“Italia, fire, ashes”: an ode to Italian silent cinema, before the arrival of fascism


“Italia, fire, ashes”, by Céline Gailleurd and Olivier Bohler.


Céline Gailleurd and Olivier Bohler are developing a filmography focused on the history of cinema: it was inaugurated with the documentary Under the name of Melville (2008), retracing the experience of the Second World War and the Resistance for the filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-1973), and the impact that this commitment had on his work – a trilogy on occupied France , but also the Samurai (1967), The Red Circle (1970). There followed the essays entitled André S. Labarthe exposes himself: from the cat to the hat (2011), Jean-Luc Godard, the disorder exposed (2012) and, more recently, Edgar Morin, chronicle of a look (2015). At the same time, the directors launched into fiction with a first short film, Dramanasc (2018), then a second, harmony (2022), with Anthony Bajon, Alma Jodorowsky, Noée Abita and Grégoire Colin.

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The new opus of the tandem, Italia, fire, ashes, is a dreamlike film: entirely made up of archive images shot between 1896 and 1930, it traces the birth of Italian cinema from silent to talkies, before the arrival of fascism. Screenwriter and producer, Olivier Bohler is co-founder of the company Nocturnes Productions, with Raphaël Millet and Céline Gailleurd. Former assistant to Agnès Varda (1928-2019), before making her own films, Céline Gailleurd is a lecturer in cinema at the University of Paris-VIII, and has just directed a collective work, Italian silent cinema at the crossroads of the arts (Les Presses du réel, 2022).

pictorial journey

Italia, fire, ashes was born from this immersion in the history of the seventh art in Italy. The authors have recovered what remains of these films whose reels are scattered in film libraries around the world. Their film tells how Italian cinema was invented in close connection with other disciplines – literature, music, dance, theater, figurative arts, etc. The first shoots immortalizing landscapes and monuments, peplums but also melodramas, hatching silent stars (Lyda Borelli, Pina Menichelli, Francesca Bertini…), thus testify to this formidable ability of directors to absorb artistic fields. Since its invention, Italian cinema has enjoyed international renown, fascinating the general public as well as European intellectuals and artists.

“Italia, fire, ashes”, by Céline Gailleurd and Olivier Bohler.

Without drowning the viewer in a whirlwind of images, the film manages to take us on a pictorial, captivating journey, preferring a poetic approach to pedagogy – even if a few boxes clumsily attempt to set the context. As the excerpts follow one another, Il circolo nero (1913), by Emilio Ghione, Cabiria (1914), by Giovanni Pastrone, rapsodia satanica (1917), by Nino Oxilia, Fanny Ardant’s voice-over makes the experience a little solemn when she recites texts by artists who witnessed this effervescence, including that of Salvador Dali: “I remember these women with their vacillating and convulsive gait, their hands castaway from love groping along the walls, along the corridors, clinging to all the curtains, to all the shrubs, from his wives to the cleavage slipping from the bareest shoulders on screen…”

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