The Best Years of Our Lives
It has happened every year for 35 years. As Il Cinema Ritrovato ends, we incredulously review the statistics for the event and remember the previous days, the emotions shared with our public, the words of support from friends and strangers and think: “There is no way we can stage a better event than the one that has just ended.” Impossible. We discuss the proposals we have received, add new retrospectives to the established ones and refine the structure of the programme. For 12 months we work towards Il Cinema Ritrovato, all the time thinking: “Yes, the next event won’t be bad, but there’s no way we can make it as good as last year’s.” Confirmations of long-awaited restorations arrive; new films surprise us among the new documentaries we view. The programme gradually comes into focus. We start compiling the catalogue, searching for the perfect photos, beginning the long round of corrections and revisions and then, after an enormous amount of work involving over 20 people working in ever greater synchrony, the magic moment arrives, the moment in which, for the first time, we can see the whole catalogue, with all its photos and… we’re amazed! It’s fantastic. We can’t believe that we have managed to bring so much beauty together. So take your time to peruse the almost 400 pages of this year’s catalogue: the surprising contributions of the various curators; each individual entry; and the images which act as windows into a film, narrow openings from which to glimpse whole eras, ideas, innovations and emotions. If so many interesting and beautiful films were produced in the past, we can only be optimistic about the future.
We believe that the festival reflects the progress that the history of cinema is currently experiencing. It has never been as rich and lively as it is today, because archives have never before been so active and capable of transforming unknown titles into images and readily available films. This rich heritage of images allows us to get to know the past as if it were the present. And Il Cinema Ritrovato is the place where this magic alchemy takes place, where the cinema of the past enters into the present, thanks to the three hearts of the festival, restoration, research, and the relationship between past and present. Restoration is the motor for transformation; research is the working method, the need to scrutinise in detail; and the relationship between the cinema of the past and the present, of which the section Documents and Documentaries constitutes just the tip of the iceberg, is where the past nourishes the present. It has always been like this; films have influenced other films, which end up being similar, but different. Chaplin invented one of the most beautiful endings of all time for Modern Times, which was released in 1936. Renoir saw it and referenced it in his 1936 film Les Bas-fonds. When you see Edmund Goulding’s Nightmare Alley, with Tyrone Power and Joan Blondell, you will have the strange impression of being in the atmosphere beloved of Guillermo del Toro, who happens to be in postproduction of a film starring Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett and based on the novel by William Lindsay Gresham, which provided the basis of the 1947 film. Yet we are in no doubt that del Toro’s film with be something else entirely, surprisingly different.
A New Gaze
The retrospective dedicated to 1921 describes an important year, a point of contact between what had gone before and what was to come; the great European auteurs (Lubitsch, Sjöstrom, Stiller) were still working in Europe, but they were soon to choose Hollywood. The Russian revolution was under way, but seemed unlikely to affect Europe. Great changes in both cinema and society were about to take place. Looking back at the films of 100 years ago, we are invited to pose questions about our future. Has the pandemic, which we hope to be emerging from, changed us? Will the cinema be able to capture and convey this sense of change? An answer to these questions is perhaps to be found watching the films of George Stevens (a master of classical Hollywood, with an impressive filmography that encompasses Laurel and Hardy, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, light comedies, melodramas, musicals and westerns) and William Wyler, whose The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) we will be screening. It is a film about winners, the American soldiers returning from the war. To quote Wyler: “All three of us [Capra, Stevens and Wyler] had taken part in the war. It had a profound influence on all of us. Without this experience, I would never have been able to make my film as I did. We learned to understand the world more clearly…” Four years later, Rossellini made Francesco giullare di Dio, a watershed film that marks the end of the Neorealist movement and the beginning of a new moment; it is the film manifesto of the auteur cinema that was to follow. The central episode features Aldo Fabrizi, the only star in a cast made up largely of non-professionals. At the time, Fabrizi, to whom we dedicate a section exploring his work as both an actor and a director, was at the height of his success, capable of moving from drama to comedy with equal mastery and intensity. He was the most successful Italian actor, a box-office certainty. And what does Rossellini do? Casting Fabrizi as Nicolaio, the bloodthirsty tyrant of Viterbo, he encases him in a metal helmet and body armour that completely imprisons him, rendering him unrecognisable. Only 12 minutes into the episode are we able to recog nise his face, and even then it is transformed through makeup. For Fabrizi, who seems overcome by the good-natured lunacy of Rossellini/St. Francis, it is a challenge that ends in success; for the produces (Amato and Rizzoli, who will also have the necessary courage to produce La dolce vita), it is a resounding commercial failure. Rossellini concedes nothing to spectacle or the splendour of historical reconstruction; in the film there is only St. Francis and his disciples, their simplicity, candour, humility and love. Stylistically it is also a film imbued with the very essence of Franciscan thought. Just like De man die zijn haar kort liet knippen, André Delvaux’s first fiction feature, a work that found a new, hypnotic and feverish way to represent the shattering of its protagonist’s consciousness; we share not only his soliloquy, but also his progressive sense of disconnection from reality.
