Treasures at the BFI London Film Festival

The Colour of Pomegranates
Sergei Parajanov’s The Colour of Pomegranates

There was a time, not so long ago, when the restoration of classic films was thought to be either too expensive or hardly worth the trouble.

That this is a happier era is spectacularly emphasised by this collection of treasures at this year’s London Film Festival. Institutes all over the world, aided by considerable dollops of finance, have set themselves the task of detailed digital restoration — a feat that sometimes takes months or even years to get right because of the fractured or incomplete state of the original prints.

This weekend has several prime examples of the dedication needed to accomplish the process. One is Sergei Parajanov’s extraordinary The Colour of Pomegranates, based on the life and times of the 18th-century mystical poet Sayat Nova (Sofiko Chiaureli) and now showing in its original Armenian cut.

Another piece of restored magic is the great King Hu’s Dragon Inn, a beautiful and detailed as well as spectacular classic of the wuxia genre.

There is also a performance of Wu Yonggang’s iconic 1934 silent The Goddess. A specially composed score from distinguished composer Zou Ye will be played live by the English Chamber Orchestra.

A highlight from later in the programme is Helma Sanders-Brahms’s 1980 film, Germany Pale Mother (Oct 14 and 18), based on her own mother’s tragic experiences during the Third Reich. A cut of over half an hour has been restored and the superb central performance of Eva Mattes shines as passionately as ever.

Looking great in its new format, comes Far From the Madding Crowd, John Schlesinger’s 1967 Thomas Hardy adaptation, starring Julie Christie and Terence Stamp, which is part of the British Film Institute’s Unlocking Film Heritage programme. It shows, in particular, the striking work of cinematographer Nicolas Roeg, who of course went on to become a director of note.