Franco Montini • Co-director of Passione Critica
“Critics matter to high-quality cinema”
- VENICE 2023: The film sees the director joining forces with Simone Isola and Patrizia Pistagnesi to study the relationship between critics and filmmakers in the history of Italian cinema
Screened in a Special Event in the 80th Venice Film Festival’s International Critics’ Week, the documentary Passione Critica [+see also:
interview: Franco Montini
film profile], directed by Simone Isola, Franco Montini and Patrizia Pistagnesi based on an idea by Cristiana Paternò, examines the relationship between critics and film authors throughout the history of Italian cinema, with a particular focus on the history of the National Union of Italian Film Critics since its foundation in 1971.
We chatted with one of the film’s authors, Franco Montini, about this important interconnection in the history of Italian culture, explored here by way of contributions from prestigious witnesses and a montage of archive material, ranging from the 1960s to the arrival of the internet and social networks, and the current audiovisual explosion, which calls the very definition and confines of cinema into question.
CinecittàNews: The film opens with a witty sketch by Carmelo Bene, claiming that “no child ever dreams of being a film critic”. At a push, they might think about being a journalist.
Franco Montini: It’s only because it’s an unknown profession. Children tend to think of more popular jobs: being an astronaut, a fire fighter, a footballer. When you’re five or six years old, you’ve no way of knowing what a critic is, or a research scientist for that matter. It’s more when you’re in your twenties, when you get the idea of the film critic profession being far more exclusive than it actually is. You might work in communications: you have to ask yourself: ‘do you want to do a job where you get to watch a film every day’?
But there’s a big difference between being a critic and a journalist, and it’s no coincidence that two distinct unions have been formed for film critics and film journalists.
It’s the same difference between reporters and columnists. Reporters are expected to relay the facts in the most relevant way possible. Columnists comment on the facts, whether they’re political or economical. In this sense, critics are like columnists, but in the film context the difference is less clear-cut. And I obviously don’t mean any disrespect to journalists who also carry out incredibly important investigative work. But critics need a different kind of training. They have to have studied film history, to have seen as many films as possible, to have absorbed approaches from a variety of schools; there’s content-based criticism, another more psychological form of criticism… Nowadays, for example, there are lots of teaching positions available in film, which didn’t exist in my day. Essentially, we had festivals like Pesaro and Salsomaggiore, where we discovered films which there wasn’t room for in commercial settings; films from the Far and Middle East, for example.
The scarcity of young critics among the people interviewed in the documentary is striking.
Firstly, it’s due to logistical and time-related constraints. There wasn’t much time, and our budget was limited, so we listened to the critics who were easiest to reach. There are no doubt going to be gaps, when it comes to the first generation too. Secondly, we turned to critics who were the most popular and well-known names among film fans, and, inevitably, critics who’ve been working for upwards of 20, 30 or 40 years are better known than those who haven’t worked as long in the field. The new generations have a particularly strong presence online, and, ironically, whilst, on the one hand, the internet has increased space for critics, their prestige is decreasing. Once upon a time, critics were big names in national and local dailies, but that’s not often the case these days.
A recent study, presented in Venice 80, showed that reviews written by experts are recognised by the public to be among the last remaining motivators for people to go to the cinema.
Statistics should always be interpreted with care, because they’re based on averages. Some people eat chicken every day, some never eat it, and the resulting average will be that people eat chicken once a week. Critics have never mattered much in this sense, when it comes to popular cinema: Barbie, Batman, Superman. But they do matter to arthouse and high-quality cinema, and this is still the case today. Distributors know this; in fact, they try to help critics in any way they can, even with the knowledge that, as I said, we’re no longer talking about two or three names in the newspapers.
(Translated from Italian)
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