Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Crialese on Respiro and Nuovomondo

In the films Respiro (2002) and Nuovomondo (2006), creations of director Emanuele Crialese, viewers experience the lives of individuals from little known parts of Italy and go on an epic journey with others. Respiro takes us to modern day Lampedusa while in Nuovomondo we go back in time to rural, turn of the 19th century Sicily. These films share a set of similarities; while watching them, they bring back strange memories of the other. Each film shares strange images throughout; a set of different, sometimes confusing, artistic shots. Crialese manages to put the viewer in a dream like state, and, if for only for a moment, travel into the world he has created.


Respiro follows a young family through their life on the tiny isle of Lampedusa. On this island the everyone seems to know each other (or may even be related). Grazia, the loving, flighty, and sometimes crazy mother of this family is played by Valeria Golino. The film follows her struggle between a free spirit and the grim realities on the island. While her story moves the film forward, we also see the relationships between Filippo and Pasquale (Filippo Pucillo and Francesco Casisa) and their father Pietro (Vincenzo Amato) who struggles in vain to keep his family whole.

Italy is a very diverse county and this is captured by the film. While watching, many native Italians may have trouble understanding the film as it is spoken in the native dialect, something similar to Sicilian. We can also see the local dislike of outsiders when Filippo crashes the date between his sister, Marinella (Veronica D’Agostino), and the local police officer who just recently came to the island. The struggles on the island move to a higher level when Grazia suddenly vanishes without a trace. Although the film is filled with struggle, is also filled with beautiful vistas; when screening Respiro one can almost breathe in the fresh sea air with a sigh of relief.


Nuovomondo is a story of a struggling family in rural and superstitious Sicily going on an odyssey in search of a new land full of promise, and even a giant chicken or two! In the opening scenes we see Salvatore (Vincenzo Amato) and one his sons climb a rough, rocky mountain with stones in their mouths as a sacrifice to god once they get to the top. Praying for divine inspiration, they are shown photos of this “new world” where money grows on trees and chickens are larger than men. Finding this signal to go, Salvatore packs up all his belongings (all of which he can carry on his back) and his family for their voyage to this new and mysterious land. Along the way they run into giant olives and carrots and swim through rivers of milk. While leaving Sicily they mean a strange, misplaced, woman named Lucy (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who accompanies the family for the trip.

This quality, but overly art filled film shows the audience a different side of the immigrant story. From rural Sicily, a land without electricity, running water or other conveniences in life to a ride atop a giant steal monster (their boat), this story throws our characters from one strange new world to another. Once they reach the new world our family is exposed to the once common practice of eugenics on the famed Ellis Island. Unfortunately, the film ends abruptly, with the characters only just getting a glimpse of the houses in the sky and never making it to their final destination.

Abstract Concepts

Crialese is able to produce a quality film which the audience is able to fall into as he does in each of these movies. Where he may lose some is with his love of the abstract. In each of his films there is a strange scene of swimming in a dream like world. In Respiro, this is towards the end of the film once Grazia has been found. The shot shows what seems to be most of the characters from the film swimming from below the surface of the water. This underwater trance lasts for several minutes and leaves an empty feeling once you have finished the film.

In Nuovomondo, there are several times when our characters are swimming through rivers of milk. In these scenes there are giant carrots that are used as flotation devices. At another point in the picture we see a family carrying giant olives and carrots. At the end, there is another scene of all the characters from the film swimming together in a sea of milk. While these scenes are understandable, I believe that they take away from the film. I am emerged in the lives of our characters and I am abruptly awakened by the overly fictional imagination of Crialese. When watching a movie, I prefer to not have my mind over stimulated by such nonsense.

Another aspect that I found frustrating in Nuovomondo was the fact that Vincenzo Amato went though such great lengths to learn the native tongue of a rural Sicilian town only to be understood and understand every single Italian throughout the movie Nuovomondo. In reality, he would have had trouble understanding most people on the boat. In rural Sicily, during this time period, people living 50 miles apart from each other would have trouble communicating because of the diverse dialects spoken. What was the point to learn this if the rest of the film doesn’t follow suit?

Although each of these movies contains strange scenes of swimming and other dream like sequences, you come to appreciate the magical experience of these films. Each has something to give while providing you with beautiful views of southern Italy. While the images and life style in these films may not be appealing to every western suburbanite, this is one reviewer who, after viewing these films, wants to go visit family in Sicily.

Rotten Tomatoes on Respiro:

Rotten Tomatoes on Nuovomondo:

History of Emanuele Crialese:

