I really didn’t intend to watch all 171 minutes of Roman Polanski’s “Tess” under the starry night sky of Bologna, even laved by the cool breezes that feel so sweet after a sticky warm day. “I feel like a housemaid reading a romance novel,” I said to my companion, who had told me he had seen the movie perhaps a dozen times, and was reluctant to stay, especially as the projection, movingly introduced by Jérôme Seydoux, a longtime colleague of Polanski’s, began well after 10 p.m., after a long day of movies, conversation, panel discussions, even food and drink.
I think I'd never seen “Tess” since a fortuitous first viewing, at a true sneak preview in Seattle, where I’d gone for a wedding. We stayed on for a day or so and read that a film by a major international director – no other identification – was to play in a neighborhood theater. I think we hoped against hope that it was to be “Apocalypse Now,” but it was “Tess,” which didn’t come out for some time afterwards. I remembered it with pleasure, but not as much pleasure as it was bringing me tonight.
Anyway, here in Bologna, he left. I couldn’t. The day had, again, been almost too “Rich and Strange,” to borrow a title from a movie co-written by Alma Reville for her husband Alfred Hitchcock. (And one I have managed to lose not once but twice when a TiVo and a less-useful proprietary DVR died on me. To quote Oscar Wilde: once is a misfortune, but twice looks like carelessness.) I still have not managed to see a single title in the “Mrs. Hitchcock aka Alma Reville” section of Il Cinema Ritrovato: I fully intended to see “After the Verdict" (1929), directed by Henrik Galeen, but a chance encounter with Dave Kehr as I was leaving deflected me towards the entirely delightful “Me and My Gal” (1932), by Raoul Walsh, which was and is perfection, BUT I’d already seen it! Still, it was another chance to see Joan Bennett at her sassy young blonde best, not to mention a relaxed Spencer Tracy, who I’d barely avoided seeing yet again in Borzage’s “A Man’s Castle” the day before, a longtime favorite, opposite an incandescent Loretta Young. The flesh is weak, and sometimes I feel like a cork bobbing on the cinephilic seas of chance.
Afterwards I ducked into the end of “The Big Knife,” finding my friends Steve Uljaki and Jackie Mancuso awash in emotion – I’d recommended it to them the night before, and they were kinda going nuts. The few last scenes, with the amazing Ida Lupino, looked even better than I remembered. “Odets, where is thy sting!”, I tried out on Steve and Jackie, who were equally impressed with Jack Palance, who they’d met through his daughter Holly.
They were off to see a documentary about John Boorman, “Me and Me Dad,” by his daughter Katrine Boorman. I was sore tempted, but instead stuck to my plan and saw yet another heretofore-unknown-to-me masterpiece by Jean Grémillon. The satisfyingly dark yet funny “L’etrange Monsieur Victor” (1937), wittily written by the gifted Charles Spaak, featured an amazing cast headed by Raimu and including Madeleine Renaud, Pierre Blanchar, Georges Flamant, Blavette, and the very satisfyingly named Viviane Romance. There I ran into the Toronto Cinematheque’s Senior Programmer, James Quandt, who told me it was his twelfth year at Bologna and scandalized my new friend Ehsan Khoshbakt by referring to it as “the secret restaurant you don’t want to tell anyone about.” As a recovering restaurant critic myownself, I never believe in keeping a good thing to myself.