SIFF Film Review – Love Among the Ruins
Love Among the Ruins
Massimo Ali Mohammad’s Love Among the Ruins (2015) is a delightful little gem from Italy. It tackles ideas such as film history and preservation within the context of a fabricated documentary. You get a two-for-one deal here: the first act involves Mohammad (who wrote and directed) tracing the discovery and restoration of a long lost silent film. The next two thirds show us the film in its entirety. Usually, the process by which a lost movie is restored is included as a special feature on the DVD or blu ray. Here, Mohammad mashes it all together into a whole, with interesting results.
It’s sad to realize that the majority of silent films have been lost to history. Whether through decay, change in ownership, or the ravages of war, many prints (if they are still in existence) are too damaged to be saved. That’s why whenever we hear of one being discovered and brought back for distribution; it’s something of a miracle. One of the most famous instances involves a copy of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) being found in Buenos Aires containing nearly half an hour of lost footage. Happenings like these should not be taken lightly. They help audiences see the intended vision of a filmmaker, while also shedding light on its time and place in history.
I would wager Mohammad had Metropolis in mind when he wrote this screenplay. Within the documentary aspect, the discovery of the lost silent film “Love Among the Ruins” happened shortly after a 6.0 magnitude earthquake hit northern Italy in 2012 (an event that actually happened). In the town of Ferrara, a cracked wall inside one of the buildings revealed the hidden film canisters. Because it was trapped inside of a wall, the film stock was not exposed to air or weather conditions, being relatively well preserved for nearly ninety years.
Mohammad presents the documentary fairly straightforward. He includes a number of interviews from Italian critics and historians describing the film’s back-story, including that of the Lumini brothers (Lauro Pampolini/Arturo Pesaro) who shot and directed it. To Mohammad’s credit, he does a fine job of developing a history that feels weighty and substantial. Interviews with family members of the Lumini brothers are convincing in making things appear realistic. Historians wrap it around WWI and the fascist regime that dominated Italy at the time. We even get a scene where we watch the film stock being taken out of the canisters and the restoration work beginning to take shape. All this I found to be incredibly fascinating, even if it was all fabricated to begin with.
When “Love Among the Ruins” takes over, what we get is a good old fashioned wartime melodrama. Made in 1922, the story features an ill-fated romance between an upper class girl (Mary Di Tommaso) and a soldier in the Italian army (Stefano Muroni). There’s also a secondary plot filled with military espionage involving a dirigible disaster. For the most part, Mohammad gets the aesthetics of the silent era down well. There’s the broad, exaggerated acting, and I also enjoyed some of the old time special effects. I wonder how much restoration work was actually done on the print, as a ton of dirt marks and scratches can still be seen. The story itself is slight, the romance between the two main leads being the main highlight. The espionage and the dirigible disaster didn’t strike a chord in the same way, and only function as dressings to the main love story.
Given that the silent portion runs for two thirds of the time (the total runtime is a brisk 68 minutes) it makes up for the biggest impression that one will take away. This might be a jarring transition for some. We go through an extended sequence of people talking in color, and then move into black and white with the additional requirement of having to read title cards. The cineaste in me would like to think this transition would pose no problems to modern viewers. The cynic in me wonders if people can stay as engaged when the switch happens.
I enjoyed Love Among the Ruins. There’s a breezy, nostalgic quality that makes for an entertaining watch. I don’t know how much it has to say in regards to Italian politics during the early 20th century, but the process in which this long lost treasure is brought back kept me engaged almost the entire way through. The story within the story is executed with respect and admiration for that particular style, and I would suggest sticking around for the credits to see how a lot of those shots were accomplished through modern lenses. Yes, this was done through a gimmick, but with a level earnestness and love that makes it more than that. Fans of movies will find a lot to appreciate here.