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Thursday, 30 June 2016

Sydney Film Festival (22) - Max Berghouse reviews A WAR and LET THEM COME

A WAR  Tobias Lindholm, Denmark, 2015, 115 minutes
I imagine it would be very difficult for any war film to substantially avoid cliche since the genre is quite possibly the most sustained in cinema history. I myself grew up with the almost endless round of British films about the Second World War and just about everybody in Eastern Europe and Russia must've had similar experiences for the endlessly repeating films of the Great Patriotic War. So in this earnest and very well produced story of a company of Danish soldiers in present-day Afghanistan we find almost all of those cliches.
Captain Claus (Pilou Asbaek – a regular of the director Tobias Lindholm) who is entitled by virtue of his position to remain within the compound of the Danish troops, nonetheless goes out on patrol with them following the especially brutal and bloody death of a young, fine looking Danish trooper – to bolster morale (cliche one). He is ably supported on a "personal level" by his 2ic played by Dar Salim. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, sorry, I mean back home in Denmark, Claus's beautiful wife grows increasingly anxious about him and the increasingly aberrant behaviour of one of their three children. The company of men in the field is bored, probably not wanting to be where they are. But they display overwhelming loyalty to their boss.
Scenes in Afghanistan occupy about the first half of the film. Wherever they were shot it certainly wasn't Denmark, because the sense of a genuine desert country, possibly Afghanistan itself, of a battle zone and modern soldiers and soldiering (there is absolutely no spit and polish amongst any of the troops, and I warrant that I did not see a salute at any time at all), were all, so it seemed to me, faultless. The "haze of battle" with the troops constantly in radio contact between themselves and home base, with numeric coordinates being rattled off and continuing uncertainty about the level of appropriate response, seemed to me well-nigh perfect. This may reflect the fact that the film which runs for 1 hour 55 minutes does not seem to be at all long.
The critical inciting event is the order by Claus to return fire in an Afghan village where the company has come under attack on a particular building which may, or maybe not, contain civilians. Rules of engagement for returning fire in such circumstances require confirmation that enemy soldiers are present and it is quite possible that my concentration lapsed at this point, uncertain whether Claus knew that there were rebels in the particular building, thought there were, or ignored the possibility because of the intensity of combat. That was a crucial lapse on my part but at the same time I don't think the scene was particularly clear. In any event it subsequently becomes clear that the gung ho days of old don't apply, at least to the Danish army. With everyone else, especially apparently the Americans, whenever there is the slightest serious sphere of "the enemy", all hell lets loose, with complete impunity.
Thereafter more senior officers arrive at the compound to interview the officers and men as to the prior action. This seemed to be handled quite perfunctorily that I would have found this aspect more interesting had more treatment being given to it. It's pretty clear that the senior officers have no loyalty to anyone, especially an officer in the field labouring under all the difficulties one might expect and indeed which the viewer sees. Claus is returned to Denmark to face trial for breaching orders of engagement. He has his own defence counsel,Soren Malling, so along with Mr Malling, Mr Asbaek and Mr Salim we have all the regular male leads that appear in just about every Danish production.
Inevitably with the second half being concerned with a trial, a court room is bound to seem overwhelmingly static, compared to what has gone on before. The Danish court system, at least at this level, is quite informal, so for me, an Anglo-Saxon trained lawyer, I could never quite gel to the idea of this being a place of law. Most reviews emphasise that Claus in the shootout is aware of his breach of the rules of engagement and therefore during the trial he must either confess with all the adverse consequences to himself his family and presumably the reputation of the Army, or give false evidence. Ultimately (spoiler alert) he is saved by one of his senior troopers who swears that he, the trooper, emphatically told Claus of the presence of enemy insurrectionists. This is rather facile because, while not strictly inconsistent with his prior evidence, it has never been raised before.
His family life is now potentially stabilised but the final scene shows Claus sitting in his backyard, smoking and contemplating his future. What would it be, considering his senior officers have apparently abandoned him, some people at least must regard him as being dishonest, so his military career must be in jeopardy. And like all soldiers he must have the continuing concern about taking life. Unfortunately I think this was all handled in rather too perfunctory a way, and the really interesting parts of what could have been an exemplary movie were not touched upon. On the other hand it is hardly for me to tell a director what sort of story he needs to tell. It all seems rather too cold and perfunctory to be emotionally convincing.
Nonetheless, as previously indicated, viewing time passes quickly so the film must be considered quite watchable.

