Cinema Ritrovato 2012












This year’s visit to Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna was never hotter, reaching degrees in the daytime of over 40 degrees Celsius. So lots of drinks and showers, jumping from shadow to shadow, the occasional gelato and cooling off in the nighttime. The four parallel programs in the two Lumiere cinemas, the Arlecchino and the Jolly at first presented ’embarras de choix’, but after a while we managed to select. While in the last years the efstival grew a tendency to start showing films on Saturday before the official opening film at the Piazza (Prix de beauté, accompanied by a full orchestra and starring Louise Brooks), this year’s edition even started before the foreign guests arrived, with a.o. the screening on Friday night of the restored version of Once upon a time in America (1984) by Sergio Leone. We were too late for that but enjoyed on Saturday the colourful and playful Dollywood puppet animation in Joop Geesink’s commercials for Italian brands, introduced by Leenke Ripmeester. These were followed by a reprise of Peter Delpeut’s Lyrical Nitrate (1991), which well had stood the time, though I didn’t understand the match with the Dollywood films.










On Sunday we first saw the intriguing Maldone (1927), the first of the Jean Grémillon retrospective of which we saw quite a few. Maldone seems to have been Grémillon’s only work in the French Impressionist style, with its lyric images of the countryside and its play with framing, lighting, setting and editing. Charles Dullin impressingly plays an old boatsman reminding of the films of Epstein and Vigo, who falls for a flirtatious gipsy. During a farmer’s ball his accordeon sweeps the guests into dazzling dances and a merry farandole all over the place, but he cracks when the gipsy girl dances too intimate with another guy. That same night he hears he is wanted at the rich manor from which he fled, but returned he cannot stand the stiffling bourgeois life, he almost kills himself and his chaste wife during a ride, and flees in the end. Some years ago I saw in Pordenone Grémillon’s equally interesting Gardien de phare, now in the Komya Collection in Japan, so so I focused on his sound films in the following days in Bologna. Firstly L’Etrange Monsieur Victor (1937) with Raimu playing the intriguing character of a man leading a double life, honourable merchant and family man in daytime, a fence at night. He kills the leading criminal, but when a shoe peddler (Pierre Blanchar) is jailed for it, he takes care of the other’s child. Paradoxically, the boy though grows up just as corrupt and whimsical as his mother and her lover, while the released shoemaker thinks Mr. Victor is his saviour when the latter is only trying to shield his own secret. Raimu’s major performance was matched with that of his rival in the late 1930s, Harry Baur, Jean Valjean in the threepart film Les Misérables by Raymond Bernard. While Baur, his persecutor commissaire Javet, played by Charles Vanel, and again Dullin as the evil Thenardier, gave excellent performances, less impressive were those of the younger actors such as Josseline Gaël as the older Cosette. Baur was also subject of a small retrospective, though the Julien Duvivier adaptation of Simenon: La tète d’un homme (1933), with Baur as Maigret, was less impressive.












After L’Etrange Mr. Victor, Grémillon’s Gueule d’amour (1937) was a clear vehicle for Jean Gabin as the French ladykiller, who takes some time to realize that once no longer a fancifully dressed spahi, Mireille Balin’s icy femme fatale is no longer interested in him, as he lacks the money she dearly needs. When she ruthlessly exploits his best friend (René Lefevre) to get him back, he kills her. Apparently Grémillon had a kind of regular cast in those years, as Madeleine Renaud, who had earlier played Raimu’s wife in L’Etrange Monsieur Victor, played in Remorques (1941-1943) Gabin’s wife opposite Michèle Morgan as a the wife of a perfidious captain. Renaud was often typecasted by Grémillon as the good-hearted, unglamorous wife opposite the evil (Balin) or at least ambiguous (Morgan) mistresses. During the war, however, Renaud played in Grémillon’s Lumière d’été (1942) a hotel owner who looks like Renaud’s earlier types but then proves to be in a conspiracy with her lover (Paul Bernard), a wealthy snob who once killed somebody in an accident – reminding of Antonioni’s Cronaca di un amore – and now has set his lusty eyes on a young woman (Madeleine Robinson), who is the girlfriend of an alcoholic artist (Pierre Brasseur). And to make this Schnitzler-like structure complete, there is the young engineer of a closeby mine (the hunky but overacting Georges Marchal) who fancies the young woman as well. After this quite over the top melodrama, which despite its interesting setting lacked the hand of a Carné or a Renoir, we left Grémillon and moved on to other territories. Renoir’s La grande illusion on the Piazza showed the difference between the two directors: one good, the other excellent.












From the other retrospectives we mostly had a taste or two. I knew many of the 1912 films in that programme but enjoyed the hilarious slapstick Uno scandalo in casa Polidor with Polidor acting in many different roles simultaneously (the father, the daughter, the lover, the young boy etc.), as well as the American comedy The Unwilling Bigamist (1912), about an injured man kidnapped by a woman who is convinced he is her husband. After the heavy moralism of Raoul Wash’ silent film Regeneration (despite its early depiction of the slums and its Marlon Brando-like protagonist), we more appreciated his Wild Girl (1932), partly shot in the Californian redwoods and with Eugene Pallette stealing the show as the wisecracking coachman. Walsh’ The Yellow Ticket (1931) had a good antagonist with Lionel Barrymore playing the evil Russian baron but the protagonist Elissa Landi had me begging for the earlier version Der gelbe Schein with Pola Negri. Of course Landi’s character flees with a British journalist (a young Laurence Olivier) in the nick of time, unlike Tosca and her lover, of which this story reminds a bit. More American titles seen were the fast-paced and witty Hard to Handle (Mervyn LeRoy) starring James Cagney as the man who sells hot air in Depression times, but unforgettable was the golddigger mother of his girlfriend, played by Ruth Donnelly. Stagey and sometimes with strange twists was Robert Aldrich’s The Big Knife (1955) with Jack Palance casted as hero instead of villain, but rather an anti-hero as an actor who, despite the actor’s impressive and forceful physique, is mangled by the studio system and its gangster-like producers (Rod Steiger and Wendell Corey).











My taste of Italian divas gave mixed experiences. From the Komya Collection came the tearjerker Il richiamo (Gennaro Righelli 1921) with Maria Jacobini and Lido Manetti, while more interesting was Nino Oxilia’s Papà (1915), a tworeeler with Pina Menichelli who dumps her countryside lover (Amleto Novelli) for his mundane father (Ruggero Ruggeri). The film reminds of the almost contemporarily made Per amore di Jenny (1915) in which Menichelli is a frivolous noble girl who falls in love with a singing blacksmith (Novelli) but marries an aristocrat. While Jacques Démy’s Lola was less than expected – with Anouk Aimée and the settings saving much of the film – a revelation was Adrian Brunel’s The Constant Nymph. O.k. Ivor Novello is overdoing it a bit, and the story is really so so, but Gladys Poulton: what an impressive young actress. In the TV series Cinema Europe Poulton explains how soon after this film sound cinema set in and because of her Cockney accent her career was over, radically. What a pity… Her death scene was perhaps a bit too symbolic, standing in front of a window, with the bars forming a cross to which she clings. But then again: if Annie Girardot can spread her arms in her death scene in Rocco e i suoi fratelli as if offering herself to her murderer to be crucified, why cannot the other?

~ by Ivo Blom on July 8, 2012.

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