditorium at the Cineteca, the Sala Mastroianni and Sala Scorsese and the smaller Sala Cervi. There was the Arlecchino, large, comfortable and with a fine widescreen. Then the Cinema Jolly, smaller but still with ample space. In addtion there are evenings screenings in the Piazza Maggiore: here thousands of people crowded in to see the most well-known films, including those of Marlon Brando, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. And there was the Piazzetta Pier Paulo Pasolini at the Cineteca. There was one parallel with 1994, my first year at Il Cinema Ritrovato coincided with a FIAF Conference and that was back this year. In addition there was a now a regular course in Film Restoration that runs parallel to the Festival.
Working through the programme of films and making choices was extremely difficult: many essential films often clashed, though some did get repeat screenings. Then one had to balance the wear and tear of Festival, this year people were queuing for a screening up to half-an-hour before the start, and even that did not mean getting a seat. My simple strategy was to prioritise 35mm screenings, all of the really interesting films originated on this format, and one is unsure how much longer one will get opportunities to see films in this format. In most cases I also went for films I had not seen or seen only rarely. So I missed out the screenings devoted to Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Marlon Bando, much as I love all three.
An Alternate History of Argentine Film offered films made between 1935 and 1968. The surprise was a film whose title interested me, Sangre Negra (1950). This turned out to be a film adaptation of Richard Wright’s seminal novel, Native Son (1940). The book is set in Chicago and is a powerful picture of the black experience of US racism. Richard Wright both scripted the film and appeared as the protagonist Bigger Thomas. The film was directed by a French exile to Argentina Pierre Chenal. This was powerful rendering of the novel. Argentina made a pretty good fist of standing in for Chicago, though it could not provide the snow that features in the book. And the film did not essay the subjective commentary that provides the book’s narrative.
Late Spring – Looking at the Cinema of the Thaw offered films from the 1950s in the USSR as the changes following the death of Stalin unfolded. The programme was curated and introduced by Peter Bagrov and Olaf Möller: a double act that could have walked out of a Samuel Beckett play. I managed to see the whole programme, which included black and white and colour film. A friend remarked that the films were overloaded with dialogue: this seemed to follow from the attempt to include political lines important at the period. It was clear that the filmmakers of the 1950s did not achieve the quality of their silent predecessors in imbuing films with politics. For me the best film was Dom, V Kotorom Ja Živu, made in 1957 at the M. Gor’kij film studio. This was a drama set in a multi-story set of apartments in Moscow. The film opens as the families moved into their new [and for them superior] accommodation. We followed the fortunes and interactions of several families up to and through the Great Patriotic War and the return of peace in the mid-1940s. The film had something of a neo-realist feel, often observational, whilst still having its fair share of high drama. The film was directed by Lev Kulidžanov and Jakov Segal, neither of whose work I had seen before.
We had a series of colour film from Japan in the 1950s, Richness and Harmony. As with previous programmes of Japanese film we enjoyed several introductions by Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström who curated the programme. There were well known titles such as Narayama Bushiko / The Ballad of Narayama (1958): this film was on DCP. Like several other titles it was filmed on Eastmancolor stock and some deterioration was noticeable. My favourite was Kiiroi Karasu / The Yellow Crow (1957). The film was directed by Gosho Heinosuke, who was responsible for the colour theme suggested in the title. The film concerned the family travails when the father returns from a wartime absence followed by period in a Soviet POW camp. The young son finds his retuned father difficult to relate to. There was a fine performance by Tanaka Kinuyo as a neighbour who acts as an intermediary in the family relationships.
Separate to this was a whole programme around colour film, A 1950s Survey, though it included titles from the 1960s. The only title that I caught was Marnie (1964). This was projected in a good print, but it remains a deeply problematic film. The Catalogue had one of those Hitchcok devotee attempts to rescue the film. Writing on the ending Jean Douchet commented,
“At that point, the film’s ‘happy ending’ is terrifying.”
This is true, but leaves so many other aspects unanswered. Another title on show was Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967) which impressed a friend.
