This article engages with cinema’s cartographic potential by exploring its capacity to either reinforce or problematise mainstream geopolitical imaginaries and the chrono-politics upon which such imaginaries are founded. Specifically focusing on Emanuele Crialese’s postcolonial cinema I seek to dispel the rendition of Southern Italy that Luchino Visconti, following Antonio Gramsci’s footsteps, articulated in his La terra trema (The Earth Trembles, 1948). While it has become almost commonplace for film critics to note Crialese’s indebtedness to Visconti, I pinpoint how Visconti’ and Crialese’s contrasting engagements with Gramsci produce radically different modes of capturing the South. By lingering on the resonances between Crialese’s borderless geopolitical imaginary and Brazilian artist Lygia Pape’s participatory street-performance Divisor (Divider, 1968) in the conclusion of this article I suggest that the Italian filmmaker articulates a productive framework to reorient North-South relations at both a local and global level.

In an epoch characterised by world-interconnectedness and human mobility, Michel Foucault noted in his 1967 lecture “Of Other Spaces,” the most pressing issue is not anymore to determine our place in history. The crucial political problem now is to establish our position in space by charting which sort of relations run through the myriad heterogeneous locations characterising the contemporary world.1 In the epoch of space, even time and history become cartographic tools for establishing hierarchical relationships between places. In this regard, Johannes Fabian’s 1993 Time and the Other emphasised that geo-political imaginaries have their ideological foundations in chrono-politics, insofar as the mapping of symbolic (or physical) borders entails the allocation to each locality of a specific mode of being in time.2

Taking my cue from Foucault’s mention of the movie theatre as one of the venues where such a cognitive chrono-mapping is carried out, in this article I engage with cinema’s cartographic potential by exploring its capacity to either reinforce or problematise mainstream geopolitical imaginaries and the chrono-politics upon which such imaginaries are founded.3 Specifically, I am interested in highlighting how Emanuele Crialese’s postcolonial cinema dispels the atavistic rendition of Southern Italy that Luchino Visconti, following Antonio Gramsci’s footsteps, articulated in his La terra trema (The Earth Trembles, 1948). It has become almost commonplace for film critics to note Crialese’s indebtedness to Visconti; Peter Matthews, to name one instance, in Sight and Sound describes Respiro (2002) as a “toothpick variation” on The Earth Trembles.4 My own argument lies significantly askew from these previous considerations of homage or subtle variation. In fact, I pinpoint how Visconti’ and Crialese’s contrasting engagements with Gramsci produce radically different modes of capturing the South. By lingering on the resonances between Crialese’s borderless geopolitical imaginary and Brazilian artist Lygia Pape’s participatory street-performance Divisor (Divider, 1968) in the conclusion of this article I suggest that the Italian filmmaker articulates a productive framework to reorient North-South relations at both a local and global level.

On the Shores of History

On 2 September 2008, the Financial Times published an irked letter by José Manuel Velasco. The President of the Spanish Association of Communication Directors harshly denounced the derogatory and demeaning nature of the acronym PIGS, coined in the FT article “PIGS in muck” to discuss the economic underdevelopment of the EU’s peripheral countries – Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain. Chiming in on the issue, political scientist Jonas Van Vossole connected the acronym to long-lasting preconceptions about the backwardness, pre-modernity, and primitivism of Southern people – preconceptions that do not only organise geopolitical imaginaries at a transnational level but also inform the ways in which national cultures look down on their own marginal spaces.5 In the case of post-unification Italy, patterns of prejudice regarding Southerners found their most emblematic manifestation in Cesare Lombroso’s biological anthropology, according to which the lack of Aryan blood made the people from the South retarded both historically and mentally. One of the greatest merits of Antonio Gramsci’s 1926 “Some Aspects of the Southern Question” was to take a stance precisely against the invention and pathologisation of a Southern race.6

In his important intervention, Gramsci signalled that Southerners’ backwardness was not a matter of psycho-biological atavism. For the Communist philosopher, Nadia Urbinati explains, “the South was not ‘special,’” it was not composed of constitutionally “different” people.7 The lag affecting Southern regions was a historical situation determined by the fact that Northern capital had reduced the South to an internal colony from which to extract raw labour and raw materials. Given the capitalistic interest in keeping the South underdeveloped and in a subaltern position, Gramsci exhorted the proletarian vanguard from Turin and Milan to raise class-awareness among the Southern peasantry, creating in this way a progressive alliance between Southern peasants and the Northern working-class that would counter the conservative block of Northern industrialists and Southern landowners.

