At the centre of Wild and Precious (2012) is the character of Giulio Figurelli, an impulsive, impassioned and energetic figure. His vivid, potent, occasionally incoherent soliloquy, which opens the film, is electrifying. Here is an outspoken, charismatic figure whose political identity clearly descends from the counter culture movement of the late ’60s. Figurelli is galvanised by the uprisings and groundswell of anti-state, anti-capitalist occupation movements sweeping Europe and the Middle East in recent history and looks toward a moment when the ‘people’ are victorious against their oppressors. He entreats us to resist the “urge of technology” and to “acquire some humanity”. Having left Italy some four years earlier to live in Athens, Giulio has immersed himself in a moment of political and social upheaval. Yet equally moving and stirring are his comments that he is a “Nowhere man” in a “Nowhere land” and that “we live in a dream”.
In many ways, Figurelli’s soliloquy encapsulates the contradictions of life, the tensions that exist between us and the world, between how we project our desires onto the world and how, in turn, we make sense of what’s happening in the world around us. In a way, it is a tension between the personal and the political. And so although, on the one hand, Giulio is a man of the people, weaving his way through crowds to document protests and riots or to photograph moments of curiosity in the street, on the other, he is also a man with a soul. He is drawn to Italy, where his wife and daughter live, and with whom he seeks to reconnect. Towards the end of the film, Giulio experiences an epiphany when, while going about his filming work, he meets a young girl in a small town on Mt. Pelion who reminds him of his daughter. This encounter propels him to return to Italy in an attempt, yet again, to bond with Andrea, his daughter.
Wild and Precious is, by far, Mousoulis’ most ambitious project to date. Shot across two countries in Europe, with a large, principally non-English speaking cast, it is unlike anything Mousoulis has made before. And, yet at the same time, aspects of it are very familiar – its humanistic quality, that is, its interest in the desires of its characters, and its sense of realism, that is, its genuine interest in the physical environment of its characters. In fact, these two impulses – humanist and realist – inform Mousoulis’ cinema at large.
The film begins by introducing the main character, Giulio, who lives in Greece. Played by Alessandro Figurelli, Giulio is a charismatic, unpredictable character. Then, as the narrative gets underway, we see Giulio travel to Gorgonzola, a town in Milan, to get reacquainted with his wife, Irene, and daughter, Andrea, who he has not seen for four years. A short while later, he returns to Greece to continue his coverage of the riots and is later employed by an Australian TV news reporter to shoot footage for her current affairs show. Intercutting these scenes are scenes of Irene and Andrea going about their daily lives in Italy as well as a subplot concerning Tony, a friend of Irene and member of the local punk scene, who finds himself embroiled in a fallout between mutual friends over money.
Mousoulis handles the drama between Giulio and Irene with restraint. The characters may or may not have deep feelings of resentment and regret; in any case, there is (thankfully) no cathartic release of emotion or narrative melodrama in Wild and Precious. Instead the characters’ feelings are expressed through silent gestures and wary gazes. Despite his otherwise impulsive, energetic nature, Giulio is very careful not to ‘intrude’ on their lives. He engages Irene in formal, respectful conversation and is playful and gentle with Andrea. Mousoulis’ camera is there to record these moments of innocent and tender interaction.
Far removed from the buzzing energy and ceaseless movement of Athens’ streets are the quiet, tranquil domestic interiors of Irene’s flat and the peaceful, historic landscapes of Gorgonzola. Perhaps unbeknownst to Mousoulis, the film’s contrast between Irene and Giulio parallels that between Italy and Greece as presented in the film. The grace which Emanuela Zocco brings to the role of Irene fills the screen whenever she is in shot and perfectly complements her character. She emerges as not merely a figure of maternal warmth and gentleness but also maternal wisdom; so after several scenes of quiet contemplation, she decides to keep Giulio at a distance. In contrast to the zippy hand-held camera used in the Greek scenes, the shots of Irene walking through Gorgonzola’s streets and parks are framed in long shot and accompanied by a beautiful, evocative score by John Koudounis. Mousoulis’ narrative reticence towards the character of Irene – we never know her true feelings or what she may be searching for – is consistent with his particular brand of art cinema. What’s of paramount importance is Mousoulis’ tender, humanist regard, which extends not only to the character of Irene but also to arbitrary incidences, which occur on the streets of Gorgonzola. Such arbitrary incidences include an exchange between two children, shots of the various cats which inhabit a cat shelter, or a woman whose cries for her lost cat fill the town’s dusk-imbued streets.
This attention to the detail of the physical environment is of course a main feature of the Greek scenes. Mousoulis’ ever present camera records close-up shots of political graffiti and slogans as well as posters announcing upcoming demonstrations. His keen eye captures the feel of the city in various ways: either through carefully framed shots of apartment buildings or homeless people sleeping in the streets; or in a more spontaneous fashion, with the camera swirling among the action, moving within a crowd or cutting to people and action in a crowd. Despite Giulio’s initial plea to free ourselves from the shackles of technology, Mousoulis’ characters are defined in relation to it: at times, Giulio shoots Yiannis (another TV cameraman) shooting the Australian TV producer. Or on other occasions Mousoulis will position his camera behind the characters in order to capture what they have caught on their screen. Technology mediates these characters’ interaction with their environment. While Giulio is content to capture the chaos of the streets in his “home-movie style”, Jennifer Levy’s character wants footage that is “more interesting” or “newsworthy”, i.e., footage that involves conflict, violence, and destruction.
While Mousoulis has captured the spirit and energy of the Athens city streets, his coverage of the protests and the Greek crisis at large is intentionally superficial. Wild and Precious does not attempt to explain or analyse the crisis; however, it’s obviously seduced by the energy and creativity of the Greek people. At one point, Giulio interviews an ordinary Greek woman who delivers the powerful line: “they sit and eat and we slave at their machines”. Or at another, the Australian TV producer interviews a strident Marxist who argues it’s time for the workers to take ownership of the production process. At another point, Mousoulis zooms in on an eccentric-looking elderly man at a book stand selling his autobiography; and at another, his characters delight at a street brass band. And, of course, there is the Riot Dog, a legend in Athens, who has apparently been at all the demonstrations in Athens and always sides with the protestors. And despite Greece’s dire economic conditions, we visit, alongside Giulio, a live music scene in which various young people give impassioned performances. Clearly, Mousoulis uses his characters – Giulio and the visiting Australians – to explore the vibrancy of the city of Athens and its people.
As a counterpoint to the film’s documentary quality feel is its loose fictional content, which encapsulates numerous narrative threads – that of Giulio, Irene and Andrea; of Giulio and the Australian TV producer; and of Tony and Fabrizio. Though the narratives may give each character more depth, there is never a strong momentum pushing the drama. Instead these characters and their quiet dilemmas sit alongside each other and are also ultimately subsumed by the larger narrative of History and Change. In the final moments of the film, the tender, bittersweet moment of Giulio saying goodbye to Irene and Andrea gives way to unpredictable violence and protests in the streets of Greece. This tension between the micro and the macro is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film. The meaning of Wild and Precious cannot be found in the drama alone but in the film’s wider formal choices. Viewers may ask what is the film about? The experience of being in a foreign city? The imperative of news reportage to be “interesting”, i.e. bloody and violent? The political situation in Greece? Giulio’s search for happiness in his personal life? It’s all of these things, and much more. The final moments, in which the personal and the political are counterpointed, and the feelings and desires of each are apparent, makes clear the film is exploring life as something contradictory, messy, and complex. Life encompasses both difficulty and hardship but also hope and vitality, it is, in short, Wild and Precious.