LET THEM COME Salem Brahimi, Algeria/France, 2015, 96 minutes

Let Them Come is the first narrative feature of Salam Brahimi, otherwise known as a director of documentaries. It seems to be a "slow burner" at the recent Festival but nonetheless left a significant mark on those who watched it.

In a previous review, I believed I saw a theme behind the actual narrative concerning the individual characters, namely the state of the nation in which the film is set, and indeed exposing "dark" issues, which from a national perspective might best be left untouched.
During the 1990's in Algeria, a nominally socialist country, pretty much kept afloat by oil revenue and remittances from immigrants into France, but highly corrupt and despotic, Islamic terror and fundamentalism of the most incredibly brutal nature developed. Its brutality at the time was overwhelmingly unparalleled and it took the full resources of the state over a long period of time to overcome it.

This is the background to the film concerning a middling civil servant in one of the country's nationalised industries. Seemingly without much ambition or prospects, he is sustained by an active inner life as a writer/poet, albeit unpublished. He seems relatively untroubled by the increasing Islamisation of his country: calls to ensure that everyone attends prayers regularly, the replacement of secular institutions like credit unions with Islamic ones, et cetera. Of course he has good reason to be relatively indifferent, being the unmarried son attending to an absolute harridan of a widowed mother replete with bad temper and psychosomatic illnesses. Substantially under pressure from his mother, the protagonist,Noureddine marries Yasina, a striking and very secular young woman, previously a childhood neighbour and now recently returned to the neighbourhood. He is very used to being put upon!

The film traces the disintegration of the marriage without particular drama, but nonetheless effectively, only hinting that the background of Islamic assertiveness is to some considerable extent involved. She ultimately leaves but Noureddine is troubled by her departure and searches for her, only to find that she has been thrown from her parents' house by her acutely radical father who nonetheless seems to have acquired his radical nature very recently! This leads to a search and it is within these scenes that the best photography and set pieces of the film occur. They are within the Casbah area of Algiers and the harbour foreshore. An area of tightly constricted alleyways, cheap accommodation and poverty, it was pretty much a no-go area even in the days of French colonialism.
This leads to a reconciliation of sorts and the birth of a further child although the penultimate scene or semi-climax is one acute horror for the family. This is the accidental death of the newly born daughter. One then realises that the very first scenes of the film are the give away: Noureddine is finally leaving, presumably for France and it is leaving another woman. Clearly his inner life of writing is nurtured by his country and surroundings and he is frequently shown writing and not participating in family life in the family apartment, to the frequent annoyance of his wife. So ultimately even this final defence of personal integrity is taken from him and he has to leave the country.

There is no particular attempt to explain radical Islamisation. This must've been a temptation for a documentary filmmaker. Instead it simply is, something experienced and needing to be dealt with on a daily perhaps hourly basis, rather than something to be immediately escaped from. I found this aspect of the film, the need for submission to external reality very powerfully drawn. Very well photographed and interesting, at least to me, because it displayed areas I had no personal knowledge of, at least in terms of colour footage. I am pretty well aware of black and white cinematography for some great classic films set in Algiers. The acting seems appropriate and is very low-key.

This seems to me a very appropriate selection for a film festival although ultimately the film is a relentless downer and I can't imagine will have wide theatrical interest. I however was very pleased to have seen it.

A Young Cinephile's Diary - Shaun Heenan discovers more Ozu and joins the queue around the block for INDEPENDENCE DAY

This week’s Fandor/Criterion selection was a large collection of Yazujiro Ozu’s dramas about family life. The films featured included the silent I was Born, But... (1932), which I have already written about on this website, as well as the beloved classics Tokyo Story (1953) and Late Spring (1949), both of which I’d already seen elsewhere. I used the opportunity to watch two more of his most widely-loved films, filling in more of the most obvious gaps in my cinema knowledge. I also made it to the cinema this week, for the first time in at least a month, though I needn’t have bothered. More on that below.

