Film Scouts Diaries

2012 Torino Film Festival Diaries
Part 1 - Frustrating Yet Liberating

by Henri Béhar

It always feels strange when you drop in for a few days in the midst of a film festival. You arrive knowing that those who have been there since opening night have already found their groove, knowing you will have missed a whole bunch of must-see films, knowing a lot more will be shown after you are gone. From that point of view, the 30th Torino Film Festival (TFF), held in Turin, Italy, Nov 23–Dec 1st, was no exception. Frustrating.

Yet liberating. When a film slate is so full and your fest days are so few, you chuck "discipline" out the window and decide to just pick 'n' choose. At random. Willie Wonka let loose in that chocolate factory.

At least part of that factory. As is the case for the Berlin Film Festival, TFF is known for its excellent retrospectives. This year's retro was dedicated to director Joseph Losey. Every film he ever made (under his name or various aliases) was shown in Torino, including the shorts he directed very early on for MGM. (Remarkable book put together, as usual, by Festival "coordinator" and retrospective curator Emanuela Martini)

Very roughly put, one could say Joseph Losey's professional life was a three-act play, complete with prologue.

The prologue: Born in Wisconsin, Joseph Losey studied philosophy but soon veered toward the theatre and ultimately worked with German playwright Bertolt Brecht (whose Galileo he was to direct decades later for the silver screen).

Act 1: After directing some shorts for MGM, he made his first important feature, The Boy with Green Hair (1948) with a young Dean Stockwell, followed by The Lawless (1950, Macdonald Carey, Gail Russell) and M, based on Fritz Lang's classic. While filming The Prowler (1951) in Italy he was summoned to testify by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which had made it its mission to eradicate Communist "subversion" in the film industry. Declining the "invitation", Losey sought exile in…

Act 2: Europe. Vaguely based in London, he shot all over the place, using all sorts of made-up or borrowed names (Andrea Forzano, Terence Hanbury, Victor Hanbury, Joseph Walton), often collaborating with blacklisted writers (Dalton Trumbo, Ben Barzman) and European actors (Jeanne Moreau and Micheline Presle, from France; Melina Mercouri, from Greece; Viveca Lindfors, from Sweden; Hardy Kruger, from Germany; Dirk Bogarde, Oliver Reed, Stanley Baker, from the UK.)

Act 3: The Pinter / post-Pinter Years. From The Servant (1962) on, Joseph Losey and playwright Harold Pinter made films that were immediately considered modern classics (forgive the oxymoron), among them Accident and The Go-Between. Although, subsequently, Losey often shot in France (Assassination of Trotsky, Mr. Klein, Don Giovanni) and in French (La Truite, Les Routes du Sud), the Pinter years are indelibly etched in the film-buff Pantheon.

Having missed the early shorts (darn!) and having all the Pinter/post-Pinter films on DVD, I decided to focus on Losey's work in the 1950s and the early 1960s.

Notes on those films soon to follow.

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