Federico Rossin

Mon invisible

Il mio film invisibile è “Mueda, Memória e Massacre” di Ruy Guerra, del 1979. Ho scoperto questo film grazie ad un amico, un grande regista, John Gianvito. Me ne ha parlato come di un capolavoro perduto del cinema, come di un film necessario di cui si sono perse le tracce. Ho poi letto di come Guerra, nato in Mozambico e poi emigrato in Brasile, fosse tornato nel suo paese a girare il primo lungometraggio mai realizzato laggiù. E scelse un episodio terribile, il massacro di Mueda del 16 giugno 1960, in cui l’esercito coloniale portoghese sterminò oltre 600 persone che chiedevano la fine dei lavori forzati. Guerra fece un film totalmente radicale, intrecciando vertiginosamente fra loro ricostruzione, finzione e documentario e coinvolgendo nella realizzazione i sopravvissuti al massacro e i nuovi abitanti di Mueda. Ho cercato ovunque una copia in DVD di “Mueda”, contattando collezionisti di ogni continente e non sono mai riuscito a vederne neanche una sequenza: è come se, grazie alla forza delle parole di John, quel film mi fosse entrato come una spina nel cuore. Vorrei potermi togliere questo dolore – che ha poco di fame cinefila e molto di rabbia politica – vedendolo finalmente durante il festival.

Jonathan Rosenbaum

Lost and Found

In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention at the outset that Françoise Romand has been a good friend for over two decades. But I hasten to add that she became a friend because of my immoderate enthusiasm for Mix-Up (1986), her first film–one of the strangest as well as strongest documentaries that I know.

Filmed over just twelve days, but recounting a multilayered real-life story that covers nearly half a century, Mix-Up recounts and explores what ensued after two middle-class English women, Margaret Wheeler and Blanche Rylatt, gave birth to daughters in November 1936 in a Nottingham nursing home, and the babies were inadvertently switched. The switch came about through a filing error that was only confirmed 21 years later, after Wheeler persisted in pursuing her own queasy suspicions, meanwhile keeping contact with the Rylatts. But by then, of course, Peggy and Valerie had grown up with the wrong mothers, Blanche and Margaret respectively.

Reseeing Mix-Up recently, and finding it has only expanded and improved over time, I continue to wonder why it isn’t more widely known. Romand’s films, described in her self-interview, are all quite different from one another (and her autobiographical Thème Je, which she calls The Camera I in English, is even more radical and transgressive than Mix-Up), and this gives her a somewhat elusive profile as an auteur.

But perhaps the most serious obstacle is that her masterpiece poses a genuine challenge in how it makes art and life indistinguishable, merging artistic choices with ethical initiatives, and dares us to do likewise in following her. The implicit rivalry between the two mothers and their respective cultures and approaches to life is everywhere apparent, but part of Romand’s genius is the way she gets the entire family engaged in the serious game-playing of this film’s production, a game we become obliged to play as well. This makes her art both an unpredictable, risky adventure and an unusual form of healing, for the people on-screen as well as for us. The film’s hopeful closing motto, “We all belong together,” may sound a trifle optimistic, but the film itself is nothing less than a  multifaceted demonstration of this thesis.

Because various stages in this long narrative are made to coexist in the present, the plot and characters ultimately register with the density of a 500-page novel. And the subject is treated so exhaustively that the film’s 63 minutes register like a much longer film.

But at no point does Romand pretend to offer an objective, “balanced” account of what happened (even though her recurring imagery, some of it surrealist and/or allegorical,  includes babies being weighed on matching scales), and the viewer is obliged to become no less invested.

Martin Scorsese

  • Greed, 1924, d. Erich von Stroheim

This adaptation of Frank Norris’ epic novel about the ruinous lust for gold among three ordinary people is, in its severely truncated form, still a great film. But Stroheim intended something much different, a vast realist canvas that would portray an entire way of life and the dreams and aspirations of the people living it. Irving Thalberg, the young chief of production at MGM, had a different point of view (miraculously, Stroheim worked for Thalberg a year later on his far less ambitious version of The Merry Widow). There is now a version of the film that supplements the missing scenes with stills, which is interesting but, ultimately unsatisfying. You spend your time imagining what the movie would have been.

