Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Medieval Living

Besides the Mole Antonelliana, a popular focal point in Torino is Parco Valentino, a 136-acre preserve along the Po River, which begins in the Alps and drains across Northern Italy all the way to Venice and the Adriatic Sea. The park, a favorite with joggers, features botanical gardens and the “Borgo Medievale” or medieval village.

Established in 1856, the park was among the first public gardens in Italy. Cafes and revelers can be found at all hours of the day and night, though after dark the park can become a bit sketchy. The statues at the entrance to honor the “Alpini” troops, the Italian army’s light infantry mountain fighters, are intricate.

Constructed in 1884, the castle at Borgo Medievale was a featured attraction at the Turin Expo. With its picturesque setting along the Po River, the “castello” (above) rises above a small cluster of houses, faithful replicas of 15th century Italian buildings from Piedmont and the Aosta Valley, along with an elaborate botanical area.

A tour to the medieval village seemed well timed, since I was reading “The Saint and The Sultan,” a story about a meeting between St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan Malik al-Kamil, leader of the Muslim nation during the late middle ages. St. Francis was initially enamored with tales of chivalry and the prospect of knighthood as a young warrior.

Is chivalry dead? It would be for St. Francis, following his capture, imprisonment, ransom, and ultimately, his conversion. Disenchanted with war, he faced the even more daunting task of weathering ridicule and extreme cruelty from family and the public alike for choosing a new path of peace, love and understanding.

The village, though faux, seemed authentic; it had the look and feel of the kind of medieval Italian village that St. Francis may have visited. In the book, the humble friar is more than a lover of nature and animals, but also an agent of peace with the understanding that responding to violence with violence cannot succeed.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Cathedral Of Cinema

If not the most spectacular gallery dedicated to the film industry, the Museo Nazionale Del Cinema is certainly the tallest. Housed in the Mole Antonelliana, the architectural symbol of Torino dominates the city skyline (above). At its completion in the late 19th century, the temple was the tallest masonry building in Europe.

Designed as a Jewish synagogue by architect Alessandro Antonelli, the edifice never became a house of worship. Begun in 1863, the Mole Antonelliana was purchased by the city to convert the cathedral into a monument to national unity after the founding of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. In 2000, the museum assumed residence.

Arriving in the early morning, we first rode the scenic, glass-encased lift to the viewing platform at the top, winding through the center of building in Disneyesque fashion while providing a birds-eye view of the exhibits inside the building on display. At the top of the Mole Antonelliana, the viewing platform offers a 360-degree panorama of the City of Torino and the nearby Alps.
The museum collection is among the most complete in the world, with over 7,000 film titles, 140,000 photographs, 150,000 posters and thousands of other film antiquities.

The Museo Nazionale Del Cinema guides the visitor along a route through various collections from the early experiments with moving images to the birth of cinema.
The extensive gallery features pre-cinematic developments and optical devices like the “magic lanterns” (below), an impressive review of film technologies over the years and stage costumes from early Italian movies. 

The museum hosts several film festivals during the course of a year, the major and most prestigious of which is the Torino Film Festival.
Ten “chapels” attached to Temple Hall honor the great themes in cinema history: Love and Death, Cabria, Cinema in Torino, Animated Cinema, Experimental Cinema, Mirrors, The Absurd, Horror and Fantasy, True and False, and Big Bang, all with film sets, photographs, designs and sketches. Frequent showings of short films and animations occupy the small theatre located in the heart of of the museum in the center of the Mole Antonelliana.
Naturally, the exhibition focuses on one of the great film directors of all time: native son, Federico Fellini. His style combines fantasy with earthy images and sensibilities. Recognized as one of the most influential filmmakers of all time, Fellini’s masterpiece is probably “8½,” though my favorite is “La Dolce Vita” (The Good Life).

For a film buff, the Museo Nazionale Del Cinema is utterly fascinating, probably because of all the reminders that the science of cinema is, ultimately, like magic -- amplifying wonder while demystifying ancient beliefs. To paraphrase Fellini, all art is about craftsmanship, and this museum is almost unbelievably well-crafted.