Parthajit Baruah is in Conversation with Massimo Lechi

Massimo Lechi speaks on the role of a film critic.

Oct 27, 2022 - 23:06
Nov 7, 2022 - 21:08
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Parthajit Baruah is in Conversation with Massimo Lechi
Image: Massimo Lechi

Q. What is the role of a film critic in your country ? Are they successful in bridging the gap between the filmmakers and the audience in your country ?

Film criticism in Italy is going through a deep crisis. It’s not an isolated case of course: the same thing is happening more or less everywhere. Our community is way too big, but I’d say that some critics writing for important newspapers and specialized publications are still widely read and respected, and are still able to have a positive influence on the public. The problem is the money: only a very small number of critics are regularly paid for what they write, and this is wrong. Too many critics in Italy and in Europe accept to work for free – hoping maybe to have some kind of visibility. I find it tragic.

Q. You have been serving as a juror in numerous International film festivals, and what are the shifting trend of filmmaking you have noticed in the world cinema ?

Oh, I see many things going on at festivals… And not all of them are good. I travel to film festivals and industry events very often but I also attend regular screenings of more commercial films in my country and my city, Genoa. I try to look at the full picture and not forget that the cinema is not only small art house productions for connoisseurs. What I can say for sure is that the festival circuit has become a short circuit. In Europe there are so many films that are aesthetically and dramaturgically undistinguishable from one another and that are made with public funds by people whose sole ambition seems to be to win a couple of awards and then start careers as festival guests. I call them “films for nobody”. They are most probably among the reasons of the widespread detachment of viewers from art cinema, which is a very important issue.


Q. You as a film critic are aware that film criticism has become an area of academic interest at present. How has film criticism developed in your country Italy. Can you tell us its history briefly ?

Italy has always been one of the leading cinematographies and film industries but I don’t think that the history of its film criticism differs much from that of other parts of the Western world. Of course, it’s intertwined with the history of the country, and from this point of view its peculiar relationship with the Fascist regime (that founded many publications during the 30s and fueled the industry) and with the great political ideologies during the Cold War are interesting topics. But in general it started in newspapers and magazines, then it became an area of academic interest, as you say, and in the end it sank in the Internet.


Q. By the end of World War II, we noticed  the Italian “neorealist” movement taking its shape. Neorealist filmmakers like Luchino Visconti, Roberto Rossellini, and Vittorio De Sica have great impact on the world cinema. Why do you think, as a film critic, this neorealism did not last long in Italy ?

I don’t think it didn’t last long. Realism was always part of the Italian cinema and Neoralism somehow reinforced this attitude in a historical phase that was both dramatic and stimulating – even liberating, for artists at least. I agree with you that Neorealism as a recognizable trend ended pretty quickly with Rossellini’s shift to psychological dramas, with the rise of the so-called Pink Neorealism and most of all with the Italian “economic miracle”. But if you look at what the Italian cinema produced from the end of the 50s onwards, you’ll see that the Neorealist sensitivity never disappeared and never lost its importance. ErmannoOlmi, the Taviani brothers, Francesco Rosi and in recent years Gianni Amelio and Mario Martone have all been deeply influenced by the work of the Neorealist masters. You can see this influence – whether merely aesthetical or profoundly philosophical - on the screen: it’s there. We could say that large part of the contemporaryItalian cinemais a product of the Neorealist revolution.


Q. Vittorio De Sica’ Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette) inspired a number of film makers in the world. As for example, Indian legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray mentioned Sica’ “Bicycle Thieves” in his interviews that  it inspired him to make his film “PatherPachali”.  How do the film critics and academics of your country take this film at present ?

Bicycle Thieves is part of our culture – and I mean culture in the widest sense. We regard it as a classic.


Q. What is your comment as a whole on the contemporary filmmakersof  your country likeGiuseppe Tornatore, Marco Bellocchio, Nanni Moretti, Gabriele Salvatores, Gianni Amelio, Dario ArgentoPaolo Sorrentino ?

I’m very happy with what Italy is producing right now. I wouldn’t use the word “renaissance” because it’s silly, but what Italian filmmakers have achieved over the last 15 years is in my opinion absolutely remarkable. You mentioned auteurs like Bellocchio and Moretti: they keep making critically acclaimed films and don’t seem to have the intention to slow down. On the other hand younger filmmakers like Alice Rohrwacher, Gianfranco Rosi, Roberto Minervini, Leonardo Di Costanzo, Antonio Piazza and Fabio Grassadonia and Pietro Marcello, whether you like their work or not, win big at international festivals and have quickly built a strong reputation abroad. Paolo Sorrentino is nothing less than a rockstar and Matteo Garrone, after Gomorrah,made some very daring pictures. What really worries me is the lack of strong comedies: the comparison with the golden age of the Italian Comedy is quite depressing. Yes, in recent year there have been several box office successes, like Perfect Strangers by Paolo Genovese… But where are the heirs of Mario Monicelli and Dino Risi?


Q. How do you look at the Asian or Indian films at the International Film Festivals ? Do you find any shift of trend in filmmaking from the legendary filmmakers like Akira Kurosawa, Ozo,  Satyajit Ray, Adoor Gopalakrishan, Shyam Benegal ?

I find Asian cinema fascinating, but it’s so rich and diverse that I can’t honestly give you a detailed answer. I see great Asian films from China and Japan almost every month, and they feel so free, so lively and innovative. Korean filmmakersare doing wonders: I’m a big fan of Lee Chang-dong and I consider Park Chan-wook a master of style. As for India, and Indian art film in particular, what I saw in Kolkata and Bangalore in recent years was unfortunately very modest and timid. But I must say that I respect Bollywood productions: most of them are well crafted and deserve their success. And I like your documentaries: Rahul Jain’s Machines is impressive and Kamal Swaroop’sPushkarPuran is a neglected masterpiece. My trips to India taught me that the legacy of giants such as SatyajitRay and Mrinal Sen is somehow controversial in your film community. So many young Indian directors have tried to convince me that Ray and Sen are overrated… Such a pity!My Years with Apu should be studied in film schools: it’s a book that makes you want to move mountains with your bare hands.


Q. While you analyse a film or do a film review, what aspects of the film, are important /significant for you ?

I try to analyze a film as a whole, with no prejudice. Every film is different and works – or doesn’t work – in its own terms. My feeling is that nowadays most of my colleagues, especially in America and the UK, have forgotten that what you see on the screen is the only thing that matters. We should respect films and filmmakers more.

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