Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Buonasera culture club… Six Italian Films 1906-2013, IIC, London


And so to London’s Belgrave Square for a most unusual cinematic experience... We gathered at the Italian Institute of Culture for a – free – evening of early Italian short films, one contemporary silent and modern composition played live, oh and there was a glass of wine in the first floor reception hall afterwards… euro-embassy cool and films from the cradle of Italian cinema - the city of Turin.

The IIC’s mission is to spread Italian culture and language in England and Wales (sorry Scotland) and this evening was a charming example of that ongoing work, all introduced in Italian before and expectant audience of ex-pats, cineastes and the odd free-loader…

The event was compared by film-maker Matteo Bernardini with music composed and played by Roberto and Mauro Agagliate

Buonasera Signorina Bonelli (1906)

It was traditional for picture house screenings to begin with a short welcoming sketch, this one featured Lydia De Robertis writing Good Evening on a chalk board.

All the nice girls love a fool...
Troppo Bello! (1909)

This bizarre outing for Foolshead (aka Cretinetti played by André Deed) features the titular twit in the unlikely guise of a bambino magnet. Invited to the wedding of a friend’s daughter he is so irresistible in his finery that every woman instantly falls for him from grans, to mums and even the bride. Proceedings develop into a Benny Hill-like chase in which the hunted is eventually torn – literally – limb from limb by the pursuing female hoards… Then, head, hands, arms and body re-unite in stop motion surprise.

Apart from a few exceptions most of the “women” are men in drag: maybe they were short of feminine extras that day?

Poster Pierrot
La Maschera Pietosa (1914) (A Carnival Tragedy)

The longest film of the night and a rather poignant tale of two Pierrots, a life and a marriage in peril…

Marcel (Alfredo Bertone) is an artist who is neglecting his wife Julia (Anna Lazzarini) in favour of their younger neighbour Lucy (Erna Hornak) who lives with her elderly mother (Annetta Ripamonti).

The carnival is coming to Turin and Marcel asks Lucy to accompany him which she does dressed as a Pierrot. There are superb scenes of the carnival, a tradition which has sadly stopped according to Matteo Bernardini, which led you to reflect on the magnificent job of restoration and preservation the Museo Nazionale del Cinema has performed on all these artefacts: film history showing actual history…

Alfredo Bertone and Erna Hornak
Julia is distraught and all the more so when she sees the couple sneak out again for more fun. There’s a particularly effective shot of Marcel and Lucy high on a merry-go-round, the thronging masses of old Turin far below reminding you of how advanced pre-War Italian and Turinese cinema was.
But tragedy is about to strike as Julia hears Lucy’s mother fall ill. Realising that she is near death she dresses herself as a Pierrot so that she can be Lucy tending to her mother’s final moments – she need not die alone.

Alfredo Bertone, Anna Lazzarini and Erna Hornak
Lucy and Marcel return to find Julia at the bedside saying prayers having lit candles in tribute to the dead. In the midst of this selfless act Lucy returns Marcel to his wife and the couple leave in unity as the young woman cries for her loss…

It’s a restrained melodrama and the emotional kick was highlighted by an inventive mix of found sounds and varied modern and period composition from the Brothers Agagliate on keyboards and accordion… the latter such an under-rated instrument to modern ears.
Marcel Fabre aka Marcel Perez
Robinet Innamorato di una Chanteuse (1911) (Tweedledum in love with a singer)

Tweedledum (Robintet aka Marcel Fabre) was another recurring comedy persona short on smarts but big on determination. Here he becomes besotted with a stage singer (Gigetta Morano, whose career ran to the sixties) and sets about trying to deliver a bunch of flowers to the object of his desire. He gets mugged for his finery but carries on dressed in robbers clothes until he finally tracks down his love only to be rebuffed as she calls the cops… the course of true love never ran smooth.

Giorgia Goldini and former figure skater, Benjamin Delmas
The Music Lovers (2013)

This is a new film directed by Matteo Bernardini with music by Roberto and Mauro Agagliate all played by the mighty 1911 Lokomotif Orchestra who play a major part in the development of the narrative.

Two lovers, Giorgia Goldini and Benjamin Delmas, are enjoying a silent moment as a sympathetic pianist plays along, notes silently unravelling above their heads as he gifts her a handful of croon-worthy crochets… But then other music begins to interrupt the flow and the remainder of the action sees the couple endure aural assault by miss-styled music. But it’s not a comment on the inappropriateness of some contemporary silent accompaniments, more a metaphor for man’s inability to appreciate a multicultural society.

It works very well and I like the idea of the actors being aware of the music, a kind of silent film “pun”.

Buonasera, Fiori (1909)

As events began, so they finished this time with popular actress Mary Cleo Tarlarini watching stop-motion flowers say good evening and then forming themselves into the Moon. It’s the end of a night of Italian cinema and, that free glass of wine is waiting upstairs…

The evening followed a similar path to recent anthology screenings of British and American films and it’s good to see Italy, and Turin, given the chance to show the – continuing - excellence of their artistic output.

39 Belgrave Square... an intimate venue
Now… how do you watch more of this on DVD? There’s precious little about these films on the Anglo-interweb although there’s a good quality copy of Troppo Bello! on Vimeo along with other treasures from the Museo Nazionale.

Details of upcoming events at the Italian Institute of Culture are available on their website. I can recommend them for Italian hospitality and conviviality: grazie mille!

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