Early Summer (Yasujiro Ozu, Japan, 1951) and An Autumn Afternoon (Yasujiro Ozu, Japan, 1962) are quite similar stories about post-war Japanese families. Both films deal with the relationship between retired parents and their adult children, and both families have unmarried daughters in their twenties. The girls’ unmarried status is of great concern to the fathers in both films, and becomes the main point of discussion throughout them, involving frequent use of the phrase ‘marry her off’. The films differ greatly, though, in their treatment of this idea.

In Early Summer, the idea that the daughter, Noriko, will marry soon is assumed, in line with Japanese culture at that time. The family is concerned with her happiness, and want her to choose someone who will give her a good life. The process is largely seen from Noriko’s point of view. The later film (Ozu’s last before his death), An Autumn Afternoon, instead focuses mainly on the father, lonely since his wife’s death and desperately afraid of losing the companionship of his daughter. Here, the marriage itself, the daughter’s feelings and even the identity of the groom are barely seen as relevant. This film is about her father choosing to die alone, by setting her free. I watched An Autumn Afternoon first, and was bothered the focus on his sacrifice until I watched Early Summer. The later film only works if we have both viewpoints, and so, through complete coincidence on my part, these two functioned as a perfect pair, improving one another.

Ozu’s films from this era are quiet and measured, staying away from any high drama as the characters sadly philosophise, instead of shouting, when their worldviews are challenged. They’re subtle dramas, intensely focused on the way people actually live and feel, and their slow pace often masks their cumulative emotional impact until the final moments.

The aforementioned cinema trip was to the action-packed, decades-late sequel Independence Day: Resurgence (Roland Emmerich, USA, 2016), which my nine-year-old nephew enjoyed more than I did. I was around his age when I saw the 1996 original, and I loved it at the time. He’s lucky to have been young enough to love both, but even he admits the first film is better. The film is set twenty years after the original, in a world drawn together in peace and harmony by the realisation that there are scarier things in the universe than people with different skin colours. The aliens humanity defeated last time around come back in greater numbers, and they continue destroying the planet with frightening efficiency. I’m told that at one point the alien ship lifts up a whole continent and drops it on another, but those specifics were lost on me amongst all of the explosions and incomprehensible editing.

The first film benefited greatly from the inclusion of Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum, who spouted wisecracks non-stop in their own inimitable styles. Goldblum returns in a diminished capacity, but Smith does not, and most of the personality has been lost along the way. I suppose the main characters here are supposed to be the new generation of fighter pilots, but they barely even register as human, let alone entertaining. There are hints that the plot will move in some interesting directions in the already-announced third film, but we’ll deal with that once it gets here. Real actress Charlotte Gainsbourg makes an appearance as a scientist for some reason, and I guess it’s nice to see her making money.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Bologna Diary (9) - John M Stahl retrieved, Paul Fejos at sea.

Noted cinephile, author and critic Barrett Hodsdon has long championed the notion that somewhere one of our festivals should devote time to a retrospective of the work of the largely overlooked American master John M Stahl.

Well, the first public opportunity I've known came about a day or so ago at Bologna when two of Stahl's films, both produced at Universal Pictures by Carl Laemmle Jr, produced overflow crowds in the big and hot Jolly Cinema. Stahl's work was a hit and retrieved the series somewhat after the previous disappointment of King of Jazz. Back Street, probably the auteur's best known film, was screened in yet another superb digital restoration and flooded the room with a romantic sensibility as a woman (Irene Dunne) (and remember this is in that glorious early sound/pre-code moment) forgoes the love of a solid and reliable man, he destined for riches, in favour of an entire life as the 'other woman' to a slippery and fast-talking businessman (John Boles). It's a life of back street encounters and accumulating small humiliations and the agony is palpable.

