Il Cinema Ritrovato: Festival Report (part 1)
I drew the long straw to be ICO’s roaming advocate abroad. Sadly delayed by some air traffic control strike action, I arrive in sweltering Bologna (34 degrees and rising) at about 4.30pm on Wednesday 1st July, disappointed to have missed Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows. I hot foot it to Biblioteca Renzo Renzi to pick up my festival accreditation, making full use of the shade provided by the endless portico’s that Bologna is famous for.
Biblioteca Renzo Renzi, where the guest office is located,is a cinephile haven, a perfect retreat and meeting place for like-minded filmfolk. Located in Piazzetta Pasolini, surrounded on all sides by heavenly cool cinema screens, and a buzzing lively cafe bar, shaded by colourful awnings and offering tasty vegan fare and cold crisp vino rosato.
With pass and map in hand I navigate my way to Cinema Arlecchino (one of the 7 cinemas around the city used by the festival) to see a glorious new recovered and restored 35mm print of Norman Foster’s Woman On The Run (1950).Restored by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and the Film Noir Foundation,for years it was believed impossible after the last known surviving print was destroyed in a studio fire. An exhaustive worldwide search was eventually rewarded with the discovery of duplicate pre-print elements in the vaults of the BFI.
The festival itself has a very relaxed friendly atmosphere,a coming together of people passionate about film and its preservation. From overhearing conversations you can see that people have been coming for years and use it as an opportunity to meet up with their counterparts from around the globe. This informality does lead to some seat etiquette squabbles and it’s interesting to see the resultant cultural stereotypes coming into play: bold chair hogging by the Americans, lots of tutting and whispered asides by the Brits and a lengthy amount of debate and gesticulation from the Italians.However as the film begins, everyone is let into the square to find a seat wherever they can, chair, lap or warm stone floor, because it’s clear that what is important is the chance to see these glorious restorations on the big screen. And what an experience it is,like watching the film for the first time, the audience engaged and enthralled,the picture exquisitely clear and crisp, the sound of Sams piano twinkling away and all enjoyed in the balmy night air of a Bologna evening. I’m not really sure how tomorrow can get any better?!
Day two of my Il Cinema Ritrovato experience and I’m so spoilt for choice with the programme. It dawns on me that three days is no way near enough time to do the festival justice and I need to make some tough decisions. A little indulgently I decide to watch Pather Panchali (1955) first thing.
The restoration I’m watching today was embarked upon by the Criterion Collection with the Academy Film Archive in 2013. When the restoration began the negatives hadn’t been taken out of storage for twenty years: many portions were burned to ash or had deteriorated from the heat and contaminants they had been exposed to. Yet significant portions survived, and were entrusted to L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna who successfully rehydrated the film and set about by hand physically repairing the elements, meticulously removing melted tape and glue, and rebuilding perforation holes on the sides of the film. Using fine grain masters and duplicate negatives preserved by Janus Films, the Academy, the Harvard Film Archive,and the BFI, the technicians found replacements for the unusable sections.In the end 40% of Pather Panchali was restored directly from the original negatives.
Many describe Pather’Panchali as the story of Apu, and with the following two chapters Aparajito and Apur Sansar, the trilogy definitely is, but for me the first installment is about the women of the Ray family: Durga, Apus older sister, Sarbojaya, Apus mother and Indir, Apus aunty. The Ray family live in a rambling and almost falling down house on the outskirts of their ancestral village in Bengal at the start of the 1900’s. Sarbojaya goes about her daily chores with ardour, whilst her daughter, Durga plays in the neighbouring orchard, stealing fruit for her beloved elderly aunty. Harihar,Sarbojayas husband is a Brahmin, who spends his days searching for work as aspiritual guide to the local community. With her husband away for weeks at a time, Sarbojaya is left to deal with the harsh realities of having no food or money, a house that wont withstand the coming monsoons, a free-spirited daughter who whiles away her adolescence in the beautiful surrounding countryside, all whilst trying to uphold a sense of propriety in front of her neighbours.
The restoration is fabulous: every image appears crystal clear, so much so that its hard to believe the film is celebrating its 60th Birthday. I know some programmers in the ICO office who will be waiting with baited breath for the announcement of a new Criterion Blu-ray.