Notwithstanding the revolutionary potential of Gramsci’s political project, is it possible that his innovative answer to common anxieties regarding Southern Italy’s relation to the rest of the nation might have ended up reinforcing the imaginary of a dramatic border dividing the country into an enlightened, modern North and a slow, backward South? The point here is not to blame Gramsci – a gesture that, as Cesare Casarino argues, would be both historically disingenuous and politically irresponsible.8 Instead, it is a matter of flagging how the ideologies of modernity and progress “had crept into and had been uncritically adopted” by the Communist philosopher’s chrono-mapping of the national space.9 The hypothesis that Gramsci’s answer to the Southern question might have relied on the trope of a temporal fracture running through the nation becomes more plausible if one considers Visconti’s The Earth Trembles.

Visconti, the story goes, had been thinking about a film on the Italian South since the early 1940s, when he discovered Giovanni Verga’s literary representation of Sicily as an island of fervid passions standing immobile against the “breakers of the Ionian Sea.”10 In 1948, a commission from the Italian Communist Party (PCI) provided the filmmaker the financial support for a loose adaptation of Verga’s 1890 I Malavoglia (The House by the Medlar-Tree) to be shot in its original setting: the fishing village of Aci Trezza. This was also the year of crucial elections in which the people had to decide what a post-fascist polity was to look like. Bringing Verga to the screens in a moment of “vital crisis” in national history was an occasion for Visconti to re-read The House by the Medlar-Tree in the light of Gramsci, capturing Sicily’s tragic condition while also signalling the providential role the PCI would have in the resolution of the Southern question.11 For Visconti, as his “From Verga to Gramsci” would make clear, not much had changed in the South. The South was still a degraded land of socio-economical backwardness; the Northern working-class had still to liberate the South and eventually unite the nation. Thus, Gramsci’s roadmap for saving the South was as valid in 1948 as it had been in 1926.

Discussing Gramsci’s influence on Visconti, Millicent Marcus argues that the director considered the Marxist philosopher a kind of mentor. Although in fact his Prison Notebooks were published after the completion of The Earth Trembles, Gramsci’s essay on the Southern question came out in the 1930s and his theses on the hegemonic function of the working class vanguard were well-known among top-members of the PCI and the communist intellectual enclave (which Visconti was part of) well before 1948.12 Hence, it is worth considering how Visconti visualises Southern Italy’s need for redemption and the redemptive power of the PCI. In other words: how does the filmmaker mediate between Verga and Gramsci?

Stylistically, The Earth Trembles is characterised by long shots, very slow panoramic camera movements, and very long sequences, with an average shot length of 17.9 seconds – nearly double the typical length of shots in concurrent US productions or neorealist films by Rossellini and De Sica. The film’s “hieratic slowness,” to use Gilles Deleuze’s fortunate expression, conveys the sense of a claustrophobic space isolated in an extra-historical time.13 Aci Trezza is neither a social environment that people can modify, nor the stage where, because of human agency, history happens. In fact, the combination of soundscape, deep focus, and very wide shots articulates what Noa Steimatsky calls an “embracing choral spatiality” in which villagers are hostage to nature and its cyclic temporality.14 Within the context of this mythical fusion of people and landscape, labour does not produce difference but only reinforces the structure of a world that, as the voiceover emphasises in its first and last utterances, has always been the same. The omnipresent and hypnotic soundscape of the sea waves breaking on the shoreline juxtaposed with images of repetitive, ritualistic human praxis has the effect of conveying the socio-political immobility in which Aci Trezza is caught.

Gramsci Visconti Crialese

Women in/and nature

Against the backdrop of an unchanging and unchangeable Aci Trezza, ’Ntoni (Antonio Arcidiacono, the young man assessing the situation in the clip above) fights to overcome an immemorial exploitation and create a more just community, rallying his fellow fishermen against their bosses. Significantly, ’Ntoni’s inspiration for this rebellion came from the Continent: as he explains to his friends, ’Ntoni had learned about social justice during his time in the army, as if such ideals were the exclusive patrimony of mainland Italy. However, ’Ntoni is only partially aware of his own role within history. As the title of the film implies, the uprising that he initiates is not a truly political action, being closer to a natural phenomenon, an unmediated, instinctive agitation rather than a rational and calculated decision. In this regard, one might level towards The Earth Trembles the same criticism that historian Ranajit Guha has directed against Western Marxism: Visconti’s film denies a proper rational agency to subaltern subjects by assimilating their revolts to natural events.15