Only Yesterday  (USA, 1933) has Margaret Sullivan in the lead, a part also slated for Dunne, in a variation of Letter from an Unknown Woman. A Chance encounter with an off duty soldier leads to a child being born and sets up the search for and reconciliation with the father (John Boles again). Stahl, like his successor and even occasional remaker Douglas Sirk, made these films with relentless sensitivity to the situation. THere's no camp, no subversive humour. They are brilliant artefacts of world's contrived to allow audiences to sink into the lives of those who live in the finest surroundings, even if the doom laden story is set around the the moments of the crash of '29 when many such personal worlds of wealth and ease were wiped out. Another superb digital restoration.

Barrett Hodsdon's dream remains alive...

The next day's Laemmle Jr offering slipped back a little, especially with Paul Fejos's Broadway, a clunking crime story set in some huge cabaret joint where we see far too much plot fiddling backstage and far too little song and dance on stage. At one point as what seemed to be a lavish production number, starting with yet another giant crane shot, got going the film cut to yet another piece of skullduggery out the back. The audience groaned.... Why Fejos was the designated driver on this one may perhaps only be explained by Laemmle's Murnau envy.











Martha Ansara wants to find a good home for her film magazine collection

Dear Friends

Some will remember Lumiere and Script, Screen & Art which brought substance and thought to a fairly collective film scene -- at a time when guilds were very active. They make great reading today but I will be moving house and hope to pass on my priceless collection of magazines to someone who can really make use of them. So if it is appropriate please post the following in your enews.
Thanks
Martha

WIN VALUABLE OZ FILM MAGAZINES 
1) About 25 industry/guild mags Lumiere and Script, Screen & Art 1969-1974 -- for example, the issue pictured which asks on the cover "Is the chunder enough to build a film industry on?". 
 2) An almost complete run of CINEMA PAPERS.  

Email which you want (one or both) and your reason why in 25 words or less to hotdox@iinet.net.au and I will get in touch with the winner/s  who can pick them up in Hurlstone Park, Sydney or pay for shipping. Closing date: July 20.
lumiere.jpeg

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Bologna Diary (8) - A stunning surprise. Richard Wright takes the lead in a film adaptation of Native Son...plus Lang's Destiny

Santa Sangre. Directed by Pierre Chenab, Argentina, 1950, 104 minutes. Screened on 35mm print at Bologna Cinema Ritrovato. Introduced by Edgardo Cozarinsky and Fernando Martin Pena.

It's getting hard to keep up with the Bologna Cinema Ritrovato menu so some edited highlights.

The story of how a film version came to be made of Richard Wright's now classic novel of underclass black lives in Chicago is too complex to tell here. Suffice to say the 1940 novel was adapted in 1950 by French director Pierre Chenal. The film was made in Argentina, with just some exterior shots of the city added. After drop outs Richard Wright himself was cast as the lead character, an autobiographically based personage, Bigger Thomas. The film was made in English. It attracted little attention at the box office and was cut for its limited American release. A surviving 16mm print unearthed in recent years has provided the basis of the restoration.

Introduced by Edgardo Cozarinsky, the co-curator of the remarkable selection dubbed as an alternate history of Argentinian cinema, the point was made that this may be the only time ever that the author of a novel had taken the lead, (here playing a version of himself) in a movie adaptation of his book. (Bologna's rampant cinephilia soon had that matter resolved when from the floor it was mentioned that Mickey Spillane had performed a similar task in The Girl Hunters sometime in the early 60s.)

Chenal's film is quite a show in its settings in the back blocks of the down at heel black areas of Chicago. The sets, a touch of expressionism in both setting and lighting, emphasise the grim reality of   Afro-American youth with no prospects except criminal endeavour. Bigger escapes this for awhile when he gets a job as a chauffeur to a liberal white couple (she's blind!) but then gets into trouble trying to manage the daughter of the household played by US import Jean Wallace. Accidental death sends Bigger on the run and the inevitable contretemps with the police.


Then the film goes on to his trial and the complications that ensue as white justice tries to deal with him fairly...

Wright proves most adept as an actor. Chenal's mise-en-scene is quite superb and the effort made by the restorers has paid off handsomely. You would like to think that the film, which re-premiered at Mar Del Plata FF back in 2015 might now finally have a popular life of its own and that festival directors especially will be knocking on the door.

