Mattioli republishes The Years of Lost Images by the director Valerio Zurlini, essentializing a text that returns a profound artistic and human portrait: prefaced by Tuena and reintitled Pages of a Venetian diarythe book reveals a forgotten author of our cinema.
Valerio Zurlini is one of the most complex and irreducible figures of Italian cinema of the second half of the twentieth century. He is not a master, he is not a classic, basically it can be said that he is increasingly forgotten, yet he has filmed some of the most emotionally intense titles in the history of our cinema. Born in 1926, after the early debut with The girls of San Frediano of 1954, he was consecrated thanks to the second work, Violent summer; he was very active throughout the sixties, touring, in quick succession, The girl with the suitcase, Family chroniclethe underrated The soldiers And Seated to his right. He also helped complete How, when, why after the death of his colleague and friend Antonio Pietrangeli. The beginning of the seventies coincided, for him, with an unsuspected directorial downtime and before his death in 1982 he only made two other films: The first night of peaceperhaps the best performance of Alain Delon’s career, and the blockbuster copyright The desert of the Tartarstaken from Dino Buzzati, whose processing left him particularly lifeless.
The Mattioli 1885 publishing house carries out an exemplary operation of cinematographic archeology with the publication of Pages of a Venetian diarywhich allows you to rediscover the pages of The Years of Lost Images, forgotten book, written, completed and fired by Zurlini during a long stay in Venice between the winter of 1981 and the spring of 1982, but published in limited edition only a few months after the director’s death. This original edition of Zurlini’s volume, prefaced by Pratolini and essentially aimed at the circle of friends and frequent visitors of Zurlini, was also notable for the decision to include three unrealized screenplays, missed films which marked a great regret for their author , now not convinced of being able to return to the set after the exhausting experience of Desert of the Tartars between Cinecittà and Iran. These three screenplays, the existential The Raft of the Jellyfishthe strindbergianeggiante Towards Damascus and the darkest Black Sunhave been excluded from the new edition published by Mattioli, it is not clear whether for reasons of length or of copyright – among the co-authors of the three texts there was no lack of important signatures and names of the caliber of Suso Cecchi d’Amico and Giorgio Albertazzi. Although during the reading it is a bit alienating how Zurlini refers several times to specific passages of texts which are not then read, these Pages of a Venetian diary they turn out to be a magnetic and suggestive reading, splendidly introduced by an excellent preface by the writer Filippo Tuena, who had known Zurlini personally in the early seventies.
To be, essentially, the autobiography of a director who also marked important pages in the history of our cinema, these Pages surprising for the absence of references to the most famous titles of their author’s filmography: The desert of the Tartarswhich still remains Zurlini’s best known film, is never mentioned and they have no better fate The girl with the suitcase And The first night of peace. Essential figures in Zurlini’s directorial career, such as the actor and producer Jacques Perrin, remain completely on the sidelines, where ours spends many words remembering him by painter friends of the caliber of Giorgio Morandi or Renato Guttuso. The only film made of which these Pages of a Venetian diary they talk willingly is, paradoxically, his debut The girls of San Frediano, which he even confesses to having underestimated for a long time, considering it almost a foreign body; for the rest, the Pages of a Venetian diary exude a heavy disenchantment with the world of cinema, with its scoundrels and its mocking ability to cultivate illusions and hopes for directors and authors, all enslaved in reality to a cynical, predatory and often short-sighted production system, at least in the eyes by Zurlini. It is no coincidence that Zurlini himself attributes – in no uncertain terms – Carlo Ponti, the great producer husband and manager of Sophia Loren, the responsibility for the growing difficulties encountered year after year in an attempt to make new films. In his Venetian diaryZurlini reflects a lot on the relationship between cinema and literature, going so far as to quote extensive passages from novels such as The betrothed, War and peace and also The Great Gatsby to reiterate that a great writer is potentially also a great filmmaker and that the opposite is by no means obvious.
It must be said that Zurlini, together with Antonioni, was the Italian director closest to the suggestions of literary existentialism, although he was very distant from it in stylistic and even more political terms. As repeatedly stated in these Pages, Zurlini felt himself a Christian but not a Catholic, very close to certain conceptions of art and society advocated by the late Tolstoy; and, perhaps, of the three lost films expunged from the new direction of the text, the most interesting might have been his own Towards Damascus, which should have been set in Palestine, close to the death of Jesus. It would probably have been one of the many Zurlini films for which everything seemed ready with the inspections made and even a part of the studios already set up at Cinecittà , but which instead vanished in a flash due to the economic uncertainties of the production house. Due to the apparent thematic distance, it is surprising to discover that, of all the Italian directors of his generation, the one Zurlini felt closest to was Pier Paolo Pasolini, whom he met very young in Bologna while he was shooting Violent summer and painfully regretted after the murder in 1975, as evidenced by the fact that Zurlini had managed to tear off a branch of the laurel that grew on the poet’s tomb in Casarsa to keep it next to his bed. The portraits that Zurlini makes of Guttuso and Morandi are fascinating and very in-depth, while the briefest profile that the director draws of the producer Goffredo Lombardo, described by him in a constant alternation between vices and virtues, is equally formidable. Extinguishing the three unrealized screenplays, in the middle of the Pages of a Venetian diary Zurlini’s great story of the Resistance remains and it was no coincidence that it was precisely as a partisan soldier that the very young Zurlini had met both Morandi and Luchino Visconti, who in his own way helped him in his first steps in the world of cinema.
The finale is very touching, with Zurlini who, in the Cathedral of Parma, finds himself contemplating the frescoes that Antonio Allegri il Correggio had left unfinished because the patron dissatisfied with the too pagan tones of the paintings, had withdrawn the assignment from him halfway through. «I smiled to myself, rethinking history, and without daring to make any impossible comparison, I concluded that all centuries are the same», reflects Zurlini bitterly, thinking of all the works of art left unfinished or completely unrealized due to the whims of the last minute of who was supposed to finance them. “Art. This short and perfect word which means truth, tenacious effort of the mind and heart, abandonment, humility, confession, identity with the emotion, the hope and the pain of one’s time which is a supernatural gift… without her the world would have no sense nor past, because it is she who tells us about them». Despite the continuity, over the centuries, of that group of self-styled powerful people who use art and artistic finance for mere purposes of power, fortunately it must be said that “masterpieces are always born”.
Dominated by those twilight tones that only a winter in Venice could restore, incomplete and precisely for this reason closer to the spirit and biography of its author, this new edition of Pages of a Venetian diary by Zurlini offer us the most unique and rare opportunity to enter into intense contact with the interior life of a director.
Pages of a Venetian diary. The Years of Lost Images
by Valerio Zurlini
preface by Filippo Tuena
introduction from the original edition by Vasco Pratolini
Mattioli 1885, 2022