With a promising series of debates on cinephilia, Il Cinema Ritrovato, taking place from 23 until 30 June in and around Bologna’s fabulous Cineteca, not only confirms its status as one of today’s most cinephile film festivals, it also connects with the widespread current discourse on the changing face of film criticism and the urgency of cinephilia within this shift. With Jean Douchet and Michel Ciment, the first debate reunited two of France’s most illustrious critics from the heyday of cinephilia. Moderated by Gian Luca Farinelli, director of the Cineteca, the session aimed to trace the history of cine-love, specifically analysing the prominence of the concept within France’s most renowned film magazines, Cahiers du cinéma (Douchet) and Positif (Ciment).
Despite the notorious rivalry between both journals, the animated session was less a debate than a nostalgic dialogue, which clarified that Douchet and Ciment endorse the same vision on many of the burning topics Farinelli put forward. Moreover, both critics appeared to be evident incarnations of a specific kind of cinephile, which Jonathan Rosenbaum, who will enter the debate later this week, and Adrian Martin have labelled the nostalgic, nitrate-loving cinephile. (Their edited book Movie Mutations (published by the BFI in 2003) deals with ‘the changing face of world cinephilia’.) Although Douchet and Ciment repeatedly employed Farinelli’s questions to deplore the passing of a bygone cinephilic wave, they nevertheless emphasised to be optimistic on the current state of cine-love.
Ciment claimed that the most radical shift that contemporary film writing has undergone is probably the fragmentation of the discourse. While critics used to write exclusively for a single film magazine, today’s conditions appear to be very different. The Internet paved the way for an explosion of idiosyncratic criticism, blurring the boundaries between informal user comments and stimulating analyses. Everybody has become an expert, knowing everything about everything, not in the least as a result of the augmented availability of films on DVD – as Ciment noted, today one can by a copy of La règle du jeu at the supermarket, while even a Cahiers-critic as Jean-Louis Comolli had to wait until he arrived in Paris to watch Renoir’s masterpiece for the first time, which heavily intensified the experience.
Furthermore, the simpler obtainability of film analyses through online sources have made it easier for cinephilia to flourish, but all the more complex to distinguish its products. While Douchet noticed this current democratization, he deplored that this all too often leads to a neutralisation. Due to the lack of a real canon, or even a set of objective, Aristotelian values, people are not familiar with film history anymore. After emphasising the responsibilities of (television) programmers and academic film departments, Douchet and Ciment unequivocally agreed that film criticism could still guide and educate readers, and even has the power to launch important new filmmakers. Like the editors of Positif used to defend the work of Jerry Lewis or Terrence Fisher, today’s critics have adopted a gifted young director as Jeff Nichols after his first small production Shotgun Stories, paving the way for the critical and commercial success of his next two films, Take Shelter and Mud.