film critic of Filmcritica an historical magazine now available online bimonthly : www.filmcriticarivista.it
|La Règle du jeu
|The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
|Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
|Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet
|0 PRINCIPIO DA INCERTEZA
|Manoel de Oliveira
|Wadi Grand Canyon
As a freshman, back in 1978, I attended a seminar on Citizen Kane along with some other Orson Welles films. Since then I’ve learned that every film keeps many secrets inside, and that is always worth it to search for “Rosebud”, as a broad metaphor for the deep core of the very process of filming.
La Règle du jeu
Jean Renoir shot this just before the start of the Second World War, proving that he could see perfectly the upcoming storm and also that he was bold enough to materialise it, in a manner both beautiful and horrifying, through all the shadows and extraordinary camerawork, challenging and questioning the viewer throughout the whole film. La Régle du jeu keeps its untouched mystery and weird fascination even today; far more than a masterpiece, La Règle du Jeu remains and wonderful tool to keep on being used.
Vertigo is one of the films of my life, it still keeps on haunting me each time I watch it, with the uncanny dual vision of Madeleine/Judy embodied by Kim Novak. Alfred Hitchcock – in Godard's view, the only poète maudit to achieve major commercial success, and the only one “who took control of the universe” – with Vertigo gives shape to a hypnotic dance of life and death, which shows how human fragility is desperately searching for illusions. Vertigo has cast its spell on other directors too, from Manoel de Oliveira (Belle toujours, 2006) to David Lynch (Twin Peaks 3, 2017). For me, it remains one of the darkest, most fascinating and shining journeys back and forth to the realm of shadows.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
In 2021 I published a monograph on Vincente Minnelli (D. Turco, V. Minnelli. La materialità del sogno, Ente dello Spettacolo, Roma), and I have to say that among all his many films, I’ve always felt particularly close to The Four Horsemen of thge Apocalypse. Maybe it’s because of its dramatic and dense use of colour – the amazing Minnelli Red – maybe it’s because of its powerful pacifism, against the insanity of all wars, maybe it’s because The Four Horsemen of Apocalypse is a touching fresco of brutality and tenderness deeply intertwined, a very precise essay on the deep processes of human feelings and desires, destined to be more or less sadly disappointed.
Le mépris is, in my opinion, one of those films out of time, which remain like bridges between the past and the future, and never stop showing their experimental side and their life (and death) at work. Films like this never cease inspiring many subsequent films, such as Beware of a Holy Whore (1971) by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, or Mullholand Dr. (2001) by David Lynch, to name just a couple. Besides that, the film-lessons of Lumière, Rossellini, Lang, Minnelli, etc., leave their recognizable traces within Le Mépris, heralding a genealogical method that will later find fulfilment in Godard's Histoire(s) du cinéma. Le Mépris, forever…
Taking for granted the statement of the French film critic Serge Daney, who used to point out how the experience of cinema is deeply linked to childhood, to “the films that have watched our childhood”, Dumbo is one of those films I watched (and which watched me back) as a kid, which I’ve never forgotten. Dumbo is a sweet, gentle freak, a little elephant with enormous ears, who, when he is brutally separated from his mother struggles against all odds to survive, epitomising the struggle of all lonely kids. Dumbo celebrates the connection between strength and weirdness, while showing the brutality and cruelty of the world, particularly the showbusiness world, represented here by the circus where these animals live and work. Touching and fiercely critical of showbusiness's exploitative side, Dumbo is also striking for its amazing, experimental side, visible in the hypnotic dance of pink elephants dreamed by Dumbo when he’s totally drunk. A film about fantasy, the hope to be found in friendship and in weirdness itself, as a special key that can open human beings (we are animals too, aren’t we?) to the world, opening their gaze as well.
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
Jeanne Dielman, as a breaking point in Film History, as the fully realised attempt to show how a female gaze behind the camera can sense and seize a totally different universe, making the viewer, at the same time, feel it. Intensely experimental in its unique way of dealing with time – real time, in its deepest physical meaning – Jeanne Dielman plays its dangerous, astonishing game between use of real time and use of ellipses, while showing three days in the life of an apparently ordinary housewife: Delphine Seyrig in her most beautiful, disturbing and mysterious role. A masterpiece which brought something totally new in film history, shot by Chantal when she was just 25 years old; a film which, it's worth remembering, couldn’t be imagined without the rising wave of the Feminism of the 70s. I’m extremely grateful to Chantal Akerman, because, back then, Jeanne Dielman simply opened my eyes forever.
The charismatic appearance of Franco Fortini himself reading his poem, as much as the beauty and the poetry of camera movements (Renato Berta is the cinematographer) give this film its powerful, almost sacred aura. The amazing panning shot at the beginning of the film, across the landscape of the Apuan alps, where in 1944 the Nazi soldiers committed mass slaughter, is unforgettable. A deep reflection about the power of the words mirrored by the power of camera movement, in the Brechtian style that is Straub-Huillet's unique way of dealing with history, memory and political thought.
0 PRINCIPIO DA INCERTEZA
Manoel de Oliveira films are often as enigmatic and puzzling as a maze, as difficult to follow as splendid, tortuous dreams that suddenly can turn in nightmares. O Princípio da Incerteza], from a novel by Agustina Bessa-Luís, takes the form of a dense melodrama and the intensity of a philosophical essay about the nature of good and evil, reality and appearance, corruption and innocence, sacred and profane. The Paganini Caprices and the almost supernatural light (Renato Berta is the cinematographer) provide the film's dramatic impact, along with a serene and disenchanted gaze at class differences and high-bourgeois decadence which are among the essential ingredients of a film both unsettling and enchanting, founded on the ambiguity of the senses, and, somehow, not far from Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle of quantum mechanics.
Wadi Grand Canyon
The Israeli director Amos Gitai discovered the Wadi Rushmia, an almost invisible valley to the east of Haifa, when he was very young, then, struck by this totally unusual place and by the people who lived there, decided to shoot a documentary about it, which along the became something like an archeological dig, since Gitai shot there first in 1981, then in 1991, and finally in 2001, immediately before the area was emptied of shacks and people who lived there, to make room for enormous mall. This project of the three Wadis (all of them absorbed in the final version, Wadi Grand Canyon), kind of unique in film history, strikes the viewer above all for its view of a concretely realised utopia, the Wadi Rushmia being a peculiar enclave where Arab and Jew over time had found a way to live together. Iso and Salo, Yussuf and Aisha, Iskander and Miriam, all these touching and remarkable people lived there in the Wadi – and now forever within the film – while Gitai, each time he went back there to shoot, tried to keep track of these people's unexpected political consciousness.
Between Rossellini's approach to humanity and John Ford deep lyricism of space, Gitai’s Wadi Grand Canyon, with its fragile and yet enduring beauty, is an open question to the world, one that is still waiting for an answer.
( Just to finish properly my comment on Wadi Grand Canyon, by Amos Gitai.)