For a better experience on MUBI, update your browser.

66th Venice Film Festival: Documentary Italian Style

Above: Giulo Questi's Om ad Po (1958).

More from the Venice Film Festival's Questi fantasi (These Ghosts) retrospective program:

Om ad Po [Men of the Po] (Giulio Questi, 1958)
Argini (Omaggio al Tevere) [Riverbench, an homage to the river Tevere] (Giulio Questi, 1954)
Avamposto (Giulio Questi, 1959)

In Italy, documentary has long be both encouraged and limited, in the 50s and 60s, by the state regulations of cinema production and exploitation: in fact, the theaters were compelled to show a short documentary film before the feature length main program. State money helped this very specific production, but on the other hand, the short films were limited in duration (10 to 12 minutes) and quite often considered by the public as a boring moment, to be filled more with food and conversation than with attention. It has been anyway a precious opportunity for many Italian filmmakers to work and experiment with their styles and thematics. One of the most prominent example of this phenomenon is undoubtedly Vittorio De Seta who composed in the 50s and 60s a series of short films, shot in Sicily and Calabria, which became classics. A recent beautiful DVD edition of all De Seta shorts has made by Feltrinelli (Italy).

Francesco Maselli, Dino Risi, Valerio Zurlini and many others made their beginnings thanks to this institutional opportunity. It was also the case of Giulio Questi. Questi is a kind of living legend in Italy and in Europe. His debut feature Se sei vivo spara is to be considered a milestone in the history of Italian western for its capacity to take the genre to an almost experimental level. In the 50s, Questi directed a series of three shorts dedicated to the rivers Po and Tevere. But his shorts, far from being the usual somehow touristic superficial postcard stuff are half-documentary half-surrealistic mise-en-scène of reality. Om ad Po is focused on the rather old and very poor men who made a living out of various activities (fishing, hunting, wood gathering…) on the river Po, away from their families and away from the towns. In order to express the social and cultural characteristics of these characters, Questi creates a series of scenes (in full complicity with the people), filmed in a tone that evokes Willard Van Dyke’s or even avant-garde cinema of the 20s, carefully composed shots from absolutely non cinema direct angles, fictionalized scenes where for example the old men dance and drink together in an empty warehouse near the river, like Buñuel's beggars in Viridiana.  Argini (an homage to the river Tevere) carefully avoids any view of Rome in order to better describe social contrasts: in the suburbs of Rome, some go the river bench to play tennis or have tea in a fancy cafè, while others, just a few meters away struggle to survive out of  the river. Questi re-organized reality, asking some couples (of lovers) to stand and kiss or talk in every shot, putting in evidence the differences in clothing, attitude and presence all due to class differences. The film therefore becomes a soft political comment on Roman province social realities.

In Avamposto, Questi pays homage to the different categories of workers in the region of Rovigo (the delta of Po river), this time through editing, in a succession of scenes where painful work and endless movements create a harsh pressure on an usually invisible part of society.  All three films have been shot in color, and this allows us to admire also Questi’s art in the shooting of faces, landscapes.  It is interesting to know that very independent and creative Questi now works in total autonomy thanks to the use of video, creating series of short or medium films where he can fully express his surrealistic trend and his taste for “the reality beyond.”

Please to add a new comment.

Previous Features