Thursday 28 March 2024

The Lady with the Torch | The Centenary of Columbia Pictures at Locarno Film Festival 2024

During its golden age, Columbia Pictures produced some of American cinema’s most iconic films across a panoply of varied styles and popular genres. In 1924, the relatively small-scale motion picture company Cohn-Brandt-Cohn rebranded itself as Columbia Pictures. This new studio would eventually feature, as its masthead and in the preamble before each film, the Lady with the Torch, the Statue of Liberty-like female figure who was, at first, draped nobly in the American flag and has become recognizable to film lovers everywhere.

Organized in partnership with the Cinémathèque suisse, The Lady with the Torch will present the studio in all its glory, shining a light on lesser-known genre filmmakers like Max Nosseck or William A. Seiter, as well as celebrating major auteurs like Howard Hawks, Frank Borzage, Fritz Lang, Frank Capra, George Stevens, and John Ford, who made some of their most characteristic as well as most surprising films while passing through the studio. So too did its movies do much to hone and define the screen presences of treasured stars like Rita Hayworth, Jean Arthur, Rosalind Russell, and William Holden, and lay the groundwork for the new era of more intensely psychological acting that would come to dominate in the 1950s, working with a new generation of directors coming from the theater, such as Joshua Logan. Columbia Pictures was the home – intermittent or otherwise – of figures as diverse as Boris Karloff, the Three Stooges and George Cukor, Ben Hecht and William Cameron Menzies. Notably, it is also where Dorothy Arzner, one of only two female filmmakers to work in the classical era of Hollywood, produced some of her most pioneering works. It is to this varied spectrum of artists, performers, and beloved figures of fun that the Festival pays tribute.

Wednesday 20 March 2024

The Runner Still Runs

A dazed boy is standing on the beach, hollering at the ships leaving the Persian Gulf for other worlds. The vessels of escape, carrying oil tanks and dreams, are fading ghosts on a pale horizon. To overcome a world full of hostility and indifference, the boy must learn to run.

Amir Naderi’s autobiographical masterpiece The Runner (1984) was one of the first postrevolutionary Iranian films screened and celebrated internationally. The epic scene of boys racing across the oil field toward a cube of melting ice, their trophy, became the emblem of the new Iranian cinema that emerged in the 1980s.

Amiro is an orphan living in the southern Iranian port city of Abadan, working odd jobs until he realizes that he has to better his life by learning to read and to run—the first in recognition that other worlds exist, and the second in order to reach them. Paradoxically, this film that sizzles with the desire for freedom was made in 1983–84, the darkest years of Iran’s recent history, when the grip of the Islamic regime on every aspect of life, including the newly nationalized Iranian cinema, became total.

Friday 15 March 2024

The Walls Came Tumbling Down (Lothar Mendes, 1946)

The biblical title ("When the people heard the sound of the trumpet, they raised a great shout and the wall fell down." Joshua 6:20) has actually very little to do with the story of this drab and cut-rate mystery film, except its ending.

Something to Live For (George Stevens, 1952)

Playing on May 29 at Closeup Cinema in London. EK

This one of the crowning jewels of American cinema, nearly as good as the best of Roberto Rossellini with Ingrid Bergman, is strangely one of the least known masterpieces of the 1950s.

Friday 8 March 2024

Anatole Litvak Retrospective at Il Cinema Ritrovato

Anatole Litvak with Deborah Kerr


An unjustly overlooked master with an international career spanning six decades, Anatole Litvak made some of the most riveting and innovative films in the history of cinema that, save for a few titles, are hardly seen or discussed today. The Kyiv-born director of masterpieces such as L’Équipage and City for Conquest made films in Germany, France, UK and eventually Hollywood. This first-time overview of his dazzling career features films from all these bases of production, works that are ripe for rediscovery with their sweeping camera movements, long takes, ironic cutting, and splendid use of décor. Litvak’s films dive into a nocturnal world of flawed and unstable men and women whose identity crisis for Litvak reflects the crisis of the world between the Russian Revolution and the Second World War – a time of awakening and political turmoil that Litvak experienced first-hand.

