The last days of june are usually the warmest of the year. And they are also the days when Il Cinema Ritrovato takes place. This particular coincidence is a real curse for me: every year my cinéphile soul must fight against my heath-fearing, unusually pale body. But stuffing oneself with licorice and mineral salts is a fair price to pay when you have 8 whole days of intense beauty and exciting atmosphere ahead of you.
For those who don’t know it, Il cinema ritrovato (that celebrates its 30th birthday this very year) is the most prestigious Cinema Festival of the year, one of the most important in its field in the whole world, and one that really brings excellence to Bologna in terms of both movies and visitors. Hosted by the local Cineteca and the brainchild of its world-acclaimed restoration center, it displays newly restored and carefully selected movies from all time, ranging from the popular classics to the most hidden gems, from technicolor to Nouvelle Vague, from silent films to musicals, all meticulously chosen, professionally restored, lovingly presented to an international little crowd of connoisseurs. “The cinéphiles heaven” is in fact the name of the festival’s main and most conspicuous section, and with its hundred of titles it is actually all but pretentious.
People usually knows this Festival for the lovely evening screenings of Charlie Chaplin or Federico Fellini in Piazza Maggiore, its more democratic, mainstream and spectacular expression, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. The real deal is at Piazzetta Pasolini, the courtyard of the Cineteca. This is where the energy you feel and the air you breath for a week are rather unique. On my first day of this year’s edition, I walked through it about ten times, running from an Iranian documentary to an Argentinian gothic melodrama. Well, I wasn’t really running: the weather and the atmosphere strongly suggested slower movements and gave you plenty of time to look around.
And what I saw off screen was actually as pleasant as the images on screen: an elderly couple, all wrinkles and tiny bones, eagerly studying the program; the massive “coal mine movie projector” that stands in the middle of the courtyard, for the nostalgia-filled al fresco screenings of silents movies; young cinema students cueing under the sun and waiting to meet Bernardo Bertolucci (who was introducing a special screening of Last Tango in Paris as well as giving a free cinema lesson); the very same Maestro Bertolucci with a smile on his face, attending a conference by the Madrid Cinemathèque’s director’s speech; a woman happily attending her favorite radio program, Radio3‘s classical Hollywood Party, going live on air from Piazzetta Pasolini; the voice of a cheerful Martin Scorsese echoing on the Piazzetta in the message he recorded to promote one of the many movies whose restoration he is supervising; Marco Bellocchio, director of the iconic Fists in the pocket and also president of the Cineteca, going unnoticed within the crowd, just like the “king” of Italian cinema criticism Paolo Mereghetti; people actually cueing at the bar Cameo for an aperitivo after the forth movie of the day, in a straight line that us locals won’t be able to replicate once all international guests will be gone; other people sitting on a wooden table and grinning while browsing through newly bought cinema magazines of the late Thirties (you guessed right: that was me).
But what I like most, as a Festival goer, is how different Il Cinema Ritrovato is from its older, most popular cousins, say the Venice Film Festival or Berlinale. How pure it is. In this Festival without a winner, what is actually – and luckily – missing, is glamour. And what is cinema without glamour? It’s art, passion, genuine pleasure, spontaneous surprise, intense beauty. Instead of red carpets and paparazzi, Il Cinema Ritrovato has seasoned directors of cinematheques and prestigious film magazines from around the world sharing the same space – and the same enthusiasm – with amateurs and students. And what a joy it is to see the international guests (about 80% of all attendees) that indulge in the “Italian experience” in between screenings: in white linen shirts and Panama hats, they sip a prosecco or lick a gelato under the sun, almost incredulous: «Here I am – their faces seem to say – spending my time between watching top-rated movies and living la dolce vita. This must be heaven.» At least, a cinéphile’s heaven.