Notes on Cinema Ritrovato 2021
Just like last year, a coronavirus edition of Bologna’s unsurpassed Cinema Ritrovato festival took place this summer. The festival is unique for its broad focus on the history of film, showing new restorations and recent (re)discoveries rather than new films. The festival took place from 20 to 27 July this time, unlike the usual period at the end of June, with particularly noisy crickets and slightly more locations to spread out the visitors. Besides the familiar theatres at the Cineteca, Arlecchino and Jolly, and the open-air screenings in the evening on the film museum’s cortile and in Piazza Maggiore (which is transformed into the most beautiful cinema in the world on certain summer evenings each year), there were also screenings at the Odeon cinema and the Arena del Sole theatre (which is unfortunately not suitable for film).
The cinemas allowed the auditoriums to be half-filled at the maximum, which gave everyone a bit more legroom and above all breathing room. One doesn’t usually only associate Cinema Ritrovato and Bologna with cinephile and culinary enjoyment of the highest order, but also with sweltering heat, seedy air conditioning and too little sleep. The obligatory face masks made the many film screenings a day a bit less comfortable, and the corona protocol thwarted some of the festival fun: the (almost perfectly functioning) reservation system prevented spontaneous decisions about your personal viewing programme, and there were also a bit fewer opportunities to bump into acquaintances.
But why complain? Everyone found the last pre-coronavirus editions too crowded anyway, and the gigantic range of the reportedly 426 films from 89 public and private collections from 27 countries was again finger-licking good. The 35th edition of the festival included sections devoted to directors, actors or screenwriters such as Aldo Fabrizi, Herman Mankiewicz, Romy Schneider, Wolfgang Staudte and George Stevens. And there were programmes with films from the Tomijiro Komiya collection and a series devoted to “Indian parallel cinema”. In addition, there were sections with such telling titles as ‘Cinemalibero: feminine, plurale’; ‘Il vero Giappone: documentaries by Iwanami Productions’; and ‘Documenti e documentari’. There was also a section devoted to the year 1901 in addition to the usual ‘Cento anni fa’ (or “a hundred years ago”, i.e. the film production from the year 1921). Another fixture: a whole string of recent restorations including The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short (1965) by André Delvaux from the CINEMATEK collection. In short: too much, and once again you left Bologna frustrated at having missed out on a lot. I unfortunately had to pass up the opportunity to watch new restorations of Renoir’s The Lower Depths, Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives, Dudow’s Kuhle Wampe, Dreyer’s Vampyr, Frank’s Me and My Brother and Kawashima’s Elegant Beast (aka The Graceful Brute).
The screening conditions were, as usual, excellent. Silent films are invariably accompanied musically. Many screenings include an introduction, the quality of which varies enormously – cringe-inducing or redundant intros that also have to be translated (in English and Italian) seem to have become the norm. But this is amply compensated by the absolutely excellent projection quality – in recent years it has become quite common at Cinema Ritrovato, where projection speeds and image formats change constantly, that assertive or arrogant spectators boo inattentive projectionists. Each screening concludes with heartfelt applause for the (often long-deceased) filmmakers and the projectionists. The applause is of course also meant for the curators and restorers who relentlessly present new restorations, carefully and patiently puzzled together on the basis of combinations of negatives, master prints and internegatives in various formats from different archives and collections. The proportion of digital 4K restorations and thus the number of digital projections continued to increase – many films from bygone eras acquire a hyperreal sharpness and stability that still feels a bit uncomfortable. Nevertheless, film or celluloid fetishists still get their money’s worth: many copies are screened on 35mm and there was even a small separate programme with films on 8 and 16mm (including work by Annik Leroy). Some films from the section devoted to the year 1901, which reconstructs the screening and programming practices of this period, were screened using authentic carbon arc projectors. There was a “live film performance” by Jan Kulka, who demonstrated his archeoscope, which projects not only all standardised film formats (8, 16, 35, 70 mm, etc.) but also all kinds of other materials (transparent tape, lace, bubble wrap, etc.). In all respects, Cinema Ritrovato remains a feast that does full justice to the vibrant sensuality of film.
