Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Six And A Half Films (And Some Shorts) I Saw At Il Cinema Ritrovato

Il Cinema Ritrovato (Cinema Rediscovered) is a film festival held annually in Bologna, Italy, home of the longest portico in the world (3.5km, portico fans), bolognese sauce and unimaginative graffiti. It's primarily a celebration of "old" films - silents are a speciality - and regularly features restored prints of great classics and little-known gems.
I dragged Mrs The Incredible Suit there last week by the hair, kicking and screaming, in order to force her to enjoy some quality movie time, and by and large she did. And so did I, especially the kicking and the screaming.

The festival lasts a week but we were only there for about three days. Nevertheless, we squeezed in as many films and as much lasagna as we could, and by the end of it we were both culturally sated and physically obese. Here's a cheeky glimpse of what we saw:

Le Voyage Dans La Lune (Voyage To The Moon) (1902) Nosferatu (1922)
Every night during the festival, a film is screened in the open air of Bologna's enormous Piazza Maggiore, and it doesn't cost a euro. The image and sound quality are astonishing and, more importantly, you can sit out there till midnight in your t-shirt and not freeze to death.
On the first night we saw Le Voyage Dans La Lune, Georges Méliès' legendary short about a bunch of toffs who take an acid trip to the moon only to be fought off by acrobatic exploding aliens, and FW Murnau's undeniably significant but actually quite dull Nosferatu. Both films were accompanied by a full, live orchestra who would have blown the roof off had there been one. Due to a miscalculation of the time it takes to get served in an Italian restaurant, we arrived at the Piazza slightly late, earning us some rubbish seats, but it was still a lovely evening. They even showed Le Voyage Dans La Lune again after Nosferatu, only this time with a score recorded by Air.

Au Nom De La Loi (In The Name Of The Law) (1932)
After sitting through a truly wretched series of early silent shorts about housewives, hat makers and something else I fell asleep through, we watched this French film about cops and gangs and that. Au Nom De La Loi is typical of those early sound films that had no idea how to use the new-fangled audio technology without making a proper arse-numbing snoozefest, and I have nothing good to say about it so let's move on.

The Thief Of Bagdad (1940)
We got slightly better seats in the Piazza Maggiore to watch the Alexander Korda-produced, Michael Powell co-directed Technicolorgasm that is The Thief Of Bagdad. It's one of those films that gets a 100% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, which is odd because it's utterly terrible.
I spent the walk back from the Piazza to the hotel ranting at length to the missus why it was so bad, but I didn't write any of it down and now I can't remember what I said, but I know it made me very cross so you'll just have to take my word for it.

La Macchina Ammazzacattivi
(The Machine That Kills Bad People) (1952)
I was starting to wonder if the festival was going to be a week-long celebration of crap until we stumbled upon Roberto Rossellini's deliciously black, Ealingesque comedy about a photographer in a sleepy Italian village who discovers he can knock his least favourite people off with his camera thanks to the intervention of a long-deceased saint.
It's political allegory without being tiresome, it's beautifully evocative of a time and place you never knew yet would love to live in and, according to a representative of Il Cinema Ritrovato, it's incredibly rare. She's right, I checked and it's well tricky to get hold of from Amazon.

The Artist (2011)
Despite being neither restored nor rediscovered, the festival showed The Artist because a) it's a silent, black and white film, b) it took Cannes "by storm" and c) it's truly brilliant.
I need to see it again to fully gather my thoughts, but it's a heart-filling joy to know that it's still possible to make a great silent film these days. It's not flawless - I have a massive issue with the score that I'll go into at tedious length if I see you down the pub - but it's unlike anything else you've seen for about eighty years, and for that I salute its beautiful monochrome ass off.

Il Conformista (The Conformist) (1970)
On our final night we hit the Piazza Maggiore again to watch Bernardo Bertolucci's drama about fascism, the need to belong and sharp suits. The locals in the audience clearly love a bit of Bernie Bertie, and they nearly had a mass simultaneous Italijaculation when the man himself was wheeled on to introduce his film. I myself was quite impressed, but that's because I thought he was dead.
The Conformist is shot with breathtaking Kubrickian gorgeousness and may well be an incisive comment on fascism, but after an hour neither me nor Mrs The Incredible Suit had the foggiest idea what was going on because we were spending a lot of time sneaking cheap Europlonk into our glasses while sitting outside a stupidly expensive bar which made awful bellinis, so we gave up. Soz Berno.

Scarface (1932)
Made the same year as Au Nom De La Loi but with infinitely more skill, Howard Hawks' crime drama succeeds where so many other early sound films fail. The plot keeps moving, the characters are fascinating and the Hays Code-bothering violence is surprisingly brutal for such an early film. The festival showed loads of Hawks films and this is the only one I saw, which makes me a massive loser.

So that was a miniscule percentage of Il Cinema Ritrovato 2011. If it was a pizza it would be a massive but reasonably-priced Chicken and Anchovies, with a little bit too much stinky oily fish but plenty of delicious juicy chicken to balance it out. It's a pizza I'd gladly recommend and would happily eat again one day, although next time I'd eat more than a tiny slice and would try to avoid the anchovies.

Actually forget it, I'll just have the lasagna.


  1. A Hawks season, Nosferatu with an orchestra *and* sunshine? Fuck the caravan holiday next year, I'm there.

  2. I saw "Le Voyage Dans La Lune" recently at the space museum in Leicester a couple of weeks ago. It still managed to captivate me and my kids. Amazingly ahead of it's time even though it is possibly the craziest plot ever!
    I love the sound of the redux with the Air score. Which one did you prefer?

  3. Well you cannae beat the sound of a live orchestra. If Air had got their French asses over to Bologna and performed live though, it would have been a close run thing.

  4. The good old days. Hah, as you are proving for yourself and your dear readers much has changed for the better. Gone is the string holding up Flash Gordon's rocket while a sparkler fizzes in a cardboard exhaust chamber.

    Ghandi (1982) was one of those criticaly aclaimed films that swept to glory but was in fact very tedious. And very I do not recall it coming out of its box since.

  5. Marge Gunderson6 July 2011 at 19:08

    A lovely and amusing walk through the festival. Particularly likes the Bertolucci comment :D