  • The Elusive Pimpernel, 1950, d. Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger

Alexander Korda, one of the people who more or less created the British film industry, was the man who wanted Powell and Pressburger to do a Technicolor remake of The Scarlet Pimpernel, the story of a British aristocrat who goes undercover in Paris during the Terror. The Archers made their own uniquely fanciful version of the story, with musical numbers, tongue-in-cheek asides and visual flourishes. Samuel Goldwyn, who had a business arrangement with Korda, detested the film and ordered massive cuts, musical interludes included. The picture was released in the U.S., with some prints in black and white! I saw it in color, on 42nd Street, and it’s always stayed with me. Michael thought that the original cut of the film was gone forever, but we’re holding out hope that it’s sitting in a vault somewhere in this world.

  • The Paradine Case

As I get older, Alfred Hitchcock’s films seem better and better, and they become richer and more complex with each new viewing. That includes the supposedly unsuccessful pictures, like Topaz or Torn Curtain. This picture, about a British lawyer’s growing infatuation with the mysterious woman he’s defending on a charge of murder, is in a slightly different category. Hitchcock felt that the script, for which Selznick himself took credit, was never quite right. He himself had worked on the original draft, but he also tried to make the film work as it was – his original cut was 3 and a half hours. The Paradine Case would probably be imperfect in any form, but imperfect Hitchcock is more exciting than most movies.

  • The Other Side of the Wind, d. Orson Welles, 1970-75

During the last 20 years of his life, Orson Welles made movies outside of the industrial norm. He worked in the manner of a painter or a composer, shooting a little here, a little there, reworking this and fine-tuning that, over lengthy periods. When Welles passed away, he left many projects in various states of completion. His magnum opus, though, was this movie about an aging Hollywood veteran director (played by real veteran director John Huston) who makes an arty “youth” film in an effort to stay current in the then new “New Hollywood,” and as a veiled expression of homoerotic longing for his young male star. The project developed slowly over the years, changing form and tone, and Welles intended to cross-cut between cinema-verité style footage of a birthday party for the director and the film within the film. At the time of his death, the rough cut and all the materials had been seized as an asset by the Iranian government (the principal financier was Iranian) and then impounded by the French government. Over the years, there have been many attempts to complete the film. Thus far none have come to fruition. In 1975, when Welles was honored by the AFI, he showed two extended sequences, both absolutely dazzling – they are now easily viewable on YouTube. I hope that someday, we’ll be able to see the picture in some kind of form that does justice to Welles’ intentions.

  • The Magnificent Ambersons

The young Orson Welles followed up Citizen Kane with this adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s novel about the slow downfall of an Indianapolis family as their entire way of life is destroyed by industrial progress. Where everything went right for Welles on his first film, everything went wrong on his second. The studio management had changed and was far less sympathetic to Welles and his artistry, the film had a disastrous preview and when drastic cuts were ordered Welles was in South America shooting his documentary It’s All True. The film was severely truncated and a new ending was shot by another director. It should be said that Welles was such a genius that The Magnificent Ambersons really is a great film despite its obviously compromised form – every piece of it is so potent that you can somehow feel the vast missing stretches. But when you read Welles’ shooting script and come to fully understand what he intended, it will break your heart. For many years, film scholars held out hope that the work print of Ambersons had survived and might be sitting in a South American archive. Those hopes are dwindling. It appears to be gone forever, just like the late-Victorian splendor of the Amberson mansion.

Brad Stevens

The Queen’s Guards (Michael Powell, UK, 1961)

I recently attended a 50th anniversary screening of Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960) in London, accompanied by a few friends. During the discussion that followed, I claimed that, due to the film’s scandalous reception, Powell had never been permitted to make another feature in the UK. I later realized that this was incorrect.Indeed, the year after Peeping Tom, Powell directed The Queen’s Guards, a film which seems to have almost completely vanished.

Of the few people who have seen The Queen’s Guards, which was made for 20th Century-Fox, none seems to think much of it: Ian Christie, in his book Arrows of Desire: The Films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (Waterstone, 1985) suggests it was “almost like an act of contrition” for his previous fillm, and Powell himself called it “the most inept piece of filmmaking that I have ever produced or directed”. Yet descriptions of the narrative structure – which apparently involves a Guards officer (Daniel Massey) recalling his cadet training and combat experience in a series of flashbacks – suggests a possible connection with The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), and there would seem to be some echoes of Peeping Tom in the protagonist’s attempt to both imitate and rebel against his obsessively traditional father (intriguingly played by Massey’s own father). It’s also worth noting that this was the last of Powell’s three attempts to work in a widescreen ratio: his other widescreen features, Oh…Rosalinda!! (1955) and Luna de Miel/Honeymoon (1959) almost qualify as invisible works themselves (I have only been able to see the latter in a panned-and-scanned television transfer).