As always, Cinema Ritrovato is an opportunity to revisit and rediscover well-known classics through beautiful restorations, but it also offers the chance to discover hard-to-find or forgotten films. This year, I saw the following films, among others, of which especially the screenings of Araya, The Jester’s Supper, The Olive Trees of Justice and Ali au pays des merveilles will linger for a long time. And in the programme booklet I also ticked Benito Mussolini, the Fascist, To Live in Peace, Empire in the Sun, Night Games, The Last Stage, One Way or Another and Reassemblage.
Cinemalibero: feminine, plurale
I thought the greatest concentration of masterpieces and gems this year was in the section ‘Cinemalibero: feminine, plurale’, compiled by Cecilia Cenciarelli and Elena Correra and devoted to debut films by little-known female directors.
Araya (Margot Benacerraf, 1959) was for me the revelation of this edition of Cinema Ritrovato. I saw it on the first day and it made my entire week – a true masterpiece that knocked my socks off. It’s a documentary about the pre-industrial salt production in Araya on the Caribbean coast of Venezuela, the debut of a filmmaker who urgently deserves more attention. It reminds me of the best lyrical documentaries: echoes of Basil Wright’s The Song of Ceylon, Paul Strand and Fred Zinnemann’s The Waves, Eisenstein’s ¡Que Viva Mexico!, but also of Georges Rouquier and Jean-Daniel Pollet. The film, which co-won Benacerraf the International Critics’ Prize at Cannes together with Resnais’s Hiroshima mon amour, is a beautiful symphony about the rhythm of labour (the cutting of salt, fishing at sea, the preparation of meals, pottery without a wheel, etc.) and an ode to daily gestures that are repeated forever. The salt glitters in the merciless sunlight and against the endless swell of the sea. The film has a voice-over written by the French poet Pierre Seghers, who remains strangely unmentioned in the festival texts.
The ‘Cinemalibero: feminine, plurale’ section also included Ali au pays des merveilles (1976) by Djouhra Abouda and Alain Bonnamy, about the experiences of Algerian migrant workers in 1970s France. Shot on 16mm, this film gives a voice to a marginalised group – the voice-over literally consists of the voice of the workers recounting their experiences of exploitation and racism. The result is a post-war experimental urban symphony – both the first and last shots of the film show us the night traffic near Arc de Triomphe – about the harsh living and working conditions in a late-capitalist metropolis. All kinds of strategies and effects – slow motion, fast motion, a high-speed or rhythmic montage accompanied by Djamel Allam’s music, multiple exposure, distortions, jump cuts, nervous camera movements – are deployed to enhance the film’s impact on the senses and concerning content. A dialectical montage or the use of symbolic split screens (such as the juxtaposition of workers leaving a construction site and brokers on the steps of the stock exchange, or of street workers and display windows filled with luxury goods) demonstrate that militant cinema can/should be experimental.
The Last Stage (Wanda Jakubowska, 1948) is one of the earliest feature-length films about the concentration camps. Jakubowska, who was a prisoner in Auschwitz-Birkenau, filmed on location in the partially preserved barracks. As is rumoured, original prisoners’ uniforms were used, and real German prisoners of war were used as extras. These elements, which unmistakably contribute to the film’s “realism”, are combined with careful stylisation qua cinematography and mise-en-scène. The depth of the image, for instance, is masterfully manipulated in order to represent the gigantic scale of the killing machine on the one hand and to evoke the claustrophobic suffocation of the interiors on the other. The tone is set by various atmospheric effects (darkness, smoke, the reflection of light on the water in ditches and mud pools, etc.). A rediscovery of this film may reopen the debate on the “unrepresentability of the unimaginable” and on the effects, perverse or otherwise, of a representation or aestheticisation of the Holocaust. Jakubowska manages to find a balance between testimony and suspense, between empathy and pathos, and between raw realism and stylistic mastery.
