ITALIA. IL FUOCO, LA CENERE (internationaltitle: ITALY. FIRE AND ASHES) is a lyrical, visionary journey into the origins of Italian silent cinema, which had an unparalleled and glorious history and survives dispersed through film archives across the globe. This dazzling art and industry gave sparkle to some of the first international stars and generated peplum, melodrama, and adventure films. [...] The protagonists of our story are the men and women directors, actors, technicians, and critics who contributed to the exuberant originality of that cinema. Narrated by Isabella Rossellini for the Italian edition and Fanny Ardant for the French – each giving voice to remarkable archival images through the original words of those who created and experienced that aesthetic and cultural revolution – the film revives an era of splendor and the history of a nation that was soon to fall into the abyss of Fascism.
Our film aims to open a door onto a universe of darkness and mystery. The images pulsate, emerging from obscurity, and we are visited by ghosts, through whom we witness an entire vanished world, unknown to many. This is the story of an art and at the same time the story of a country and of its manners and tastes, the fragrance of a past time – or rather, the fragrance of different eras that succeed one another, until we are led, imperceptibly but inexorably, towards the Fascist era and the collapse of a profoundly European culture.
While the general structure of our narrative seeks to maintain a certain chronology, this study of cinema is nonetheless poetic, above all else, and far from a mere compilation or any attempt to becompletist. Our choices focused on the most innovative works in their genre, those which even now seem to us capable of teaching something about cinema, or even teaching cinema in a different way. The film also shows how this kind of filmmaking was not born in a void, but was naturally inspired, in its creation, by the art forms that preceded it: painting, sculpture, opera, photography, theater, and so on.
Céline Gailleurd, Olivier Bohler, Le Giornatedel cinema muto / Pordenone Silent Film Festival catalogue, 2022, pp. 265–268