My black and white feast, or why I love Il Cinema Ritrovato

Ce n’est pas deguelasse, pas at all. I’d start with this misquote from A bout de souffle, one of the most popular movies presented on Piazza Maggiore, to introduce the current edition of Il Cinema Ritrovato. Yes, it it happening. The mad situation of this 2020 obviously erased most cultural events all around the world and was about to also hit the most luminous festival for cinema goers in Bologna (and for vintage and restored cinema from all across the world), but no. It is happening. Postponed (late august instead of the traditional end of june), but happening. Slightly thinner in its offer and audience, but hey, still massive. And, which is what counts, against all odds, still happening.

As always, the program is so rich it’s overwhelming and following all of its sub-currents, ranging this year from an homage to Henry Fonda to a rediscovery of soviet pioneers of women’s filmmaking, is simply impossibile, so I indulged in my usual menu of comedies and dramas from the Thirties and Forties, plus some silent movies that are the real gem of this festival: one can probably find plenty of “talkies” from all eras on the internet (ok, not always in the best copy of the most legal way), but the full experience of a silent film projected on a screen while a musician accompanies every scene with live piano is something a lot more difficult to have elsewhere. Add to this that many silent films of the program have the nicest locations (majestic Teatro Comunale, usually reserved to opera plays, and Piazza Maggiore) and you can get an idea.

Like I said, you can choose to follow your own path at Cinema Ritrovato and never meet your friends because they’re attending something different in another part of town (something that often occurs to me). To quote Darcas Lane from Lark Rise to Candleford (quite a random quote, I admit it), the first four decades of the last century are my weakness, so to me this festival is mostly a feast of black and white, nostalgia, decadent interiors from a forgotten Manhattan, ridiculously sparkling gowns, memorable hats, some corny love declarations and some very snappy dialogues. Plus a flowering of «Hello fellas!», «Hi angel» , «Daaaarling» and «This is swell!».

I might be a bit frivolous in some of my choices of movies, I’m aware of it, but I just can’t resist the temptation to soak into those fictitious worlds where everything and everyone oozes charm, where you can raise an eyebrow and then forgive some inappropriate dialogue, and where everything seems painted with a colour of naiveté that, I’m quite sure, is just something created by the (my?) contemporary eye. My penchant for sophisticated comedies from the Thirties also led me to some disappontments, like with the first movie I watched at the festival, Frank Tuttle’s Ladies should listen, a boring and clownish attempt at comedy that yet taught me something: even a romantic comedy with Cary Grant can be boring. Who would have known?

Luckily, that same day gave me the bright gift of British silent comedy Love life and laughter (there’s going to be another screening on monday 31st, fyi), a light-hearted and fast paced little fairy tale where a music hall star wannabe (portraied by the iconic Betty Balfour) falls in love with a gloomy, pessimistic, and indeed very poor writer. Lush costumes, bright dialogues and sumptuous photography deliver a delightful product.

Not so delightful but touching and entertaining was Stuart Heisler’s Smash up! The story of a woman, from 1947, where the talented Susan Hayward is a successful singer that gives up her career to become an accomplished housewife and mother. As her once unknown husband becomes far more famous than she ever was and starts neglecting her, she descends into a spiral of loneliness and alcoholism. A classic melodrama, but filled with honesty, beautiful interpretations from the female lead and from some of the minor characters (the husband’s sidekick, the “other woman”, the manager), a bitter reflection on women’s roles in a society yet to be (re)touched by feminism and the portrayal of such a dull, thick, self-centered husband that you keep hoping for the protagonist to end up with his sensitive, caring friend. At least I did.

Anyway, off to watch one more stunning movie at Piazza Maggiore, La Femme et le pantin from 1929. Hope it’s going to be as fascinating as its poster suggests. As for you, remember that you still have time to attend Il Cinema Ritrovato until August 31st. I wouldn’t miss it if I was you. Toodleloo!

Update: La femme et le pantin was stunning indeed. Check my video on Instagram

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