A Temple for Movies By Necati Sönmez

in 23rd Torino Film Festival

by Necati Sönmez

Have you ever been to a cinema museum? If you happen to be in Torino, especially during the film festival, you cannot avoid it! Arguably the finest one in the world, the cinema museum here is not only located in the heart of the city, but also stands as the core of the Torino Film Festival, for years its national ally.

Housed in the Mole Antonelliana – the renowned symbol of Torino – The Museo Nazionale del Cinema hosts both the opening and the closing receptions of the festival. Indeed one could not imagine a more cheerful place for welcoming or waving goodbye to a film event. Apart from that, the Cinema Massimo, a regular screening hall for selected films from the museum’s collection during the year, is also an essential venue of the festival.

When the Mole’s long-lasting construction process started in 1863, it was supposed to be Europe’s biggest synagogue. But after many ups and downs in its history and several restorations, it ended up 167 metres high, the highest museum in the world (as well as the tallest building originally made of stone). For a cinema museum, being housed in a building that was meant to be a huge temple may sound weird, but is in no way irrational. Such a concept brings to the mind some scenes from Terence Davies’ Distant Voices, Still Lives where we see shots of three spaces in succession from a bird’s-eye-view: a classroom full of students, a church full of believers, and a film theatre full of spectators. One of the many common things between those three images is that each place has one particular focus point – the teacher’s desk, the chancel, and the screen.

The essential difference here is that unlike the temple, in the cinema museum there is no single focus – rather it is everywhere. All the surrounding walls, even the dome, have turned into screens. Thanks to the Swiss architect François Confino’s interior setting which melds with Alessandro Antonelli’s architectural design in a perfect way, the museum offers a long trip through the history of cinema with its five-floor helicoid exhibition area, while many small rooms located in the ground hall invite you to take various fantastic journeys into the great themes of film art: Animation, Experimental Cinema, Fantasy, Horror, Mirrors, Love and Death, etc… Milestones such as Cabiria, Il Fuoco, Il Guanto, or local interests like the long-term relation of films and Torino (where the Italian cinema was born), each have their own special corners.

All those images, stills, ‘distant voices’, displays, video installations, temporary exhibitions with continuously playing movies, form a tremendous circus dedicated to the world of movies. But it’s not the only thing the museum has to offer. Behind this spectacular show lays a series of rich collections – from film prints to photographic records, movie posters, drawings, books, objects such as optical illusions, magic lanterns, models etc…

This review was intended to be related to the films I saw in the Torino Film Festival. However, attending a festival is an experience that is in a way similar to wandering through the halls of a museum full of movies. If you make your way to Torino, either for the festival or for any other reason – the upcoming winter games, for instance – you should not miss the opportunity to visit the Mole Antonelliana. And after taking this long odyssey into the history of cinema, don’t forget to take the lift to the ‘tempiotto’ which goes up throught the middle of the Mole as part of this circus, and have a look to the panoramic view of the real world outside.