Tag Archives: African cinema

Thinking Aloud About Film: Overview of Il Cinema Ritrovato 2023


I was unable to attend this year’s Ritrovato; a pity as the programming is often a preview of films that subsequently screen elsewhere and inevitably become highlights of the year. Luckily, Richard was there to report on what he saw he saw.

In the podcast, we discuss the following sections of the festival:The Time Machine: 1923, where films from a century ago get highlighted; The Space Machine section, particularly the Cinema Libero selections, of which Richard was able to see every feature film. We discuss the New Film Foundation Restorations, of which Richard highlights BUSHMAN ( David Schickele, 1981) and TIME OF THE HEATHEN(Peter Kass, 1961) . BUSHMAN will be shown at Bristol’s Cinema Rediscovered this year. Richard also highlights two Iranian films by Bharam Beyzaie, director of DOWNPOUR Like with  CHESS IN THE WIND, programmer Ehsan Khoshbakht describes THE STRANGER AND THE FOG and THE BALLAD OF TARA as a holy grail of Iranian Cinema, pre-revolutionary films thought lost and now  restored.

Richard touches on some of the restorations he saw: MAN’S CASTLE (Frank Borzage),  A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL,  CROSS OF IRON, CRY THE BELOVED COUNTRY (Zoltan Korda); MARRIAGE CIRCLE  and  LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN,  the latter with a score by Timothy Brock and shown with a  full orchestra; Stella Dallas, with Stephen Horne’s orchestral score and an equally  wonderful orchestra.

We discuss the Anna Magnani section; the Rouben Mamoulian section, which Richard views as an opportunity to see the films at their best rather than any revelations; The Michael Powell section, mostly Powell without Pressburger. Powell himself said he didn’t think his reputation would survive many more discoveries of his quota quickies. Has it?

We also discuss  being at the festival this year: The pros and cons of seeing films on the Square; the system of advance bookings; the faults and virtues of the introductions; and whether Ritrovato should continue the digital programming it began during COVID.

The overall assessment is that it was a wonderful festival; that the catalogue itself is a tremendous work of scholarship and should be acknowledged as such; and I look forward to once more be present at it next year,

The podcast may be listened to here:


The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

José Arroyo

Thinking Aloud About Film: Black Girl (Ousmane Sembène, France/Senegal, 1966)

A discussion of Ousmane Sembène’s BLACK GIR/ LA NOIRE DU  (France/ Senegal, 1966), a rich and poetic evocation of post-colonial subjectivity. A young girl (M’Bissine Thérèse Diop) goes to work as a nanny for a French family in Dakar and then joins them in France later to continue working for them. But the job has changed: instead of being a nanny, she ends up cooking, cleaning, washing. She feels herself imprisoned in the room, turned into a thing, fetishised as a display: a slave. Outside of her country and away from her family, community and lover, she’s constantly reminded of her outsiderness, subjectivised into subalternity. In French the film’s title has connotations lost in English: the black girl of, the black girl from; connotations of outsiderness, exclusion and possession, whose black girl is she that is not from here? The white family is confounded by her unhappiness and has no idea what is wrong with her. For Sembène, she’s a symbol for the country and for post-colonialism in general. But is this enough? Sight & Sound pollsters thought so and ranked it one of the best 100 films of all time. The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project thought it important enough to fund a restoration with the Cineteca di Bologna. The film is available through Criterion, the BFI, and there is a very good version on You Tube. We found it fascinating but preferred Sembène’s later Mandabi.



The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

Hamish Ford has written a fine piece on the film for the 2023 Cinema Reborn catalogue which may be accessed here:


Listeners interested in finding out more about Sembene might start here:


José Arroyo


In Conversation with Martin Stollery on The Emigrant — The Youssef Chahine Podcast No. 14a

Martin Stollery is the author of a monograph on Youssef Chahine’s The Emigrant (see below), the most sustained analysis of any one Youssef Chahine film I’ve been able to find in English. The film is available to see on Netflix and seems more pertinent and resonant than ever. In the podcast above Martin and I discuss the film itself; how it allegorises; the meaning and uses of water in Chahine’s films; the famous court case that is part of the context of the film’s release; and the tension between the film’s relationship to Biblical epics as well as Youssef Chahine’s more personal style of filmmaking. An illuminating discussion of texts, contexts and modes of analysis that ends with a renewed appreciation of Chahine’s achievements as a director.



