Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pastorale (1976)

WHO: The most prominent filmmaker from the Caucasus state of Georgia, Otar Iosseliani, directed this.

WHAT: This is the film that spurred Iosseliani's emigration to France. It was suppressed by Soviet officials upon completion, and only began appearing in foreign cinematheques and festivals in the early eighties; its success at the Berlin Film Festival in 1982, where it won a critics prize, was followed by the director's move to Paris. I haven't seen it, so here's an excerpt from a review by Dennis Grunes:
As is his delightful wont, Iosseliani has fashioned a mostly silent film. (It is also in black and white, and beautifully cinematographed by Abessalom Maisuradze.) There is minimal dialogue. The sounds we hear in the film are mainly those of musical instruments and voices in song, and the squawking, mooing, oinking, barking and chattering of all kinds of animals—farm, domestic and wild.
WHERE/WHEN: Tonight at 7PM only at the Pacific Film Archive.

WHY: One of the highlights for me of the 2011 San Francisco International Film Festival was seeing Iosseliani's most recent film Chantrapas, an autobiographically-rooted story of Georgian filmmakers struggling to make films under the eyes of bureaucrats, contrasted with life as an expatriate Parisian artist. It was a lovely film, and a screening made even lovelier by the in-person question-and-answer session offered by its then-77-year-old director. But as much as I swooned over this film, I heard benign grumblings of mild disappointment from a few long-time fans of Iosseliani's work who felt it paled in comparison to earlier films like Pastorale. I'd only seen one of his prior films, the relatively recent (2002) Monday Morning. To this day I've seen only these two.

There aren't too many people who have the luxury of comparing the entries in Iosseliani's filmography. His name is respected but his work is generally obscure; most North American film festivals, including major ones like Toronto's and New York's, refrained from showing Chantrapas. And retrospectives are rare. If the Pacific Film Archive has shown more of his films than other venues over the decades, it's in large part because of the passion for his work held by George Gund III, the former board president of the SFIFF, and for whom the 2011 Chantrapas screening was a tribute.

As Gund died at age 75 earlier this year, the SFIFF had another tribute screening, this time of the Czechoslovakian masterpiece Marketa Lazarová, the print of which Gund had personally secured for the PFA.  Now the PFA is halfway through a more extensive tribute to Gund expressed by screenings of prints in their collection. All eight films in the series were made in the late 1960s and 1970s by filmmakers working in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the USSR; not the most famous names like Miklós Jancsó, Jiří Menzel or Andrei Tarkovsky, but other figures equally worthy of attention. In addition to Iosseliani's film tonight, Russian Nikita Mikhalkov's Five Evenings screens this Saturday, while the following weekend there's And Give My Love To The Swallows by Jaromil Jires (director of Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders) and The Maple of Juliana by Štefan Uher. The Hungarian films in the series have already screened, but it's worth nothing that the Georges Simenon series that begins tomorrow night concludes August 29th with a showing of Hungarian Béla Tarr's (by his own vow) penultimate film The Man From London.

Traveling back several decades, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival will show a couple of films from the beginning of the second decade of the Soviet Union's existence, by all accounts and evidence a vastly different era for filmmaking than the 1970s. First, on Saturday July 20th, the festival will screen the PFA's print of the 1928 Boris Barnet comedy The House On Trubnaya Square, one of my most-anticipated screenings of that weekend at the Castro. And the festival has just announced that it will present the North American premiere of a just-rediscovered trailer for Dziga Vertov's The Eleventh Year (which I also saw in 2011- the film not the trailer that is). Apparently this trailer was prepared by Vertov's friend Alexander Rodchenko, who worked on posters, graphics and intertitles for the master documentarian, but who I believe does not have any films widely known to be able to be credited to him- this trailer may be unique in that regard. It will screen in 35mm with live accompaniment from Ken Winokur and Beth Custer, as a warm-up to a DCP showing of a brand-new restoration of the German film The Weavers.

HOW: 35mm print from the PFA's own collection.

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