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Q: What Do You Call a Movie That's Getting Its Chicago Premiere 48 Years After Being Made?

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 29, 2007 5:00PM

A: Damn well worth seeing!

At the Cannes Film Festival in 1959, Roberto Rossellini (father of Isabella) presented his new film India Matri Bhumi (India, Motherland). Jean-Luc Godard, still just a film critic, wrote, "[Rossellini] has already gone on from the point which others may perhaps reach in twenty years. India is the creation of a world." But not long afterwards, the film faded from public view and has rarely been seen since.

2007_8india.jpgWhy? Perhaps the notion of a Western filmmaker going to India and fashioning a four-part semi-documentary concerned with the "actual and real India" rather than the exotic kitsch of tigers in the jungle or snake charmers just didn't have much commercial appeal at the time. (Even Renoir's breathtaking The River, which features some of the most beautiful color photography ever captured, was only a modest success when it was released in 1951). It hasn't helped matters that, due in part to its erratic distribution (it was shown on TV in Europe but has never had a real theatrical run), it's been all but unseen since it was made.

But that will change, at least for Chicagoans, this weekend when it gets two screenings at the Chopin Theatre courtesy of the Chicago Cinema Forum. Most recently the group staged a Bergman showcase, but compared to Ingmar's work India, Motherland is like a rare jewel. How rare? Gabe Klinger of the CCF told us that there is only a single original uncut print known to be in existence. It was given to the French Cinematheque by Rossellini's widow. "We intend to show a high-quality digital transfer of this one-and-only complete print," said Gabe.

We wonder what sort of shape this print is in (other reviews have mentioned prints of less-than-stellar quality), but we're nonetheless thrilled at the chance to see it. The word is that another "lost" movie, Orson Welles' legendary The Other Side of the Wind, will finally get a release early next year. Now if someone would only turn up the uncut version of Greed ...

India Matri Bhumi screens on Friday and Sunday. Details here.