Official | Update : 13.02.18 . 5:01 PM

Alberto Barbera: "The langage of film is infinitely powerful"

© AFP

© AFP

Interview


Armed with a Masters degree in the history of cinema, Alberto Barbera made a name for himself as a film critic in the early 1980s before becoming the director of the Turin Film Festival in 1989. Ten years later, he was hired as director of the Mostra del Cinéma de Venise, where he stayed until 2001. In 1995 and again in 2004, when he became director of the National Museum of Film in Turin, he was a member of the jury that awards the Caméra d'Or. This year he is a member of the Feature Film Jury alongside Tim Burton.
 
 
You are on the Feature Film Jury for the first time. What does this event mean to you?

First and foremost, it is a tremendous surprise. I wasn’t expecting the invitation from Gilles Jacob and Thierry Frémaux at all. I am even more flattered to be part of the Competition Jury because in recent years, the Festival de Cannes had more or less stopped inviting film critics, although I am not really a critic any more. I have been on the Jury for the Caméra d’Or twice in past years. This time, I am on the main Jury. I am sure this is going to be a great moment in my life.
 
In 2002, you took part in a new jury created by the Festival de Cannes to honour the films that were selected for its first edition (1939), which was aborted because of the war. Tell us about this experience.

Actually, I had completely forgotten about this. It was a surprising and very strange experience for the members of the jury. We screened about ten films originally selected for the Festival in 1939. It was surprising, sixty-three years after they were made, to discover how these films had taken on a dimension that we had not imagined. I remember that it was particularly difficult to choose the winner of the Palme d’Or because all these works were so excellent.
 
Was your thinking altered by the passage of time?

The passage of time undoubtedly helped us form an opinion. These films were certainly not received the same way they would have been the first time they were screened. Sometimes we are disappointed by a film when we view it a second time. In this case, the opposite happened. This experience enabled us to realise how much time had elapsed and how the language of film had evolved. The difference compared to today’s films involves the pacing, the breathing spaces within the films and of course the absence of special effects. To see films from another era in this manner, films from a time when the golden age of cinema was just beginning, was a marvellous experience.
 
How do you analyse the tendency of contemporary Italian film makers to revisit the history of their nation, often from a satirical or polemical perspective?

This reflection on the history of Italy and the way it is approached has always been very important in Italian cinema. It is a recurring theme since the post-war period. It is very difficult to find a film from the Fascist period that took a critical approach to the political situation in the country. After the war, Italian cinema decided to focus on Italy’s present and its past. We entered the great period of Neo-realism, but also especially that of the 1950s and ’60s, when many film makers approached Italy’s reality with a highly critical attitude, always based on serious historical research. In particular, I think of the films by Francesco Rosi, who is a master of this approach. This political cinema has become a genre in its own right, in which, however, we find some works that are much less polished, for lack of resources.
 
Has contemporary Italian cinema inherited the critical spirit of its precursors?

Today, with some exceptions like “Vincere”, the film by Marco Bellocchio on Mussolini’s private life, it is not as obvious for film makers to take this approach. In Italy, we are impatiently awaiting Mario Bartone’s next feature film about the revival of Italy in the 1850s, because he seems to have a very harsh view of the period. But this is a grain of sand in the desert. Many reasons can be cited to explain why it is so difficult for Italian filmmakers to look critically at the history of their country. In Italy, the political climate has a rather negative influence on the development of Italian film. There is less support from the State than in the past. Film makers in Italy are also much more cautious nowadays. They prefer to take on less sensitive topics.
 
Film occupies a major place in your life. Describe how you became a cinephile.

My passion for film started when I was four and a half years old. I went to the cinema in the little village where I was born. The 7th Art immediately became terribly important in my life. I learned about cinema by watching an incredible number of films. I didn’t take any courses until I got to the University of Turin. For many people my age, film was the most important means of communication. At that time, there was really this ability to reflect on life and provide the keys for interpreting reality. So I spent most of my time in the darkened theatres. Everything I have learned about life has come to me by way of film.
 
If you could choose to direct a remake, what film would you pick?

I love genre films and “auteur” cinema. Without hesitation, I would choose a film by John Ford called The Searchers (1956). I think it is the best Western in the history of American film. That being said, I think it is inconceivable to touch the masterpieces of the great historic film makers. However, I don’t see any problem doing a remake of genre films because you can add things without taking anything away from the original project.
 
Haven’t you ever wanted to get behind the camera ?

I have never really considered it, but I believe that there are enough bad directors out there already. Today, it takes great talent to succeed and I am not sure I have what it takes.
 
In your opinion, how far can cinema go?

The cinema has this ability to adapt to everything, everywhere. The language of film is infinitely powerful. It is a universal means of breaking down barriers that we thought could never be overcome. Whatever those barriers may be.
 
A final word?

As every year, I come to Cannes with great hopes. The Festival de Cannes always has a marvellous selection that makes it the greatest festival in the world. We always leave Cannes with something unexpected.
 
Interviewed by B.P.

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Alberto Barbera: "The langage of film is infinitely powerful"

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