The Italian filmmaker Paolo Benvenuti is little known outside of Italy, although several recent festival retrospectives have begun opening the world’s eyes to this iconoclastic director. His 1992 work "Confortorio" is set during one long night in 1736 Rome, as a group of Catholic high priests attempts to “convert” two Jewish thieves who have been sentenced to death. “Every death has to be comforted; every soul has to be saved,” says one priest; the two stubborn thieves, however, have other plans for their (after)lives, even as their “saviors” move from religious fervor to torture. Never a follower of cinematic trends or fashions, Benvenuti pursues a cinema of moral challenge and classic tragedy; his pictorial canvas, all shards of light and dark pockets of shadow, echoes the chiaroscuro effects of late Caravaggio.
Written by Benvenuti. Photographed by Aldo DiMarcantonio. With Emidio Siminis, Franco Pistoni, Emanuele Carucci Viterbi. (85 mins, In Italian with English subtitles, Color, 35mm, From Cinecittà Holding, with thanks to Rosaria Folcarelli)
Co-presented by Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco
Le petit soldat Synopsis
(a.k.a. "The Little Soldier"). Leave it to Godard to create a spy/terrorist “hero” who’d rather moon over a woman’s eyes (“were they Velazquez-gray, or Renoir-gray?”) than fight. Disillusioned and in love with himself above all, young Bruno is a French spy (or counterspy, or something) in neutral Geneva during the French-Algerian War, blithely taking hit orders from his gun-toting superiors (who quote Jean Cocteau) and doing his best not to follow them. Meeting the gray-eyed Veronica turns his mind further away from politics (she is Anna Karina, after all, in her first Godard role), but her involvement in an Algerian revolutionary group quickly has him running not just from the torturers on the “other side,” but from his own supposed allies. While it deflates the thriller genre with all manner of narrative diversions, Le Petit Soldat was banned for three years in France for deflating another type of fiction: the myth of French antiterrorist heroism in general, and in particular the idea that antiterrorist groups were “above” using torture. — Jason Sanders
Written by Godard. Photographed by Raoul Coutard. With Michel Subor, Anna Karina, Henri-Jacques Huet, Laszlo Szabo. (88 mins, In French with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, From French Ministry of Foreign Affairs)