The Queen’s Guards has not played on British television since 1974, and, as far as I can make out, has not been screened theatrically since it was shown as part of a Powell retrospective at the San Sebastián festival in 2002. The film may well be as awful as those who have seen it insist, but the available stills suggest that Powell was at least being characteristically attentive to the emotional possibilities of colour cinematography. As a late work by Britain’s finest filmmaker (I except Hitchcock, who made his most important films in America), it would be a great shame if it were allowed to languish in obscurity.

Birgit Kohler

Nausicaa (Agnès Varda, F 1970, 90 min, couleur) :

Synopsis: Histoire d’amour entre une étudiante française et un intellectuel grec. Rencontre, conversation, première nuit d’amour pour elle, nuit unique pour les deux. Tout le long du récit, des parenthèses sous forme de témoignages, d’interviews, de confidences d’intellectuels et d’artistes résidant à Paris ou de réfugiés politiques récents authentifient la fiction et lui fournissent son contexte historique. (aus: Varda par Agnès)

NAUSICAA figuriert in der Filmografie von Agnès Varda zwar ganz selbstverständlich zwischen LIONS LOVE (1969) und DAGUERRÉOTYPES (1974/75) – doch der Film wurde nie aufgeführt und ist seit 40 Jahren unsichtbar. Nur eine einzige, kurze Szene wurde jüngst veröffentlicht, in LES PLAGES D’AGNÈS (2008) von Varda mit einer bewussten Geste in ihr künstlerisches Lebenswerk integriert: der blutjunge Gérard Depardieu als bärtiger Hippie mit Hut, im Wortgefecht mit einer Studentin, der er einen Kunstband geklaut hat. Ein Ausschnitt, dem die politische Kontroverse um den Film nicht anzusehen ist. Und der Lust auf mehr macht.

NAUSICAA wurde im Jahr 1970 im Auftrag des französischen Fernsehens ORTF gedreht. Das Drehbuch dieser „fiction documentaire“ basiert auf Gesprächen mit in Frankreich lebenden Exil-Griechen, die Musik stammt von Mikis Theodorakis. Aufgrund der Kritik am griechischen Obristen-Regime (unter anderem durch die Aussagen von Folteropfern) intervenierten das französische Außen- und Wirtschaftsministerium zum Wohle der Handelsbeziehungen mit Griechenland und verhinderten die Ausstrahlung des Films. Seitdem ist NAUSICAA eine Leerstelle, die man in Kenntnis des Œuvres von Varda und anhand spärlicher Informationen notdürftig zu füllen sucht. Der Titel verweist auf die griechische Mythologie – doch eine Verbindung von Nausicaa, dem jungen Mädchen, das den schiffsbrüchigen Odysseus nackt am Strand findet, zu Vardas Film ULYSSES (1982) ist wohl eher unwahrscheinlich. Autobiografische Elemente sind hingegen offensichtlich, denn die Hauptperson heißt Agnès, studiert an der École du Louvre und hat einen griechischen Vater. Womöglich pflegt Varda in NAUSICAA ja einen ähnlich selbstironischen und anti-nostalgischen Umgang mit ihrer Herkunft wie in ONCLE YANCO (1967) und in LES PLAGES D’AGNÈS (2008)? Dass der Film sich kritisch mit der Militärdiktatur in Griechenland auseinandersetzt, kann man sich angesichts von Vardas politischer Positionierung in SALUT LES CUBAINS (1963), BLACK PANTHERS (1968) und in ihren feministischen Filmen wie L’UNE CHANTE L’AUTRE PAS (1976) vorstellen. Ein politisches Pamphlet ist aber sicherlich auch NAUSICAA nicht, sondern wie all ihre Filme eine kreative Verbindung von Dokumentarischem und Fiktivem – à la Varda: subjektiv, humorvoll und unerschrocken. Schließlich ist das Untergraben der Polarität von Inszenierung und Wirklichkeit ein grundlegendes Prinzip ihrer Arbeit. Aufgrund des künstlerischen Eigensinns von Agnès Varda wäre es aber auch nicht weiter verwunderlich, wenn NAUSICAA ungeahnte Überraschungen bereithielte. Wenn man sich davon doch bloß überzeugen könnte!