Miracle in Bologna

Il Cinema Ritrovato

a film festival in Bologna, Italy, June 23–July 1, 2018
Murnau-Stiftung, Wiesbaden
Conrad Veidt and Lillebil Christensen in Urban Gad’s Christian Wahnschaffe, 1920–1921

To roam at will among films lost, films never seen, films quite likely not even known by you to exist, day after day among spectators all animated by a common attentiveness and palpable curiosity, as if nothing existed outside the parallel world of cinema: for some of us that might be the most irresistible escape of all, a plunge not into oblivion but into all the corridors of memory, lit by a thousand cameras. In early summer of each year Bologna becomes the site of such a collective immersion. On July 1, Il Cinema Ritrovato wrapped up its thirty-second edizione, in which during nine days more than five hundred films (of lengths ranging from a minute to many hours) were shown on as many as nine screens.

The festival began in 1986 as a three-day event, providing a showcase for the work of film restorers around the world, unveiling films that have been found again, stitched together from scattered fragments, or made newly visible despite the incursions of nitrate decay. By now the density of the programming is staggering, encompassing multiple strands in any given year. This time the themes included the career of Marcello Mastroianni, Soviet films of 1934, Chinese cinema of the late 1940s, the work of the filmmakers Luciano Emmer, Marcello Pagliero, and Yilmaz Güney, and a salute to Technicolor.

There is a festival tradition of passing in review the films of a century earlier, so it was 1918 that filed by in features, serials, newsreels, travelogues, and even a film that can barely be said to exist: Germaine Dulac’s multi-episode melodrama Âmes de fous (1918), a few bits of which recently surfaced in a Dutch archive. These pieces of film were shown interspersed with still images of other scenes and ingeniously incorporated into a thirty-minute live reading, with vigorous musical accompaniment, of the film’s convoluted scenario, creating the illusion of having watched a three-hour farrago of seduction, madness, and stolen inheritance. This was the more remarkable in that the actual celluloid component of the program, split up into infinitesimal glimpses, ran about two minutes in all. Imaginary films, as the festival co-director Mariann Lewinsky remarked, can be more powerful than real ones.

The festival is marked not by outward exuberance but by a current of intense focus. A preoccupation with time is understandable at Il Cinema Ritrovato, where overlapping screenings often make it necessary to enter after the beginning or leave before the end; by the same token a window of opportunity between two films can permit a glance at some third spectacle, whether a sampling of Technicolor dye transfer reference reels from the early 1970s or a one-minute movie from 1898 depicting the burning of Joan of Arc. Archivists, programmers, film students, historians, and mere dedicated cinephiles, generally with their…

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