International art cinema, because it is everybody’s art
Against All Flags, the retrospective dedicated to Wolfgang Staudte, allows us to get to know the unique journey of a director whose formative years were during the Nazi period, who chose to work in East Germany, and who later moved to West Germany – all the while directing challenging and personal films. Staudte is a clear representative of the anti-nationalist side of the cinema, which, from its very beginnings – thanks to its immediate global distribution and the images shot in various continents by the Lumière cameramen – has always been a collective art that transcends borders.
For many years, the programme has been excavating a history of cinema from a female perspective. In 2021, this tendency emerges in all of the different sections, with new discoveries and celebrations of female actors, directors, scriptwriters and critics. In the documentary Lotte Eisner – Un lieu, nul part, the protagonist says: “I wanted to be an archaeologist, but in Italy all the German archaeologists were terribly boring.” Partly as a result, the young Eisner, a Jew from Berlin, became the first critic of cultural cinema, one capable of supporting a whole generation of filmmakers, from Fritz Lang to Werner Herzog, with her insightful writings. For many years we have been fascinated by a face from early cinema and finally, by dedicating a programme to her, we have been able to lift the veil of anonymity from the delightful Renée Doux, wife of Ferdinand Zecca and actress in 50 films made in Paris between 1903 and 1910. It is evident that the rich modernity of many masterpieces is due to scriptwriters who were prescient about the future; people such as June Mathis (whose Camille we will screen), Clara Beranger (Miss Lulu Bett), Elinor Glyn (It) or, from postwar Italy, Suso Cecchi d’Amico (Il lavoro, an episode from Boccaccio ’70).
Eleven debuts by female directors comprise the retrospective Cinemalibero: Feminine, Plural; eleven films and 11 worlds passed down and bearing witness to the strength, value and intensity of the gaze of women filmmakers. You only have to read through the names of directors to realise the importance of this retrospective and how essential it is that we continue to bring this alternative gaze to light. One of the discoveries in Recov ered and Restored is Nattlek by Mai Zetterling, an important actress in Swedish and European cinema who moved behind the camera to direct Ingrid Thulin and make a film with the depth and freedom of the Sixties, a trip though the memories unlocked by place, poised between Proust and Fellini. It is a film so liberating that at the Venice Film Festival, only the jury could see it and, in San Francisco, Shirley Temple withdrew from the jury in order not to watch it.
