Every summer, Bologna hosts one of the largest summer film festivals in the world. Called, Il Cinema Ritrovato, it was conceived in 1986 as a movie festival dedicated to the rediscovery of rare and not well-known movies. The movies are projected primarily in the historical centre of Bologna, Piazza Maggiore.
We spent about 3 days staying adjacent to the Piazza, while visiting the various towns of Emilia Romagna this past summer, and would spend 30-40 minutes sitting in the cool summer breeze every night watching the show of the day, in a square that was designed in the 13th century.
Though the conception of Il Cinema Ritrovato stressed the dedication to rare and not-well-known movies, our experience in those three days was dramatically different.
On the first night, as we walked outside our hotel to head towards the old University of Bologna, one of the oldest continuosly operating universities in the world, we heard “Quid Pro Quo, Clarice” in the understated baritone of Hopkins’ Hannibal Lector booming through the hundreds of speakers strungs across the Piazza.
Walking out into the square, there were thousands of people, filling up every seat, every inch of ground space, sprawling over the staircases of the churches and monuments lining the square, and even oozing out of every corridor and archway that Bologna is so famous for. Silence of the Lambs was still attracting thousands like fireflies to the fire. Including us. We sat there on the steps of the 14th century old, half-built San Petronio Basilica sinking in the tense exchanges between Hannibla and Clarice.
The next evening, expecting a more artsy film, again given the stress towards rare movies, we walk out into the square to find not even a single inch of space to navigate through. Standing room only this day. What could be screening today, we thought. It didn’t take us long before hearing a commanding Pitt say, “The first rule of Fight Club, …”.
This time, we had to push and shove our way through the crowd to even get a glimpse of the screen. The kids were mesmerised, not having seen Fight Club ever. The Police were transfixed. The world stopped, as everyone tried to figure out the rationale behind the dynamics of Norton and Pitt. I don’t know where we were headed that evening, but wherever that was, it didn’t happen.
On our final night of stay, as we returned to our hotel tired after a long trip to San Marino and Ravenna, we saw a relatively sparse square. Whoaa, what’s happening today? Exhausted, but curious, we walked the few steps towards the square and saw a black and white film running. From the quality it seemed like a 1930-40s movie. And the square was empty. Maybe a hundred people at most. You could grab a few chairs in the Piazza and lie down if you wanted. A few minutes into it, we realized it was an Italian movie. Probably one of the rare, restored movies that the festival seemed to favor. Playing to an empty audience.
Jodie, Hopkins, Pitt, and Norton trumped everything else. And Hollywood ruled the Piazza.
PS: We are being a bit unfair though. What is transcribed is what we experienced, but there was much more than meets the eye. The Festival ran over two months, and we only caught the tag end of it. In those two months, there were 10s of venues, with hundreds of films playing each day. And a large percentage of them were old, rare, restored and forgotten. But we found this out after coming back, and doing a little bit of Google hunting. If you check their program for 2019, you will find that they were indeed true to their spirit.