Tuesday 5 December 2023

La Notte Brava (Mauro Bolognini, 1959)

La Notte Brava

Dir: Mauro Bolognini, 1959, 95 min

Playing at Close-Up Cinema on December 30, 2023

Before embarking on a career as a director, Pier Paolo Pasolini wrote the script for La Notte Brava. The resulting film, about three hoodlums during a day out in Rome involving burglary and hooking up with sex workers, is considered one of the classics of Italian post-war cinema and like other works by Pasolini, a film not devoid of controversy when it was originally released. Directed by talented and visionary, if unjustly underrated Mauro Bolognini who has often been described as "the most Proustian of Italian film directors", the attention to details and the direction of an international cast have remarkably translated Pasolini's world of outcasts, prostitutes, petty criminals, and downtrodden youngsters into a vivid and tough portrait of Italy at the end of the 1950s, especially a sketch of Rome and the raw characters driven by their primary instincts.

Wednesday 25 October 2023

Tabi’at-e Bijan [Still Life] (Sohrab Shahid Saless, 1974)

Still Life

Tabi'at-e Bijan (Still Life). 1974. Iran. Written and directed by Sohrab Shahid Saless. With Zadour Bonyadi, Mohammed Kani, Hedayatollah Navid. 93 min.

An elderly railway signalman is unable to understand the meaning of “retirement” when he is handed over his retirement letter. Still Life, the film that shook Iranian cinema to its core and won the Silver Bear at the Berlinale, is an unforgettable, masterfully paced exercise in stillness and loneliness that doesn’t shrink from depicting exploitative tendencies within contemporary Iranian society. Shahid Saless uses the inarticulacy of his protagonist as an aesthetic strategy and finds poetry in seemingly dead moments. Made only in 11 days and shot with the painterly vision of the cinematographer Houshang Baharlou, this landmark work pushed the boundaries of cinema like no other Iranian film of the 1970s. – Ehsan Khoshbakht

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Night of the Hunchback (Farrokh Ghaffari, 1964) | MoMA

Shab-e Ghouzi (Night of the Hunchback). 1964. Iran. Directed by Farrokh Ghaffari. Screenplay by Ghaffari, Jalal Moghadam. With Ghaffari, Pari Saberi, Paria Hakemi, Mohamad Ali Keshavarz.

Inspired by a tale in A Thousand and One Nights, this black comedy takes place over the course of one of those nights, as a troupe of traveling actors, the father of a bride, and a hairdresser and his assistant (played by director Farrokh Ghaffari himself) try to rid themselves of an unwelcome corpse while uptown Tehranis party to Ray Charles R&B. In a nod to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry, Ghaffari, also a critic and film historian, intended this film as a critique of upper-class pretensions and an ode to simple folkloric pleasures, and while the film was a commercial flop the film nonetheless gained international attention and promised a new beginning for Iranian cinema. – Ehsan Khoshbakht

Monday 16 October 2023

Dayereh-ye Mina [The Cycle] (Dariush Mehrjui, 1974)

The Cycle (Dariush Mehrjui, 1974-76)

Dariush Mehrjui and his wife were brutally murdered on October 14, 2023. MoMA screens this film on November 1.

This harrowing tale of poverty and drug addiction in the slums, in which people desperately sell their blood to survive, is based on Gholam-Hossein Sa’dei’s short story “Garbage Dump.” Banned due to objections from the Iranian Medical Association, The Cycle was shelved for three years before it was eventually shown at the Shiraz Arts Festival. The left saw the story of the poor selling contaminated blood for injection into new veins as a metaphor for the corruption of Pahlavis. For Mehrjui, however, this was more a candid investigation of a real problem, and it eventually helped inspire the formation of the Iranian Blood Transfusion Organization. The casting of the popular filmfarsi star Forouzan was controversial, but her fine performance proved the versatility of Iranian actors. – Ehsan Khoshbakht