In conversation, Martin mentioned that his work on Chahine was sparked by a series of Arab films programmed by Channel Four in the late 80s/ early 90s. I asked Sheldon Hall to check up on this for me, and he generously provided a pdf of all the films screened from 88-91, which you Chahine-films-1988-91. Sheldon notes that ‘For the record, the Arab ‘season’ seems to have been only three films: ALYAM ALYAM, CAIRO CENTRAL STATION (sic) and REED DOLLS. CCS was repeated in the Cinema of Three Continents series on 05/08/1990. ALEXANDRIA ENCORE was shown in the same series on 17/11/1991. The TVT review is by David Quinlan, the RT one by Derek Winnert. First showing of CCS was 08/02/1988′.

Martin has very generously uploaded his book so it can be freely accessed on Academia.edu here:  martin stollery – Academia.edu . For those of you who might not have access to the site, you can access a copy of it here:Al_Muhajir_LEmigre_The_Emigrant_YoussefAl_Muhajir_LEmigre_The_Emigrant_Youssef.

The Youssef Chahine Podcast has never been so lucky before: you can now see the film on Netflix, listen to the discussion above, and then follow up the author’s discussion by reading the book on the film.

Martin has also very generously provided this link to Chahine’s editor:  ABDEL-SALAM, RACHIDA – Edited By. 


The French legal scholar Nathalie Bernard-Maugiron has published a nice piece on the trial: Bernard-Maugiron N. “Legal Pluralism and the Closure of the Legal Field: the al-Muhajir Case”. In B. Dupret, M. Berger et L. al-Zwaini (eds.), Legal Pluralism in the Arab World, Kluwer Law International, La Haye-Londres-Boston, 1999, 173-189.
The French version can be accessed here: LEmigrYoussefChahine


Below is the shot mentioned by Martin in the podcast from Cairo as Told by Chahine  – about fourteen minutes into the film – ‘quotidian spirituality and the sensuality of cinema combined in an inclusive, utopian image of what Chahine wants Egyptian culture to be’.



This is the longest trailer Martin’s been able to find for the Marianne Khoury film:

I include the gif I made to advertise this podcast


….as well as the trailer, merely because I had fun making them and they do give a flavour of the film:


José Arroyo

Wùlu (Daouda Coulibali, France/Senegal/Mali, 2016)


A fine gangster film, novel for being an excellent debut feature from Daouda Coulibali and set in a region of Africa (Mali, Guinea, Senegal, Niger) that is a nexus for transporting cocaine from Columbia to Europe.

The film begins with a series of titles contextualising and explaining as follows:

‘In the Bambara culture, fraternal societies must train their followers to make them into valuable members of the community. In the Ntòmo society new members must pass through five levels:

  1. The lion level teaches a man where he came from
  2. The toad level tells him where he is going
  3. The bird level teaches him who he is.
  4. The guinea fowl level considers the man in the cosmos.
  5. The final level enlightens the member on his place in society. This is the level of the dog (Wúlu).

Screen Shot 2018-03-02 at 11.58.58The Wùlu of this story is Ladji (Ibrahim Koma), who works in a collective taxi. He’s the one who decides who to pick up and he’s figured out all the angles: avoid the elderly, fat and infirm: they can lose you a lot of money. He dreams of driving his own bus. But in spite of being excellent at his job, he’s passed over for the boss’ nephew, who’s got nothing going for him aside from his relations.

The film starts in 2007 in Bamako, and the corruption is shown to pervade everything and everyone, even Ladji’s sister, Aminita (played by singer Inna Modja) is turning tricks to get by. It ends in 2012. Ladji, the dog, can’t live with himself; his sister, the whore, is sunning herself by the pool in the lap of luxury. The final title card tells us:

‘In creating divisions at the heart of the army; in inciting competition between different tribes, and in constituting one of the sources of financing for terrorist organisations, cocaine trafficking largely contributed to the failures the State of Mali underwent during the course of 2012.’

Screen Shot 2018-03-02 at 11.52.14.jpg
Ladji washes away the blood

A very good crime film about the rise and fall of the gangster figure; as in so much of the genre, it is as much a critique of the society its portraying as a depiction of particular characters. And that is a chief attraction for someone like myself: we not only get a film with likeable characters, excellent action and a poetic touch, but we get to find out about the cultures depicted: the tribalism, the meaning of art in these cultures, the corruption of politicians, the way white people are seen, what a rich house looks like to these people, the value of a bus. This is a gangster film in which negotiations takes place in a tent in the desert, in which the way out of a shootout is through a boy with a donkey, a place in which an intelligent, thoughtful and responsible young man has no way out but gangsterism, drugs or death and in which death is preferable to drugs; It’s where whores survive but dogs are put down (there is a slight tinge of misogyny in the film).

Olivier Rabourdin plays the French Entrepreneur who is also the drug kingpin

Screened on MUBI as part of South by South, a collaboration with the South London Art Gallery