One Way or Another (1974-77) tells of the budding love between the teacher Yolanda and the labourer Mario. It is the last work but also the first “fiction film” by Cuban filmmaker Sara Gómez, who died during post-production. This description is way too limited, however, since this 16 mm film presents itself as the story of “real people and some fictional ones”. Gómez uses both of the protagonists and some of the secondary characters to paint us a picture of daily life in a Havana suburb, taking us to streets, squares, construction sites, factories, living rooms, schools and neighbourhood associations. In doing so, she demonstrates that, despite the efforts of the revolutionary rulers in the field of housing and education, poverty, unemployment and crime still exist among marginalised groups and that old habits, such as superstition, die hard. The film is characterised by a direct-cinema kind of documentary style: an agile shoulder camera places us in the middle of the action while the camerawork and editing are often dictated by the interactions and dialogues between the characters. At other times, other documentary strategies are employed, such as re-enactments, scenes in which the characters look straight into the camera, and inserts with historical prints, photographs and found footage.
Ritrovati e restaurati
Other highlights were to be found in the programme ‘Ritrovati e restaurati’, obviously the crux of the festival.
Night Games (1966) by Mai Zetterling was one of the films I was looking forward to. Zetterling, who is mostly known as an actress, was quite rightly pulled out of the bottom drawer as a director in recent years with, among other things, a DVD release of The Girls (1968). If anyone should doubt her talent, they would be easily convinced by Night Games, a film about a man who returns with his fiancée to the country house where he spent his childhood with his mother, an eccentric but protective aunt and a host of friends, guests and acolytes embroiled in the endless partying and psychological traumas of the house’s inhabitants. Present and past, reality and illusion merge in this film, which lapses into a nightmare of sexual tension and Oedipal fantasies. Scandinavian reserve and a preference for clearly defined spaces are combined with an expressive explosiveness reminiscent of directors such as Fellini, Kalatazov and Welles and their horror-vacui-marked shot compositions and pleasure in perspectival distortion. “Kenneth Anger meets Ingmar Bergman”, whose Persona from the same year seems to loom up a few times. Beautiful black-and-white photography by Rune Ericson, but especially Zetterling directs con brio.
Another gem that emerged from the ‘Ritrovati e restaurati’ programme is The Olive Trees of Justice (1962) by the little-known American filmmaker James Blue, about the Algerian War of Independence. Produced by an Algerian-based studio with an Algerian crew and non-professional actors, the production conditions are as striking as the film itself – the film even had to be shot semi-clandestinely and the production was presented to French authorities as a documentary on viticulture. Based on the autobiographical novel by Jean Pélégri (the policeman in Bresson’s Pickpocket), who collaborated on the screenplay and plays the role of the protagonist’s dying father, the film tells the story of a young man who returns to war-torn Algeria to look after his sick father. Beautifully shot in black and white, many passages of the film adopt an observational documentary mode: Jean walking through the streets of Algiers where Algerians are constantly stopped and frisked, boys playing soccer and kicking a ball over a wall during a funeral... These passages are paired with some rather lyrical flashbacks to a vineyard childhood on the Mitidja plain. Even though the film was awarded the Prix de la Semaine de la Critique at the 1962 Cannes Festival, The Olive Trees of Justice undeservedly fell into oblivion.
