Céline Gailleurd and Olivier Bohler developed a filmography focused on the history of cinema: it was inaugurated with the documentary Under the name of Melville (2008), retracing the experience of the Second World War and the Resistance for the filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-1973) and the impact that this commitment had on his work – a trilogy on occupied France, but also Le Samouraï (1967), Le Cercle rouge (1970).

This was followed by the essays entitled André S. Labarthe s’expose: du chat au bonne (2011), Jean-Luc Godard. Exposed Disorder (2012) and, more recently, Edgar Morin. Chronicle of a look (2015). At the same time, the directors launched into fiction with a first short film, Dramonasc (2018), then a second, Harmony (2022), with Anthony Bajon, Alma Jodorowsky, Noée Abita and Grégoire Colin.

International fame

The latest opus of the tandem, Italia, the fire, the ashes, is a dreamlike film: entirely composed of archive images shot between 1896 and 1930, it traces the birth of Italian cinema from silent to talkies, before the the arrival of fascism. Screenwriter and producer, Olivier Bohler is co-founder of the company Nocturnes Productions, with Raphaël Millet and Céline Gailleurd. Former assistant to Agnès Varda (1928-2019), before directing her own films, Céline Gailleurd is a lecturer in cinema at the University of Paris-VIII and has just directed a collective work, Italian silent cinema at the crossroads of arts (Les Presses du Réel, 2022).

Italia, fire, ashes was born from this dive into the history of the seventh art in Italy. The authors have recovered what remains of these films, the reels of which are scattered in cinema libraries around the world. Their film tells how Italian cinema was invented in close connection with other disciplines – literature, music, dance, theater, figurative arts, etc.

The first shoots immortalizing landscapes and monuments, the peplums but also the melodramas giving birth to silent stars (Lyda Borelli, Pina Menichelli, Francesca Bertini, etc.), thus testify to this formidable capacity of directors to absorb artistic fields. Since its invention, Italian cinema has enjoyed an international reputation, fascinating both the general public and European intellectuals and artists.

Without drowning the viewer in a whirlwind of images, the film succeeds in taking us on a captivating pictorial journey, preferring the poetic approach to pedagogy – even if a few boxes clumsily attempt to situate the context. The extracts follow one another, Il circolo nero (1913), by Emilio Ghione, Cabiria (1914), by Giovanni Pastrone, Rapsodia satanica (1917), by Nino Oxilia.

Fanny Ardant’s voice-over makes the experience a little solemn when she lists texts from artists who witnessed this effervescence, including that of Salvador Dali: “I remember these women with their wavering and convulsive gait, their hands, shipwrecked by love, groping along the walls, along the corridors, clinging to all the curtains, to all the shrubs, of these women with their necklines slipping from the most bare shoulders on the screen…”