Review: The Image Machine of Alfredo C.
by Kaleem Aftab
- VENICE 2021: Roland Sejko carries on his work highlighting the importance of film archives and the material contained within them in understanding the world around us
Alfredo Cecchetti is not in your usual books on cinema, and nor is he acclaimed as an extraordinary cinematographer. He worked for 20 years before the war shooting images for the fascist regime. The plight of Italians stuck in Albania after World War II is similarly absent from most tomes about the political fallout and the installation of communist regimes in Eastern Europe. Cecchetti was there to film what happened. The cameraman's life and the images he filmed are at the heart of Roland Sejko's fascinating hybrid film, The Image Machine of Alfredo C. [+see also:
film profile], playing in Orizzonti Extra at the Venice International Film Festival.
The movie is also interested in the value and place of cinematic images as a historical artefact, the truth of images, and how moving pictures are used to control emotions. It's about fake news at a time when it was called “propaganda”. To explore this question, director Sejko and his art designer, Giulia Chiara Crugnola, recreated several Luce vaults, using explosion-proof cells, original reel boxes and actual films belonging to the Istituto Nazionale Luce. The director has, since 1995, been working for the Istituto Luce Cinecittà, where he is currently director of the editorial staff of the Archivio Storico Luce. He wrote and directed several documentaries, which are linked in that they are often built around re-using archive footage.
In the recreated vault, Alfredo C (Pietro De Silva) is cleaning his camera. It's a Parvo Debrie, model L, used by Luce cameramen, the brand of camera used to shoot Benito Mussolini posing as a film cameraman in the large, famous “La cinematografia è l'arma più forte” (lit. “Cinema is the strongest weapon”) poster. He watches some of the many reels of footage housed in the vault on a Moviola.
Cecchetti, before he went to Albania, was an official photographer for the fascist regime. He would take pictures of Mussolini from angles dictated by the Italian leader himself. The film shows this work. The images become way more fascinating and unique when Alfredo C moves to Albania. The streets and the people are seen first under Italian control; then the Germans sweep in, followed by the Russians, and the film demonstrates the powerful propaganda efforts to install communism. These are incredible moments. Cecchetti was employed by the Ministry of Press, Propaganda and Popular Culture of the Democratic Government of Albania. He gave instructions to “Comrade MAK”, the pseudonym of Mandi Koçi, the first Albanian film cameraman, whose name would be found as of the end of the 1940s on almost all Albanian propaganda documentaries.
Beneath the story of Italians stuck in Albania, it's a film about filmmaking, and the use and placement of images for effect. The director uses the “time in the vault” moments to show how sedate images can be when not locked into trying to create an emotional or political response. However, just as we get comfortable watching the pictures of a man in love with his work, the action cuts to reels getting wiped. It's unclear why. Nonetheless, it increases the impact and importance of the archive material that is the centrepiece of the movie. It suggests that if cinema is the strongest weapon, that means that for some, images must be manipulated and controlled. It's a film that works on many levels: as a history lesson, a lesson in image manipulation and, also, a lesson for anyone interested in the critical work of film archivists.
The Image Machine of Alfredo C. is a production by Istituto Luce-Cinecittà, which also distributes it and handles its international sales.
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