It is this very muting of the subaltern that calls for the intervention of the voiceover, which Lino Miccichè has aptly read as the venue where the ideological position of the film is manifested: as Mary Ann Doane showed in a different context, the voiceover commentary – in its radical otherness with respect to the diegesis – fulfils the basic ideological function of placing, translating and mediating the imagined universe for the benefit of the audience.16 While characters in the film speak an incomprehensible idiolect, in standard Italian the voiceover narrates the true history taking place in Aci Trezza insofar as its inhabitants cannot tell who they are and what it is going on around them. It is precisely because the Southern subalterns cannot speak the national language, the language of progress, modernity, history, and revolution, that they need someone to speak for them and lead them on the right path. In this sense, the voiceover can be said to represent the voice of the Northern vanguard that bridges the inseparable distance between national localities. The voiceover, in other words, supplements ’Ntoni’s dialect as the language of emancipation and history, as the voice of the revolution that one day – but not yet – will land in Sicily.

’Ntoni does not grasp that now is not the right time for things to change and follows up on his aspirations individualistically, instead of waiting patiently for the collective to come – or be brought – together. He pushes his family to start its own business, but at the end of the film everything goes back to how it used to be: Sicily is held at bay from national history by the sea of death surrounding it. Aci Trezza is left wanting and waiting for its liberator. By foreclosing the possibility of an autonomous political uprising that could end well, Visconti transfigures the story of a local insurgency into a Greek tragedy, an ancestral suspension of time that fixes human suffering in an ahistorical, archetypal dimension. In this regard, Deleuze signalled how ’Ntoni’s revolt fails mostly because of an immemorial past, a millennial history of exploitation, weighing Aci Trezza down.17. While no deus ex machina intervenes in this film, The Earth Trembles does seem to imply that an external redemptive power is needed. Without the PCI’s mediation, no progress is possible, and the Sicilian dialect that Visconti makes his non-professional actors speak confirms that nothing, not even language, changes autonomously in the South.

It is worth noting that the language spoken in the film, despite what the opening titles and Millicent Marcus suggest, is not the authentic language of the Southern poor from 1948, but rather a highly mediated construction. Characters from The Earth Trembles repeat lines from Verga’s 1890 The House by the Medlar-Tree verbatim, and the Sicilian spoken in the film is a more archaic iteration of dialect that Visconti reconstructed in consultation with the town’s older residents.18 Arriving in Aci Trezza, the director was in fact disappointed to find that the villagers spoke a fluid hybrid of standard Italian and Sicilian: the “real” Aci Trezza was not the archaic milieu necessary for the film’s ideological project. Yet, it could be made to look – and sound – like an out-dated space-time through frame composition, costumes, soundscape, and camera movements (or lack thereof).

Agnese and Nelluccia Giammona along with other non credited actresses

Agnese and Nelluccia Giammona along with other non credited actresses

The appearance of a South exposed to change and technological advancement would have compromised the crucial master-trope of post-unification Italy, a trope that Visconti will address again in Il gattopardo (The Leopard, 1963): the South as an immobile wasteland that an external saving force (such as the central government or the PCI) had to shake out of its extra-temporal isolation. One should keep in mind that Gramsci characterised the South as formless raw material that would propel the revolution forward once the Northern vanguard had turned into a proper class. In Gramsci, as political theorist Michel Waltzer highlighted, there seems to be no alternative to the idea that class consciousness and progressive politics can only be inserted into the South from outside.19 From Waltzer’s perspective, the progressive North-South alliance described by Gramsci is not a collaboration between two equal social groups, but rather a hierarchic formation between a vanguard speaking the national language of progress, modernity, and enlightenment, and an underdeveloped group stuck in its retrograde mentality, attire, and speech patterns.

