I really didn’t intend to watch all 171 minutes of Roman Polanski’s “Tess” under the starry night sky of Bologna, even laved by the cool breezes that feel so sweet after a sticky warm day. “I feel like a housemaid reading a romance novel,” I said to my companion, who had told me he had seen the movie perhaps a dozen times, and was reluctant to stay, especially as the projection, movingly introduced by Jérôme Seydoux, a longtime colleague of Polanski’s, began well after 10 p.m., after a long day of movies, conversation, panel discussions, even food and drink.
I think I'd never seen “Tess” since a fortuitous first viewing, at a true sneak preview in Seattle, where I’d gone for a wedding. We stayed on for a day or so and read that a film by a major international director – no other identification – was to play in a neighborhood theater. I think we hoped against hope that it was to be “Apocalypse Now,” but it was “Tess,” which didn’t come out for some time afterwards. I remembered it with pleasure, but not as much pleasure as it was bringing me tonight.
Anyway, here in Bologna, he left. I couldn’t. The day had, again, been almost too “Rich and Strange,” to borrow a title from a movie co-written by Alma Reville for her husband Alfred Hitchcock. (And one I have managed to lose not once but twice when a TiVo and a less-useful proprietary DVR died on me. To quote Oscar Wilde: once is a misfortune, but twice looks like carelessness.) I still have not managed to see a single title in the “Mrs. Hitchcock aka Alma Reville” section of Il Cinema Ritrovato: I fully intended to see “After the Verdict" (1929), directed by Henrik Galeen, but a chance encounter with Dave Kehr as I was leaving deflected me towards the entirely delightful “Me and My Gal” (1932), by Raoul Walsh, which was and is perfection, BUT I’d already seen it! Still, it was another chance to see Joan Bennett at her sassy young blonde best, not to mention a relaxed Spencer Tracy, who I’d barely avoided seeing yet again in Borzage’s “A Man’s Castle” the day before, a longtime favorite, opposite an incandescent Loretta Young. The flesh is weak, and sometimes I feel like a cork bobbing on the cinephilic seas of chance.
Afterwards I ducked into the end of “The Big Knife,” finding my friends Steve Uljaki and Jackie Mancuso awash in emotion – I’d recommended it to them the night before, and they were kinda going nuts. The few last scenes, with the amazing Ida Lupino, looked even better than I remembered. “Odets, where is thy sting!”, I tried out on Steve and Jackie, who were equally impressed with Jack Palance, who they’d met through his daughter Holly.
They were off to see a documentary about John Boorman, “Me and Me Dad,” by his daughter Katrine Boorman. I was sore tempted, but instead stuck to my plan and saw yet another heretofore-unknown-to-me masterpiece by Jean Grémillon. The satisfyingly dark yet funny “L’etrange Monsieur Victor” (1937), wittily written by the gifted Charles Spaak, featured an amazing cast headed by Raimu and including Madeleine Renaud, Pierre Blanchar, Georges Flamant, Blavette, and the very satisfyingly named Viviane Romance. There I ran into the Toronto Cinematheque’s Senior Programmer, James Quandt, who told me it was his twelfth year at Bologna and scandalized my new friend Ehsan Khoshbakt by referring to it as “the secret restaurant you don’t want to tell anyone about.” As a recovering restaurant critic myownself, I never believe in keeping a good thing to myself.
Afterwards I headed off to finally catch a movie into the retrospective of Ivan Pyr’ev, “Enigma of Mosfilm.” Once again the importance of reading every single word of a densely-printed 280-page catalogue was brought back to me: I thought I was coming to see a brightly-colored musical, but Jim Hoberman and programmer Olaf Moller laughed at my naiveté and just before the lights went out told me that "Sekretar Rojkoma" (1942) was a black-and-white WWII epic. The musicals, it seemed, were either just past or coming later in the week. Looking on the bright side, Moller said it just proved that the versatile Pyr’ev could do anything. It moved like a freight train – fast, but occasionally clunky – and was my first experience here with simultaneous translation, better than nothing but, combined with the frantic pace and Italian subtitles, exhausting.
Still I was ready for a 163-minute documentary, “Celluloid Man: A Film on P.K. Nair,” by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, about a famed Indian archivist and influential film scholar who has somehow been detached from the Pune Film Insitute, whose National Film Archive that he created seems now to be rotting away, unprotected. I was no wiser as to exactly why this had happened after watching the movie (nor was my seatmate Scott Foundas), but we agreed that the movie was riveting – we had thought maybe we’d duck out and catch a movie by silent film director Lois Weber if we’d had enough after a while – and made us want to see more Indian movies, as well as other masterpieces glimpsed here and there as P.K.Nair and his many students and supporters reminisced about their pantheon of film.
Afterwards I stuck around for a panel discussion on cinephilia in the age of the Internet, with Jonathan Rosenbaum, Miguel Marias, and Girish Shambu, which resulted in notes on too many new websites and blogs I thought I needs must check out. As soon as I find a few more hours in the day. Another panel discussion from yesterday that I missed, with Jim Hoberman and Ian Christie, can be found here.
The two unprogrammed hours before “Tess” led three of us to Ristorante da Nello (Via Monte Grappo, 9/2), and, eventually, a lovely plate of vitello tonnato. I forswore the temptations of prosecco so I could relish every moment of “Tess.”
Tomorrow? Ophul’s “Komedie onm Geld,” and Walsh’s “Kindred of the Dust,” and a few more. And I’ve been told that the best title in the Alma Reville tribute is Thursday night’s “The First Born,” which, and I’m sure much to musician Stephen Horne’s relief, has been moved off the Piazza Maggiore and its noisy competition of Italy’s semi-final soccer game in the World Cup indoors to the Cinema Arlecchino. The soccer fans will be cheering opposite a re-run of “Point Blank.” Walker can take it.