Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2016, day 2

A House Divided, William Wyler, 1931

The first (and maybe greatest) masterpiece of the festival. A house divided by a back-breaking staircase. Down below is the space of paranoid, bleak, motherless family life, up there, in the bedrooms, is the space of dreams and sex. Or rather the fantasma of sex. Because the marriage of the sturdy, brutal fisherman (Walter Huston) with his delicate, shy mail-order bride (Helen Chandler) must never be consumed. Says the bride, says the fisherman’s sun (Douglass Montgomery), says the audience. The premise is simple and forceful, not so much dependent on storytelling, but rather on the relationship of three bodies towards one another.


Everything, including Huston, is tightly controlled, and framed: A funeral in the beginning, dark silhouettes in front of the foaming ocean; a funeral in the end, a bark turned upside down rocking in a studio ocean, a strapped body invisible below surface.The first funeral is all ritual, the second one a rather absurd descent into a completely un-mythical private hell. Maybe for all its twisted madness and perverse claustrophobia, A House Divided is also a - rather disillusioning - film about enlightenment.

The Good Fairy, William Wyler, 1935

Only the second film of Sullavan I’ve seen after Borzage’s Three Comrades, and already I’m enchanted. Once again, she plays the sole woman between several men, but this doesn’t spell disaster. She’s an object of adoration, but not a trigger of jealousy. Not a fetish, but a friendly cipher, and very much alive, in every single scene. The film works so well precisely because the script doesn’t really try to define her, but let’s her run loose while the men around her keep bumping into each other, while failing to get closer to her.

Marnie, Alfred Hitchcock, 1964

This is, of course, all about trying to (and gloriously failing to) define Tippi Hedren. I’d seen it only once before, but although I remembered just a few scenes in detail, I felt at home in every frame. The beautiful technicolor print just added an extra touch of madness here and there.

Piccolo mondo antico, Mario Soldati, 1941

After the great start with Dora Nelson I had high hopes for the Soldati series. Unfortunately his other films screened in Bologna didn’t quite catch on with me in the same way. This one is carried along fust fine by two great leads (the versatile Akida Valli and the charmingly drousy Massimo Serato), the astonishing scenery of Lake Como (the whole drama set between the dangerously alluring sea and the merciless mountains), and a few beautiful setpieces of carefully stylized melodrama (the rain-soaked Valli giving in to monetary temptation while her daughter drowns in the sea)... but the “bad countess” fighting against the couple is a rather ugly stereotype without any redemption. Also there’s a lot of clumsy stuff in between, and almost in every scene a few older, bearded guys tag along with no reason at all, but to comment on the plot in rather obvious ways. There clearly is a bitter and forceful tale of downward mobility hidden somewhere, but it never quite materialises.

Stella Dallas, Henry King, 1925

The Vidor version being so close to me I had a hard time relating to this at the start. I never got completely over some casting decisions, but nevertheless, this is a touching film throughout, and a few scenes near the end are beyond beautiful. Belle Bennett standing at the side of the bed of her daughter she knows she has to give away soon… her face (and hair) coming apart bit by bit… the whole scene immobilized, almost completely frozen, sometimes for a whole minute… the weight of a single gesture, when she stretches her hand towards her daughter… the countershot of the daughter, sleeping in her nightgown, spreading her body on the bed without any restraint... two women, one completely free, the other completely bound...

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