News  ·  15 | 04 | 2022

The Frames of Renato Berta

Artistic director Giona A. Nazzaro reads the biography of Renato Berta, Ticino's director of photography and guest at the last edition of L'immagine a la parola

Renato Berta con Michelangelo Frammartino durante la Spring Academy 2022

In the end, the book that Renato Berta humbly titled Photogrammes (frames) is much more than an exciting cinematic biography, written with Jean-Marie Charua. In fact, but we can already see Berta scoffing, the one told in the pages of Photogrammes is a real history of cinema. A story that intertwines with many others. An exciting story, and one that reminds us, once again, why cinema is so important to all of us.

A story that begins in a Ticino that no longer exists and that Berta recalls with a few moving and profound touches. The precision of the gesture of the great director of photography (but the person concerned observes that perhaps we should say "of cinematography") is found in the measured words with which he evokes the Ticino of his childhood, his Bellinzona. There’s the desire for cinema, the discovery of Von Sternberg's classics, for example. Then another fundamental discovery, that of the "other" cinema, the one he saw every summer at the Locarno Film Festival. Berta drops it as if it were nothing, but it is a fundamental difference. In Locarno he begins to suspect that cinema exists and that there are films. His entire subsequent professional career, always oriented according to the possibility of elective affinities, was built on this intuition, which later became a choice of field. Berta recounts the meetings with Rossellini at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome, where he graduated, the birth of contemporary Swiss cinema, the Filmkollektiv Zürich that he founded, the Groupe 5, and the meetings with remarkable women and men with whom he created countless masterpieces of modern cinema. Important friendships such as the one with Daniel Schmid and Rainer W. Fassbinder, who brings him the news of Pasolini's death.

Berta's trajectory, which is inscribed in the heart of cinema that came after the New Wave revolution, reveals, through the consistency of his choices, that another cinema is possible. The precision with which he analyzes that cinema exists because there is a plan, a shot, and the rhythm of the film is given by the succession of these and not (only) by the editing, basically clarifies the choice to work with very different directors such as Straub-Huillet, Manoel de Oliveira, Philippe Garrel, Patrice Chéreau, Mario Martone, Alain Resnais and Amos Gitai. Not to mention Louis Malle, Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer, Jacques Rivette. In Berta's artistic and professional choices, the spark of that Locarno encounter with Glauber Rocha, the spokesperson of Brazilian Cinema Novo, always seems to reverberate, which pushed him to go to Rome, to understand how cinema is made, and where he hosted the local film club. The recurring element in these stories that Berta recalls for the pleasure of the cinephile reader is how aesthetic choices derive from complicity and how friendships are in turn born from these.

The last pages of the book, where Renato Berta thinks about what cinema can become, what it was and what it is, is perhaps the most lucid examination made by a film professional. He does not just explain why things are no longer as they once were (in a key passage a few pages back he also reports a memory of Godard in which he recognizes some "errors" of the New Wave), but looks forward to the future, to that "thing” which may no longer be like the cinema it once was, but which is about to be born now. That "thing" that perhaps seduced him into Michelangelo Frammartino's lucid madness and determination to make an impossible film like Il buco. Renato Berta, with the wisdom gained in the field with more than 120 films, reminds us that cinema, after all, still has to be invented.

Giona A. Nazzaro