An earlier DVD cover
Also back from the dead of b&w 16mm prints is Fritz Lang's Der Mude Tod/Destiny  made in 1921 and now restored by the F W Murnau Institute after an extraordinary search for materials. Beautifully tinted and on this occasion accompanied live on piano by Stephen Horne and drums by an anonymous accompanist, the screening was a triumph and a vindication of the art and the patience of those who do these things for the sheer love of cinema....
















The Current Cinema - Barrie Pattison tracks down Johnnie To's THREE

Watching new Johnnie To films has become a duty. It looks like Where A Good Man Goes and Mad Detective are going to be the best we get out of him but his new film Three is intriguing for movie enthusiasts, for it’s distance from the familiar models - Hollywood, Bollywood, the Euro Art Movie and those pondering melodramas being shot on the mainland. It can be seen as the heir to the kung fu film. To goes back to the excellent The Big Heat in the eighties and beyond.

It’s a cop movie entirely set in Hong Kong's Victoria Hospital. After some gory close ups of drilling into skulls in the operating room, we get into the plot of  shot criminal Wallace Chung being wheeled into Emergency handcuffed to his gurney.

Dr. Vickie Wei Zhao (Shaolin Soccer, Red Cliff) is already under fire from a patient. He spits on her and calls her “Rubbish Doctor” and her success rate doesn’t improve. She’s at odds with To regular, stony faced officer Louis Koo, who she feels is treating Chung inhumanely. Doctor and cop get into conflict over Chung’s demand for the ‘phone call that he is entitled to, with the patient quoting the Hippocratic Oath to her (in English) and her decision there provokes another calamity  - on speaker ‘phone as they hear Koo call to his team, in the middle of a robbery. Good Scene.

While this is happening, the crazy in the next bed gets away from his restraints complaining about his treatment, Lam is trying to find the Suit Conspirator who whistles classical music and the key to his hand cuffs is missing.

Finale is a large scale shoot out in slow motion - impressive moment when the moving camera comes through the ward doors and the action switches to normal speed and the sound of gunfire and panic.

The ending with the leads suspended on a knotted sheet rope and the vindictive patient crashing down stairs in his wheel chair, strips most of the undertaking’s dignity but by then there’s been enough kinetic action to more than satisfy the target audience.

It might get another week and will be all over Chinatowns in DVDs at varying prices.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Sydney Film Festival (21) - Max Berghouse reports on MEKKO (Sterlin Harjo, USA, 2015, 84 minutes)

