Cinema Reborn 2024

Claudette Colbert in Mitchell Leisen’s Midnight (1933)

The sixth edition of Cinema Reborn, Australia’s great festival of restorations and discoveries, will be the first to take place in two cities, running from Wednesday through May 7 at the Ritz in Sydney and from May 9 through 14 at the Lido in Melbourne. This year’s festival opens with the world premiere of a new restoration of Midnight (1939), a screwball comedy directed by Mitchell Leisen and starring Claudette Colbert as an American showgirl who shows up penniless in Paris, falls for a Hungarian taxi driver (Don Ameche), and is hired by a wealthy industrialist (John Barrymore) to distract the playboy lover (Francis Lederer) of his wife (Mary Astor). Real-life gossip columnist Hedda Hopper shows up as a socialite.

Midnight “transitions from a Lubitschean escapade of elegant adultery to a daffy screwball battle of wits and one-upmanship—imbibed with manic confusion, questions of sanity, and flying frying pans,” wrote Brynn White for Not Coming to a Theater Near You in 2011. Based on a short story by Edwin Justus Mayer and Franz Schulz, Midnight was written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, who wrote Ninotchka for Lubitsch the same year, and later, another screwball classic, Ball of Fire (1941), for Howard Hawks. Eventually, they collaborated on Wilder’s own darker projects, including The Lost Weekend (1945) and Sunset Boulevard (1950).

“If Wilder’s work in general and Midnight in particular have a message, it is that we are our own worst enemies, and the instrument with which we inflict the greatest damage on ourselves and others is love,” writes John Baxter in the program notes, and this is Cinema Reborn’s generous gift to cinephiles outside of Australia: at the site, each film’s page includes notes on the director, the restoration, and the feature itself. The full catalogue, too, is freely available.

Adrian Danks notes that François Truffaut once called Jean Renoir’s The Golden Coach (1952), the closing night selection, “the noblest and most refined film ever made.” An excerpt from Anne Rutherford’s 2011 book What Makes a Film Tick? Cinematic Affect, Materiality and Mimetic Innervation introduces the Saturday Centerpiece, Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978). “Nothing is ever insisted upon or lingered over in his films,” wrote Adrian Martin in his 2010 essay on Days of Heaven, and “that is why they reveal subtly different arrangements of event, mood, and meaning each time we see them.”

For this year’s Cinema Reborn, Martin writes about Hawks’s Rio Bravo (1959), “a classic that—across time, across many different viewings in diverse times and places—weaves its way into the sentimental memories of many cinephiles. It certainly has worked that way for me. It was among my early-teenage cinema revelations, first glimpsed on the family’s black-and-white TV set. Later, it became a tug-of-war token in the film theory wars of the 1970s: were you for or against the ‘classical Hollywood fantasy’ of Rio Bravo? Mellower times allowed for its rediscovery.”

The world premiere of a new restoration of the 1971 anthology film Three to Go will offer many a first chance to see early work by three filmmakers who would go on to help shape the Australian New Wave. In Michael, from Peter Weir (Picnic at Hanging Rock), a young man is torn between his conservative family and his hippie friends. Brian Hannant, who later cowrote and worked as a second-unit director on George Miller’s Mad Max 2 (1981), tells the story of a country girl seeking seeking excitement in the big city in Judy. And with Toula, Oliver Howes, the director of the controversial documentary On Sacred Ground (1980), explores the clash of cultures between Anglo-Australian and traditional Greek communities in Sydney.

The lineup features three more films from Australia, Philip Brophy’s horror spoof Body Melt (1993)—Quentin Tarantino is a fan—and two documentaries. A Second World War veteran recounts his horrific experiences in Peter Tammer’s Journey to the End of Night (1982) and Kathryn Millard explores the life and work of photographer Olive Cotton in Light Years (1991).

Screenings of Sopyonje (1993) will launch a short series of films by Im Kwon-taek in Sydney, and along with films directed by Chantal Akerman, Michelangelo Antonioni, Jean-Pierre Melville, Souleymane Cissé, and Robert Siodmak, the festival will screen films from two directors who may not be as familiar to most cinephiles. Aribam Syam Sharma’s Ishanou (1990), in which a woman, heeding the call of a deity, abandons her husband and daughter to join the Maibi sect of priestesses, is “a significant milestone in Manipuri cinema,” write Anjali Monteiro and K. P. Jayasankar.

In a recent piece for Montages, Chama Al Houari writes that Tewfik Saleh’s The Dupes (1972) “serves as a reminder of cinema’s potential to incite social change and foster cross-cultural empathy.” Three Palestinian refugees in Syria set out for a better life in Kuwait. In her program notes, Lucia Sorbera observes that while The Dupes is “a film about Palestinian people—their exile, their suffering—it is different from other films produced after 1967; it is far more than a mere celebration of the then intensified Palestinian resistance. It is equally, if not more so, an excruciating meditation on the suffering that war, occupation, displacement, poverty, and migration impose on poor people. In sum, it is a pioneering effort to relate the Palestinian condition to a universal human condition.”

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