In Gramsci’s wake, Visconti confirms the redemptive power of the Northern enlightened working class by exiling the South to a pre-historical time that needs to be brought up to speed with a national history understood as a linear evolution from capitalistic exploitation to communism. It is not surprising, then, that Sicilian novelist Leonardo Sciascia and anthropologist of the Southern world Ernesto De Martino characterised Visconti’s rendition of Aci Trezza as an ideology-ridden folkloristic misconstruction. Even André Bazin picked up on a certain exoticism in The Earth Trembles, while Geoffrey Nowell-Smith detected the Orientalising gaze of ethnographic cinema in Visconti’s film, notwithstanding the paratextual claims of its documentary realism.20

To allow the South to be mapped in a different way, as a set of alternative answers rather than as a problem to be solved, one would need to reorient one’s gaze and employ an outlook wherein the subaltern is not primitive, and where alternative forms of life, modes of agency, and systems of beliefs can coexist within a same national space-time. Dipesh Chakrabarty provided a framework of this sort with his book, Provincializing Europe.21

In his influential contribution to postcolonial theory, Chakrabarty pans over the problematic that subaltern studies have confronted since their institution in the 1980s. Emerging in India through a creative reappropriation of Gramsci, subaltern studies’ aim is to safeguard the dignity of the forms of life that resist the hegemonic narratives of modernisation and progress. Mainstream historicism treats subaltern subjects as backward and anachronistic beings who would eventually be made to synchronise with a regulative idea of progress and modernity: the subaltern is always represented as on the way to becoming either a citizen or a proletarian, and only when this transformation happens will he/she be able to claim full historical agency. Chakrabarty emphasises how this approach turns history into a gigantic waiting room: we are all headed for the same destination, but some people have arrived there sooner than others. These others need only to be patient and wait to become what we “moderns” already are. Ultimately, the modernity and the level of progress of these tardy forms of life are assessed according to the lag preventing them from exiting the waiting room.

By articulating local difference as temporal backwardness, by mapping space through the framework of historical development, by turning a different locality into a different time, Visconti performs a similar operation. It is only because he knows what Italy’s future looks like that he can map the South as a primitive wasteland of moral backwardness. It is only because he knows the universal truth about national history, that he can keep Sicily at the shores of the nation. In a sense, Visconti seems to fall victim to the same Marxist teleology that informed some passages in “Some Aspects of the Southern Question.” Reading or misreading Gramsci, Visconti reintroduces an infantilisation of Southern Italy, strips the subaltern of historical agency, and puts him/her in need of external tutelage.22

Through Gramsci, Visconti was indeed reacting against the racial profiling of Southern Italy that, in the wake of Lombroso’s racist anthropology, was still haunting Italian political discourse after the fall of Fascism. Nonetheless, his representation of Southern Italy – a representation supported by the PCI both ideologically and financially – was still following an Orientalist script. In the next section, I show how Emanuele Crialese opposes Visconti’s quasi-Orientalism by adopting narrative strategies similar to those formalised by postcolonial studies. Such a resonance should not come as a surprise, given the similarities between the representational paradigms deployed to render Southern Italy and other localities from the global South.23

Postcolonial historians challenge the daunting persistence of infantilising prejudices about subaltern groups by narrating their complex systems of belief, their thoughtful political commitments, and the richness of their social environments. Analogously, Crialese takes a stance against Visconti by charting the South’s absolute, even if alternative, modernity. In Respiro (2002), Crialese historicises the South in order to show that it is not a pre-historical universe but rather an overlooked and misunderstood life-world. In Nuovomondo (Golden Door, 2006), Crialese shows that Southern thought is not archaic, but a manifestation of a different mode of intelligence. These interventions are of paramount importance because it is only after the myth of Southern backwardness is dispelled, after the hierarchy between North and South is revoked, that it becomes possible to upset hegemonic geopolitical imaginaries and to remap the relations between the different localities that constitute our hyper-connected world.

Southern Histories

Respiro, Grand Prix winner at Cannes 2002, is Emanuele Crialese’s second film. In his debut feature Once We Were Strangers (1997), Crialese told the story of Antonio and Apu, two immigrants from Sicily and India, respectively, living in New York City and holding on to their way of life despite the pressure to catch up to the American dream. With Respiro, Crialese continues the exploration of marginal subjects’ struggles against hegemonic social norms, this time documenting a young woman’s endeavours to maintain agency in Lampedusa, the Italian island sixty miles from Tunisia. Grazia (Valeria Golino) is a wife and a mother of three: she is an eccentric being, intolerant of gender conventions, social hierarchies, and patriarchal power. Preoccupied by his wife’s “antics,” Grazia’s husband Pietro (Vincenzo Amato) plots to send her to a psychiatric institution in Milan, as if the desire for autonomy, the desire for some breathing space to which the film’s title refers (respiro means “breath”), could only be approached as hysteria. Grazia does not give in. She has no interest in behaving as a Southern woman supposedly should. To avoid being forcibly hospitalised, she stages her own disappearance and remains hidden until when, believed to be dead, she magically reappears under water, in the same spot where her husband had placed a votive statue of the Virgin Mary.