This year’s ‘Ritrovati e restaurati’ also included a full-length screening of Belphégor (Henri Desfontaines, 1926), which consists of four episodes of about 55 to 70 minutes. This serial is based on a story written by Arthur Bernède that appeared in Le Petit Parisien and was simultaneously released as a film series by Pathé. The title refers to a Moabite god. In the film, an idol of this deity is set up in the “room of the Barbarian Gods” at the Louvre, which is plagued by a mysterious and terrifying figure that knocks down the statue, kills a guard and attacks a journalist. The serial was very popular at the time and can be considered a variant of the many mummy films (Desfontaines made his Romance of the Mummy as early as 1911) or of Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera (1910), which was adapted by Rupert Julian in 1925. Belphégor, in turn, will set in motion a whole tradition of remakes, adaptations and sequels such as a television series in the 1960s and a feature film in 2001. Desfontaines’s version contains all the obligatory ingredients of the genre: master detectives, disguises, a hunchbacked thief with a villain’s face, creeping shadows, sudden disappearances, secret underground passages, a stone with a message flung through a window, etc. What with its rather stiff montage and fairly clumsy image direction, the film series feels old-fashioned even by 1926 standards, in line with serials made more than ten years earlier by, for example, Feuillade. Nevertheless, Belphégor continues to fascinate with a mise-en-scène that sporadically uses a tableau aesthetic and a clever spatial placement of the figures. Released right after the groundbreaking Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes (1925), the film also shows the impact of Art Deco on the sets. In addition, extensive use is made of locations in and near Paris. The Louvre, too, is extensively portrayed – not just the exterior but also several scenes inside the museum, more specifically in the sculpture galleries, where the Venus de Milo and especially the Nike of Samothrace turn out to be important characters. By means of brilliant chiaroscuro effects, Desfontaines manages to portray the museum as an uncanny place of atavistic and spiritualistic forces.
Blood to the Head (Gilles Grangier, 1956) from the ‘Ritrovati e restaurati’ programme seems to me to be one of the better or even best Georges Simenon films ever made. Based on Le fils Cardinaud (1942), the film is set in La Rochelle, which is aptly portrayed with the help of location shots. Grangier pays a lot of attention to the local colour in his fresco of fishermen, boatmen, fishmongers, pub owners, citizens, office clerks, governesses and prostitutes. The film tells the story of a fishmonger who has climbed the social scale with considerable difficulty. The role is played by Jean Gabin (to whom Cinema Ritrovato devoted an entire programme two years ago), who desperately combs the provincial town in search of his wife who has run away with an ex-lover from her youth. Echoing his existentialism-drenched roles from the poetico-realist masterpieces of the late 1930s, Gabin gives shape to a typical Simenon character who fatally collides with the impossibility and banality of love.
As usual, there were a lot of Italian films to be discovered in the last edition of Cinema Ritrovato, which were shown in different sections.
The Fascist (Luciano Salce, 1961), from the ‘Ritrovati e restaurati’ section, is a somewhat bitter comedy about a somewhat naive but convinced fascist (played with verve by Ugo Tognazzi) who has to track down an anti-fascist professor, arrest him and bring him back to Rome just as American soldiers are liberating the Italian capital. Since the fascist, in Salce’s words, was “regarded from a human perspective”, this film was already controversial at its release, though the constant narrative and ideological plot turns perfectly evoke the chaos and upheaval of the time. Salce, a director who has been completely forgotten outside Italy (I for one have only seen his 1964 El Greco biopic), makes optimal use of natural and urban landscapes that emphasise the futility and hopelessness of the characters. The tone is set right away in the opening scene, in which women are passionately kissing monks (who, of course, turn out not to be clergy but husbands or lovers hiding out in a monastery).
