“Representation is a denial of participation”
– Muammar Gaddafi in The Green Book
Used to the soothing distraction film festivals offer in the form of anal-retentive social events and cultural bulimia, to encounter I Mille Occhi (Italian for “The Thousand Eyes”) is a pleasantly disorienting experience. A recipient for socio-aesthetic potentialities rather than a trend prescriber, this marginal but essential festival opens a cultural possibility where indomitable interpretation bypasses slack contemplation.
The present is tense at I Mille Occhi, the past projects unseen trajectories to understand a social currency in free fall on a free market obscuring any other possible vision, against this liberal censorship of the sublime the festival liberates a hazardous imaginary. (Un)structured in different but equivalent sections, these thousand eyes ambushed mundane presenzialismo(1) to turn on a space where images focus on becoming more than identity and flow is favoured over form. Vertigo, the festival theme, is then also a perceptive necessity to see (beyond) the illusion of normalcy so as to confront the fear of falling deeper in this desert of meaning.
The festival director Sergio Grmek Germani writes in “Lust for Life”, his introduction to the catalogue:
doubtlessly, this year’s blockbuster has been Obama and his cabinet shot without reverse-shot watching the capture of Osama, and the latter true/fake image re-watching himself on television. It is the emptiness of these images that help us understand why so many Black Swans simulate the passion they lack. Better any porn image found on the Internet that can become the punctum of a choice of vision, projection, ejaculation.
Coinciding with the start of the not too symbolic occupation of Wall Street trying to break “the stranglehold that has been placed on human imagination”(2) the cross-pollinating visions gifted by I Mille Occhi unfolded a space of pure difference.
In a world that chooses appearances as its deepest essence the role of hidden and unruly films clearly acquires a certain importance in relation to what can be thought, expressed and realised.
The arrogant irony of the rating agency Standard & Poor gave the name to one of the festival sections, Moody’s Movie. Cinema and Economy: Two Fictions at the Mirror, where the direct cinema of industrialisation and the abstract forms of post-Fordism engineered a debunked vision of capitalist realism. Rossellini’s television series commissioned by Italsider (one of Italy’s biggest iron and steel companies), L’Età del Ferro (The Iron Age, 1965), insisted on the military use of iron as a characterisation of its history as if highlighting the apocalyptic link between progress and destruction. A recently rediscovered Gualtiero Jacopetti film offered some preposterous solace with Operazione Ricchezza – realised in 1983 but not released until 2009 – where the godfather of contemporary media swam upstream on the trail of gold, meeting on his way the (un)usual fauna of (t)his manufactured dog’s world.
A series of industrial videos, infringed by an agit-prop film about the first wave of strikes in Turin (Scioperi a Torino, Carla & Paolo Gobetti, 1962), designed a model of corporate Puritanism already showing the symptoms of an anthropological trauma. Incontro con la Olivetti (Giorgio Ferroni, 1950) commissioned and produced by the communication department of Olivetti(3) and narrated by leftwing intellectual Franco Fortini, then working for the company, introduces one of the first business parks ever. This naïve and “innocuous” corporate video shows the industrial village and its merry employees first working, and then spending their spare time constantly under the branded shadow of their omnipresent employer. The pervasiveness of corporate ideology and its benevolent greed is also the subliminal subject of another video, photographed by Vittorio Storaro.
Commissioned once again by Olivetti and invested of a quasi-philosophical task, that of exposing the nascent influence of calculators, Le Regole del Gioco (Massimo Magri, 1968) foresaw our current techno-theocracy in disturbing if somewhat facetious detail. Filmed in that fateful year when the Tet Offensive proved to the world that anything was possible, the film flirts with virtuoso images and their luring deceit crushing the mono-dimensional man under the weight of industrial entertainment. I Prosseneti (1976) by Brunello Rondi, Fellini’s loyal scriptwriter (La Dolce Vita, 8 ½), concluded the series with a timely reflection on power and sex in the spurious disguise of an erotic B-movie. If money can buy almost anything, the film argues, what ultimately remains unattainable is the very essence of desire, impersonated in the film by a young girl who allows the guests of a regal party to feast on her body without ever letting them have it.
One of the undercurrents of I Mille Occhi this year was in fact the liberating and illicit force –irrepressible by the tanks of patriarchal capitalism – of feminine Eros as seen in the aforementioned film by Rondi, in La Maestrina by Giorgio Bianchi, in Triptih Agate Schwarzkobler by Matjaz Klopcic and in…
Masterpiece of intransigence and insurrectionary coherence, La Tortura by Nico Papatakis is a capital film on and against radical cinema, a courageous and self-critical communiqué from the (abortive?) front of subversive filmmaking. Clandestine presence of global cinema, Papatakis produced Jean Genet’s Un Chant D’Amour, helped Cassavetes financing his debut, lent his first name to renowned chanteuse Christa Päffgen and realised a handful of movies in unrepentant and contrary direction. Indignant bluster against the leftist jetset, La Tortura tells the story of a director making a film on the Algerian war (to which the director took part on the NLF side) with his partner/actress torturing herself to better interpret the part of an Arab resistance fighter. Due to her Stanislavskijan commitment the spectator is left unsure regarding the margin parting fiction from reality while torture seals the (in)humanity of the social contract. Painful and lucid reflection on the futility of militant cinema, the film, autobiographical in its vocation, also explores the nature of alternative cultural circuits and the hypocritical tension pulling their intentions and outcomes apart. Papatakis’ film has not aged since it refused the accommodating illusions of “leftwing fiction” but instead exasperated the unsolvable contradictions at its heart. Its boldness and intellectual honesty have relegated this film to the dustbin of cinema history; it remains flammable material, a positively dangerous film. When first released in Paris in its French version, Gloria Mundi was withdrawn from the distributive circuit due to a bomb planted by the OSA (a secret army supporting the French occupation of Algeria) in the cinema where it was screening.