If one focused exclusively on Grazia’s ruse, it would be easy to view the film as the umpteenth denunciation of the backward, superstitious, and gullible mentality of the people from the South. In this regard, one should be attentive to notice that in Respiro the narrative of Grazia’s change of status from madwoman to saint coexists with the documentation of the island’s mysterious magic. As Elena Past aptly argues, Crialese conveys Lampedusa’s enchantment most notably through cinematography and soundscape.24

Yet, Lampedusa’s magic also percolates into the plot. Pasquale (Francesco Casisa) is Grazia’s eldest son. He assists his mother in her staged disappearance, bringing food and clothes to the cave where she hides. At one point, Pasquale promises her a roast chicken for dinner but then falls sick and cannot keep his word. Pasquale is feverish and delirious. He lays in bed immobile; no treatment seems to work. He keeps mumbling about chickens until his younger brother decides to fetch him one. As soon as Filippo (Filippo Pucillo) comes back with a chicken and puts it on his brother’s chest, Pasquale recovers. He jumps out of bed and on a scooter, delivering the promised dinner. How do we make sense of such a sudden recovery? And how do we reconcile the two very different narrative vectors that organise Respiro – the behind-the-curtain account of Grazia’s resurrection on the one hand and the representation of Filippo’s miraculous healing on the other? How do we reconcile disenchantment with re-enchantment, demystification and magic realism? These conflicting narrative vectors cannot be reconciled, and Crialese, following the lesson of García Lorca, does not try to do so. Rather than attempting to provide a happy synthesis of secularism and magic thought, he has them coexist within Respiro – showcasing two equally valid perspectives through which one can experience reality.

In The New York Times, Stephen Holden comes close to assimilating the characters from Respiro to Rousseau’s good savages. Writing about the simple, sensuous, natural, unchanging life that Respiro apparently confronts us with, Holden comments, “not since Y Tu Mamá También has a movie so palpably captured the down-to-earth, flesh-and-blood reality of high-spirited people living their lives without self-consciousness.”25 Holden’s review is as surprising as it is misleading, for Crialese stays clear of worn-out stereotypes about Southern natives’ closeness to nature. In fact, Crialese does not idealise the South but represents it as a conflictual locality crossed by regressive and progressive forces, exploitation and solidarity, devastation and beauty, queer intimacies and normative desires. Lampedusa is neither a wasteland nor a paradise outside of history. It is a historical place. An important cue of Lampedusa’s situatedness in time is the fact that Respiro’s characters do not speak an immemorial idiom but a hybrid of standard Italian and dialect, code-switching easily according to the situation. Moreover, in the film subalterns can not only speak and make themselves understood to “other” Italians; they also act autonomously within history to improve their living conditions. Pasquale is brought back to life thanks to his little brother’s imaginative thinking, while the film’s evocative finale suggests that Grazia’s participatory aquatic performance will push her community to reform itself.

The ethnographer Ernesto De Martino has been an important source for Crialese’s representation of Southern Italy.26 In his 1950s research on magical practices in Southern Italy, De Martino anticipates postcolonial studies by documenting how rituals are not exclusively means of conserving the status quo, since they can also ignite change and innovation within the community wherein they are carried out. De Martino’s objective was to show the intrinsically historical nature of those life-worlds that have been traditionally dismissed as outside, or without, history. To achieve this goal De Martino draws implicitly from Martin Heidegger and explicitly from Gramsci – though it is a Gramsci quite different from the one informing Visconti’s The Earth Trembles. It is Gramsci’s short notes on folklore that De Martino mobilises for rethinking the South. In his prison notebooks, Gramsci in fact reassessed Southern folklore and common sense as complex phenomena, marked not only by regressive elements, but also by spontaneous, innovative, and progressive features. Such a reconsideration of Southern mentality leads Gramsci to problematise the national chrono-map that his earlier intervention on the Southern question had, inadvertently, confirmed.27 The recognition of Southern autochthonous progressivism cannot but entail also the reimagining of North-South relations.

