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FRIDAY

Sex and death seem like thoroughly contemporary cinematic topics, but in Italian film they may have peaked in the years 1913 to 1920. That’s when such fervid melodramas as La Donna Nuda, Rapsodia Satanica, and Sangre Bleu were made, popularizing decadent European “Black Romanticism.” Dutch filmmaker Peter Delpeut found a common narrative in the these movies: the story of a woman who dares yield to passion, only to be driven to madness or death as punishment for her pleasure. To make Diva Dolorosa, Delpeut assembled excerpts from 14 such films—found in archives in Bologna and Torino and at Amsterdam’s Filmmuseum, where the director used to work—to make one archetypal tale of delight and despair. These black-and-white (though often tinted) films featured quotations from Wilde’s Salom and heroines who owed more to Isadora Duncan than Mary Pickford. Such divas as Lyda Borelli, Pina Menichelli, and Francesca Bertini danced, kissed, and swooned their way through the dark plot lines—usually with a picturesque Tuscan vista in the background—presenting “the lives of their protagonists as a spectacle of the body,” in Delpeut’s words. Loek Dikker’s neo-Romantic score helps hold this collage together, but Delpeut’s well-chosen footage is entirely cohesive. You have to wonder what he could do with the ’90s films of Julia Roberts, Demi Moore, and Michelle Pfeiffer. Diva Dolorosa screens at 8 p.m. Friday, June 23, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s Ring Auditorium, 7th and Independence Avenue SW. Free. (202) 357-2700. (Mark Jenkins)