Chess in the Wind
The program notes written, presumably, by the director’s daughter mostly describe the troubled history of Chess of the Wind’s exhibition. Slated for the Tehran Film Festival in 1976 the screening was sabotaged and disrupted and the film couldn’t find commercial distribution in its homeland. It was formally banned by the new Islamic government in 1979.
Then, an apparent stroke of luck, the director himself finds the negatives and the original sound track in a flea market. Right. Are we printing the legend here?
Championed by Langlois, Rossellini and Satyajit Ray the film eventually found an audience and now, restored by the Cineteca di Bologna and the Film Foundation it’s back and was intended for this year’s Cannes Classics. Mohammad Reza Aslani is still alive and should appreciate its reception.
The program notes mention the film as being at the confluence of the aesthetics of Visconti and Bresson. My first thought was the overheated southern gothic of Tennessee Williams. A family turns in on itself and eventually bodies pile up. Only the serving class - perfidious maid, ancient nanny and a young boy survive the carnage.
Almost all of it takes place inside the house that is the cause of dispute and resentment though there are a number of adjournments to a local well where the town women gossip (“I heard he prefers young boys!”) and advise each other on their lamentable status. Inside a crippled middle-aged woman resists her stepfather, a suitor and the suitor’s brother. She has a romp, in her wheelchair, with the maid who turns out to be the subject of twists and turns.
Emil Jannings, Liebling der Gotter
Emil Jannings returned to Germany fresh from inning an Oscar for Last Command and decided to do a romantic comedy. Really. Emil Jannings. The film was Liebeling der Gotter/ Darling of the Gods(Hanns Schwarz, 1930). He plays a philandering tenor, the toast of Europe’s opera houses and the film chronicles his way with the ladies, his long-suffering wife’s decision to call the relationship quits, his trip to America where he loses his voice, his return and the return of his voice, and presumably his philandering. His singing is dubbed. I expected a twist, some revenge that re-empowered his wife but nope, not so far as I could see. As I said, Emil Jannings as romantic lead… fat, balding pudgy and a ravenous appetitie for eating and drinking. Hard to figure. He reverted to what he did best with his next film The Blue Angel.
Three short films rounded out my online viewing. Not having my computer hooked up to my TV was a disincentive to explore further. Two were by the African Sarah Maldoror, Monangambee, a short drama about the European incomprehension of African culture and Aimé Césaire- Le Masque des Mots a documentary on the African poet and his attendance at a conference on 'negritude' in Florida back in 1987. These two and another of Maldoror’s films were part of Cecilia Cenciarelli’s Cinema Libero section, “the result of endless research and tortuous restoration”. Chess in the Wind, mentioned above, was another title in the section as was Jia Zhangke’s debutXiao Wu from 1997. Both were online but other key titles in the strand were not.
Finally there was the Swede Gosta Werner, another of those minor figures discovered by the irrepressible Olaf Moller, here curating with Jon Wengström. Werner made half a dozen features but is better known for his shorts. The physical screenings featured twelve of his shorts and one feature. The online selection was a single short Att Doda Ett Barn/To Kill a Child a film sponsored by an insurance company about road safety, a doom laden story of a child sent out to borrow a cup of sugar and never to return.
Let me finish by picking up two Facebook quotes from the Il Cinema Ritrovato 2020 page.
My friend Michael Jasper asked
What's the general feeling about the virtual festival mix of features, short film collections, interviews and technical talks? I was pleased with the films chosen to be streamed but would have liked a few more of the hard to see films included, one of the reasons some of us have made the journey each year to the real event. As usually the visual quality of the features was at a very high level, I guess some of the more rare titles were either not available digitally or rights prevented their inclusion. For example, much as I love the Ford/Fonda films, as they can be seen pretty easily elsewhere, I would have preferred those slots devoted to say something from the Russian women filmmakers strand or one of the Japanese films at least. How many others would have preferred to see another feature film rather than a restoration discussion on a film not included in the virtual programme? It's been a very solid week and overall, speaking with friends, this version of Cinema Ritrovato has been very worthwhile. It was wonderful to be reunited with SPIDER'S STRATEGY and XIAO WU both looking so fresh while CHESS GAME OF THE WIND seems set for a busy international festival tour and hopefully something more permanent to keep watching.at home. As with other online festivals this year, perhaps this can continue in the future?
As you say, a nicely diverse programme, but I agree it’s a shame the Kawashima and Soviet strands were not represented, plus we only got a 10 minutes short from the Gosta Werner season (2 features and a programme of short films in Bologna).
On the other hand I'm sure rights and accessibility were a nightmare to sort out! Wheat they've done compares well with Pordenone who as I understand it will be online only with just one film per day.
Agree the mornings were underused!
The technical side was very impressive and on the only two occasions I saw problems reported, someone from the festival was hanging around in the chat window to resolve things.