Once modernity and progress have been dislocated from Northern monopoly, once the Italian South is understood to be traversed by the same tension between change and immobility, innovation and stasis that characterises the North, the task of the communist vanguard ceases to be the manipulation of the Southern backward subaltern – for his or her own good – and becomes the activation of communication channels between proto-revolutionaries coming from all over Italy.28 Gramsci’s notes on folklore resonate with Crialese’s intervention insofar as both seek to provincialise the North – to strip it of its self-assigned monopoly over history and modernity – in order to deprovincialise the South so as to reveal it as a realm of overlooked progressive histories rather than as a paralysed space outside time.

While Respiro is concerned with remapping the national space, Golden Door showcases how the deconstruction of the North-South divide allows a different circulation of bodies, intimacies, and alliances on a translocal level. It reconstructs the journey towards the New World of a poor Sicilian family at the beginning of the twentieth century. One of the central preoccupations of the film is to show that believing in magic or exorcism did not prevent Southerner subalterns from being “evolved” rational beings, capable of generosity, solidarity, innovation, and emancipatory practices. Towards the end of the film, Crialese brings us to the waiting room of Ellis Island, where medical examiners test the intelligence of the transoceanic travellers to determine who is fit to cross the golden gate to the United States. In one of these tests, Salvatore Mancuso (Vincenzo Amato) is presented with objects with different shapes and asked to assemble them in a way that would allow them to fit in a rectangular frame. The examiner starts his chronometer to time Salvatore, confirming Johannes Fabian’s conclusion that the mapping of the other is always a question of time.29 To everyone’s surprise, even the examiners’, Salvatore uses the pieces provided as building blocks for constructing a model of his future home. The sequence, on the one hand, illuminates the racist underpinnings of admission criteria to the US during the third migration wave (1884-1914), which brought migrants primarily from Southern and Eastern Europe to the New World. On the other, it raises a more fundamental anxiety regarding the methods employed to border political spaces and to police spatial borders. On what basis do we keep others at bay? Why is fitting the pieces into a frame in a timely manner a more valid activity than taking one’s time to plan a new home? How do we determine who is smart, modern, quick enough to be admitted into our community? In Golden Door’s closing sequence, such anxieties give way to the utopia of a borderless geopolitical space.

Accompanied by the soothing voice of Nina Simone, a Southerner in her own right, Golden Door’s ending introduces us to a multitude of homeless people coming from all corners of the Global South but looking for the same things: a new world, a new life, love, friendship, emancipation – a rock where to hide, to paraphrase the lyrics from “Sinnerman,” used here as soundtrack. However, the first character we see emerging in this milky sea is not from the South. She is a fair British lady who, during the voyage to the Americas, learned to appreciate the poor people who shared the trip with her – even deciding to marry of one of these Southerners. Lucy (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is hesitant at first, fearing that a life together would be impossible. But the Sicilian shepherd who will marry her explains, “There is no problem. I will learn something from you, and you will learn something from me.” It is precisely because of such dreams of mutual understanding that, at the end of Golden Door, the sea emerges as a site without borders. While the ocean tended to dictate the shape of the nation as well as imperial and colonial trajectories, in this case it troubles privileged conceptions of nationhood and belonging, becoming – to draw on Iain Chambers – the fluid “site for an experiment in a different form of history.”30 The milk of the sea literalises the Biblical “Land of Milk and Honey,” displaying the utopian dream of a borderless transnational space that eschews traditional chrono-geopolitical hierarchies and is ignited by the horizontal communication between people speaking different languages, believing in different folk tales, singing different tunes, and occupying different subject positions.

Diego Ferrante and Marco Piasentier have recently pointed to the naiveté of Crialese’s aquatic imaginary of collaboration and cooperation.31 It is important to register these red flags especially in years of dramatic migration crises. Nevertheless, the borderless sea that Crialese often evokes in his films might be viewed in a more charitable way. In this regard, I would like to note the resonance between the ending of Golden Door and Divisor, a participatory installation by Brazilian artist Lygia Pape.

Divisor was first staged in the streets of Rio de Janeiro in 1968, when Pape brought together people from different communities and classes and confronted them with a 100 square metre white cloth made of multiple layers of fabric sewn onto each other. Along the seams there were various openings. Pape asked the group she had assembled to crawl under the textile, slot their head in the openings, and move – without any direction from the artist.