Fascism is also the subject of Naldini’s Benito Mussolini, the Fascist (1974) from the ‘Documenti e documentari’ section. The Italian writer and literary historian Nico Naldini was Pier Paolo Pasolini’s cousin, biographer and editor, and he was involved in Pasolini’s last films as a press agent. Benito Mussolini, the Fascist is Naldini’s only film. After it was shown at the 1974 Venice Festival and got criticised by both the right and left, the film fell into oblivion. One of the first to gain access to the gigantic image archive of Luce, the fascist regime’s production company of newsreels, Naldini created an impressive 109-minute found-footage film of fascist propaganda – from the March on Rome in 1922 to the start of Italy’s participation in the Second World War in June 1940. Naldini presents the footage naked, without frills. Even though Giorgio Bassani’s dry narrative voice indicates that Mussolini managed to shrewdly eliminate opponents, striking bargains with the bourgeoisie, the church and Hitler, and heading for complete and utter destruction, there is, in Pasolini’s words, “no anti-fascist rhetoric, no easy ridicule of fascism, but a representation of fascism by means of material created by the fascists themselves, by their false and true idea of themselves”. We see the ubiquitous Duce making speeches, surveying troops, receiving Hitler, visiting car factories, swimming in the sea or harvesting grain bare-chested, but we also and especially see the endless, ever-surging enthusiastic crowds melting into a collective body that seems to have been made for the medium of film. In this sense, Naldini makes it clear that fascism was also a cinematic project. Quite instructive – because whereas the development of fascism was inextricably linked to the breakthrough of mass media such as film and radio, the impact of all kinds of authoritarian tendencies today is inextricably linked to the so-called social media.
The Jester’s Supper (Alessandro Blasetti, 1942) from the ‘Ritrovati e restaurati’ programme: Blasetti, perhaps one of the hardest to grasp directors in Italian film history, alternated between early veristic impressions and ponderous historical spectacles that appealed to the Fascist rulers. With Four Steps in the Clouds (1942), he foreshadowed the aesthetics of neorealism, only to shoot light-hearted comedies with Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni after the war. The Jester’s Supper is in line with his historical dramas and tells a dark tale of diabolical intrigue, sadism, madness and revenge set in late-15th-century Florence. The film sparkles with its opulently decorated sets and the rich textures of the costumes designed by Gino Sensani, to whom the Cineteca di Bologna is devoting a small exhibition this summer. Blasetti is a masterly director here, the beautiful group scenes recalling Domenico Ghirlandaio’s frescoes. The brilliant chiaroscuro effects and highly agile camera work evoke Sternberg. Without question a highlight of cinema in continental Europe during the war years, bearing comparison with the work of contemporaries such as Marcel Carné and Jean Delanoy.
First Communion (1950), also by Alessandro Blasetti, was screened in the series devoted to the rich career of actor Aldo Fabrizi, who is best known for his portrayal of the priest in Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City (1945) – Rossellini would later take full advantage of Fabrizi’s comic talent in The Flowers of St. Francis (1950). First Communion was made in collaboration with one of the other protagonists of Italian neorealism, screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, who clearly left his mark on this story of a shopkeeper who gets mixed up in all sorts of small problems on the day that his daughter makes her first Communion – children are often at the centre of Zavattini’s screenplays, and here he and Blasetti paints a sympathetic picture of ordinary people in post-war Rome, but not without mercilessly exposing their pettiness and grotesqueness. Interestingly, an observational neorealist style is combined with almost fairytale-like “what ifs” – what would have happened if the main character had made different decisions at some point?
To Live in Peace (1947) by Luigi Zampa is without doubt one of the most interesting films in the series devoted to Fabrizi, who is mentioned as a co-writer here. Two American soldiers try to hide in a small village in the Apennines, resulting in tensions between the family members of the farmer Tigna (Fabrizi) who have to take different positions towards the village priest, the socialist doctor who is in touch with partisans, the fascist administrator and the German soldier stationed in the village. Although Zampa occasionally loses control of the rhythm and tone, the film is, in the best neorealist tradition, a beautiful parable about humanist empathy and tolerance.
Fabrizi also stars in A Dog’s Life (1950) by Mario Monicelli, who would later become one of the masters of the Commedia all’Italiana. The story is set in the world of a travelling variety-theatre group that has to make every effort to escape the poverty of post-war Italy. It’s a world in which everyone must cheat in order to survive but human empathy also has its place. This film (with camera work by Mario Bava) unquestionably offers one of Fabrizi’s most impressive acting performances, playing a tragicomic register reminiscent of early Fellini – the film’s plot and atmosphere are similar to Variety Lights, which was released the same year.
