Il Cinema Ritrovato 2019

Henry King’s State Fair (1933)

Il Cinema Ritrovato is not the sort of festival from which attendees dispatch flaming hot takes from premiere screenings as the credits roll. Instead, this annual showcase of discoveries, rediscoveries, new restorations, and thronged outdoor screenings, hosted by the Cineteca di Bologna, attracts the sort of cinephile who’s going to take a day or two or more to consider what she’s seen within the context of film history before typing up her impressions. Besides, just about everyone’s too busy watching films to blog. “Every day, the theaters are packed from morning till night,” writes Moen Mohamed at the top of his report on the thirty-third edition for the International Cinephile Society. “Every year, the audience grows, but this year it’s even more noticeable, not only in size but [also in] how youthful the audience is becoming.”

It’s been a little over a week since this year’s Il Cinema Ritrovato wrapped, and we can just now begin to put together a brief overview of the highlights. Before the festival opened, the Notebook posted Antti Alanen’s new translation of an essay by Peter von Bagh, the late filmmaker, Ritrovato artistic director, Midnight Sun Film Festival cofounder, and head of the Finnish Film Archive. Assessing the oeuvre of Hollywood workhorse Henry King, the subject of one of this year’s retrospectives, von Bagh suggests that the director’s work may be undervalued now simply because the unwieldy volume and range of a career that stretched from 1915 into the early 1960s makes it difficult to discern a unique stylistic signature. But “King’s films are staggering, precisely because there is nothing original in them,” argues von Bagh. “As Jacques Lourcelles puts it, they are beautiful expressions of ‘Americana en profondeur.’

David Cairns, who actually did post notes every day throughout the festival, wouldn’t be quite as generous as von Bagh when it comes to Henry King. “I’m not convinced of his greatness,” he writes. “At Fox in the early thirties, he channeled the house style, which favored long tracking shots and misty atmosphere, as well as any other director. But then, like Ford and Borzage, he seemed to lapse into a less showy, more conventional form of coverage. ‘Style should be invisible,’ was the prevailing idea. To me, if it’s invisible, it’s not style.” That said, State Fair (1933), with Janet Gaynor and Will Rogers, is “a masterpiece . . . Terrific long tracking shots from King, and elaborate rear-projection shots of the fair, with some funny touches like two dialogue scenes between hogs, shot and cut just like regular conversations. Subtitles, however, were not provided.”

At Observations on Film Art, David Bordwell focuses on a program of films from 1919—Mauritz Stiller’s Herr Arne’s Treasure “emerged as one of the most sheerly beautiful films I saw at Bologna”—and Kristin Thompson concentrates on a series commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Fespaco, a festival of Pan-African film and television in Burkina Faso. She suggests that The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun (1999) just may be Djibril Diop Mambéty’s “greatest film, though it is difficult to be objective given the utter charm of its central character.”

For Geoffrey Gardner, the program dedicated to films from South Korea’s golden age, “made during the years of repressive military dictatorship,” showed “yet again” that “political adversity brings out the best in filmmakers.” Introducing a batch of notes at Silent London on the films she “especially enjoyed,” Pamela Hutchinson adds that she approaches the festival as an “omnivore, tasting a little of everything, talkies and all.” Hutchinson has also invited filmmaker Ian Mantgani and critic Philip Concannon to join her and cohost Peter Baran to discuss this year’s “discoveries and duds” for a little over an hour. And there’s a lot more to listen to from José Arroyo, who not only writes about Abbas Kiarostami’s First Case, Second Case (1979), the “best instance I’ve ever seen of film as philosophy,” but also talks with Richard Layne and other friends and fellow attendees about Alfred Hitchcock’s Under Capricorn (1949), Rowland Brown’s Quick Millions (1931), and films by Raymond Bernard and G. W. Pabst.

For those who’d rather watch than listen, the Cineteca has put together a playlist of videos capturing several talks and presentations, including conversations with Francis Ford Coppola, who presented his final cut of Apocalypse Now (1979), and Jane Campion, who introduced a new restoration of The Piano (1993).

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