This is part of our coverage of the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival.
Quello che un uso inutile di cinema. Sounds pretty doesn’t it? But that phrase reads, “What a pointless use of film”. The sentiment and its flowery adornment act as an apt description of Massimo Ali Mohammad’s new movie, Love Among the Ruins. The film begins as a documentary recounting the unlikely discovery of a 90-year-old piece of Italian cinema, found in pristine condition after an earthquake. After fifteen minutes of talking heads and depictions of the restoration process, the documentary cedes the screen to the even more unlikely lost film itself. Unlikely because the whole thing is fake.
For a film that is trying desperately to recapture the magic of silent cinema, any shot in Love Among the Ruins purported to be from that era is glaringly contemporary. Attempts to conceal the footage’s vintage include the usual superimposed scratches and hiccupy missing frames. But when anyone with a smartphone can approximate these techniques with a mass-produced application, a filmmaker needs to work a little harder to distinguish their work. Basically let’s all just agree to leave this piece of the sandbox exclusively to Guy Maddin from now on.
The silent film portion of Love Among the Ruins is a complete waste. It’s a melodrama set during the war. A woman pining for her deployed soldier is betrothed against her will to a slimy traitor. In the documentary portion that precedes it, the story goes that the silent film was not well-received upon its initial release. Arguments are given based on the film’s presumed political associations, but frankly, it’s just a bad, boring movie. This ain’t The Big Parade.
Despite the majority of the film being inutile, there is the smallest kernel of interest in the documentary portion. We see critics, historians, and archivists talking and working to save this once-forgotten piece of art, but watching them we realize that it’s not the film that’s threatening to disappear, it’s film itself. And film culture for that matter. Whether it’s because of nitrate prints deteriorating or digital’s rise, all of these individuals are gasping for air as they swim upstream, trying to save something that can’t save itself.
(Love Among the Ruins plays 6/4 & 6/5 at SIFF Cinema Uptown.)