Almost two weeks ago, it already seems so far away … but I didn’t want to go on holiday without giving you an overview of my highlights of the festival Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, which I visited for the fifth time. For the 33th time, this festival showed the hidden gems of film history all around town: from open-air screenings at the beautiful Piazza Maggiore and Piazzetta Pasolini, to a 1910’s art deco theatre and badly airconditioned ‘new’ cinemas, with an average temperature of 35 – 40 degrees …
Of most of my highlights I was happy to find a version on YouTube, so one more reason to read further!
Where to start? First of all, I noticed this year that there were so many films with strong female characters. Maybe I was paying extra attention to it, because of the Women and the Silent Screen conference I visited in May, but still, it was striking. The film I definitely enjoyed the most was Destry Rides Again! It is a western – a genre which I would normally ignore, but Il Cinema Ritrovato made me re-evaluate my judgement. And what a western this was: explosively funny and well made, with – dating in 1939! – a peaceful message: about a new sheriff in town, played by Jimmy Stewart (whom of course I fell in love with) who refuses to wear guns. Marlene Dietrich plays an amazing character as the saloon singer Frenchy, who is the unofficial boss in town. Here is a YouTube clip of her singing the song Little Joe (without film fragment, but with set photos).
Furthermore, there was a freshly restored version of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, with a mesmerizing Isabella Rosselini. Her mother was starring in Under Capricorn, known as the worst Hitchcock film – with which I, and I think the whole theatre with me, totally didn’t agree. Still, this movie is very a-typical for Hitchcock: a drama film, in soft Technicolor. It is situated in colonial Australia during the early 19th century, about a love triangle haunted by sacrifices and class differences.
With the use of ten-minute-takes instead of short cuts, the psychological tension is built up carefully. Ingrid Bergman is vulnerable and strong at the same time as a depressed woman who goes through a radical metamorphosis. Here you find the complete film (English audio, with Italian subtitles!) And, for Hitchcock fans like me: John Bailey, the president of the Academy Film Archive who introduced the film, mentioned a website with interviews with him, by François Truffaut.
Another highlight was Du haut en bas, by G.W. Pabst: a melancholic comedy that is situated in an apartment building in Vienna. It was made in 1933 by a German crew in exile, with an almost exclusively French cast (one of the exceptions is Peter Lorre as a sad but inventive bum). Jean Gabin, around whom evolves this part of the film program, plays a successful soccer player, who isn’t really smart. He is educated by his love interest Marie, who has almost finished her PhD and reads Madame Bovary to him.
When she decides to leave Gabin, he suggests she is looking for a richer guy. She replies: “I didn’t choose you because of your money. Whoever thinks that way nowadays, is a fossil. Women are working as well, you know?” She talks about emancipation, of which the male characters in the film don’t know the meaning: “Is it a disease?” The landlady, who changes her spouses almost as often as her stockings, is chatting with her friend who says about her own husband: “He is very thoughtful. Every time he has cheated on me, he buys tulips for me. But when I have cheated on him, I bake him an apple pie, because apples are the only fruit that is on sale the whole year.” Praise YouTube, you can watch it here (in French with German subs)!
Talking about emancipation, in Bologna I saw the presumed first feature film about homosexuality: Anders als die Andern, from 1919, made by Richard Oswald and starring the charismatic Conrad Veidt. It was introduced with a personal story by the Pordenone film festival director Jay Weissberg, who explained that, being gay, he had no role models in cinema until 1980. So this film was definitely its time way ahead! Almost unthinkable nowadays, but until 1994 in Germany sexual contact between men was punishable by law, and in the first half of the century you could even be sent so prison. This made gay people an easy victim for blackmailers, such as Conradt Veidt in this moving film. This must-see is on Vimeo!
Back to the strong women. They were also taking their place behind the camera. The 91-year old Cecilia Mangini was present at the screening of her documentary Essere donne. Commissioned by the Communist Party she portrayed Italian woman laborers in 1964, talking about the difficulties they found on their path to emancipation. “I was successful because I behaved like a man. I wore pants”, Mangini explains. At the end of her speech, she raised her arms like a star-DJ and was applauded as such. Watch the documentary here (without subs).
After this screening I went to the last film by another female mastodon: Agnès Varda. She died this year at the age of 90, just in time to finish her testimony film Varda par Agnès. Introduced by her daughter, it gave us a rich overview of her colorful and kaleidoscopic film oeuvre. The director of the Cineteca di Bologna, Gianluca Farinelli, praised her as a true friend of Il Cinema Ritrovato. Unlike most of the other directors who were guests of the festival, she spent many hours in the cinemas, and always remained curious to see the films of her colleagues.
Oh, there’s one more thing I didn’t want to withhold you from. For the Buster Keaton fans, the festival is always a treat. At the screening of Buster’s great movie The Cameraman (1928), they showed some newly found amateur material. A Milanese couple filmed their honeymoon in New York, and accidentally stumbled upon the set of this film. Watch this amazing amateur film here!