Vittorio De Sica’s Ladri di Biciclette (1948)

In Ladri di Biciclette, Vittorio De Sica uses the realistic style in his cast, scenery and themes to depict the real-life struggle of his characters. De Sica highlights the disparity of class, in the pizzeria scene, using visual cues. Unlike the more wealthy diners, Antonio and Bruno do not have a table cloth or cutlery at their table emphasising their lack of materialistic possessions and position in poverty. The waiter assumes that they would want half a cup of wine instead of a whole cup, further reinforcing the low class system they are defined and restricted by. By cutting between shots, Bruno is directly juxtaposed with another young boy who is clearly of a higher class. The camera moves from Bruno as central on the screen, to the other young boy as central on screen. This presents a direct comparison. However, it is their backgrounds that differ largely and identify them undeniably in opposing class systems. Bruno is situated at a blank wooden table  with little surrounding him. The other boy, however, is surrounded by food  and well dressed people. There are clear differences in clothing, food, social surrounding, possessions and general quality of life. This visual contrast shows, on a realistic level, how class disparity is evident in all areas of life; on a social, political and domestic level. De Sica uses the changing relationship between Antonio and his son to parallel the changes in Italy’s political structure at that time. The “disintegration of trust”2 between Antonio and Bruno parallels the breakdown of political structure. At the beginning of the film, paternal love is evident, but, as the film develops, Antonio takes his aggression and frustration out on his son. Visually, also, the two characters become more distanced on screen with wide street shots emphasising the space between them. Their inability to break out of the class system also emphasises Antonio’s desperation and struggle to survive. As his desperation deepens and his hope wanes, Antonio is forced further and further from civilization and resorts to violence and theft of his own. In this way the use of a bicycle, as opposed to another vehicle, is highly symbolic in representing the cyclic pattern of events.

The representation of institutions, in Ladri di Biciclette, is significant in showing the changing social conditions and lack of stability and support in Italy at that time. Antonio turns to many different institutions – the church, the police etc. – in an attempt to find his bicycle, his attempts, however, are in vain. This merely emphasises further the failure of social institutions and reinforces disparity in the class system.  Godfrey Cheshire states that “neorealism served as a chastening, disillusioning rejection of Fascism and fantasy”3, however, Ladri di Biciclette serves as much more than that. It does signify the rejection of fascism and fantasy, but, through the eyes of its sufferers. As a result, the force of the films message is found in its realism – a message of desperation and, thus, essentiality for change and cultural renewal.

1 Ladri di biciclette. Dir. Vittorio De Sica. Ente Nazionale Industrie Cinematografiche, 1948

2 Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell, Film History an Introduction, (USA: McGraw-Hill Inc, 1994)

Michelangelo Antonioni’s Cannes Statement for L’Avventura (1960)

Today the world is threatened by an extremely serious split between a science that is totally and consciously projected into the future, and a rigid and stereotyped morality which all of us recognize as such and yet sustain out of cowardice and sheer laziness. Where is this split most evident? What are its most obvious, its most sensitive, let us even say its most painful, areas?

Consider the Renaissance man, his sense of joy, his fullness, his multifarious activities. Those were men of great magnitude, skillful craftsmen and at the same time artistically creative, capable of recognizing their own sense of dignity, their own sense of importance as human beings: the Ptolemaic fullness of man. Then man discovered that his world was Copernican, an extremely limited world in an unknown universe.

And today a new man is being born, fraught with all the fears, terrors and stammerings that are associated with a period of gestation. And what is even more serious, this new man immediately finds himself burdened with a heavy baggage of emotional traits which cannot exactly be called old and outmoded, but rather unsuited and inadequate. They condition us without offering us any help, they create problems without suggesting any possible solutions. And yet it seems that man will not rid himself of this baggage. He reacts, he loves, he hates, he suffers under the sway of moral forces and myths which today, when we are at the threshold of reaching the moon, should not be the same as those that prevailed in Homeric times, but nevertheless are.

Man is quick to rid himself of his technological and scientific mistakes and misconceptions. Indeed, science has never been more humble and less dogmatic than it is today. Whereas our moral attitudes are governed by an absolute sense of stultification. In recent years, we have examined those moral attitudes very carefully, we have dissected them and analyzed them to the point of exhaustion. We have been capable of all this, but we have not been capable of finding new ones. We have not been capable of making any headway whatsoever toward solving the problem of this ever-increasing split between the moral and the scientific man, a split which is becoming more and more serious, and more and more accentuated.

