Cinema Lumiere - Sala Officinema/Mastroianni > 10:30

Italy. Women and war

Ugo Falena
Piano accompaniment by

Antonio Coppola, Donald Sosin

In 1916, three years after the release of Ma l’amor mio non muore (Love Everlasting, 1913), Lyda Borelli’s first screen appearance, the Italian Diva film was without doubt the most productive and influential genre, with scores of young actresses launched by minor and major production companies, and foreign artists like Dianne Karenne, Fabienne Fabrèges and Helena Makowska finding excellent job opportunities. To realize how many actresses also wrote and directed films in 1916 comes as a real surprise. All works directed in 1916 by Bianca Virginia Camagni, Dianne Karenne and Elettra Raggio are lost; it’s our good luck that films that survived, like Il figlio della guerra, scripted by Camagni, and Signori giurati…, scripted by Fabrèges, are interesting enough. In fiction films, war appears transposed, removed to the past as in Guazzoni’s Madame Tallien, or foregrounded as in Il sopravvissuto by Augusto Genina, a pièce of propaganda with the homefront as target audience. Genina, aged 24, took much praise for the mise-en scène in June 1916 when La signorina Ciclone premiered, a divertissement by the fashionable writer Lucio d’Ambra. In times of war, comedy thrives. Rodolfi and Gigetta released fourteen or more short and medium-length installments of their comic series in 1916 alone. And had the Futurists produced a first-rate film comedy instead of their manifesto, it would figure in this programme.

Mariann Lewinsky


Tuesday 28/06/2016


Original version with simultaneous translation through headphones


Film Notes

Giuseppe Amisani painted her, Emilio Sommariva took her photograph, and after the première of the first film she directed, La piccola ombra (1916), a reviewer praised her as the “highest hope of the new Art of Cinema”. We know too little about Bianca Virginia Camagni. Actress, writer, director and producer, she was involved in making over twenty film from 1914 to 1922, initially starring in productions of Milano Films. In 1916 she went freelance. Her last projects, Fantasia bianca (1919- 1921, with sculptor-artist Severio Pozzati and the composer Vittorio Gui) and La sconoscuta (1921, with writer Tito A. Spagnol) sound unique, experimental. Not surprisingly she played the female lead in the elusive Il re, le torri, gli alfieri.
Of Camagni’s work, at the moment we know of the existence of the one-reeler La gelosia (1915), the image part of Il figlio della guerra (1916) and a little fragment, hardly visible, of Cavalleriarusticana (1916). Her own productions from around 1921-1922 (Fantasia bianca, La sconosciuta, La bella nonna, Il cuore e l’ombra) were presumably lost in a fire. We are grateful to Emiliana Losma for this information and for her research on Bianca Virgina Camagni, published in 2011 (“Bianco e Nero” No. 570) with a wealth of source texts and details. Losma reports that during the war Camagni gave up acting for two years in order to work for the Italian Red Cross. Remember this when you see the opening shot of Il figlio della guerra.
The original camera negative, lacking intertitles, of this film was discovered among the fifty-four titles of Pathé-Film d’Arte Italiana in the collections of the Cinémathèque française, and a preservation print was struck from it. To judge from this film alone, Bianca Virginia Camagni had her own individual acting style, sober and restrained. How had she been trained? She is not acting the diva. Which is remarkable; watch any dramatic actress in 1916 Italian cinema, and you will find all of them imitating Borelli, using her key gestures. A film about facts a mother does not tell her son: that she was raped, that he was born as a result of the rape, and that as an adult he killed his father. Both crimes, the rape and the killing, happened during the war. The first part of the film is impressive, making you wish Camagni, who wrote the script, would have also put herself at the center of the second part.

Mariann Lewinsky

Cast and Credits

T. copia: Le Fils de guerre. Sog.: Bianca Virginia Camagni. Int.: Bianca Virginia Camagni (Contessa D’Algo), Luigi Serventi (Gaston / barone Massimo Odder), Gioacchino Grassi (Ninkas), Alfonso Cassini (don Elia), Romano Zampieri (il generale), sig.na Miotti (Marta). Prod.: Film d’Arte Italiana. 35mm. L.: 1024 m. (incompleto, l. orig.: 1770 m.). D.: 49’ a 18 f/s. Bn.


Film Notes

The young Augusto Genina directs this matrimonial comedy with verve, capturing the right tone and rythms. The Count and Countess Valmonte are a likeable and close-knit couple, but he spends too many evenings at his club, at least as far as she is concerned. Is there something behind these absences? From perfumed letters laden with suspicion and afternoon squabbles, the Countess decides to take action and sets in motion a plan to catch her supposedly cheating husband in flagrante. The consequences of this action are both unforeseen and difficult to manage. Genina entrusts his craft to his actors, and in particular to Bianca Virginia Camagni, who is on top-form. The actress manages to convey the comic rhythms while still creating a fully-rounded character for Laura, in so doing demonstrating a particular ability in loading props with express significance: the letter addressed to her husband that she cannot decide whether to open; the cigarettes clasped in trembling hands; and a go-between’s glove abandoned in the wrong place.

Stella Dagna

Cast and Credits

Sog., Scen.: Augusto Genina. F.: Ferdinando Martini. Int.: Bianca Virginia Camagni (Laura di Valmonte), Luigi Serventi (il marito), Tranquillo Bianco. Prod.: Milano Films. 35mm. L.: 305 m. D.: 15’ a 18 f/s. Col.


Film Notes

If so many films of 1916 have survived, then why must Il re, le torri, gli alfieri be so very lost, the 1916 film I looked for the hardest? With nitrate fragments located in Paris and in Washington, hopes flew high. The French archivists were as happy as I was disappointed when the reel in the can with Échec au roi written on it turned out to be the part missing from their print of La mirabile visione (1921). And when the material from Library of Congress had arrived in Bologna and had been lifted like a priceless cake from the can and we saw the first images, we managed to recognize actor Gigi Serventi for a moment, but soon no more, and after a few scenes we wistfully gave up trying to see a brilliant operetta while looking at a war picture.
Men have clear identities; women are bound by conflicting loyalities. Of course Livia, the passive protagonist of Il sopravissuto, sides with her Italian father and her Italian son and not with her Austrian husband, a brute, so good riddance. In the tautological story of heroes being heroes, the destiny traced out for the woman carries a residue of tragedy.
Antonio Rosso, a contemporary critic, shows little enthusiasm for the patriotic plot, finding it worn and heavy- going but he appreciates the realism Genina achieved in the army scenes. “For the first time”, he writes, “I have been shown with convincing approximation to reality what a movement of troops or a system of trenches would look like. This is the best cinematographic reconstruction so far of what happens on the front line of battle”.

Mariann Lewinsky

Cast and Credits

Sog.: Giannino Antona Traversi. F.: Carlo Montuori. Int.: Fernanda Negri Pouget (Livia), Teresa Boetti-Valvassura (la contessa), Camillo Pilotto (l’austriaco), Leo Giunchi (Goffredo), Ugo Gracci (il vecchio conte). Prod.: Medusa-Film. DCP. D.: 19’. Tinted and toned.