Monday 24 June 2024

The Road to Bologna (6) - Feuillade, Litvak, Marva Nabili and Bresson set things alight

Rene Creste, Judex

It's raining in Bologna....has been for three days, throwing the Piazza Maggiore screenings into chaos even though the eventuality is catered for to a degree.... 

First there was Feuillade and, as has been stated over and over, the first director for whom no allowances need to be made, no excuses for primitivism, no resort to 'in its day'. Feuillade was always modern and the magnificent restoration of Judex, screening in daily bite size pieces is a reminder of his mastery. Goodness knows how much it cost the French Government for the work to be done but for the French people they should feel that this is something of considerable value produced by their taxes at work. It may be a bridge too far for any venue in Australia to screen it. Even in Bologna less than a couple of hundred turned out for the Prologue and numbers started to fall thereafter. Probably for the rest of the world they will have to make do with seeing it on Blu-ray and Ultra HD but boy is it worth spending the hours and watching it oin the biggest screen you can find. Some 95% of the material scanned and restored was taken from the original negative. It helps, it was observed, that Feuillade himself was the head of the company's production and no doubt looked after his own work very meticulously...

Annabella, Charles Vanel, L'Equipage

The next Litvak, and the first of the non-American films on the schedule, was L'Equipage a rousing WW1 story of a team of aviators defying death every day and the woman ( the stunningly beautiful Annabella) who loves two of them, the young recruit (Jean-Pierre Aumont) and the old lieutenant (Charles Vanel). The story may be hackneyed but Litvak's mise-en-scene in all the group scenes is remarkable and there were tears flowing at the end. Beautiful 4K by Pathe from the original negative, no doubt another piece of French taxpayer funded patrimony that really does set a pace...

The Sealed Soil

Khak-E Sar Be Mohr/The Sealed Soil
from Cecilia Cenciarell's Cinema Libero strand is quite a remarkable find. One of very few films made by women directors in Iran . Marva Nabili made the film virtually clandestinely and when she bolted from the country took the negative out in a false-bottomed suitcase. The film remained virtually unseen until now. It is a series of single shot tableaux which slowly uncovers the life of a young woman of marriageable age who is basically doing the hard yakka of providing for her family's domestic needs. Her indolent father, prone to much praying and mouthing "god will provide" as a solution to any problem, is the least of her problems. Her mother and younger sister are also nagging at her to find a husband. Restoration work by UCLA Film Archive has rescued the original 16mm material and the film's only former life being seen on what curator Ehsan Khoshbakht called  'ghastly VHS tapes" is now over.

Isabelle Weingarten, Guillaume des Forets
Four Nights of a Dreamer

Then there was last after being unsighted for decades yet again the French Government has provided the funding for a 4K restoration of Four Nights of a Dreamer that glows and brings back the remarkable Dostoyevsky story of the young man and the young would be suicidal woman who meet on the Pont Neuf.  One thing I had forgotten about the film is the constant diegetic musical interludes that punctuate proceedings and give a sense of the street life buzzing around these two lost souls...

It has to be said that the French Government of funding restoration work, where producers themselves apply for money out of a pot, their applications, no doubt scrutinised by some tough minded people with genuine knowledge of French film culture, seems to me a model way of going about this activity. Then the restoration work itself is undertaken by private laboratories. It is certainly not the way it is gone about in Australia where decisions and budgets remain very mysterious and fim-makers themselves often undertake the task of doing restoration out of their own pocket. Budgets for this work are also very modest indeed at home and nothing like the tens of millions of Euro that the French have spent in recent times...and the French have a lot more film heritage to play with as well.

Here's a snap of the Bologna high life...that's Angelica Waite of Cinema Reborn and the esteemed New Yorker Geoffrey O'Brien enjoying dinner at Trattoria Tony, just across the street from the Tre Vecchi Hotel.

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