One programme that I found particularly interesting was Universal Pictures: the Laemmle Junior Years. This included film made between 1929 and 1935, so there were not only early sound titles but films labelled ‘pre-code’, that is film produced before the Production Code was effectively enforced from 1934. There was a fine early William Wyler film with Walter Huston, A House Divided (1931) and two ‘women’s’ films’ directed by John Stahl, Back Street (1932) and Only Yesterday (1933). But the standout was a film and director that were completely new to me, Laughter in Hell (1933) by Edward L Cahn. This was essentially a chain-gang movie, and the most brutal in its depiction that I have seen. The film adapted a work by the ‘hobo novelist’ Jim Tully: Beggars of Life is another of his novels. Pat O-Brien was the protagonist, far less bland than usual. But the violence was mainly perpetrated against the negro prisoners and the film was far more radical about prison violence and racism than was usual in Hollywood of the period.
We also enjoyed one of the real treats of the Festival, three evening screenings in the Piazzetta Pier Paulo Pasolini from a Carbon Arc Projector. There was Stella Dallas (1925) directed by Henry King and equal in many ways to the 1937 remake. This enjoyed a score by Stephen Horne which he had composed for an earlier screening at the Hippfest Silent Film Festival. Then we had Jean Epstein’s Coeur Fidèle (1923): a tinted print of one of my favourite of his films. This had an accompaniment by Gabriel Thibaudeau. And on the Saturday we had a selection of early short films selected by Mariann Lewinsky [one of the treasures of the Festival]. These films had an accompaniment by Daniele Furlati. And there was extra treat, the original 1895 Lumière programme of films projected from a 1899 projector. The ambiance of these screenings in the courtyard of the Cineteca was great: the particular luminosity of carbon arc, the music that accompanied the films, and the audience sitting in night-times shadows as the images flickered across the screen.
I also watched a number of films on DCP. This format does mean that films are more likely to circulate and maybe turn up in the UK. I really enjoyed The Chase (1966), directed by Arthur Penn with a superb screenplay from Lillian Hellman. This has been restored in 4K from the original camera negative. It looked great and had a stellar cast, including Marlon Brando, and the film was part of the retrospective tribute to that star. Some friends saw a digital version of McCabe & Mrs Miller (1971), which I think is Robert Altman’s finest film. This had been restored in 4K from the original camera negative by Warner Bros. And a friend was impressed with a digital transfer of Shin Heike Monogatari (1955, Tales of the Taira Clan) with director Mizoguchi Kenji working in both colour.
I also saw a digital version of a little known film which deserves wider circulation. This was Déjà s’envole la fleur maigre (1960, one English title is From the Branches Drops the Withered Blossom). This was a documentary filmed by Paul Meyer which recorded the situation of Italian migrants who had moved to Belgium to work in the mines. The film was set in Borinage, setting for the earlier and famous film by Joris Ivens. Whilst at times observational it had complex, unconventional and often poetic treatment of the situation of these families. It was beautifully done but its critical stance meant the film/filmmaker was “ostracized and [Paul Meyer] basically forced out of film production.” It does not seem to have ever had a UK release, but now with a fine restoration from the original camera negatives [both 16mm and 35mm] it will hopefully screen here.
Other treats included several films restored by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project. These included a key film from the revolutionary period of Cuban cinema Memorias del Subdesarrollo / Memories of Underdevelopment (1968): an early film by Hou Hsiao-hsien, Feng gui lai de ren / The Boys from Fengkuei (1983): Edward Yang’s very fine Taipei Story (1985): and two documentaries by Chris Menges with Adrian Cowell, Raid into Tibet (1966) and Buddhism in Tibet (1966). There was another classic film restoration, Youssef Chahine’s Adieu Bonaparte (1985) a key film from this Egyptian director.
The 72nd International Federation of Film Archives Congress ran all through the Festival. Apart from the papers and discussions there was a presentation to Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, the Belgium filmmakers, with a screening of their 1996 film La Promesse. And there was the FIAF Film Restoration Summer School all week as well. I chatted to one of the participants: they worked hard all day with both practical and theoretical sessions and then they had a series of Festival screenings to take it. But she was still enjoying it. And there were the annual Festival Awards for DVDs and Blu-Rays. This year the winners included discs of the work of Fredrick Wiseman, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Jacques Rivette and the BFI’s recent issue of Shooting Stars (1928).
So a very full week: and a hot week this year. But rewarding as well.
I thought the year was less productive and interesting than 2013: however I had a lay-off of nearly two months and missed a number of new releases. The ones that really impressed me this year were:
Winter Sleep / Kis uykusa Turkey / France / Germany, 2014.