Aptly enough, for a timeless film on a timely subject, the stylistic approach of Triptih Agate Schwarzkobler (1997) is reminiscent of a bygone era of excessive zooms, ‘70s palette and curious experiments that expose the fear that Tito, in one room, and his democratic successor Preseren, in the other room, share when faced by the boundless thrust of feminine Eros. Wafting in and out of time both inside and outside the cinematic narrative, Matjaz Klopcic’s film resurrects the ghosts of persecuted witches transcending places, regimes and religious pretences. The polyphonic body of Natasa Barbara Cerar takes the spectator through the symbolic candour of a scented film removed from its era and yet urgently contemporary. In an era when rampant Islamophobia has awarded Muslims the Best Wife-Beater prize, the film exhumes the unspeakable and unspoken crimes against womankind committed by Christian civilisation.
Apropos of Christianity, between horror and pagan drifts, the festival celebrated the Giullari di Dio: Hidden Prophets and Messiahs in Italian Cinema with a series of “religious” films on the verge of heresy. From the ego-eccentric magniloquence of Adriano Celentano in Joan Lui – ma un giorno nel paese arrivo io di lunedí (1985), to the disturbing prescience of Luigi Comencini’s Cercasi Gesú (1982) this section traversed the darker side of Vatican City to rescue its lost children. Comencini’s aforementioned title lends itself to a PhD in Occultural Media Studies. Scripted by the demiurge of Berlusconian TV, Antonio Ricci, starring comedian turned populist barker Beppe Grillo as a mass-mediated unintentional Jesus, Cercasi Gesú was an uncanny beacon of things that came. To make the whole package the more (sur)realistic the film features an emaciated Maria Schneider in the role of a leftwing terrorist and Buñuel’s alter ego Fernando Rey as a Vatican entrepreneur headhunting for a tele-visible messiah.
One of the priceless moments I Mille Occhi offered was when director Pasquale Squitieri, introducing his first feature Io e Dio (1969), called for resistance against Islam which, in his opinion, is here to slaughter us all, delivering a clueless speech of half-baked notions dressed in Italic ignorance. To then watch the movie was a perplexing experience since Squitieri’s film is a brave and feverish fresco, painted in a sweaty black & white, of a small southern Italian village where an upright priest finds himself trapped between fundamentalist provincialism and a vile clerical bureaucracy. Cornered in a blind alley by his ethical integrity he will embrace the armed way to salvation.
Another bright gem this festival has unearthed is Povero Cristo (1975) by Pier Carpi, Unidentified Cinematic Object par excellence, this bucolic and psychedelic flick would be deemed unthinkable, let alone realisable, under current regimes of production. The film follows the blasphemous peregrinations of a young private eye who is commissioned by an anonymous millionaire to gather proof of the existence of God. Wandering through the bizarre humanity of an esoteric Emilia Romagna (the region where the film was shot) our character starts walking in Christ’s footsteps as he befriends downtrodden souls and random rejects. Imagine Pasolini co-directing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Ken Russell and with a script by Edgar Allan Poe and you’ll have this Poor Christ. The film is graced by a visionary production design that mixes, to truly hallucinatory extent, medieval darkness with modernistic brightness, futuristic retro kitsch with torn-rag improvisation. Povero Cristo, as with many other films in this festival, laid testament to the polymorphous creations the apocryphal gospels of cinema cherish.
The Anno Uno Prize, which is every year awarded by the operative cell behind the thousand eyes (www.announo.it), went to the German documentary filmmaker Klaus Wildenhahn. We only had the chance to watch one of his films, but it was enough to recognise the observant and non-intrusive talent of this lesser known director. Was Tun Pina Bausch und Ihre Tanzer in Wuppertal (1982) reveals the collaborative side of creation against the Wendersian idolatry of the individual, placing Bausch’s genius inside the grief of daily life and outside the ghetto of Art. Instead of dwelling on the spectacle of choreography Wildenhahn captures the details linking instinct to vision, individual intuitions to collective achievement. Long rehearsals and a life committed to a shared artistic practice are measured against the draining repetition of an assembly line and a disabled woman who spent her whole life behind it. For if dance is the lifeblood of the dancer, exploitation is that of the common wo/man, something the creative industry often tends to forget or conveniently hide.
Even today when the illusion of visual affluence promised by technology boasts very few opponents, the necessity of antagonistic aesthetics is vital in order to question the history of cinema and its prejudices, lies and manipulations. I Mille Occhi unleashes those “compromising” films that, in spite of their unrecognised status, still represent a fundamental passage to the opening of an insubordinate cinema, open to all. In fact the most protean of all visions was the festival itself, able to desert the degenerative rituals of official culture in order to deflagrate its ossified and solipsistic catwalks. May these thousand eyes thrive and multiply to crawl and invade the void of officialdom like a joyful epidemic.
I Mille Occhi
16-24 September 2011
- Italian for “the tendency to be present at every social event in order to get noticed”.
- The expression used by David Graeber writing for The Guardian about the occupation of Wall Street, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/sep/25/occupy-wall-street-protest, 25 September 2011.
- Established in 1908 in Ivrea (Turin) it started manufacturing typewriters and evolved over the years embracing communication technology in all its innovative forms.