Saturday 15 June 2019

Youssef Chahine, The Nile, The Soviets

Youssef Chahine

One of the six* Youssef Chahine films which will be screened at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2019 is one of its director's epic works from the 1960s and his first film conceived as a co-production between Egypt and the Soviet Union. I haven't mentioned the title of the film yet as it's exactly the reason I'm posting the translation of this interview with Chahine: the confusion about the title of the film.

The film in question is about Aswan Dam which was one of President Gamal Abdel Nasser's most ambitious projects. It was built with the help of Russians after Nasser was turned down by Americans. Chahine was assigned to make a film about it with a cast from both Egypt and Russia and scenes shot around the Nile, as well as in Moscow and Leningrad.

However, the film was banned upon completion and Chahine was asked to do another film on the same subject. The title of the second film which he directed but didn't like was Al-Nas va Al-Nil (People and the Nile, 1972). This film was distributed in Egypt and had some scenes in common with the "director's cut."

For years, that was the only version available until the original film was discovered in and restored by Cinémathèque Française. Chahine started calling his revived film Al-Nil va al-Hayat (Life and the Nile).

Poster for Al-Nas va al-Nil (originally shown in 70mm)

In Bologna, we will be screening the latter version that Chahine liked and approved on June 26, 11AM, Cine Jolly. However, note that the Arabic title of the film in the opening sequence is still Al-Nas va Al-Nil (People and the Nile) even if it is actually Al-Nil va al-Hayat! At this point, I still don't know why.

Back to the troubled history of making this Nile project, Chahine explained the genesis of the film and the problems he had in an interview with newspaper Al Hayat. I have used Google translator and my basic knowledge of Arabic to make this text available to you, as I believe the information given here is important in avoiding the confusion regarding the title of the film.

Wednesday 12 June 2019

First Case, Second Case (Abbas Kiarostami, 1979)

Abbas Kiarostami, circa mid-70s
Programme notes written for the world premiere of the restored version of the film at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2019. — EK

First Case, Second Case
Abbas Kiarostami, 1979

Written by Abbas Kiarostami. Shot by Houshang Baharlou. Edited by Abbas Kiarostami. Cast: Mehdi Azadbakht, Mohammadreza Barati, Hedayat Matin Daftari, Nader Ebrahimi, Gholamreza Emami, Mahmoud Enayat, Ezzatolah Entezami, Ali Mousavi Garmaroudi, Ali Golzadeh Ghafouri, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh.

First Case, Second Case

This banned and rarely seen pseudo-documentary by Kiarostami is a testimony to his seldom acknowledged political shrewdness and his objective, complex perspective on the tumultuous events of the late 70s in Iran, culminating in the revolution. Remarkably, he achieved this without leaving his comfort zone, the classroom setting, and by staying faithful to his inquiring style, with its subtle, imaginative manipulation of recorded reality. Here, he also mastered the interview format (recently introduced into his body of work by Tribute to Teachers,1977), putting his finger on the pulse of Iranian society by collaging conflicting viewpoints.

Tuesday 11 June 2019

Georgian Short Documentaries at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2019

Arabesques on a Pirosmani Theme

This programme, composed of four short Georgian documentaries, was cherry-picked by me from a larger number of newly restored films made available to Il Cinema Ritrovato by Central Archive of Audio-Visual Documents of the National Archives of Georgia. Thanks to their hard work and generosity, you'll be able to see some of the most dazzling,  hauntingly poetic films of this year's festival in Bologna. The title of this programme, "Beyond Soviet Propaganda", is suggested by curator of Georgian Archive; a very apt title if you watch the films. — Ehsan Khoshbakht


Tudzhi [Cast Iron] (1964) by Otar Iosseliani

In this early Iosseliani, the last of the Georgian masters, shows a fascinating combination of influences – from his own background in music, to Soviet documentaries about heavy industry. He records a day in the life of the workers at a steel mill, where the juxtaposition of vulnerable flesh and raging, smelting iron creates striking images. It opens with city symphony style shots of industrial chimneys. From there, in a movement from light to darkness – repeated elsewhere in the film – it’s off to the mill. The post-production sound, although realistic, adds an eerie dimension. There are humorous touches, however: during a lunch break a gigantic fan is used by the workers to dry their sweat-soaked clothes and the air blowing around the shirts turns gives them new sculptural forms. And later, when the workers are seen barbecuing by simply holding the skewers close to the ground, where the temperature is high enough to grill their daily meal.

Saturday 8 June 2019

Way of a Gaucho (Jacques Tourneur, 1952)

Written for the catalogue of Il Cinema Ritrovato 2019 to accompany a June 25 screening of the film from a vintage BFI print. — EK

This year's Il Cinema Ritrovato offers some of the most eclectic westerns ever made: Henry King's realist, anti-violence drama The Gunfighter, Budd Boetticher's austere and minimalist Ride Lonesome and Tourneur's Argentinean western, Way of a Gaucho. Interestingly, the latter was meant to be directed by King, too, whose wife's illness prevented him from accepting an assignment which demanded shooting entirely in Argentina.

Gauchos are a "special breed of men answering only to their laws and codes," the opening sequence voice-over clarifies with its clear analogy to cowboys, setting the tone for a classic western narrative. The film follows the story of gaucho Martín Penalosa, from imprisonment, after killing a man in a duel, to agreeing serve in the militia which he eventually deserts. This gives the film its dramatic core, especially after Martín's commander, Major Salinas, embarks on a long chase to capture the deserter who by now has become a hero bandit.