Movie Journal
J. Hoberman on movies and movie-related things

MOVIE JOURNAL: J. Hoberman on movies and movie-related things

Rediscoveries alla Bolognese

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Cannes is for film journalists, festival directors, and star-gazers. Il Cinema Ritrovato, the annual festival of restoration and rediscovery held each year in Bologna, is for film programmers, academics, and cinephiles whose idea of a star is a director–say the Soviet filmmaker Ivan Pyr’ev–who’s been dead for at least half a century.

Attending the festival for the first time last week, I learned that, just as in walking through this splendid, color-coordinated city (home of Europe’s oldest university), the festival requires one to pick and follow certain paths. Each morning you could choose between a silent or early talkie by the ever-surprising Raoul Walsh, one of French director Jean Grémillon’s moody, formalist melodramas, or a sampling of early Japanese talkies. I was more faithful in the afternoons, consistently opting for daily fix of Stalinist genre pyrotechnics delivered by the robust, hyper-emotional Pyr’ev—a master of war films and socialist realist operettas (“Cossacks of the Kuban,” poster above), who mixed the two modes to delirious effect in his 1944 masterpiece “At Six in the Evening After the War,” and dared to end his tumultuously claustrophic, remarkably intense version of Dostoyevsky’s “Idiot” mid novel.

Most of Bologna’s screenings are part of specific retrospectives but they’re interspersed with notable one-offs. Thus a presentation devoted to early ‘60s scopitones (the ur music videos once shown as 16mm shorts, mainly in European juke boxes) revealed Claude Lelouche prepping for “A Man and a Woman” with a variety of inanely staged ye-ye and hilarious found-footage assemblages, set to “Telstar” or the theme from “The Longest Day.” Auteurists take note! Other remarkable attractions include “Point Blank” projected al fresco on a huge screen in the Piazza Maggiore (a setting that only accentuated the Boorman film’s Euro art antecedents), a 1916 super-spectacle, directed by Lois Weber from an early 19th century opera, starring the legendary dancer Anna Pavlova, and a digital restoration of Bengali filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak’s masterpiece “The Cloud Capped Star”.

Going from the sublime to the ridiculous, there was also a digital projection of the only surviving print of Raffaello Matarazzo’s lurid period melodrama “Le Nave Delle Donne Maledette” (1954). “There is no logical order in this film,” the surrealist critic Ado Kyrou wrote approvingly, “just a series of often predictable scenes that are not always tied together, but are redeemed by their symbolic Pavlovian meaning.” A sort of women-in-prison film set on the high seas, “The Boat of Damned Women,” features a group of lusty female prisoners bound for a Caribbean penal colony staging a mass revolt and embarking upon what the Sarah Michelle Gellar character in “Southland Tales” would have described as an “orgy of freedom.”

In more ways than one, Il Ritrovato is filled with the stuff dreams are made of—movies that attendees have never seen or ever seen in such good condition. With folks from media centers throughout North America (including nearly half the film programmers in New York) in attendance, along with representatives from the classiest, most preservation-minded of DVD producers, chances are good that you’ll get the opportunity too.

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