Soon after the airplane landed in Bologna, the Mediterranean heat immediately defrosted the freeze of the previous night in London Stansted, and after entering the small courtyard of the Il Cinema Ritrovato headquarters, the sight of Kristin Thompson, busy with papers and probably arranging a must-see list, affirmed that one more time cinephilia is going to put on a week-long performance. It's a festival in which rediscovery and wonder is mingled with remapping an often badly written history. Il Cinema Ritrovato is a week of revelation, appearing through the invaluable work of restorers and archivists who have the eye of a hawk for bringing life to the neglected and the forgotten.
The 26th edition of Il Cinema Ritrovato is a mad marathon of 316 films made in the last hundred years or so, most of them in the best available prints in the world. It is the festival which you can smell the nitrate and see the invention of a century through fragmented images.
96 films, all just from the year 1912, portray the life of our ancestors a century ago. The 1910s oeuvre of the enigmatic, early Hollywood woman filmmaker, Lois Weber, alongside a tribute to Mrs. Hitchcock, Alma Reville, makes it essential to rethink the role of women in the history of cinema, whether as extremely talented director like Weber, or a magician of the editing room like Reville.
The colour pallet of the city of Bologna is made of yellows, light browns and dark oranges. You feel that the city is an extended dream in which colours distort the sense of time, as if the medieval has become “now.” The colour dreams are not only an invention of the city’s architecture; the architects of Il Cinema Ritrovato have their own colour dreams, as they have dedicated a section to searching for evolution of colour in films, from silent cinema to experiencing the true colours of Bonjour Tristesse (Otto Preminger, 1958) and Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962).
The man who half-jokingly has been accused that his definition of a tender love scene is burning down a whorehouse is in Bologna, too. Raoul Walsh, one of the most elusive masters of putting complex emotions up on the screen and wrapping them, usually without sentimentalism and rarely without action, within popular genres, has no less than 18 films in the festival, from 1912 to 1957.
One of the greatest pieces of news from Il Cinema Ritrovato is the screening of 12 films made by probably the most underrated director of the French cinema, Jean Grémillon.
Grémillon, who started his career in the last years of the silent era, made more than 40 films, including short films (sadly, a good number of the early shorts are lost), documentaries, and the feature films which make up half of his output. Whether an impressionist filmmaker of the late silent period or a poetic realist of the 1930s, his ability to change his cinematic language from era to era without losing any of his lyrical sensibilities is so striking that it can only be compared to Jean Renoir.
In the following days we will have more stories of the numerous side projects of Il Cinema Ritrovato, a festival in which the audience can simultaneously be burnt by the sun and by the films.