Leopoldo Nilsson retrospective reintroduces director

'The House of the Angel,' 'The Fall' included in LAFF program

Argentine director Leopoldo Torre Nilsson (1924-78) is a rare commodity: A cinematic giant who is a veritable unknown -- even to hardcore cineastes.

"You have to be a certain age to know who Leopoldo Torre Nilsson was," says LAFF artistic director David Ansen, a senior critic for Newsweek from 1977-2008. "He made a sensation in Cannes in 1958 and was really talked about alongside all the giants of the cinema in those days, the Bergmans and the Bunuels. His style was compared to Orson Welles at times. I had grown up on his movies and then wondered why nobody ever talked about him, why were his movies never shown anymore?"

Ansen has done his part to right that wrong by putting together a retrospective featuring four of Nilsson's best films -- 1957's "The House of the Angel," 1959's "The Fall," 1961's "The Hand in the Trap" and 1973's "The Seven Madmen."

Locating the prints required "a major hunt," says Ansen, who was aided in the task by LAFF programmer Hebe Tabachnik. "We weren't sure at times if we could pull it off."

It's impossible to gauge how modern audiences will react to Nilsson dark tales of lost innocence, class conflict and sexual repression, but Ansen knows there's at least one other person alive who has a passion for the filmmaker.

"Scorsese is a big fan of his, apparently," Ansen says.