Heads start emerging from the surface ripples. First one, then two and in the end many that transform the former static surface into a gigantic living membrane living through the city. Women, men, children. Everyone moving simultaneously, yet individually … A permeable membrane both individually and socially constructed, stable and instable. Dividing and uniting.32

With these words Gabi Schillig describes Divider as an interface igniting vitality, spatial diversity, and plurality – a membrane making participants aware of the necessity of negotiating between individuality and homogenisation. A poetic reflection on the social fabric and a powerful moment of healing in the context of an incredibly divided society, Divider celebrated collaboration while simultaneously bringing attention to the boundaries that separate us. It stressed the urgency of connecting, of overcoming barriers between genders, classes, races, and communities in order to actually go somewhere and for society to progress. A participant at the 2013 restaging of Divisor in Hong Kong recalled how her time in the membrane was full of laughter, noting that the performance was lived as an effective reminder that “coming together as a society can also be a joyful thing … all it requires is a willingness to participate.”33 There was a sense of achievement in the fact that after the performance a group of people who did not know each other were able to fold a huge cloth into a neat square.

Pape and Crialese are raising similar questions: will we be able to put asides the borders we have constructed – physical, symbolic, and temporal – that have kept us apart and have justified different iterations of political violence, economic exploitation, and exclusionary politics? By simulating alternative experiences of time and space, can art favour the emergence of new modes of mapping the present? Crialese does not provide answers to such questions. Yet, Respiro and Golden Door powerfully emphasise that “another world” will not be possible until we abandon infantilising prejudices about the backwardness or underdevelopment of Southern people that still, in part, inform Gramsci’s “Some Aspects of the Southern Question” and Visconti’s The Earth Trembles. In its insistence that peoples of the global South are fully rational historical subjects – even as they inhabit history differently – Crialese’s films confront us with the fact that the geopolitical past, present, and future of our planet is intrinsically bound up with the very way that the South, both locally and globally, is chrono-mapped.

This article has been peer reviewed.