It is well-known that Fabrizi had a great impact on the direction of the films in which he acted – scenes were rewritten and characters adjusted. It is therefore not surprising that Fabrizi was not only in front of the camera but occasionally behind it as well. This was the case, for instance, in Immigrants (1948), a film about the last wave of emigration of Italian workers to the United States and South America shortly after the Second World War. Fabrizi is a Roman construction worker who makes the crossing to Argentina with his family – the hope of returning to Italy, however, prevents a real new start. With a splendid ensemble cast, Fabrizi manages to aptly portray the problems, dilemmas and illusions of migrants. Tragic and comic registers alternate, just like in most of the films in which he plays the leading part.
The comic register is given free rein in The Passaguai Family (1951), which opens with some nice visual ideas and a witty voice-over but quickly lapses into a mediocre humourless farce about a family trip to the beach. Although it was Fabrizi’s biggest success (two sequels were still to follow), this film is dwarfed by the many other works in the section devoted to the actor. The comparison with Luciano Emmer’s Sunday in August (1950) that is drawn in the festival catalogue, is superficial and inappropriate – Red Skelton seems a more adequate point of reference here.
Save a few films by George Stevens, Anthony Mann and Mitchell Leisen I largely ignored ‘Classical Hollywood’ this year, another one of the regular ingredients at Cinema Ritrovato.
I did not (re)watch the most famous works of the stylish and intelligent Hollywood craftsman George Stevens, only two lesser-known films. In the screwball comedy The More The Merrier (1943), the onscreen chemistry between Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea and Charles Coburn is palpable. They play characters who live together in a small flat due to the housing shortage in Washington DC during the war years. Stevens makes ample use of windows and doors in his mise-en-scène for this comedy, which on several occasions actually becomes a slapstick comedy. Small spaces, confinement and the impossibility of escape are also central in the melodrama Something To Live For (1952), in which Ray Milland, an ex-alcoholic, is brought in by AA to keep theatre actress Joan Fontaine on the wagon. The two vulnerable characters seem to be trapped in pubs, hotel rooms, offices, museum galleries, lifts and crammed living rooms.
The Great Flamarion (Anthony Mann, 1945) from the ‘Ritrovati e restaurati’ section: Mann is best known for his noir thrillers of the 1940s and psychological westerns of the 1950s. This little-known and forgotten B-production was made at Republic Studios, where Mann also made the gothic melodrama Strangers in the Night (1944). Erich von Stroheim shines as a sniper called the Great Flamarion in a vaudeville act in a travelling second-rate circus. Echoing his role in The Great Gabbo (James Cruze, 1932) and foreshadowing his tragic character in Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), Von Stroheim is bound to fall for the femme fatale. Her drunken husband, played by Dan Duryea – conventionally cast as a small-time hustler who will eventually pay the price – is caught in the trap. Not exactly Mann’s strongest film but a nice and entertaining style exercise nonetheless, with troubled characters, powerfully captured in expressive framing and camera movements.
Frenchman’s Creek (Mitchell Leisen, 1944) from the ‘Ritrovati e restaurati’ section: With Lady in the Dark (1944) and No Man of Her Own (1950) Mitchell Leisen created both one of the most original musicals and one of the most beautiful melodramas that the classical Hollywood system has ever produced. Frenchman’s Creek from 1944 was a striking contribution to the costume drama genre and more specifically to the cycle of pirate films that also produced such gems as The Pirate (Vincente Minnelli, 1948) and The Crimson Pirate (Robert Siodmak, 1952) around that time. Leisen is clearly not at his best in the action scenes of this swashbuckler, but this is entirely redeemed by his masterly melodramatic ability to take advantage of the Technicolor aesthetic, which transports the viewer into an enchanting dream. In late-seventeenth-century Cornwall, a pirate (Arturo de Cordova) and a noble lady (Joan Fontaine) find each other and (temporarily) go looking for adventure and freedom to break the drag of daily life. The dialogues seem at times to be as artificial as the castle and the creek that offers the pirate ship a safe haven. The landscape seems unreal with the Californian coast representing Cornwall – not unlike Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), to which Leisen’s film bears a resemblance: both are based on a novel by Daphne du Maurier and include actors like Joan Fontain and Nigel Bruce. Leisen, who started his career as a set and costume designer in the film industry, was apparently largely responsible for the sets, costumes and props here as well, which sparkle and reinforce the fairy-tale dimension of the story. A film perfectly suited for (colour) restoration!
