Having started my day with a fairly safe choice (expectation wise), I feel the spectre of our Head of Programming looming over me, “See something you’ve never seen before Becky, see something you might never get the chance to see again”, I hear in my head. Channelling my best Simon Ward and David Sin, I make my way with vigour to see Kiko’s, a silent USSR-Armenian tragicomedy from 1931. The story takes place around 1920, during the short-lived First Republic of Armenia created by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, an influential socialist party also known as Dashnaktsutyun.
Kikos is a farmer who enjoys the pleasures of a simple life:a good harvest, dinner with his wife, a drink with his friends and a good chat with his donkey. When the Dashnaktsutyun are voted into power in his local town he is soon conscripted into their army, and forced to lay down his hoe for a rifle. An apathetic and peaceful man, Kikos shies away from the frontline and is soon captured by the Communist opposition forces. By chance a neighbour of Kikos is allied with the leaders of the Communists and Kikos is given a reprieve and forced into armed service once again. Still inexperienced in the art of warfare, Kikos is captured by the Dashnak’s and thrown in jail as the mastermind behind the Communist forces. As Kikos is about to be tried for his crimes,his fellow farmers revolt against the injustice of the political situation and Kikos must decide whether it is time for him to pick up a gun and fight. An interesting and relatively unseen gaze on post-revolutionary Armenian society, and the rise of class consciousness and Soviet style communism.
Up next I resist the urge to go and see Vertigo and opt for another section of the Il Cinema Ritrovato programme, Jazz Goes to the Movies. In this section is Jazz on a Summers Day, Bert Sterns documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, co-directed by Aram Avakian. Along with amazing informal impassioned performances from Louis Armstrong, Dinah Washington, Anita O’Day, Chuck Berry, Big Maybelle and Mahalia Jackson, it is Sterns focus on the audience that elevates this film from just another concert recording. With a slow melodic panning and pausing of the camera, Stern captures not only the crowds enjoyment and engrossment in the music but also a snapshot of the late 1950’s American society. The restoration of the film is so clear that it’s only the absence of incessant camera phones and the laid back reaction to the famous performers and focus on listening to the music that makes you realise you’re not watching a contemporary piece.
With the absence of endless queues like at other film festivals, I think Ill easily manage to see at least five films today. So next up is Ejima Ikushima from 1955 (part of Richness and Harmony: Colour Film in Japan section), directed by Hideo Oba, one of Japans most commercially successful filmmakers of the post-war era.
A period piece inspired by one of the most notorious scandals to have taken place in Edo-period Japan. Ejima, is a high-ranking lady of the oku. She resides in the harem of Edo Castle with the late Shoguns concubines, and mother, Gekk-in, of his infant son. Bound by a high-level of moral decorum, Ejima carries out her duties within the strict rules of her position. With the death of the Shogun, Gekk-in embarks on an affair with one of his political advisors and is discovered by Ejima. To ensure Ejimas loyalty Gekk-in manipulates her into visiting a kabuki theatre and forming a friendship with one of the actors, which is strictly forbidden. Hearing gossip of this scandal Gekk-in’srival Ten’ei-in, the wife of the late Shogun, launches a raid on the Edo Castle and a large power struggle ensues between the two factions.
The richness and vitality of the Eastman color process in Ejima Ijushima brings the beauty of this historical period to life and the restrained performances add to the subtlety and sensibility of the portrayal of this scandal. Final slot of the day is the outdoor evening screenings of Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. and One Weekwith live music composed and directed by Timothy Brock, performed by the orchestra of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna. Both films were restored in 2015 by Cineteca di Bologna and Cohen Film Collection at L’Immagine Ritrovata Laboratory.
Watching the comedy and acrobatic genius of Buster Keaton is pleasure enough but watching with a live orchestra elevates the experience to a whole new level. Timothy Brock’s score is fantastic, subtle enough to not detract or compete with the action but rousing and complex enough to thrill in the parts where the pace of the narrative revs up. Beautifully summed up by Brock: Cleverness is not enough when writing for Keaton, one also must know how to simply laugh, really hard. And that is what I did!
One notion that slowly forms in my mind from watching all of these beautifully restored films is how the clarity of the image and sound make the films much more accessible and remove barriers, which in the past, meant it was difficult to identify and relate to the characters on screen. Removing the grainy images, jumping frames and popping soundtracks puts you face to face with a person from perhaps over 100 years ago, but feels like a reflection of anyone you could bump into walking down the street today. It’s a transformative thing and I very grateful to the labs and technicians who have painstakingly brought this to fruition.
Its my last morning at the festival and I’ve already got my schedule planned out, Louis Feuillades serial Les Vampires, made between 1915 and 1916 with the legendary Irma Vep (Musidora), (4k restoration by Gaumont and The clair lab) followed by Roberto Rossellini’s Europa 51 (Restored in 2015 by Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory).
So many amazing films to discover, Il Cinema Ritrovata has become the first thing to be inked into my calendar in 2016!