Revivals in Bologna and New York

The Daily — Aug 19, 2020
Mohammad Reza Aslani’s The Chess Game of the Wind (1976)

The full catalogue for this year’s Il Cinema Ritrovato is out, and so, too, is the lineup for the New York Film Festival’s Revivals program. While the range of Bologna’s festival of restorations and discoveries stretches from the earliest days of cinema to the present, the NYFF will be focusing this year on films made between 1971 and 2000. The single exception will be Jean Vigo’s playful Zéro de conduite (1933), selected by Steve McQueen, whose Lovers Rock will open the festival on September 17.

The twentieth-anniversary restoration of Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love was to have been the centerpiece of the Cannes Classics program, which is now headed, in whole or in part, to the Lumière festival in October and the Rencontres Cinématographiques de Cannes in November. Another Cannes selection bound for New York is Muhammad Ali, the Greatest, the 1974 documentary by the irrepressible photojournalist, fashion photographer, and filmmaker William Klein (Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?).

The NYFF’s Revivals also include two films set to screen at Il Cinema Ritrovato, which opens this coming Tuesday. The New Yorker’s Richard Brody has called Jia Zhangke’s debut feature, Xiao Wu (1997), a “restrained yet fierce X-ray of the ills of modern China.” For two years, Xiao Wu, also known as Pickpocket, wandered the festival circuit, picking up awards left and right and establishing Jia as one of China’s foremost filmmakers.

Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Reza Aslani did not enjoy a similar fate. As Il Cinema Ritrovato programmer Gita Aslani Shahrestani tells the story, when it came time to premiere Aslani’s first fictional feature, The Chess Game of the Wind, at the Tehran International Film Festival in 1976, the director and the festival’s curator had a falling out. The screening was sabotaged, the jury pulled the film from competition, and the producer abandoned the project. Aslani privately screened Chess Game for Henri Langlois, Roberto Rossellini, and Satyajit Ray, all of whom encouraged the young director. Then came the Islamic Revolution of 1979, and the film was banned—and eventually believed to have been lost altogether.

Remarkably, as he was browsing a flea market in 2015, Aslani came across the original negative. The story of a noble family squabbling over their late matriarch’s estate, The Chess Game of the Wind has reminded programmers in both New York and Bologna of the work of Luchino Visconti. The film is also part of Cannes’s and Il Cinema Ritrovato’s salutes to the Film Foundation as the nonprofit organization dedicated to rescuing, preserving, and exhibiting endangered classics celebrates its thirtieth anniversary.

Martin Scorsese, who cofounded the Foundation with such filmmakers as Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, and Francis Ford Coppola and remains its driving force, has sent a video message to Il Cinema Ritrovato attendees in which he talks about the selections in the special anniversary program and thanks the organizers and programmers for reminding us “at this crucial moment just how essential cinema is to those of us who love it.”

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