I saw  Mekko at its first, daytime showing at the Event Cinema, where it was introduced firstly by the head of the indigenous unit of AFTRS and then by the director, Sterlin Harjo himself. The cinema itself is large and it was scarcely full of viewers which is perhaps partly explained by the daytime showing. My companion at the performance thought that she had overheard the director expressing surprise and disappointment at such a small audience. Of course there is no accounting for taste and interest.  But, albeit quite a "small" film it is extremely well worth watching.
Firstly this is a film well worth being introduced as an "indigenous" film. In a way that for example Goldstone is not. In that latter film indigenous people appear, but they are neither central nor relevant to the plot. They could be anyone. As previously mentioned in my review of that film, the scenes of "aboriginality" are at worst a cheap stunt, and at best simply superficial "appliqué". This present film is entirely concerned with American Indians and their travails in modern society as well as the intersection of everyday life with traditional spiritual beliefs.
Secondly, for myself, my understanding of America comes from very limited travels to the advanced east and west coasts of the country and my "poetic" understanding of the country is built on cinema which has largely reflected the geography and values of those, the wealthiest parts of the country. So seeing a completely different area, in this case the city of Tulsa in the state of Oklahoma, formerly called as the director said "Indian Country" was something of a revelation. Although the film concerns down and outs, living rough in presumably the poor areas of the city, it has a superb sense of place. In particular various "settings" look absolutely natural, without the slightest degree of artifice. These are the meeting and sleeping places of the homeless, all I think Indian.
The film concerns Mekko, played superbly by the Hollywood stunt performer Rod Rondeaux, a full-blood Indian himself, just released from prison after 19 years for the accidental death in a mutual alcohol binge of his cousin, even when young a noted painter. Unable to gain reconciliation with his surviving family, he is forced onto the street and to some extent saved by an old friend, also homeless, Bunnie, (Wotko Long, who has, I think, appeared in the director's previous films). The actor Mr Rondeaux has a weatherbeaten face and tall,ramrod straight gait with rail like body. He looks quite ravaged, like a long-term drinker. It is an excellent performance, totally lived in.
At the camp for the homeless, Mekko meets Bill a vicious and malevolent semi gangster with clear mental problems who abuses other homeless people under the guise of "protecting" them. This role is played by Zahn McClarmon, an actor whom I was surprised to learn is as old as 49, and whom I know only from the television series Fargo, played with luminous intensity. Mekko perceives him to be a shape shifting demon as understood from the spiritual lore of his Indian people, the Creek nation. It is here that I find the strongest evidence of "indigenous relevance" because it is not that Mekko actually believes that Bill IS a demon, rather that it helps him to conceptualise and understand reality, just as a Christian would take the view that a deeply sinful person is "evil". This conceptualisation is delicately and subtly handled, appearing to be a perfectly rational view and certainly not done with any attempt to indicate a "higher" understanding by indigenous people.
The culmination of the conflict between the two men results in an overwhelming act of violence by Mekko; he kills Bill and removes his still warm heart and casts it into the river, an apparently religious act. Our advanced Western perceptions of Bill' s evil meshes perfectly with the killer's conception.
The film ends on a modestly optimistic note that the protagonist and the young Native American, Allen, whom Mekko is protecting – against himself, returning to his original home, albeit abandoned.
Photography is excellent and captures perfectly the empty days, the drunken nights and poverty as well as the individual and collective attempts to maintain dignity. Rod Rondeaux's performance is a standout. He really knows the wariness necessary for an ex con. Most of the other performances are also excellent although demands on them are limited. One or two, clearly performances by amateurs are a bit lame.
There is some voice-over in the Creek language which because it is unusual, has a certain haunting and poetic beauty which overcomes my general antipathy to voice-over. The soundtrack together with the use of tribal chants and songs is very moving. I did notice one or possibly two, in my opinion continuity faults but this did not disturb the flow of the film nor its emotional impact.

Bologna Diary (7) - Laemmle Jr's Laughter in Hell and King of Jazz

Surprises at every turn. I asked curator Dave Kehr his estimation of the quality to come following the standards set yesterday by William Wyler's A House Divided  (1931) and The Good Fairy  (1935). The latter remained the topic of much chortling over breakfast and I'm grateful to Simon Taaffe for what I think is close to perfect recall of one of one of the many great Preston Sturges lines the film contains. "He took her away to his cave in the mountains." "It was only a game". "The police have another word for it." Guess you had to be there.

In Dave's view the quality was going up with today's offering of two more of Laemmle Jr's productions - Edward L Cahn's Laughter in Hell (USA, 1933) and John Murray Anderson's King of Jazz (USA, 1930). Cahn's film is a very rapid run through of love gone wrong for train driver Barney Slaney. He marries his beloved but she's fickle and is soon seeing an old boyfriend, one of Barney's bitter enemies. Pat O'Brien plays Barney with a featureless delivery of lines and gets life. The brother of the man he killed runs the state chain gang. The sequence in this hell hole, where four blacks are hung is as explosive as any over decades. But the story is all over the shop and just sort of stops.

The sense of disappointment was nothing compared to that for King of Jazz. The ovations at the film's new release at MOMA weren't repeated here.  OK lets pay tribute to the art of the restorers who worked to produce a superb re-edition of the original two strip Tecnicolor. Exemplary and beyond - the colours superb, the restoration done with the sort of attention to detail that rarely occurs even when at the high points. Universal, explained Janice Simpson from the company, had explored the world for the best material. But.....