As we have always maintained, ours is the festival of archives. We can spur archives to restore films through our work, but the programme is also a mirror of the choices of individual archives. The good news is that the long-forgotten history of African-American cinema is beginning to re-emerge. This year we can pay homage to two legends of black cinema: Oscar Micheaux and Melvin Van Peebles. The former is paid homage in Francesco Zippel’s documentary The Superhero of Black Filmmaking and in the restoration of Murder in Harlem, a socially committed film about the trial of a young Black man unjustly accused of the murder of a young white woman with whom he worked, which incensed American public opinion in the 1910s. Of the latter we will show the overwhelming Watermelon Man, un unmissable comedy that overturns the stereotypes and certainties of both Blacks and whites alike. Then there is the restoration of Lumumba, la mort du prophète (1991). In just 69 minutes, Raoul Peck, who spent his youth in Congo, follows in the footsteps of Chris Marker to successfully narrate the epic and tragic story of Patrice Lumumba, denounce white colonial policy, and reflect on big ethical questions concerning images, journalism, political commitment and responsibility. It is a masterpiece, both honest and potent. In the 12 minutes of Buried News, Bill Morrison uses four newsreels produced between 1917 and 1920, and excitingly rediscovered in Dawson City, which reveal the racial violence that criss-crossed the US; from the riots of East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1917 and of Omaha, Nebraska, in 1919, to some very rare material, previously thought lost, on the siege of the courts at Lexington, Kentucky, in 1920. Racism has many shades and the Japanese Hollywood star Sessue Hayakawa had to leave in 1922 to work in Europe as he was no longer able to play leading roles alongside whites when anti-Asian sentiments began to spread in the US. In the retrospective A Hundred Years Ago, we will screen the only known copy of The Swamp, conserved by the Russian film archive Gosfil’mofond.
This is the title of the admirable documentary that Michael Rogosin dedicated to Woodcutters of the Deep South, which his father made in 1973. Its central thesis is that, in this film as in many others, Lionel managed to intuit the main problems of society – problems that still remain unresolved today. One can only agree with Michael. The majority of the films that we are screening testify to continuing problems, but also to cinema’s ability to address them. Woodcutters of the Deep South con cerns lumberjacks in Alabama, and how, in the early Seventies, for the first time Blacks and whites were working together to allow their collective voice to be heard more forcefully. Working Together is also a slogan for the cinema, an art that can only be made collectively, and where artists have often felt the need to come together. This is well described in the section curated by Alex Jacoby and Johan Nordström dedicated to documentaries by the Japanese production company Iwanami and the artists who – before the English Free Cinema or French Cinema verité movements – revolutionised both the observational documentary form and the depiction of Japan. It is also present in the section dedicated to the Parallel Cinema movement, which between 1968 and 1976 drew together an extraordinary group of rebellious and poetic filmmakers from India who wanted to practise complete creative freedom. Their films are now almost impossible to see, and to stage a retrospective of their work in the middle of a pandemic would be an impossible undertaking. However, working together, the impossible becomes possible.
This festival, with its 16 sections and its 426 films, could never have taken place without: the passion of Shivendra Singh Dungarpur; the friendship and incredible strength of The Film Foundation, which this year brings eight new restorations to Bologna; the dedication of Janice Simpson, who allowed us to present an extraordinary selection of films restored by the Hollywood studios; the inspired professionalism of Davide Pozzi, Elena Tammaccaro and the Immagine Ritrovata, which never shut down, not even during the fiercest of lockdowns, and this year contributes a record number of 41 new restorations; the friendship of Nicolas Seydoux and Gaumont; the precious work of 89 public and private institutions from 27 countries around the world; the work of the employees of the Cineteca di Bologna and the Modernissimo. As was the case last year, the Covid emergency requires us to increase the number of screens (prior to the much-anticipated opening of the Modernissimo, where 2022’s event will finally take place). To Piazza Maggiore, the Jolly, the Arlecchino, the two Lumières and Piazzetta Pasolini, we can now add: the 700 socially distanced seats of the LunettArena; two smart city-centre cinemas, the Odeon and the Galliera; and the Arena del Sole, an historic auditorium and temple of the theatre that boasts a spectacular proscenium, which will house a screen equipped for the largest of formats. This festival is signed by four of us, but it belongs to all of those who helped make it possible.
