The Friends of Margherita Café

in 33rd Cairo International Film Festival

by Fawzi Soliman

In the frame of the 33rd session of Cairo International Film Festival 2009, in which I was involved since its beginning, I had this year two tasks: to be a member of the FIPRESCI Jury and to be the moderator of the symposium on Indian Cinema, the guest of honour. Twenty-five films from India were shown, representing the different trends, regions and languages. In the symposium on mainstream cinema Bollywood with its stars and parallel cinema were discussed as well as how to get Indian cinema back into the Egyptian market. The participants from India were the director and scriptwriter Adoor Gopalakrishnan, the pioneer of the Film Society movement in Kerala, considered by many critics heir to Satyajit Ray, He was at the same time the chairman of the jury of the main competition. The other participants from India were producer Boney Kapoor, director and producer Sandeep Marwah – who directs one of the best private film schools in India, the Asian Academy of Film an Television, established in 1993 – and film critic Shoma Chatterjee. Resulting from this symposium Sandeep Marwah announced scholarships of three months for students from all over the world; covering fees as well as boarding and lodging.

The Friends of Margherita Café

For my report to FIPRESCI I have chosen the Italian film Gli amici de bar Margherita (The Friends of Margherita Café), directed by Pupi Avati, even though it was not awarded any prize or mention, because I appreciate its style, atmosphere, narration and sophisticated attention to detail. Although all the events happened in the year 1954 in Bologna, it has nothing to do with the political or social situation in Italy from that special period, known for its revolutionary thoughts and leftist trends. All the protagonists are ordinary, simple people who like to meet in their favourite place, the Marguerita Café, to play billiards. We see them together in a souvenir photo, then the camera hones in on each of the characters.

We discover Al, the neighbourhood’s most glamorous and mysterious resident, who, with his strong personality and robust body, dominates them all at billiards. We follow Marcello, the introvert, who, with his naïve personality, cannot resist the infamous woman to whom he wants to get married, till his friends interfere and save him. Or the grandfather, crazy about women, who tries to overcome his failure at billiards by getting close to a charming, beautiful young teacher of music by pretending that he wants lessons. We see him die suddenly, but happily, with his hands grasping the dessous of his adored teacher. At the same time his grandson continues to celebrate his birthday with the young women he loves, not at all respecting the death of his grandfather – c’est la vie! We see Gian, an aspiring singer, who after failing in a radio contest becomes a victim of a horrible joke by his friends.

In spite of the variation of many different stories, the director, who is also scriptwriter, succeeds in portraying the characteristics of the place and of the protagonists through his meticulous care of décor, dresses, even hair dressing and accessories. He makes us feel the rhythm of the epoch in editing, an undertaking in which Amedeo Salfa played a big part. The camera of Pasquale Rachini moves smoothly across the faces, inside the houses and in the streets in related shots. I found the film to be a good example of comedy with human spirit, depicting ordinary people, which is resonant of the Italian comedies of the ‘40s and 50s.

Edited by Tara Judah