For me not just the best new film this year, but the best for several years. Nuri Bilge Ceylan and his team have produced a long, but richly complex film. One that reflects on the personal and the social. Despite comments by some critics this is a splendidly cinematic film.
Ida, Poland, Denmark / France / UK, 2013.
An absolute pleasure in black and white academy ratio. Director Pawel Pawlikowski and cinematographers Lukasz Zai and Ryszard Lenczewski have produced a visually stunning film. The cast are excellent. What also impressed me is that the film not only achieves the look 1960s Poland but also of the Polish cinema of the period.
The Patience Stone, France / Germany / UK / Afghanistan, 2012.
This film had one of the outstanding performances of the year from Golshifteh Farahani. The screenplay, from the director Ayiq Rahini’s own novel, by Jean-Claude Carriére suggests he is still the finest writer in European cinema.
Concerning Violence, Sweden / Denmark / Finland / US / Norway / Germany.
This was an outstanding documentary, which showed proper respect for the archive material that it used: something that many films do not. The structure and editing of the film by Göran Hugo Olsson and his team was exemplary. The treatment of the writings of Frantz Fanon was somewhat partial, the most serious failing in the film.
The Missing Picture, France / Kingdom of Cambodia, 2013.
This was another exceptional documentary though its politics were less fully developed than in Concerning Violence. Rithy Panh’s direction and design was powerfully evocative: and the use of models and dioramas gave the film a very distinctive form.
Set Fire to the Stars, UK.
A last minute addition: 2013 ended with a film about a sculptor, 2014 with one about a poet. Beautiful wide-screen black and white cinematography and a fine sound design and music score, (director Andy Godard, Cinematography Chris Seager, Music Gruff Rhys). It also rescues the poetry of Dylan Thomas from its rather facile treatment in Interstellar.
The 20th (and possibly the last) Bradford International Film Festival gave me the discovery of the year – a retrospective of the films of Japanese director Nomura Yoshitarō based on the writings of Kobayashi Mosahiro. I especially liked the 1958 Stakeout (Harikomi) with my favourite Takamine Hideko in a leading role.
The Festival also provided a welcome retrospective of British director Sally Potter.
The 28th Leeds International Film Festival provided the best UK retrospective of the year – five films by the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman in 35mm prints. Included were his masterpiece Persona (1966) and the equally fine Through a Glass Darkly / Såsom I en spegel, 1961.
The Festival also provided the most challenging screening of the year – an immaculate print from the Netherlands Film Museum of Max Ophuls’ 1936 The Trouble With Money. Unfortunately the print had no English subtitles: it says something for Ophuls skill as a director that I could follow most of the plot.
Il Cinema Ritrovato 28th edition offered a film that I have waited long to see in its full format. As part of The Golden 50s: India’s Endangered Classics the Festival screened, in a black and white 35mm CinemaScope print, Kaagaz Ke Phool / Paper Flowers, 1959. One of Guru Dutt’s memorable melodramas with very fine cinematography by V. K. Murthy and music by S. ED. Burman.
The Festival also screened the best digital restoration and screening I saw this year, a 4K version of John Ford’s classic My Darling Clementine, 1946. The ample Arlecchino cinema was packed for the occasion.
The best offering from the silent era was at [predictably] the 33rd Le Giornate del Cinema Muto – The Silent Comedies of Yakov Protazanov unfortunately listed as Russian Laughter rather than the correct Soviet Laughter. I especially enjoyed The Trial Concerning Three Million / Protsess o Trekh Millionakh, 1926.
The nadir of 2014 was February, which saw the release of The Wolf of Wall Street, US. I can understand it being the most plagiarised film of the year but found it unaccountable that it was in the Sight & Sound ‘top listings’. There have been recurring traces of misogyny in the films of Martin Scorsese and this seems to me to be the worse example.
Then it was joined by The Book Thief, US / UK, 2013. Markus Zusak’s novel is an exhilarating and formally audacious piece of writing. The film version reduced it to the worse sort of mainstream conventions.
Finally, notable centenaries. The Hyde Park Picture House passed one hundred years – November 1914. The team still manages a pretty varied programme of films and also we enjoy fairly frequent 35mm screenings.
And then this was the anniversary year of Charlie Chaplin, first appearing in February 1914. I saw a considerable number of Chaplin films during the year, the one I most enjoyed revisiting was Modern Times, 1936. The screening at the National Media Museum was enhanced by a clip from the delightful Cuban film For the First Time / Por primera vez, 1967.