The ‘Rebellious Poets and Radical Spirits’ programme brought together a group of eight films of the so-called “Indian Parallel Cinema” from the period 1968-1976. Produced by the Film Finance Corporation, which was established by the government to facilitate low-cost production loans, these films not only build on the legacy of forerunners such as Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak, but also and mainly on European modernist cinema such as the French and Czech New Wave. Bhuvan Shome (1969) by Mrinal Sen, who co-wrote a 1968 manifesto that put the New Indian Cinema on the map, is one of the key films of the so-called Parallel Cinema. In this political satire about a railway official who goes bird hunting and meets a young bride in a village, Mrinal Sen developed his new visual style, adopting elements from the French New Wave and South American Third Cinema. Brechtian alienation effects, a striking soundtrack (including the rhythmic combination of a classic Indian raga and the sound of a steam engine) and all sorts of playful montage effects seem to be at odds with the rural setting of the story.
The ‘Documenti e documentari’ section also included the production Empire in the Sun (1955) by Enrico Gras and Mario Craveri. Gras, who had made some ground-breaking art documentaries in the 1940s together with Luciano Emmer and had worked in Argentina after the war, made a remarkable documentary on Peru with Mario Craveri in 1955 that brought up the heavy artillery: breath-taking CinemaScope, Ferraniacolor and a rather bombastic score that evokes the high-production-value westerns or biblical epics of the time. These associations are by no means coincidental – the filmmakers, who appear on screen with their equipment during the credit titles, present Peru as a sublime wilderness of endless sand flats, almost unattainable snow peaks, dense jungles and boundless lakes. But the kingdom of the sun is above all mysterious. The behaviour of animals seems as unfathomable as that of humans – the birds that want to die together, the Uros people who grow crops on reed rafts, the Yagua woman who gives birth to a child while hanging in a tree, the dance of the guaneros with candles, the Incas’ spectacular fight between a bull and a condor, etc. In this poetic ode to the kingdom of the sun, the surrealist fascination for Latin America (Breton, Mabille, Leiris, etc.) shines through.
This year, Cinema Ritrovato combined a screening of a 16 mm copy of Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Reassemblage (1982) – which I once saw on dingy VHS – with a collection of eight actualités that French diplomat Auguste François shot in China between 1901 and 1904, offering a breath-taking impression of Chinese street life. The session also included La vie des noirs dans un village du Congo (anonymous, 1921), the entirety situated at the intersection of three parts of the programme: the year 1901, ‘Cento anni fa’ and the section devoted to 8 and 16 mm. With a title that immediately conjures up its disjunctive montage aesthetics, Reassemblage can be seen as an ethnographic metafilm that therefore also reflects on the other films in this session. The searching frames, the unusual editing rhythm, the use of rack focus, the jump cuts, the disconnection of image and sound and the self-critical and almost whispering voice-over turn Reassemblage into an interesting postcolonial and feminist essay film that poetically explores daily life in a village in Senegal. As the filmmaker often specified in interviews, she tries to “speak in the vicinity of something” rather than “about something”.
Image (1) Araya (Margot Benacerraf, 1959)
Image (2) from Ostatni etap [The Last Stage] (Wanda Jakubowska, 1948)
Image (3) from Les oliviers de la justice [The Olive Trees of Justice] (James Blue, 1962)
Image (4) from Fascista [Benito Mussolini, the Fascist] (Nico Naldini, 1974)
Image (5) from The Great Flamarion (Anthony Mann, 1945)
Image (6) from L'impero del sole [Empire in the Sun] (Enrico Gras, 1956)