It is unclear to me whether it is the films themselves or my perception of them but a big part of what I was able to see at the cinephile’s-warm-pillow-of-a -festival Il Cinema Ritrovato this year seemed to revolve around people -one or two,-fighting against the word around them, clinging to keep (themselves) together. Among them were plenty of couples (a double challenge), fighting to keep together against all odds and circumstances. Perhaps all films are a bit about that after all.
The couple seems to be the centre of Frank Borzage’s world. Be it the two in Little Man, What Now? or the married couple in Secrets, they all try to keep together, fighting something: poverty, fugitive lust, perhaps themselves (usually the men). Their solace is the gesture of physically leaning on each other, in long and softened close-ups.
Which is also more or less what the effeminate René Tabard and his friend do in Zero de conduite, leaning against each other against the rigors of the boarding school. There, solace is the gesture of leaning, complemented by Boris Kaufmanns amazing camera, slow motion, feathers and pending bodies. In the films of Vigo, solace seems to be making the movement (of bodies in the frame and of the camera) smooth.. Yet the ultimate solace in the films of Vigo appears elsewhere. I dare say it is water, the water in which the man longing man finds his estranged wife in L’Atalante, the water in the amazing La Natation par Jean Taris, which also keeps the reality of the on the surface world away.
I suppose it is also solace what Mitchum looks for it in The Yakuza but doesn’t necessarily seem to find. Then again, he rarely does. Solace where Mitchum is involved, takes the shape of him acting in such a way that you understand it is acting. He somehow turns everything meta. Solace is Mitchum making you aware of the fact that he’s Robert Mitchum.
The hostile world is a merry-go-round in Little Man, What Now?, it’s shooting in black and white in Marco Ferreri’s Break Up, or a cyclone in Steamboat Bill, Jr. , though meinen that the latter deals with similar problems would be stretching it too far. I wonder if with Keaton, the hostility is an disruption of geometry. I also wonder if Ferreri’s Break Up (a film about a fading relationship) is not to high pitched for the state of mind it tries to portray. Even understanding the on the verge o explosion idea (unavoidable), It seems to yell out. I thought there was supposed to be silence before the tempest, absolute lucidity before an epileptic seizure. Solace comes in it as a (possibly) dream sequence, a ballon orgy-party, the film’s only sequence shot in color. Putting it even more bluntly, the short lived solace comes to Mastroianni as new women, only before he realizes that all relationships lead to the same end.
I am quite certain that there is neither solace nor absolution to find in John Huston’s Wise Blood. It is, like Ferreri’s Break Up also wishes to be, a film about a on the verge state of mind. In this case connected to post-war trauma ending up in (anti)religious fanaticism. Hazel Motes’ magnificent performance of Brad Dourif) perception of the world as hostile is suggested primarily through what I’d like to call here ill-angle shots. And through neurotic movements, be it the already mentioned acting of Dourif, or the uncontrollable shaking of Motes’ wreck of a car. Here, the quest for solace implies man making everything as hardly bearable as it can get himself.
Max Ophüls Divine comes with a twist in regard to solace. The film’s happy ending – the peasant girl turned famous show girl marries and returns to the countryside to lead a peaceful life – is shown as a fake promise to happiness, the couple shown behind window grates. Solace for the protagonist was the world of glitter and overzealous style (Ophüls’ style), yet the film leaves her before she finds out that here solace was to be found elsewhere.
There are two films I saw for the first time at Il Cinema Ritrovato that I particularly want to mention. One is La goumbé des jeunes noceurs by Jean Rouch, a film of tremendous vitality, which is less concerned with what ifs and more with what is and how can we. The other one is Nicole Vedrès’ Paris 1900.
I leave Bologna dancing to the many days ago heard and seen rhythms of D. A. Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop and thinking about the films I regret not having been able to (mostly re-)watch. Among them: L’Atalante in the Piazza Maggiore, the restored films of Abel Gance, River of No Return, and many more. Personally, I bought my solace and came back with a book on Artavazd Peleshyan and a DVD of Les Hautes Solitudes. Still: full festival next year.