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Artistic Director's Blog
Back to #Locarno68

Artistic Director's Blog
Back to #Locarno68

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Over the last week, three films that were presented at #Locarno68 have won awards.  El Movimiento was judged Best Film at the Pachamama Festival in Brazil, Right Now, Wrong Then won the top prize at Gijon in Spain and the Swiss-Belgian co-production Keeper was awarded first prize at the 33rd Torino Film Festival. These three films are all very different in terms of their inspiration, their stylistic and narrative modes, but above all in the relationship they establish with the viewer. From its very first frame, a close-up in grainy black and white, El Movimiento reveals its ancestry: the savagery and also the rigor of Sam Peckinpah's cinema looms large over this gothic and highly original re-reading of Argentina's late 19th century civil war. Director Benjamin Naishtat keeps his distance from both the prevailing realism of his country's cinema and the conventions of historical genre movies. El Movimiento is a dark fable told from the perspective of a hallucinating mind that succeeds in bringing the past into the present day.  I have already written about Hong's latest film, when it was screened at Locarno and won the Pardo d'oro, and it is a work I will return to on its theatrical release in France in early 2016. Suffice it to simply note here its deceptive lightheartedness, that touch of vaudeville which conceals those awkward moments of mismatch, of inappropriateness in our dealings with others, of which every one of us is capable, and which any situation, even the most ordinary, can suddenly expose. Keeper is a film that might seem anomalous in terms of the formal innovation that is often associated with the Locarno festival. So it is a particular pleasure to emphasize not only that it featured in our program but also the impact it is now making on the international festival circuit. Senez's film is an empathetic look at a young couple having to deal with making their first major choice in life.  If, from a formal point of view, the film opts for straightforward narrative, it is in the development of its dramaturgy that Senez finds a way to get right under the skin of his protagonists. Thus the film can be seen as a one-on-one  between the tense but exuberant performance of Kacey Mottet-Klein and that more restrained, though always on the verge of explosion, of Galatea Bellugi. A film that operates in the space between its characters and in its singular story conveys a feeling of anxiety of  a entire generation.

In looking back at the festival's recent edition I cannot help but dwell on another film, which, after arousing interest and receiving acclaim at other festivals  (including the top prize at la Roche sur Yon), is currently on theatrical release in Italy.  Presented as a sneak preview at the  Torino Film Festival, Pietro Marcello's Bella e perduta was released with only 11 prints, and obtained very good box-office results in terms of per screen takings. Normally that would mean increasing the number of cinemas showing the film, whereas in fact it now risks being deprived of this opportunity, in order to make way for other films, as well as of the existing 11 screens currentlye playing it.  Roberto Cicutto has raised this issue in an open letter, noting that some titles distributed by “Luce” suffer from lack of upport and referencing Circuito cinema, a group that involves a number of independent distributors, who, for their part, have pointed out how the months between November and March are ridiculously over-crowded in terms of new releases. Leaving others to explore these issues, I want to concentrate more on the specifics of a film I hold dear, not only because it deals with my own country but also because it seems to me to be the outcome of an unusually fine and coherent overall project. Obviously, a film whose main protagonists are a buffalo and a Pulcinella is no easy sell. It has no bankable names or faces. Bella e perduta – a title that could just as well fit a Matarazzo melodrama – is a story about a country, told via a parable that is all the less easy to overlook: that of a caretaker of a realm ravaged by the mafia who has died in circumstances that are still shrouded in mystery. With this man's disappearance as a starting point, Pietro Marcello came up with the idea of inserting a second narrative thread, bringing into play a masked Pulcinella, who, in the Neapolitan tradition, facilitates communication between the world of the living and that of the dead.  The caretaker's story thus becomes one of a (male) buffalo for whom Pulcinella is tasked with finding a new owner, and prompts a journey across a country still strongly connected to the land, and resonant with stories at every turn. A journey through a series of  nameless characters,  and far from the well-trodden tourist routes and the high speed freeways.

Of course films need easily identifiable characters and stories and it is obvious that the director knows this from the film he made before this one, La bocca del lupo; but here he courageously opts  to raise the bar a notch, if not higher, and to try  – as illustrious masters have done in the past – to   look Italy in the face, highlighting not only its decay but also its  insuppressible beauty. I think that such an approach, however risky, is not only successful but also necessary. Of course, he could have taken the viewer on a journey through the havoc wrought on the Italian cultural heritage, as so many upstanding documentaries do; yet on the contrary, the way that Pietro Marcello has created an almost musical drama, with the collaboration of Maurizio Braucci who puts words of rare beauty into the buffalo's mouth, is all the more surprising for its rejection of any facile pietism. The fate of the buffalo is sealed, as is clear from the very first, immersive shot, and yet nonetheless  the power of the film lies in its ability to go beyond the reality of the situation.

And it is here the viewer must overcome an initial hurdle: Marcello eschews the mimetic language of television, and nor does he fall back on the facile rhetoric of close-ups. He lavishes the same attention on both bodies and spaces. Even though it may be a fable, Bella e perduta tastes real because it adopts that relationship to reality that is proper to documentary. As in any film drawing on reality, here too there is no separation between what is on and off screen. Thus, while fiction film tends to the centripetal, or rather, tends to concentrate the viewer's attention on what is in frame, Bella e perduta is an invitation to look beyond. Beyond the frame there are other buffalos, other realms and other caretakers who silently perform their everyday labour. Stories that will not be told, but which each one of us knows from having sped through them; and there is something of that taste that lingers, in such a way that in watching this courageous little film a sense of reconciliation – with the self and one's own forgotten country – emerges quite naturally. 

Carlo Chatrian
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