Sunday, March 8, 2020

"Ciao Maestro: The Centennial of Federico Fellini" at Seattle Art Museum: Mar 19 - May 14 | “The Circus of Life: The Many Faces of Federico Fellini”

This past year's calendar at Seattle Art Museum has been filled with notable repertory and archival works, including retrospectives on two 20th century auteurs from far-flung corners of the world, Yasujiro Ozu and Ingmar Bergman. The museum's annual French and Italian cinema series are also significant, as is their long running winter Film Noir program. The longest continuously running series of its kind in the nation in fact, now in its 42nd year. This spring in collaboration with Cinecitta Rome, and co-presented with Festa Italiana, the museum's cinema programmer Greg Olson, brings "Ciao Maestro: The Centennial of Federico Fellini" to the big screen. Along with Ingmar Bergman, Roberto Rossellini, and Carl Theodor Dreyer, Federico Fellini's work from the late 1950s to mid-1970s will appear on any critical assessment 20th century cinema. And rightly so. One needs look no further than The British Film Institutes' Greatest Films of All Time Poll for evidence of the greatness of Federico Fellini's standing in the history of European cinema. Having begun under the guidance of Rossellini, while in the midst of his classic neorealist films, he soon found himself working as both screenwriter and assistant director on Rossellini's "Paisà", in which Fellini was entrusted to film the scenes in Maiori. Within a short span of years, he was introduced to Marcello Mastroianni, then a young theatre actor first seen by Fellini in a play alongside Giulietta Masina, and concurrently he contributed aspects of Rossellini's segment in the anthology film, "L'Amore". After traveling to Paris for a script conference around Rossellini's "Europa '51", Fellini was given opportunity to begin his first solo-directed feature, "The White Sheik".

His directorial debut having initially passed through other hands. When the film came to Fellini it was as a revised version of a treatment first written by Michelangelo Antonioni in 1949. At which time, the film's producer commissioned Fellini to rework the script. Its subsequent rejection by Antonioni led the film back to Fellini, and alongside Ennio Flaiano, it was re-worked into a spirited and lighthearted satire on the life of a newlywed couple. This would be the first of many fruitful collaborations between Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, and Fellini, the three men co-writing the screenplays of some ten films over the ensuing decades. In the first of another decades-spanning collaborations, the film highlighted the music of its composer, Nino Rota, who along with Mastroianni, and Fellini's future wife, actress Giulietta Masina, would all become constants in both his filmic and private worlds. One year following, what's considered the first of Fellini's films wholly his own, "I Vitelloni" found great favor with critics and a receptive public after its Silver Lion win (alongside Aleksandr Ptushko's "Sadko", Marcel Carné's "Thérèse Raquin", and Kenji Mizoguchi's "Ugetsu") at the 14th Venice International Film Festival. From here, flying over the expanse of a filmmography too rich and nuanced to surmise, a valiant and intimate account by Anthony Lane for the New Yorker, “A Hundred Years of Fellini”, borders as close to perfection as one could ask. Moving at varied trajectories though specific works, and eras, Sight & Sound’s centennial feature, “The Circus of Life: The Many Faces of Federico Fellini”, offers up a richer array of particulars. In a quartet of pieces, they break down the maestro into four concurrent aspects, first beginning with his relationship to the Italian Neorealist movement, "Part One: The Neorealist", and the studio that was his great enabler, "Part Two: The Felliniesque and Cinecitta Studio".

From there we get a complex portrait of Fellini the man, both behind the camera and as a private and public citizen, "Part Three: Federico by Fellini", and the cast of regular collaborators and cohorts in his art, considered as both a theatre production company and extended family, "Part Four: La Famiglia Fellini". Foremost among them, the writing team of Ennio Flaiano and Tullio Pinelli, which he retained from his earliest collaborations, alongside composer Nino Rota, production and costume designer Danilo Donati who's work appeared on many of the director’s more visually extravagant films, alongside Norma Giacchero for script supervision and continuity, actress Giulietta Masina, and Fellini's avatar and surrogate, Marcello Mastroianni. In a excerpt from a 1964 interview around "La Dolce Vita"'s production, The Criterion Collection presents this rich and disarmingly personal account of, "Marcello Mastroianni on Fellini". Further reading hosted by Criterion appears in a series of essential essays on the director's central films, "La Dolce Vita: Tuxedos at Dawn", "8 ½: When “He” Became “I”", "8½: A Film with Itself as Its Subject", "Paolo Sorrentino on Fellini’s Roma", "Roma, Rome: Fellini's City", "Amachord's Satire of Italian Provincial Life", "The Nights of Cabiria: My Kind of Clown", and "Fellini Satyricon: Not Just Friends". Of which, a majority will appear in Seattle Art Museum's centennial retrospective, including Fellini's two semi-autobiographical masterpieces, "La Dolce Vita" and "8 1/2", along with a set of earlier films, "The White Sheik", "Toby Dammit", and his first breakout, "I Vitelloni". From there, the series presents mid-period classics like "La Strada", "The Nights of Cabiria", and "Amarcord", fleshing out the body of his theatrical cinematic world with "Il Bidone", and "Juliet of the Spirits".

