On Friday, saw Jacques Becker’s CASQUE D’OR in the Piazza Maggiore. Looked up and could see the rays of the projector beam spreading across the stars. If I were the hardcore cinephile you all expect me to be I would have seen Bertrand Tavernier’s 3hr+ documentary on French cinema also, but the trip had been somewhat strenuous.
Today the screenings started at the civilized hour of half past two in the afternoon (or 14:30 as these crazy continentals call it) and I saw four shorts by Slovenian filmmaker Karpo Godina, all recently restored, then a recently rediscovered Argentinian slice of poetic realism from the thirties, then a silent French film by Marie Epstein and Jean Benoit-Levy, then MODERN TIMES in the Piazza, crammed full of people as never before, as Timothy Brock’s reconstruction of Chaplin’s score was played live by a 65-piece orchestra.
- Cinema Ritrovato’s lavish program book quotes Lindsay Anderson on Jacques Becker, which made me smile as I first saw CASQUE D’OR via the critic/filmmaker’s personal VHS recording. It’s a lot better on the big screen!
- Godina’s films were ALL suppressed by the Yugoslav government, and he was nearly jailed for one of them. He is a cinematic hero! Using static shots as a formal restraint and sometimes as a formal joke, he gets unexpected laughs and sews indefinable disquiet. One film was banned purely for this sense of not being quite sure what he’s up to. More on him soon.
- A season of Argentinian oddities opened with ESCALA EN LA CIUDAD, whose most famous crewmember was ace cinematographer John Alton (here “Juan”) — Alton spent 8 formative years shooting in South America, but little of this work survives. This one had profoundly amateurish acting and dialogue, weirdly messy sound (mixing was apparently nonexistent in Argentina), but a touching story showing the influence of Carné, and fine work from Alton, though the master had not yet fully learned to limit his light sources to create his trademark source-lit chiaroscuro. Some lovely camera moves and a gorgeous score by various artists.
- PEAU DE PECHE gets rediscovered partly because co-auteur Marie Epstein is a valuable addition to the pantheon of female cineastes, but her work with Benoit-Levy is so moving, eloquent and innovative it would be deserving of celebration even if she had been a mere man. If her gender forms a convenient peg to hang the film from, so much the better. I already admired LA MATERNELLE by the same pair, and I will try to see more in this season. Also of note: charismatic child star Le Petit Jimmy, who does a hilarious Chevalier impression. (This film, accompanied by John Sweeney on the piano, brought a fat tear to my right eye.)
- MODERN TIMES? What is there to say? With live score, it’s different but the same — the most notable departure was the singing waiters’, who are now mute, making Chaplin’s the first voice we hear which is not a mechanical reproduction (all the other speakers are on closed-circuit TV, gramophone or radio). Arguably an improvement, but a slight distortion. The music sounded pretty great, though, as did the five thousand or so people laughing and applauding.
Last time I was in Bologna, I never seemed able to fit in five shows in a day, because I had a half hour trip in to town every day and a half hour trip back at night, so my energy didn’t sustain. This year, I’m in a hotel five minutes from the Piazza and fifteen from the Cinemateque, though in this 38° heat every Google Maps estimate is somewhat optimistic. At any rate, four shows in a day that only started in mid-afternoon strikes me as a promising start. Tomorrow I’m aiming to start at 9 a.m. and finish around midnight.