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Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna, XXVI Edizione – Day Four: Walsh, Pyr’ev, Warhol, Ghatak & ‘The Grand Illusion’

Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna, XXVI Edizione - Day Four: Walsh, Pyr’ev, Warhol, Ghatak & 'The Grand Illusion'

Paradise for cinephiles: Max Ophul’s “Komedie on Geld” (1936), part of the Cinema and the 1929 Crisis series, at 9:30 a.m., set in the corrupt and currently apposite banking and real estate development world of Amsterdam. Typically fluid, in the restless Ophuls style, and with several Brechtian interludes of a “Cabaret”-style nightclub emcee or carnival barker introducing and commenting on the action that made one think of “Lola Montez,” so many years later. Pure pleasure.

At 11:30 a.m., an early Raoul Walsh melodrama, “Kindred of the Dust” (1922) starring his then-wife Miriam Cooper as an unwed mother whose childhood sweetheart persists in his affections despite the disapproval of his wealthy family. With stylish, realistic sets designed by William Cameron Menzies (later, and more typically, to design “The Thief of Bagdad” for Walsh).  Piano accompaniment by the gifted Donald Sosin, based on the U.S. east coast (who had contributed imaginative interpretive mosquito singing night before last while playing for a Winsor McKay short, “How a Mosquito Operates” (1912), before “Point Blank”).

Lunch al fresco in an outdoor café set in the courtyard of the Cineteca Bologna, in a setting more charming than the food, with editor/director Jackie Raynal, now based in Paris, programming for a festival in Trieste, among other places, after decades of running two repertory art houses in New York, and London-based Iranian film critic/blogger Ehsan Khoshbakht.

At 2:30, standing at the back of the Sala Mastroianni, to catch the first short of one of the 13 programs devoted to films of 1912, a 4-minute effort by Louis Feuillade entitled “Bébé juge,” in which much chocolate is consumed.  This serves as a curtain raiser for the 2:45 screening of “Skazanie O Zemle Sibirskoj” (“La canzone della terra siberienne”), by Ivan Pyr’ev, “enigma of Mosfilm.”  This time I’m indeed seeing a color musical of sorts, in which the blonde machine-gun-wielding lady soldier of yesterday’s fast-paced WW II story is a singer who reconnects with a lover of her youth after WW II, embittered because he’s injured his left hand and no longer feels the need to compose and perform music. A return to his homeland of Siberia, where people seem to sing folk songs all the live long day, perks him up again, and she decides to forsake Moscow to join him in Siberia, which looks a lot warmer and more picturesque than we’ve been led to believe. Again the simultaneous translation is annoying (if essential); I don’t think I feel the need to see much more of Ivan Pyr’ev.

At 4:45, I see most of Andy Warhol’s “Face” (1965), starring Edie Sedgwick, brushing her hair, applying makeup, and chatting with pal Chuck Wein for 66 minutes.  It’s the first film in an Avant-Garde Masters program, playing to an SRO house. We leave before “The Velvet Underground in Boston” (1967), Samuel Beckett’s “Film” (1965) starring Buster Keaton, and “Norman Mailer’s Untitled” (1947), an experimental 8-minute work, Mailer’s first movie, about a woman considering having an abortion. The catalogue describes “a battery of cinematic techniques: black & white and colour juxtaposition, animation, time-lapse photography, and microscopic close-ups.”  

I’d love to see it, but we’ve been long ensconced across the hall, entranced by Ritwik Ghatak’s “Meghe Dhaka Tara” (“The Cloud-Capped Star,” 1960), perhaps oversold by introducer Shivendra Singh Dungarpur as “India’s greatest movie,” but indisputedly a masterpiece. Poetic, musical, haunting, this story of an unhappy family worthy of Eugene O’Neill breaks my heart – even more so because I know nothing of Ghatak.  Where has he been all my life?  My friend Jackie Mancuso enters late and is immediately gripped by the story, the cinematography, the acting.  We protest, weakly, when we’re torn away, perhaps 20 minutes before the end, for a long-planned dinner in a restaurant in its own park-like setting on the outskirts of Bologna, where Jackie and Steve dined last year during the festival.

Steve has a fantasy of returning in time to catch some of the World Cup game between Spain and Portugal, but as we linger over five courses (antipasti della casa featuring an unusual mortadella/ricotta spread, ethereal frittata, warm panzanella; seafood risotto and tagliatelle with ragu; an amazing five-item mixed grill, a dish of huge shrimp, and another of simple grilled steak; six different cheeses served with thin honey and house-made orange marmalade; an assortment of desserts including pistachio/chocolate mousse, crema catalana, and an airy coconut confection; macerated strawberries, sliced watermelon, and big fat cherries, all washed down with Verdicchio and a big Bolognese red), the game is forgotten. As for the name of this impossibly charming restaurant, I promise I will include in my next dispatch. I will remember this meal in the same breath with the best movies I’ve seen in Bologna.

A cab ride back to central Bologna lets me out in time to catch a good chunk of “The Grand Illusion” in the big square, impeccably restored by Studio Canal and the Cinémathèque de Toulouse. In the lobby of my hotel, I run into the Cinémathèque’s Natacha Laurent, and am able to compliment her on the work.  It’s a movie I thought I knew by heart, but I see things in it (both literally and figuratively) that I’ve never seen before.

Spain won.  Whatever that means.  During tomorrow’s semi-finals (Italy vs. I-don’t-know-who), I’ll be safely tucked away in the cinema.

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