A PAST THAT WAS NEVER PRESENT
My first day back in Bologna lingers in my mind like a dream: a dream recurring, communicating a sign that, once its meaning is grasped, it becomes lost, accessible to me only through its relation to other signs, memories and images. All of Bologna strikes me this way. I walk along Via San Felice where I will be living for the month with three students from the University of Bologna. My thoughts slipstream into jet lag, little memories fade into one another in a process of exchange and translation, existing in a meta-space not quite linguistic, but not fully imagistic either. I pass through Strada Maggiore and see the shops where I would take caffe freddo and people watch. I marvel at the beauty of the terrazzo, the mosaic footpaths punctuating each slow step, marble overlaying concrete. I notice the expressions on the faces of the passersby, their dress, their tones of voice, the talking hands. The peculiar doors with lion-shaped keyholes. The poetical scrawl of graffiti. The morning is warm, not yet sweltering, and the soft red and pink hues of the city’s characteristic architecture (from the campanile to the abounding porticos) alight the stroll through my memoryscape. I am delighting in the real as if it were absurd.
I soon find myself in Piazza Maggiore, the beating heart of Bologna. I sit on the steps of the San Pietro church, watching the slow dance of bicycles, soaking in fragments of the Italian language; its cadences and rhythms. From here I can see il duo torre, the two towers of Bologna, markers of a medieval past. It is said that wherever you are in the city, if you can see these towers, you can find your way back home. But my eyes linger on the central image of the large, white screen in the middle of the square. For it is there where I will watch countless films during each night of the Il Cinema Ritrovato festival. It is where seemingly all of Bologna gathers each night, filing into the chairs and – once those are full – taking a seat at a nearby bar, or on the steps of the church. Film is democratic. The young, the old, the cinéphile and the average moviegoer share the space, allowing themselves to be transported into the world of the film. It is said that Piazza Maggiore is the most beautiful movie theater on earth. I couldn’t agree more. But it is not the astounding aesthetics alone that make Bologna so unique to film lovers. The whole city seems to build its day around film, gathering together to appreciate the spectacle under the stars.
Now, while writing in Providence, I think back to how much I miss the excitement of the Ritrovato; of structuring my day around film and virtually traveling the world through the medium. This festival was a real revelation for me. Last year's festival was a pivotal moment in my life in the sense that it was the first time that I had immersed myself into the world of film; it not only changed and enriched my academic trajectory, but also helped me see the world "cinematically." I think back to the short that filmmaker Adriano Sforzi showed the class during the second week, in which a Walt Whitman-esque philosophy professor teaches his students to see the beauty in how things are framed and constructed. I left last year's festival with a love of film and Italian culture that has deeply endured. This year, I also felt acutely struck by the positioning of the spectator, by the ways in which film brings people together and shapes human relations.
I remember introduction to the Méliès film (that hadn't been shown to an audience in 108 years!) before the last screening in the piazza and how strongly it resonated with me. The man who had worked on the film's restoration had said that when he was deciding on where to screen the film, he asked who would be the best audience to exhibit it to and the experts overwhelmingly agreed that Bologna would be the best place. Bologna truly cherishes the cinema, here it is alive and ineluctably intertwined with the fabric of the city and its people. I write on the steps of Sala Borsa and I see so many little films around me: narratives written in movement and light.
I also felt that this year I was able to successfully draw on my experience from the previous festival to inform my selection of films. I knew more clearly about what interested me, while also experiencing the joy of seeing films that I knew little about. The Ritrovato as a festival provides a unique opportunity to see “lost” films, lost in the sense that, like with the Méliès film, have only been exhibited to select audiences throughout the course of history; but also lost in that they give us the opportunity to appreciate work by filmmakers that were underappreciated in their time. When film is restored and lesser-known directors are revisited, the work becomes continually reborn, seen in different contexts, different states of restoration. It is almost a new film, in that the film inside the modern spectator’s head is likely to be very different from the one inside the original, “intended,” viewer’s mind.
Film here is a journey, a pilgrimage that both transports the spectator – into a past disguised as the present – and gives us an occasion to be better. We learn how to better see, how to make connections among disparate works from different eras and places. I like to think of my travels through film as a continual process of becoming, in which I determine the kinds of films that I most strongly respond to and watches those tastes develop. Film demands that the spectator is up to the task of viewership, forcing the individual to essentially create the film onscreen, to determine meaning for oneself. From our class discussions, I have realized how everyone can see the same film differently, how a single film invites a multiplicity of readings, in part because each spectator brings certain personal and historically defined experiences to the film, but also because the film itself - from the physicality of the film strip to the viewing conditions - are always changing.
For me, a defining moment of the trip was our visit to Rimini, the birthplace of Fellini. We had the extreme privilege and good fortune of visiting the Cineteca di Rimini on the day in which the actor Bruno Zanin, who played one of the main characters of Amacord, happened to be there and was able to discuss with us the process of making the film, giving us insider’s look on the brilliant mind of Fellini on the same day that Amacord was playing in Piazza Maggiore in Bologna. It was the kind of serendipity that defined my experiences in Bologna, being able to see the markers of Fellini’s childhood home in real time, and then seeing them projected onscreen later that night. As Adriano Sforzi once said, “movies are magic and in Italy you can dream.”
Hi! My name is Isabella DeLeo, I'm a Brown University senior studying Modern Culture and Media. I took the course in the Summer of 2015, loved it, and was fortunate enough to get back to Bologna and be the Teaching Assistant for the Summer of 2016. You can often find me around campus reading on the Quiet Green or reminiscing about Bologna