This year's retrospective star challenges Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and the infamous skirt-chaser, Don Juan.
This year's retro-star at CPH PIX, the Italian master director, Carmelo Bene, has almost become forgotten, in spite of his fans numbering such intellectual giants as Dario Fo, Gilles Deleuze and Pier Paolo Pasolini. PIX is presenting his fascinating back catalogue of creative clinches with classic texts, such as Shakespeare's 'Hamlet', Oscar Wilde's 'Salomé' and the famous legend of the womanizer, Don Giovanni.
This year's retro-star at PIX had an unbelievably fearless approach to his art. After the completion of his second film, 'Capricci' (1969), he remarked to the film journal, Cahiers du cinéma:
- It was very easy! I hope that all cinema-goers will one day realize, that they can just grab a camera, and begin making a film.
One could almost believe, that he had already then predicted our contemporary film revolution. Now, PIX has unearthed his feature films. Films which challenge art history, and which seem just as dynamic and refreshing, borne by their unique film language, as when they were created.
The director, Pier Paolo Pasolini loved him, the comedian, Roberto Benigni praised him, the philosopher, Gilles Deleuze analyzed his films and the Italian theatre legend, Dario Fo considered Carmelo Bene to be an outsider genius, and the only truly interessant figure in the Italian theatre world in the 70's. Not unlike our own Lars von Trier, been was often regarded purely as a provocateur. A number of his projects were even halted for political or religious reasons. Yet, Bene was no simple, oppositional ideologist. Rather, he was deeply involved in investigating rigid, established concepts and aesthetic conventionality.
All his films, in their respective ways, lock horns with major works in the history of art. 'Un Amleto di Meno' ('One Hamlet Less', 1973) uses elements from Shakespeare's classic text, and Salomé (1972) borrows from Oscar Wilde's play of the same name. However, the works are as far from filmed theatre, as one can get. With a unique, personal editing style, as well as frame composition and sound technique, Bene attempted constantly to re-invent his language, through a bombastic use of classic paintings and operas.
Like a Peter Greenaway ten years before his time, naturalism and cinematic conventions are constantly and strenuously being questioned by Bene. Frequently with a huge, baroque glint in his eye, as when we see the corpses in 'Capricci', adjust their own positions, in order to look 'more' dead.
This often meant a tough struggle for the actors, or 'acting machines', as Bene preferred to call them, as they were not allowed to be resolved in their roles. To see them struggling with their characters, was what interested Bene. But even the director himself was not permitted to settle into his vision.
- When shooting, I contradict myself, I contradict my projects and the production of them, and thus I contradict everything, I contradict the whole world, Bene has said of his work method.
Bene struggled his whole life with poor health, and died already in 2002, aged 64, yet his illness seems to have given him, apart from an unwavering contempt for death, an extraordinarily hectic presence of mind. His art seemingly poured out of him, and he directed five feature films in just six years, playing the lead roles in all of them, as well as writing books and directing theatre.
All of his feature films were praised at the prestige festivals in Cannes and Venice. When he received a special jury prize for his debut, 'Nostra Signora dei Turchi' (Our Lady of the Turks) in 1968, an Italian film critic asked: - We have a genius in Italy. Do we really deserve him?
One thing is sure for certain; the film world has deserved him. We are therefore extremely proud, to be able to present, to the Danish cinema audience, one of the great revolutionaries in the history of film. And whose visionary works, we are now perhaps ready to recognize, for what they are: Unique strokes of genius. Or, in other words, film as film ought to be.
CPH PIX 2012 presents: Carmelo Bene Retrospective
NOSTRA SIGNORA DEI TURCHI (1968)
DON GIOVANNI (1971)
UN AMLETO DI MENO (1973)