Sunday, 23 October 2016

Alfredo Bini, ospite inatteso

The Cambridge Film Festival is underway. Yesterday I saw the best Italian documentary of the year, Alfredo Bini, an Unexpected Guest. Bini was Pasolini's producer. He stepped in and saved the writer's career in cinema after a bad first week on Accattone, and thereafter created the space and the conditions (and the financing) for all of Pasolini's films through to and including Oedipus Rex. He even rolled up his sleeves and beat off a gang of fascist teenagers when they fought with Pasolini at the Venice Film Festival (we see film of Bini collecting Pasolini's prize and apologising for the absent roughed-up director). Bini deserves our admiration but he is not the star of this film. Bini's name is in the title and his is the name on the lips of the impressive cast, which includes Bertolucci, Claudia Cardinale and Ugo Gregoretti, but the star is an angel in human form called Giuseppe Simonelli, a large, handsome, earthy-poetic man who could be played in a film by Gerard Depardieu. After a declaration by Bernardo Bertolucci that the art of cinema is the art of raising money, the film begins at a multi-storey hotel on a roadside a long way from Rome. The owner of the hotel is Simonelli. He tells of the day he met Alfredo Bini. He didn't know who Bini was. All he knew was that he was an impoverished old man. Bini asked could he stay at the hotel for a couple of days, and asked how much would it cost him to stay? He stayed as Simonelli's guest for ten years. Simonelli built a house for him, and created the space and the conditions (and the financing) for the fallen artist to recover his dignity and to live and die in peace. This is a beautiful and important film. Travel far and wide to see it.

The best account of Bini's life in English is his obituary by John Francis Lane published in The Guardian.

A few years back I published John's autobiography. It tells of him freeing repressed England and growing up (and down and dirty before finding love) in Rome through its great years of cinema. A friend of Fellini and Antonioni, he's in almost all of the masterpieces from that never to be repeated time, and he knew Pasolini of course.

The book is called 'To Each His Own Dolce Vita'.

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