In the forward to the first volume of What Is Cinema?, a collection of French film critic André Bazin’s writings, Jean Renoir wrote: “His writings will survive even if the cinema does not." In the second volume, François Truffaut went further, saying, “To talk with him was what bathing in the Ganges must be for a Hindu."
Considering he is one of the progenitors of modern film criticism, it’s amazing how little Bazin there is to go around. In the course of his 13-year career, cut short by leukaemia at the age of 40, Bazin wrote some 2,600 articles. Yet, only 150-odd pieces are easily accessible across languages, estimates R.J. Cardullo in The Film Critic As Philosopher. This is part of a four-book series published by Curato, translated and edited by Cardullo, which collects Bazin’s writings on American, European and Japanese cinema.
Reading these pieces, which have been published in English for the first time, one is struck both by the subtlety of Bazin’s writing and its fervour. After suggesting that Mikhail Kalatozov’s The Cranes Are Flying has one too many bravura set pieces, he adds, “This is a reproach I would like to be able to make more often." The cinematic style of Nicholas Ray, he says, “is that of a violin melody played at the highest pitch, at the limit of tolerance of the human heart as well as the human ear". With each piece, whether writing about Kenji Mizoguchi or Marlon Brando, Bazin seems to consider the entirety of cinema and push it to be its best self.
While any new publication of Bazin’s writing is welcome, Curato’s series is unnecessarily padded out. Each book comes with a voluminous filmography and index—259 out of 367 pages in one. Bazin fans looking to buy the whole set, at ₹2,596, might feel a little aggrieved.