  1. Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces,” Diacritics 16.1 (Spring 1986): pp. 22–7.
  2. Johannes Fabian, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), pp. 143–66.
  3. On cinema and geopolitics, see Fredric Jameson, The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995); Marcus Power and Andrew Crampton, “Reel Geopolitics: Cinemato-Graphing Political Space,” Geopolitics 10.2 (Summer 2005): pp. 193–203.
  4. Peter Matthews, “Respiro,” Sight & Sound 13 (September 2003): pp. 60–2.
  5. “PIGS in muck,” Financial Times, 1 September 2008, www.ft.com/cms/s/388a3e90-77bd-11dd-be24-0000779fd18c; Jonas Van Vossole, “Framing PIGS: Patterns of Racism and Neocolonialism in the Euro Crisis,” Patterns of Prejudice 50 (2016): pp. 1–20.
  6. Cesare Lombroso, Criminal Man (Raleigh: Duke University Press 2016): pp. 91–6 et passim; Antonio Gramsci, The Southern Question (Toronto: Guernica Editions, 2005). For a broader discussion of the Southern question, see Jane Schneider, ed., Italy’s “Southern Question”: Orientalism in One Country (Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic, 1998).
  7. Nadia Urbinati, “The Souths of Antonio Gramsci and the Concept of Hegemony,” in Schneider, Italy’s “Southern Question”: Orientalism in One Country, p. 149.
  8. Cesare Casarino, “The Southern Answer: Pasolini, Universalism, Decolonization,” Critical Inquiry 36.4 (Summer 2010): pp. 673–96.
  9. Ibid., p. 691.
  10. Luchino Visconti, “Tradizione e invenzione,” in Luchino Visconti: Un profilo critico, Lino Micciché, ed. (Venezia: Marsilio, 1996).
  11. Adams Sitney, Vital Crises in Italian Cinema: Iconography, Stylistics, Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 55–74.
  12. Luchino Visconti, “Da Verga a Gramsci,” in Adelio Ferrero, ed., Visconti: il Cinema, (Modena: Ufficio del Comune di Modena, 1977); Millicent Marcus, Italian Film in the Light of Neorealism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), p. 166; and Lino Miccichè, Visconti e il neorealismo: Ossessione, La terra trema, Bellissima (Venice: Marsilio, 1998), pp. 85–6.
  13. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), p. 97; see also “Cinemetrics – Database,” accessed February 11, 2016, http://www.cinemetrics.lv.
  14. Noa Steimatsky, Italian Locations: Reinhabiting the Past in Postwar Cinema (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), pp. 79–116
  15. Ranajit Guha, Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999), p. 224.
  16. Miccichè, Visconti e il neorealismo, p. 175; Mary Ann Doane, “The Voice in the Cinema: The Articulation of Body and Space,” Yale French Studies 60 (1980): pp. 33–50. See also Roberta Piazza, “Features of the Authorial Voice-over in La terra trema,” The Italianist 24.1 (2004): pp. 47–62.
  17. Deleuze, Cinema 2, p. 97.
  18. Millicent Marcus, Filmmaking by the Book: Italian Cinema and Literary Adaptation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), pp. 25–30; Lara Pucci, “History, Myth, and the Everyday: Luchino Visconti, Renato Guttuso, and the Fishing Communities of the Italian South,” Oxford Art Journal 36 (December 2013): p. 145.
  19. Michael Waltzer, The Company of Critics: Social Criticism and Political Commitment in the Twentieth Century (New York: Basic Books, 2002), p. 95.
  20. Leonardo Sciascia, “La Sicilia nel cinema,” in La corda pazza (Turin: Einaudi, 1970), 277–78; Ernesto De Martino, “Realismo e folklore nel cinema italiano,” Film Critica 19 (December 1952): pp. 183–85; André Bazin, “La terra trema,” in What Is Cinema? Vol. 2 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), pp. 41–47; Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, Luchino Visconti (London: British Film Institute, 2003), pp. 30–40.
  21. Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference, (Princeton University Press, 2000).
  22. For an assessment of the teleological dimension of Gramsci’s historicism, see Urbinati, “The Souths of Antonio Gramsci and the Concept of Hegemony,” pp. 148–50.
  23. Sandra Ponzanesi, “The Postcolonial Turn in Italian Studies,” in Postcolonial Italy, Cristina Lombardi-Diop and Caterina Romeo, eds. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), pp. 51–69.
  24. Elena Past, “Lives Aquatic: Mediterranean Cinema and an Ethics of Underwater Existence,” Cinema Journal 48.3 (2009): pp. 52–65; and “Island Hopping, Liquid Materiality, and the Mediterranean Cinema of Emanuele Crialese,” Ecozon@ 4.2 (2013): pp. 49–66.
  25. Stephen Holden, “One Woman Goes for a Swim, and an Entire Village Takes Note,” The New York Times, 28 March 2003, www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9904E1D91E30F93BA15750C0A9659C8B63.
  26. Giuseppina Sapio, “Respiro d’Emanuele Crialese: Dialecte et retour à la ‘famille totémique’,” Mise au point 5 (2013); and Ernesto de Martino, Magic: A Theory from the South, (Chicago: HAU, 2015). See also, Emilio Giacomo Berrocal, “The Post‐colonialism of Ernesto De Martino,” History and Anthropology 20.2 (2009): pp. 123–38.
  27. Antonio Gramsci, “Observations on Folklore,” in The Antonio Gramsci Reader: Selected Writings 1916–1935, David Forgacs, ed. (New York: New York University Press, 2000), pp. 360–62.
  28. Urbinati, “The Souths of Antonio Gramsci and the Concept of Hegemony,” pp. 150–51.
  29. Fabian, Time and the Other, p. 144.
  30. Iain Chambers, Mediterranean Crossings: The Politics of an Interrupted Modernity (Raleigh: Duke University Press, 2008), p. 27.
  31. Diego Ferrante and Marco Piasentier, “Mare Nostrum: Biopolitica e alterità in Terraferma di Emanuele Crialese,” The Italianist 33.2 (2013): pp. 307–12.
  32. Gabi Schillig, “Immediacies of Experience: Textile Spaces,” in PERCEPTION in Architecture: HERE and NOW, Claudia Perren and Miriam Mlecek, eds. (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015), pp. 58–69. See also, Kathy Noble, “Lygia Pape,” Frieze Magazine 145 (March 2012), http://www.frieze.com/issue/review/lygia-pape.
  33. Stephanie Bailey, “Intertextual Healing: Lygia Pape’s ‘Divisor’ Restaged for the First Time in Asia,” Hyperallergic, 21 May 2013, http://hyperallergic.com/71598/intertextual-healing-lygia-papes-divisor-restaged-for-the-first-time-in-asia.

About The Author

Lorenzo Fabbri is Assistant Professor in Italian and Moving Image Studies at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. His work on critical theory, film studies, and Italian cultural history has appeared in Critical Inquiry, Diacritics, Res Publica, Radical Philosophy Review, The Italianist, and Journal of Italian Cinema and Media Studies. His first book, The Domestication of Derrida, was published by Continuum in 2008. Lorenzo is currently completing Capturing the Nation, a manuscript on cinema, affects, and governmentality in fascist Italy.

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