The film was, Dave Kehr informed us in his intro, a major flop on first release. It's not hard to see why. The "devisor and director" revealed no talent at all when compared to his confreres of the day. Beyond putting large numbers of people on screen the film has no energy or vitality to support its attempt at lurid spectacle. It just went on and on and on  - bland sequence after sequence, hardly directed at all, the odd number like the raggedy doll piece of apache dancing showing some sign of life but otherwise weak warbling tenors and bland sopranos wandered by supposedly comic moments. The alleged King of Jazz was the oleaginous Paul Whitman, an unlikely hero if ever there was one. A major disappointment to the overflow house in the very steamy Jolly Cinema. Laemmle Jr went for prestige and glamour but nobody bought it then and I suspect the crowd was not really on his side today

More to come....

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Bologna Diary (6) - Mario Soldati and Jacques Becker

Following one another's films at the Jolly Cinema, I'm finding it easy so far to look at a Soldati film in the afternoon followed by an early evening Becker. The intros have been restricted and the shows have started on time.

Soldati's Piccolo Mondo Antico (Italy, 1941) has so much history and politics in its tale of a young man, Franco (Massimo Serato), disinherited and cheated, when he marries the gorgeous Luisa (the gorgeous Alida Valli). The film twists and turns over a decade and Franco gets himself involved in the political and military endeavours of the day. I wish I could pick it apart better, especially because you have to get some idea that something subversive is going on in this story of resisting those who threaten Italy. Among Soldati's collaborators on the film were Alberto Lattuada who gets credited as a scriptwriter and as the Assistant Director and Dino Risi, credited as an assistant. The film was screened on 35mm, a beautiful copy.

Becker's Falbalas (France, 1945) is oblivious to the turmoil occurring around the film-making. Raymond Rousseau plays an haute-couture fashion designer who becomes besotted with a young woman to whom he promises a wedding dress. She's the fiancee of his best friend and is played by the scrumptious Micheline Presle.

(Aaah that moment when I first saw Presle in a movie when she seduced Hardy Kruger in Losey's Blind Date way back in the early sixties. Still sticks in the mind. Becker builds what starts out as light comedy into a thundering climax. The restored DCP on show was excellent if possibly just a little light grey. No subtitles on the film which caused much straining to read the electronic version in two languages underneath the screen.

Then dinner...a snap

Photo by Neil McGlone. Missing Simon Taaffe, David Thompson

Bologna Diary (5) - William Wyler lights it up. Plus Asquith, Soldati and Becker on show

Carl Laemmle Jr
Selected from a more extensive season presented earlier this year at New York’s MOMA, the ever estimable Dave Kehr has put together a  programming strand of eleven films produced  at Universal Studios from the early to the mid-30s. All have a production credit for the son of the studio head, Carl Laemmle Junior. The directors whose work is on show represent many of the best working in Hollywood at the time and include European and British emigres. I cant help thinking that the eminence grise hovering over Laemmle’s ambitions was that of the mighty FW Murnau, ensconced at the time at Fox and changing the sensibility of the cinema forever. Not sure how far I can chase that thought down.

The first two films in the series were both directed by William Wyler – the early sound film A House Divided  (USA, 1931) with Walter Huston, Douglass Montgomery and Helen Chandler. She plays a put upon 19 year old mail order bride, first rejected by the widowed Hustons but that’s quickly followed by his brusque marriage proposal (‘I’ll marry yuh’). Unfortunately in the moments between the widower’s son falls for the girl and she for him. With a lot of location shooting and the already apparent Wyler tendency to be more than a little emphatic, it’s a film of interest if not a major rediscovery for the pantheon.

However that may be somewhere for The Good Fairy (USA, 1935) where Wyler demonstrates that he has slipped into sound film with aplomb and has found a collaborator to maximise effect. That is Preston Sturges, a contriver of plots and a composer of lines the like of which has rarely been equalled. Working from a play by Ferenc Molnar the plot has Margaret Sullavan trying to escape the attention of suitor Frank Morgan by pretending to be married to smooth but poor lawyer Herbert Marshall. The dialogue has more than its share of risqué elements. Fabulous stuff.


More to come on a second Mario Soldati film Piccolo Mondo Antico made in Italy during WW2 and another Jacques Becker Falbalas from 1945 and a note to say that Antony Asquith’s Shooting Stars (UK, 1928) went over storm and was particularly well  accompanied by Donald Sosin’s improvisations at the piano. Donald got his own separate ovation.