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In the last edition of the Locarno Film Festival, Renato Berta presented Mirage de la vie: Portrait de Douglas Sirk, a long audiovisual conversation between Sirk and Daniel Schmid. This year the Piazza Grande hosts the screening of one of Schmid's masterpieces, also photographed by Berta: La Paloma – The Time for a Look, from 1974, radical and exciting at the same time.
The caption "Once upon a time..." After the opening credits it can be misleading: it is not a children's film. Nor is it set in an indefinite era: at one point we hear mention of Evita Perón ‘s death in 1952.
The incipit is a quarter of an hour abundant without dialogue, only looks and mysterious faces. Cinema framed, made of songs of the past and sinuous camera movements without detachment. And when the editing is the master, it’s all a florilegium of iris openings and closures, binocular masks, and fading. As if to reconnect with the childhood of cinema and its adolescence.
It is a film only remotely inspired by Camille, the novel by Alexandre Dumas fils. In one of the opening scenes, in the dressing room of the cabaret singer Viola, the "Paloma" of the title, among the posters on the walls appears precisely that of the film (The Lost One (Camille)), to be precise) that Carmine Gallone shot in 1947, with music by Giuseppe Verdi. La Traviata, the famous opera by the great composer, in fact, is precisely the liberal adaptation for the opera stage of Dumas' classic. This detail in Schmid's film is not simply a matter of playing homage; it determines its coordinates, under the banner of an anti-realism that revolutionized Swiss cinema.
Of Dumas' book, Schmid preserves above all the tragic element of the illness that afflicts the protagonist. La Paloma, on the other hand, abounds in cultured music and even contains a duet, against the backdrop of the mountains, to sanction the strengthening of the relationship between Viola and the man who loves her, hardly reciprocated, almost for life, Isidor.
Ingrid Caven, Fassbinder's muse, stands out in the main role of the cast. Hers is an interpretation that doesn’t leave us indifferent. Viola in each sequence has a different look, she changes clothes continuously, like Audrey Hepburn in Two for the Road. She goes through the film in a feverish state that borders on the ghostly. And, in a few key passages, she appears exactly as a spirit.
Recalled by the memory of Isidor, Viola's presence is intermittent: she is there and she is not there, and when she is there she always seems with her mind elsewhere. It is the intangibility of the feminine eternal.
The refinement of the direction of the late Schmid, in his second feature film after his debut with Tonight or Never in 1972, the maturity and power of the style are manifested in every detail of the setting and staging, from the costumes to the sets.
Among the film's production companies, there is Les Films du Losange, the historic "company" founded by Barbet Schroeder, who is among the guests of this edition's Locarno Film Festival.