Naturally, I don’t care to, nor can I, resolve it myself; I am not a moralist, and my film is neither a denunciation nor a sermon. It is a story told through images whereby, I hope, it may be possible to perceive not the birth of a mistaken attitude but the manner in which attitudes and dealings are misunderstood today. Because, I repeat, the present moral standards we live by, these myths, these conventions are old and obsolete. And we all know they are, yet we honor them. Why? The conclusion reached by the protagonists in my film is not one of sentimentality. If anything, what they finally arrive at is a sense of pity for each other. You might say that this too is nothing new. But what else is left if we do not at least succeed in achieving this? Why do you think eroticism is so prevalent today in our literature, our theatrical shows, and elsewhere? It is a symptom of the emotional sickness of our time. But this preoccupation with eroticism would not become obsessive if Eros were healthy, that is, if it were kept within human proportions. But Eros is sick; man is uneasy, something is bothering him. And whenever something bothers him, man reacts, but he reacts badly, only on erotic impulse, and he is unhappy.

The tragedy in L’Avventura stems directly from an erotic impulse of this type: unhappy, miserable, futile. To be critically aware of the vulgarity and the futility of such an overwhelming erotic impulse, as is the case with the protagonist in L’Avventura, is not enough or serves no purpose. And here we witness the crumbling of a myth, which proclaims it is enough for us to know, to be critically conscious of ourselves, to analyze ourselves, in all our complexities and in every facet of our personality. The fact that matters is that such an examination is not enough. It is only a preliminary step. Every day, every emotional encounter gives rise to a new adventure. For even though we know that the ancient codes of morality are decrepit and no longer tenable, we persist, with a sense of perversity that I would only ironically define as pathetic, in remaining loyal to them. Thus, the moral man who has no fear of the scientific unknown is today afraid of the moral unknown. Starting out from this point of fear and frustration, his adventure can only end in a stalemate.

A Sketch of the First Episode in Nanni Moretti’s Caro Diario

I am currently writing a collection of articles on the auteur theory, exploring Sarris and his detractors, and as I finalise the first article I thought that a short article on the first episode of Caro Diario (1993) would be interesting. I am also in the process of writing a longer review of the second episode however I have a million and one ideas for articles and when that gets finished is hard to say.

“Vespa”

 

Nanni Moretti’s Caro Diario, “Dear Diary”, is a film split into three sections covering important elements of Moretti’s life. The first section, which this short article is evidently concerned with, called Vespa, reveals Moretti’s obsession with cinema and Rome. We follow Moretti’s Vespa as it weaves down long sun-drenched streets exploring and filming the classical, modernist and postmodernist architecture set to an energetic non-diagetic soundtrack. This section is filmed primarily using the tracking shot. The form of this technique allows us to engage in the same unadulterated pleasure Moretti feels gazing at the patchwork of modern Rome. As Rome is explored through Moretti’s favourite activity, riding the Vespa, we are invited into a strange whimsical narrative. Moretti’s opinions, dreams and desires are acted out in brief scenes and it becomes hard to differentiate between dreams, desires and biographical elements.

 

In one of the most hilarious moments we see Moretti despondent after seeing Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer (1986) and as the camera slowly zooms into Moretti’s position, replicating our growing emotional connection with Moretti and our induction into his world, we hear his imagination fire. He wonders whether the critic who wrote the positive review of Henry ever reflects on, and is ashamed of, his reviews. We then cut to a scene where the silhouette of Moretti haunts the critic by repeating and rereading the critic’s own words to him just before bed. Moretti is giving the critic nightmares like Henry did to him. In another interesting moment Moretti starts to dance, while still on his Vespa, to the formerly non-diagetic soundtrack. This moment breaches even the apparently safe wall between the film world and the non-film world. Seconds later Moretti rebuilds the barrier between the diagetic and non-diagetic world by apparently appearing never to have started dancing at all. We have again slipped in and then out of Moretti’s imagination.

 

The choice of music in this episode, as with the whole film, is excellent. In one part of “vespa” the slow piano score beautifully matches the sadness and heartfelt emotion that Moretti feels when he finally decides to visit the site of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s murder. Even though the site, and drive to, is hardly a romantic or inspiring place Moretti’s slow tracking camera allows the innate beauty and emotion of his personal journey bleed into the final revelation of a small artwork celebrating and commemorating the deceased cultural icon Pasolini.

 

In the first section of Caro Diario Moretti has chosen to reject the traditional narrative structure of cause and affect. This allows Moretti to draw us into his subjective perception of Rome. This section, as the title suggest, is centralised by the regular motif of the Vespa, establishing a tentative interconnectivity between the continuously bizarre or angry or enamoured thoughts that stream into Moretti’s consciousness. In the first section of Caro Diario we travel between the gig-lamps of Moretti’s mind delighting in the feast of his highly perceptive and often self-deprecating humour.  A patchwork of desires, imagined conversations, monologues and situations Moretti has welded together, in the vespa episode, a postmodern mini-narrative of one man’s world.