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Pedro Costa’s “Vitalina Varela” and Angela Schanelec’s "I Was at Home, But..." at Northwest Film Forum: Mar 11 - 20

After its brief three night run at SIFF Cinema, Pedro Costa's Locarno Film Festival winner comes to the Northwest Film Forum for a more substantial run. Along with Angela Schanelec’s "I Was at Home, But...", Costa's “Vitalina Varela” represents a current vein of lower budget, formally exploratory, politically inflected cinema which the Swiss festival has become known for showcasing. With his most recent film, which is deserving of being seen for it's exquisite visual palette alone, Costa has refined the grain of his composite of non-actors, chiaroscuro lighting, found locations and stylized delivery to such an intense degree that it has achieved a kind of profound Newtonian coefficience. If anything, “Vitalina Varela” seemed more massive in it's density, uncompromising in its seriousness, and more determined to create an alternative to sentimental narrative closure and resolution. The story of its protagonist's mourning and rebirth continuing the Portuguese director’s observations on the residents of Fontainhas, with Ventura, and now Vitalina, as Costa's primary creative partners and subjects in a deeply saturated dramatic portraiture. Looking to his wider filmmography, there's clear reason why the Criterion Collection referred to Pedro Costa as, "One of the most important artists on the international film scene today". But as Akiva Gottlieb's "A Cinema of Refusal: On Pedro Costa" for The Nation makes clear, the Portuguese director is not lacking in champions. This all came on the heels of the Cannes premier in 2006 of "Colossal Youth" which elevated him to the most widely heralded new filmmaker of the past decade in the pages of Cahiers du Cinéma, Cinema-Scope, Senses of Cinema and Film Comment.

It was the Criterion release, and touring arthouse retrospective "Still Lives: The Films of Pedro Costa" which brought the Fontainhas project to a wider audience. These describe the very heart of the paradox that anchors his work; the idea that a cinema of such austere, formalist pacing and technique, can be the most democratic use of the medium imaginable. It is in this balance of form and content that Costa has established his moral imperative. In his discovery of the sequestered barrios and slums of Lisbon, and their dark alleys and crowded homes that appealed to him aesthetically. The 2015 interview with Film Comment describes how it was that his exposure to this dilapidated sector of Lisbon prompted him to re-examine his relationship with cinema as a vehicle to affirm the existence of the dispossessed, and began a refinement of his form to match the starkness of a human struggle that went on there day in, day out, removed from view. Through Film Comment's "House of the Spirits" and interview with the director at Locarno in 2019, Costa speaks at length on his inaugurating a radical form of collaborative nonfiction to meet these demands. Through which he has predominantly focused on the Cape Verdean immigrants that populated Lisbon's unlit labyrinths who disarmed him with their directness and fortitude. Costa turning to moviemaking at a period in his personal life when Portugal itself was coming to grim terms with its colonial legacy.

From this context and his unorthodox ways of watching the work of the 20th century masters, Yasujiro Ozu, Straub-Huillet, Jean-Luc Godard, Robert Bresson, Jacques Tourneur, and Kenji Mizoguchi, that Costa found a vocabulary with which to confront his country’s past. Classifications don't easily adhere to his films; they are formalist, yet they pulse with poetry, humility life and warmth; they are ascetic but also deeply expressive; they are glacially patient and yet possessed of a natural, flowing sense of rhythm. All of these figure in his return to the winding streets, ruinous interiors, alleys, dark hillsides, (and literal underworld) depicted in "The Turning of the Earth: Pedro Costa's Mesmerizing Trance Film" as a portrait of his Fontainhas everyman, Ventura José Tavares Borges. A protagonist last seen in the short film "Sweet Exorcism" as part of the Centro Histórico anthology, from which "Horse Money" enfolded a particularly oneiric passage. This "Surreal Voyage Into the Past" as Ben Kenigsberg's review for the New York Times calls it, is in many ways a haunting disembodied "Existential Ghost Story that Will Get Under Your Skin". Jonathan Romney's Film of the Week review and Cinema-Scope's interview with the director, "L’avventura: Pedro Costa on 'Horse Money'", are our guides to Lisbon's "Elliptical and Mysterious" rhythms of the afterlife as Ventura wends through the city, passing through a lifespan of adversaries, lovers, dreams and remembrances.