Eternally “al dente”
All the sections of the festival are invaluable, but perhaps there is one of special value: the programme of 35mm prints restored by the National Film Archive of Japan, who gave us permission to show them. We have chosen to show in Bologna the lesser known part of the collection. Many of the shorts and fragments in the programme have never been screened before, not even in Japan. The story of this collection is like a fairytale. Tomijiro Komiya, the son of a restaurant owner in the popular Asakusa district of Tokyo, loved film and frequently went to the cinema when he was a boy. As a teenager, between 1907 and 1917, he began collecting a group of European films that survived fires, earthquakes, WWII, theft, the worst climate imaginable for nitrate film. Yet a part of this very precious collection, full of titles lost in Europe, has survived and has come to Bologna in glittering copies. We dedicate an exhibition in Salaborsa to another collector, but of posters. Maurizio Baroni was one of the major collectors and experts of cinema posters in Italy, like Antoine Doinel stealing posters from cinema display cases in Les 400 coups, which we will see, thanks to MK2, in a new – much awaited – restoration. His father burned the posters he had collected, triggering his obsession with reconstructing his collection and making it grow, becoming an internationally renowned scholar along the way. The exceptional quality of these two collectors is their personal passion, which today is a source of shared culture and, potentially, may inspire new passions. This year’s festival seems to prove to us that films are indeed very strong and capable of surviving anything, even physically. These are the stories told by Bill Morrison’s films, of films that ended up at the bottom of the sea, decomposed and buried but continue to exist and excite us, despite being reduced to fragments, partially or almost totally decomposed.
Volker Schlöndorff writes in the introduction to the section on Romy Schneider: “very often, a film of fiction is also a documentary about its actors. In Romy’s case, without question, life and fiction are one and the same.” This unforgettable actress was taken from us at 43, her life scarred by the tragic death of her 14-year-old son. She shaped her beauty and her emancipation through acting, choosing roles where sexuality was always present. She was skilled at acting with her eyes and worked very well in collaboration with others. The episode of Boccaccio ’70 was a key moment in her career, being directed by one of the most authoritative figures of film and theatre history, Luchino Visconti, and receiving artistic recognition that would give her professional freedom. That is why we have chosen as the festival’s guiding image a sunny and self-possessed Schneider, framed by a baroque and very elegant set where even the cat looks as if it is dressed in Chanel.
This year Bertrand Tavernier will not be with us, running from one cinema to another not to miss any of his favourite films. He would certainly have gone to see the films of ‘Mank’, who not only was an eminent Hollywood screenwriter and won the Oscar with Orson Welles for the script of Citizen Kane, but he also wrote a screenplay in 1933, which was never made, titled The Mad Dog of Europe, featuring a house painter named Adolph Mitler; in July 1935, Goebbels warned Hollywood that any film with Herman Mankiewicz’s name would be immediately banned in Germany.
But these are all well-known stories. Tavernier, instead, would have talked to us for hours about Mank, telling us everything we did not know about him… We would like to remem ber him with an episode that happened two years ago. He was sitting in the audience of the Lumière Cinema watching Muna Moto by the Cameroonian director Dikongué Pipa, almost 80 years old and at his first public celebration, half a century after he had made the film. Afterwards, we went to eat something with Dikongué and found Bertrand in the same restaurant. When Bertrand saw us take our seats, he got up, walked towards us and came over to introduce himself to Dikongué, complimenting him on his film which he thought was of unique beauty and poetry. It was clear that Dikongué did not know who he was, but the director excitedly invited him to sit with us, which Bertrand did with pleasure. They talked about cinema for almost three hours. Bertrand asked one question after another with unparalleled sensitivity, humility and curiosity. Dikongué, who had understood that Bertrand was a director from the types of observations he made (“mon frère-cinéaste” he called him) began, with just as much interest, to ask him questions about his films, which he was not familiar with. It was like witnessing a natural phenomenon, an explosion of love for cinema in its raw, pure state, stripped of all frivolity. Tavernier was not only a great filmmaker, an unparalleled storyteller of cinema and its known and unknown heroes, he was also an example, the daily demonstration of the positive power of the love for film.
To him we dedicate this festival and the words Aldo Fabrizi wanted on his grave, the closing verse of a sonnet he wrote: “Taken from the world too al dente.” The Fabrizi retrospective would undoubtedly have been a favourite with Tavernier, who adored Italy, Italians, Italian food and film. He would have laughed at Fabrizi, 85 at the time of his death, considering himself still too “al dente”, just as he would have been happy, being from Lyon and President of Institut Lumière, to know that the section Super8 & 16mm – Great Small Gauges will include a new phenomenal projector, the Archeoscopio, created by the Czech inventor and director Jan Kulka, which can project lace, salt crystals and bubble wrap…
Happy festival everyone!
Cecilia Cenciarelli, Gian Luca Farinelli, Ehsan Khoshbakht, Mariann Lewinsky