 

Caro Diario Clip

I am currently composing several articles, one being on Caro Diario, but to whet your appetite here is one of the many bizarre but hypnotically engrossing scenes, featuring the beautiful Italian actress Silvana Mangano, from one of my favourite films:

 

And as i am feeling generous I’ll add this other clip. This a very beautiful shot sequence. I fully recommend you rent/buy/watch this film if you can. Enjoy:

 

Shallow Focus and the Aura of Authenticity in Gamorra

Gamorra/Gamorrah(2008)

 

Gamorra the film selects several stories from investigative journalist Roberto Saviano’s best seller of the same name. All set in or around the Camorra’s (Mafia of Napoli and its surrounding towns) territories and business interests. Gamorra includes several interesting formal features in which the film communicates the violence, despair, and seemingly unavoidable fate of the central character’s struggle to survive in Europe’s most violent neighbourhoods. The technique of shallow focus is important in Gamorra in communicating this poisoned atmosphere.

 

Shallow focus is the cinematographic technique which shows one plane of field clearly while the deeper plane of field is blurred or out of focus. The shallow focus technique would show a face close up in perfect detail but the background or location out of focus. Deep focus, shallow focus’s antithesis, is the technique which shows an entire image in focus. In exposition shots we see the use of deep focus to clearly identify depth and position. Gamorra uses the shallow focus technique to foreground certain elements important in the communication of the toxic heritage that living in the Camorra dominated south entails.

 

The shallow focus technique is used to indicate, in part, the attempt in the characters to ignore and distance themselves from the violence they are surrounded by. This is indicated in a scene where a money-carrier walks suspicious and fearful of his well-being after he has a gun pointed at his head. As he walks away hastily the background moves out of focus, he attempts to block out the violence he just saw, yet a voice shouts out his name and follows him until he reluctantly stops and engages with the voice that has been stalking him. As he does the film returns to a deep focus. This indicates the futile attempt that is ignoring the context or situation the character’s find themselves in; one cannot step out of Camorra controlled life. The aesthetic of the shallow focus communicates a sense of a constant, ungraspable, unknowable violence which envelops and blurs clear and distinctive perception. The use of shallow focus reminds the viewer that the violent acts and characters are borne out of the poisonous toxic context. The sense of the unknowable and paranoid, added to by the style of death of Maria, also alludes to the actual feelings of the author of Gomorra who lives under protective custody; the truth comes with a terrible price.

 

[[[SPOILER: At the end of the film as these boys are killed the Camorra boss commented that it was a waste of youth but it had to be done. The Camorra blunt and destroy youth and the very little of it that Italy has left are being chewed up and spat out. Gamorra seems to say that unless corruption is destroyed then every generation, in this region, will continue to have a large waste of youth.]]]

 

Gomorra has been linked to, and commented, to be in the Italian Neo-realist style [I have decided to create a full article concerning this statement however one element of the Neo-realist style is relevant enough here to merit bringing it up now; the use of non-actors in significant roles]. Andre Bazin commented concerning Italian Neo-realism ‘It is not the absence of professional actors that is, historically, the hallmark of social realism nor of the Italian film. Rather, it is specifically the rejection of the star concept and casual mixing of the professional’ and amateur. (1.) Bazin argues that this ensures the audience brings with it no pre-conceptions concerning character – the opposite to what Jean-Luc Godard did in Alphaville (1965); that is play with those pre-conceptions. Bazin explains ‘the result is… that extraordinary feeling of truth that one gets from [Italian Neo-realism]’. (2.) In Gomorra several significant, or rather nearly all, roles are played by amateurs and non-actors and this attributes to a sense of authenticity and realism. Skinny young men, fat overweight looking men litter the film; average-looking people, as opposed to the stylised look of Hollywood, imbues the aesthetic of Gamorra with an ‘atmosphere of authenticity’. (3.) This is added to outside of the film by the film’s official website which doesn’t list the actors beside pictures unlike Hollywood film where actor recognition is important.

 

Staying outside of the films’ digesis the aura of authenticity of Gomorra has been further added to by events outside of the film. One of the central messages of the film, and book, is the infectious dominating control the Camorra has in everyday life from the most basic domestic sphere to the world of industrial waste and fashion design. Recently Bernardino Terracciano, who plays a boss, has been ‘arrested on suspicion of extorting protection money and having ties to the Casalesi clan, part of the Camorra Mafia’. (4.) Two other actors, one a boss and the other a hitman in the film, have also been detained by the police. These facts add to the sense that the non-actors are just playing-out their day to day lives but in front of the camera just this once but it also rams home the central message of the film that you cannot escape the touch of the Camorra.

 

 

 

(1.) Andre Bazin ‘An Aesthetic of Reality: Neo-Realism’ in Andre Bazin, What is Cinema?, California: University of California Press, (1971), pp. 16-40 p. 23.

(2.) Andre Bazin ‘An Aesthetic of Reality: Neo-Realism’ p. 24.

(3.) Andre Bazin ‘An Aesthetic of Reality: Neo-Realism’ p. 24.

(4.) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/3186186/Italian-mafia-film-Gomorrah-heads-for-Oscars–as-cast-members-are-arrested.html