The mid-sixties, the breakthrough decade for foreign language ‘art’ films in the Anglosphere, primarily European cinema, found our capital cities ill-equiped with art house cinemas. In the immediate post-war years and through the fifties Sydney and Melbourne had only one principal venue for art house movies. Several former newsreel cinemas in Sydney of around 150-250 seats were then converted to art houses which still left a substantial shortfall of outlets for foreign language films being imported mainly by independent distributors.
The offices of majors like Columbia and Fox didn’t know what to do with foreign language features which their head office had acquired world rights. Sidney Blake (Blake Films) was the main indie player. Blake generally waited a year or two to pick up films for Australasian release often paying only a modest once-up licence fee rather than substantial advances against 50 percent or more of gross rentals (after recovery of distribution costs) that became a norm in later decades.
Acquiring rights a couple of years after its London and New York releases, Blake Films could not interest any of the down town Sydney art houses in screening La Religieuse. Blake needed little persuasion to make it available to Sydney University Film Group for a first release run in the University’s 450 seat Union Theatre on Parramatta Rd. Over 7 sessions in March 1971, including several full or near full houses, helped by a news story in a major Sunday newspaper about its initial banning in France when pressure had been applied by Madame De Gaulle amongst others. Mr Blake gave the distinct impression that he was already into profit with his share of the box office after this limited run. MUFS followed up with screenings of La Religieuse in Mebourne University’s Union Theatre.
For a decade or so 1965-75 SUFG gave Sydney first runs to more than 30 major films denied regular cinema release beginning with Orson Welles’s adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial in 1965 which screened over seven days to full and near full houses. Subsequent first releases by SUFG in Sydney included Franju’s Therese Desqueyroux, Olmi’s Il Posto, Godard’s Bande a Part, Bertolucci’s The Spider’s Strategy, Resnais’ Je t’aime, je t’aime, Jancso’s The Round Up, Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore, Jacques Demy’s only English language film Model Shop, and Terrence Malick’s first film, Badlands.
In the mid-fifties SUFG purchased 16mm prints of Le Jour se lève and Ivan the Terrible and, with David DonaIdson, Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest for screening by film societies and Riefenstahl’s Olympia for its first public screenings here. In 1965 Rivette’s debut feature Paris nous appartient was the first of seventeen 16mm prints imported by the Group for non-commercal screening. In the early to mid-seventies the Group acquired commercial rights and imported 35mm prints of nine more features previously unreleased in Australia: Welles’s Mr Arkadin, Ophuls’ Lola Montes (released together by the Group on a double bill!), Wojciech Has’s Farewells, Mizoguchi’s Life of Oharu and his two colour films – Princess Yang Kwei Fei and Shin heike Monogatari – Shinoda’s Mizoguchi homage Melody in Grey,and three films acquired after Sydney Film Festival screenings in the late seventies: Idlers of the Fertile Valley (Nikos Panayotopolous), Coup de Grâce (Volker Schlöndorff) and The Balance/A Woman’s Decision (Krzystof Zanussi).
If you are curious to see The Nun/La Religieuse click on this link to the Ritz website to Book tickets to this remarkable French film
To read Adrian Martin’s specially written Program Notes Click here