E' stato il figlio (Daniele Ciprì) + L'Intervallo (Leonardo Di Constanzo)
Festival programming creates unexpected and unplanned dialogs between films: all in the head of the viewer, helping to meditate about "contemporary." Italian films E' stato il figlio (The Son Did It) and L'Intervallo (The Interval) are two different approaches to the search for an image for today of Italian people.
Brilliant cinematographer Daniele Ciprì became famous together with co-author/director Franco Maresco for their insolent, provocative and censorship challenging TV programs and films. Deeply rooted in their Sicilian background and culture, keen on "bad taste," "freaks" and politically incorrect statements, the two mavericks have been a creative breath in Italian production of the 90s. The team is not a team anymore. Ciprì alone here adapts for the screen a successful 2005 giallo by Roberto Alajmo, a story of greed, oppression and submission set in a poor neighborhood of Palermo.
Nicola (Toni Servillo), his father, his son Tancredi and his nephew Masino make a poor living salvaging metal from old boats, in order to feed the family, including wife, grandmother and young daughter Serenella. When Serenella is accidentally killed by a mafia bullet that was aimed at someone else, the grieving family head sets out to secure the compensation for "Mafia victims" they tell him he is entitled to. Making debts to pay the (mafioso) go-between, Nicola eventually gets some money and buys a blazing Mercedes. One evening, cousin Masino, now a regular "ragazzo" in the Mafia system, convinces Tancredi to drive the precious car for an evening out. Incident: the car is scratched. Nicola madly beats his son. Masino shoots Nicola to stop the beating. The women of the family take over: Masino has a good job as a mafioso, he'll provide for the fatherless family. Tancredi is jobless and hardly fit for "the world as it is." He'll take the blame and go to prison. Life will go on.
Ciprì sets the story as a flashback told by a poor fellow (Tancredi in his 40s) to an audience of neighbors assembled in the waiting room of a town administrative office. The film concentrates less upon Tancredi than upon his father. Enter the ghosts of Italian comedy. Sweaty shouting men and silent loan sharks, poor neighborhood with kids playing in the square, friends with connections and good advices, obese families at the beach, women as servants or shrews, greedy priests, young boss-to-be with a motorcycle… Hold on: all this is (also) real. And the final twist (Tancredi as scapegoat) could be read as another illustration of Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia's text about Sicilian matriarchy as the matrix to mafia…but that was in 1974.
Today, Daniele Ciprì choses the path of cliché-filled comedy with a post-modern treatment (a post-90s television version of Monicelli's I soliti ignoti [Big Deal on Madonna Street]?). New "mostro" actor Toni Servillo (a strong figure of Italian theatre now a star of Italian cinema) commands, leaving little or no space to anything but his flamboyant taking over the heritage. They say he manages with the Sicilian dialect despite being himself a Neapolitan: it shows (off). Ghosts are definitely cumbersome. In Ciprì's fiction, the poor are ignorant and shall remain so because they don't know better, and Sicily is a reservation of picturesque characters, or a big stage for the librettos of eternal fate, but never a place nor a people, even less a base for a radical offensive against dominant codes. Nothing survives beyond a benevolent playfulness with the "tradition" and the "grottesco," neither in the story nor in the filmmaking. The virtuoso comedy is a dead end: the Italian people has been trapped in vintage.
Meanwhile in Naples…
It starts one morning and ends on the evening of the same day. It starts with 15 years old Salvatore preparing his lemon ices cart together with his father, and ends with Salvatore bringing the cart home and saying to his father that it has been a normal day. In between (in the interval) Salvatore has been summoned by the neighborhood boss to watch over Veronica (15 years old too) in an abandoned school building. He won't know why until later what she is "guilty" of. He'll probably never know what will become of her after the boss has taken her "home" and sent him away with a banknote "for his trouble." In the interval, the two teens win each other over, wander in an abandoned jungle-like garden and play, watch the city and prepare for the worst, until the reality of "who's boss" come to separate them.
Impeccable use of Naples dialect, overwhelming cleverness in the choice of the actors (all first time non professionals), healthy trust in the beauties of découpage (no hysterical bet on sequence shots: musical long takes with close-ups counterpoint, delicate framing, great sense of distance), and the intelligence to choose unity of space and time for a sour sweet Kammerspiel produced with little money and great care. What happens between the two characters has the implacable precision of life: they know a lot about violence and how "things work." They are beautiful because they're young and real: rather plump, baby skin and clear eyes, dressed as college fashion commands even with no money. They are brave but they want to live. They wish they could fly away, but where to? They believe in ghosts and they watch Celebrity Island and BBC wildlife docs on TV. They aspire to truth and freedom but nothing and no-one ever helped them go beyond intuition and aspiration.
Yet Di Costanzo's characters are not designed for any deadly pessimistic conclusion. They are not doomed. The interval has been a tough time but also an experience in autonomy, conviction, dream, strategy, resistance and affection. A painful training for a deeper reflection upon one's future. Italian (young) people in Naples as they are, with a thought more. Leonardo Di Costanzo is not a beginner: he's one of Italy's most remarkable documentary filmmakers. He produced (among others) the splendid A scuola (At School), a sweet sour observation of teenagers in a Naples college, caught between dialect and standard Italian, bosses and family, fatalism and hope. For his first fiction film, Di Costanzo delivers part of what his documentary experience has taught him. Nothing less than a poem of working-class youth in Naples, Italy. Today.