Déjà s’envole la fleur maigre (From the Branches Drops the Withered Blossom). 1960. Belgium. Directed by Paul Meyer. With Brighella, Giuseppe Cerqua, Luigi Favotto. In French, Italian; English subtitles. 84 min.
Paul Meyer’s controversial From the Branches Drops the Withered Blossom, unquestionably one of the most poetic and political films ever made about immigration and labor, earned the admiration of the Italian Neorealists, including Rossellini, Antonioni, and De Sica, during its 1960 premiere at the Porretta Terme international film festival. Its title drawn from a verse by the great Sicilian poet Salvatore Quasimodo, the film is an intimate portrait of a community of poor Southern Italian migrant workers and their families in the gray, grim Belgian mining region of Borinage. Mixing realism and the carnivalesque, Meyer exposes the 1946 Italo-Belgian treaty—an exchange of cheap Italian labor for Belgian coal—as a cynical exploitation of society’s most vulnerable and isolated. Yet even within this infernal landscape, Meyer finds beauty in the resilient faces and voices of his nonprofessional actors, not only those of Sicilians but also Greek and Yugoslav refugees of the war. Restoring this film—and Paul Meyer’s reputation—has been a labor of love for Nicola Mazzanti, the director of the Cinémathèque Royale in Brussels, who describes Meyer as “a filmmaker who could and should have become the best of his generation, had the system allowed him to keep producing films.” 4K restoration of the original camera negative. DCP.