HomeEntertainmentIl Cinema Ritrovato 2023: women who worry and men who don’t

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2023: women who worry and men who don’t

Someone just asked me if I were back from Bologna yet. Oops. I have been back home for over a week now, but I haven’t written anything about the festival. So here I am, to tell you what rocked my world at Il Cinema Ritrovato. This year I enjoyed a truly excellent programme, and some even more excellent company. Here are some of my highlights, of the silent variety.

Stella Dallas in the Piazza Maggiore. Before Monday night’s screening of the original 1925 adaptation of Olive Higgins Prouty’s weepie, some people in Bologna were still dropping the names of Barbara Stanwyck and King Vidor. After Monday, the talk of the town was only Belle Bennett, Henry King and Stephen Horne, whose marvellous score, alongside Bennett’s impeccable performance left the piazza awash with tears. Horne has long championed this film, as have I, and the new restoration from MOMA is a very welcome, and beautiful thing. I really hope more people get to see this wonderful film now. Silent melodrama really can be the very finest melodrama.

Fanfare for Lady Windermere. Not to be outdone by Monday’s melodrama, our Friday-night comedy came courtesy of Ernst Lubitsch and Oscar Wilde, and Lady Windermere’s Fan (1925). I saw this restoration already in Pordenone in 2021, but the added treat here was Timothy Brock’s new orchestral score, alert to the tragedy lurking behind the humour, but every bit as lively as Lubitsch’s impish direction. between this, Stella Dallas and Applause (Rouben Mamoulian, 1929), maternal sacrifice loomed large on screens this year. At least the rain from the thunderstorms hid some of my tears.

More Ivan Mosjoukine. Always a pleasure. This year we had the joy of Mosjoukine’s art-serial La Maison du Mystère (Alexander Volkoff, 1923) running all week as part of the Cento Anni Fa 1923 strand curated by Oliver Hanley. Plus, the elevated, delirious joys of Le Brasier Ardent, starring and directed by Mosjoukine, which I confess I had not seen before. Apparently it was this film that convinced Jean Renoir to be a director. It could convince a person to lose their reason. This is the Parisian fantasy crime caper romance you didn’t know you needed in your life. Quite unlike anything else I have seen.

A century and more ago. Of course I loved the Cento Anni Fa strand, which was full of delights, including the chance to see one of my favourites, The Smiling Madame Beudet, in the best possible circumstances, on the magical screen in the Piazzetta Pasolini, with Stephen Horne accompanying, and Lois Weber fragments beforehand. But more of Germaine Dulac anon. In the Century of Cinema, we have raced all the way to 1903, and boy was this an eventful year, running the gamut of Cheese Mites in Britain, Train Robberies in America and fairies in France. Just for starters.

Germaine Dulac on disc. Feature films aren’t always where it’s at. The most beautiful thing I saw in Bologna, and which stayed with me all week, was the programme of “illustrated records” directed by Germaine Dulac in 1930. Essentially akin to the pop promo, these were dramatised scenarios designed to synch up with songs played on record, as was ably demonstrated at the Bologna screening of these restored gems. Six scenes of working-class life, romanticised by popular tunes, by humour, romance, and flirtation, or agitated by heartbreak. Small, but perfectly formed. The titles were very special. The first progamme was packaged as women who worry and the other as men who don’t. quite a fitting theme for the whole programme, as the likes of Mosjoukine, Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda and Spencer Tracy could be seen swanning their way through life while the women in their lives suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…

The Albert Samama Chikli project. I have been in on this one for a while, very much in a behind-the-scenes role. It was a thrill to get my hands on the gorgeous new book about Albert Samama Chikli edited by Mariann Lewinsky, and to see so many of his films on the big screen.

An honourable exception. Yes reader, I did go to the talkies, which need not detain us here, but I have to record my enthusiasm for one sound strand at least. The Powell Before Pressburger strand plugged into at least two of my current obsessions (a hint as to the first one) and provided so much joy. As that wise soul C.A. Lejeune pointed out at the time, Michael Powell’s Quota Quickies really were a cut above, proof of his “good movie brain”. And I always have time for Googie Withers. Plus, we even got to see Powell as a silent comedian (on topic!) in Harry Lachman Travelaughs shorts. Can I make a case for mentioning here that Black Narcissus (1947) was magisterial on the big screen in the Piazza Maggiore? Maybe not, but I already did. if so, I could also wax lyrical about all of Rouben Mamoulian, an Austrian comedy called Catherine the Last (1936), Frank Borzage’s Man’s Castle (1933), and from more recent years, jawdropping Bushman (David Schickele, 1971) and Leila and the Wolves (Heiny Srour, 1980-1984). Another time.

Triumph for the Nasty Women! Excellent winners all round in the DVD Awards. See here.

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