Tesouros do Arquivo
Joana Canas Marques e Lídia Queirós
December 28, 2023

Archive Treasures presents some of the most recent restorations and digitisations from public and private archives nationally and internationally, reflecting on the role of these “new old films” in our understanding of what cinema is, its canons and history. It also seeks to highlight the importance of conserving world cinematic heritage and a growing collective awareness regarding the physical preservation of film copies. The illusion of film’s immateriality has distracted us from its incontrovertible physicality, and from what happens when a medium (be it film, cassette, disc or file) is transformed into something we view through a projector.

Just like the characters in cinema, all restored films have a back story regarding their resurrection, often unseen or little known. And while it is true that many of them are born through initiatives by cinema archives, specialist festivals like Il Cinema Ritrovato, or essential private projects like the World Cinema Project of Martin Scorsese’s Fim Foundation, we can also say that there is a myriad of different, often very surprising stories. Works that were censored or shelved soon after release, films considered lost until a copy appeared in a dusty room in someone’s house, films salvaged by their own directors seeking to show what they weren’t originally able to, or the appearance of technological innovations that today allow us to recover what before was beyond reach — the history of film restoration is full of treasures.

We asked ourselves how a programme revolving around a concrete process — the restoration and digitisation of films, choices which themselves are curatorial gestures — could have a unifying, relevant logic and maintain an inherent geographical, chronological and formal diversity. We dare to say that these films are all alive, despite being made 20, 50 or 80 years ago. They speak to us, among other things, of war and love, and of cinematic languages. Our proposal is precisely to show and introduce a series of films that, for their messages that remain relevant today, their strong cinematic qualities, and the way in which they have weathered the passing of time, constitute a true (re)discovery.

Many are written, told and inhabited by women. There are feminist stories that span centuries, like Orlando, based on the classic by Virginia Woolf and vividly reinterpreted by Sally Potter eight decades later, with Tilda Swinton as the titular character (and whose message remains absolutely transformative and current, as proven by this year’s new take on the story by Paul B. Preciado). In Brief Encounters, by Ukrainian director Kira Muratova, two women see their lives become intertwined by love, in a sincere and sensitively filmed story that never drops the female gaze of its protagonists. Also adapted from a novel written by a woman, Muriel Spark, Driver’s Seat features an enigmatic Elizabeth Taylor at the end of her career, playing a neurotic woman escaping to Rome. This film, one of the star’s least well-known works, ably examines female ageing.

We also live in a time in which armed conflict looms large, as we helplessly bear witness to the absurdity of war and its atrocities. At only 24 years old, Kubrick filmed Fear and Desire with precocious cinematic mastery. This power of this anti-war allegory resides precisely in the undefined nature of its story, reminding us that the horrors of war are always the same, regardless of place, people or time. On the other hand, the complex The Dupes, adapted from a novel by the Palestinian author Ghassan Kanafani and directed by the Egyptian master Tewfik Saleh, draws on a specific reality that proves, already in 1972 (the year in which the film was released and Kanafani was assassinated), the historic extent of the tragic condition imposed on the Palestinian people, today more unbearable than ever. The scars of war and stories of conflict warn us of pernicious power relations in society, into which we also place the family screening Harmonika, by one of the greatest names in Iranian cinema, Amir Naderi. With a simple plot of “once upon a time a boy won a harmonica”, the film unfurls into a lesson on the abuse of power and life in Iran.

From these and other disturbances that define our global existence, we arrive at the potential consequences of living in today’s world. Growing disenchantment with capitalist society causes anxiety and depression, which contaminate these films in more or less direct ways. We move from Elizabeth Taylor’s Rome to the gloomy, polluted Shanghai of Shuzou River, a tragic post-Tiananmen love story banned by the Chinese government. 20 years earlier, in Bubble Bath, György Kovásznai, the psychedelic genius of Hungarian animation, created a musical comedy in which the lead character has an existential crisis, popping pills on the day of his wedding. The film, misunderstood at the time, was withdrawn from screens shortly after release.

Inevitably, or perhaps not, the themes that pervade this programme are those that journey through time and reveal themselves to be not only current and urgent, but also transversal to the formal, geographical and social dimensions of each work. Beyond the unity they bestow on the films, these themes hold a mirror up to the problems that are closest to us and most move us, and through which we connect to the vastness of human experience.

From February onwards, the Archive Treasures programme will adopt a fortnightly cadence, in which these and other current themes will enter into dialogue through the gaze of our “newest old films”.

Batalha Centro de Cinema

Praça da Batalha, 47
4000-101 Porto


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