Monday, April 19, 2010

Il Vento Fa Il Suo Giro

Il Vento Fa Il Suo Giro

Nestled in the Italian Alps, the historic and native language, Occitan, has persevered against time and the threats of modernity. It is said that languages are in a constant state of evolution with the exception of those languages that become static. If one looks at the rich literary history and spoken popularity of Occitan, it becomes evident why the Occitan descendants today feel impelled to do whatever necessary to protect their language and way of life. The factors that contribute to the survival of a linguistic minority like Occitan can be truly analyzed once one looks beyond the language as a basic form of communication. A language like Occitan has greater odds of surviving when its people protect its best interest. Language is indicative of a culture: it embraces specific values, ways of life, and most importantly, a sense of community. Exemplary of the cultural ties to language is the film Il Vento Fa Il Suo Giro. It is a film about language; however, in order to appreciate the artistic and provocative qualities of the film, one needs to separate the notion of grammar and syntax from the concept of language and instead, concentrate on its speakers.
The film tells the story of the quiet and desolate mountain town, Chersogno, inhabited by a small population of Occitan descendents. Protective of their language and culture, the villagers are reluctant to share their way of life with newcomers, with the exception of the summer tourists that flock to the town once a year to marvel at the serenity and beauty of the Piedmont region. The locals of Chersogno are taken by surprise when a mysterious Frenchman stumbles upon the village during the solitary months of winter. Enticed by the town’s seclusion and its vast landscape, shepherd Philippe Heraud, believes he has found the ideal spot to bring his family and herd of goats to continue his artesian cheese making. After inquiring about a home to rent, Philippe must await the communal decision of the Chersogno townspeople to determine if he and his family will be welcomed into the intimate yet selective community. While the ‘sindaco’, or town mayor, encourages the townspeople to embrace the newcomer’s arrival, many are still skeptical. Reluctantly, the villagers agree to allow the Frenchman and his family to settle in their village with the hope that Philippe’s pastoral practices will attract tourism to their dying town. Despite the initial kindness of the Chersogno people, Philippe learns quickly that tolerance is not synonymous with acceptance.

A Sense of Community

Before the arrival of the Heraud family, the people of Chersogno come together in an amazing act of solidarity to perform a ‘rueido’. A tradition dating back to the Second World War, a ‘rueido’ is when a community comes together to help out one individual for the good of others. While the men work to collectively restore the house that has been rented to Philippe, the women come together to prepare homemade pasta and other local cuisine in anticipation of the Heraud’s arrival. Their preparations are a collaborative effort, but what unites the Chersogni in the rueido is language. Not only do we see the men and women speaking Occitan while working, but the Occitan language prevails during all community affairs. From political discourse regarding the town’s future to the rueido to festivals, the Occitan language serves as a familiar and intimate means of communication. The sense of community seen in the film must also be considered in terms of its negative connotations. When Emma, one of the town’s eldest members, has an altercation with Philippe, she distorts the details of the story to the town, and paints a violent picture of Philippe. Not knowing the facts of the story, many townspeople come together to support Emma because their allegiance is to one of their own kind. A group of undisclosed villagers even go so far as slaughtering two of Philipp’s goats. Another example of a negative sense of community can be seen when many of the locals unite in making false claims to the local health department about Philipp’s supposed unsanitary living and working conditions. Despite Philippe’s persistence and positive attitude, the multitude of conflicts between the village and his family eventually force him away.

Throughout the film, disharmony and conflict play a major role in the storyline. At times, these conflicts are justified while at other times, they’re invented to create disharmony. Interestingly, conflict is mainly limited to interactions between Philip’s family and the townspeople. Although we see disagreement at political meetings or contrary attitudes concerning the best interest of the town, there is almost a utopian quality about the town and its people. It is only when they feel threatened by the presence of “the foreigner” that true conflict arises. If we take into account the various conflicts throughout the film, the first true conflict concerns boundaries. When Emma is concerned that Philippe’s herd is grazing on her land she reprimands him (in Occitan) for not having control over his animals. What seems to be a petty trifle over where Philippe’s goats are allowed to graze is actually a metaphor for the invisible boundaries created by its villagers designed to keep people out. Initially, there are the goats that cross the invisible lines of physical property, but ultimately during a succession of other conflicts, it is “the foreigner” that crosses boundaries and invades the villagers’ space. By the end of the film, we learn that the space which Philippe and his family invade is actually the space of a foreign culture; a culture set in its ways and unwilling to open its door to the possibilities of change.

The Title
I think it is important to end with a comment or two regarding the title of the film since it is mentioned at the opening and ending scenes. Il Vento Fa Il Suo Giro, or “The Wind Blows Around” can undisputedly be interpreted in many different ways. When I think of wind’s capability and capacity, I’m reminded of turbulence, commotion, and unease; however, once the wind stops blowing, calmness is restored. Like life, there are periods of chaos and confusion like there are periods of tranquility and serenity. There is always a balance. While in the film, the Heraud family blows in and as a result, the people of Chersogno collectively experience the metaphorical damage of a windy storm, the wind eventually softens and the village returns temporarily to a peaceful state. In order for the villagers of Chersogno to maintain a peaceful state, they must learn to live side by side with the “foreigner” or risk a constant state of upheaval and chaos; A state of upheaval that would ultimately contradict the peace and beauty of their surroundings.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Lamerica (1994) is one of the best films directed by Gianni Amelio. It pictures the situation of Albania in the period after the downfall of communism when chaos turned into conflicts. Not also it shows the poverty and how people would handle it, but also and mainly it depicts the way Italy uses Albania for economical gain. Between 1985 when Enver Hoxha died and 1991 when Ramiz Alia was in throne, the economy fell drastically. Students went to strike, and dropped the Famous Enver Hoxha's monument in Tirana. Because people were starving to death, there was no way out but to immigrate to a better place like Italy. Students also broke into the Italian Embassy to get political asylum, and many Albanians departed by boat. Also during these times as it was shown in the movie, Gino (Enrico Lo Verso) and Fiore (Michele Placido) take advantage of this, as they plan to purchase a shoe factory with the assistance of an unscrupulous government official. They tried to set up a fraudulent corporation that will allow them to squeeze a fortune out of Albania's economic chaos. Michele on the other hand, one of the Italian man that deserted the army in the 1940’s, becomes the pawn in a scheme concocted by the two Italian businessmen, as Gino and Fiore think that he is Albanian.

Michele a.k.a. Spiro, a political figure of fascism in Albania.

Gino and Fiore, two businessmen that wanted to sell shoes in Albania, wanted to find a stooge for the company. They chose Spiro Tozaj. In reality his name was Michele Tallarico. He represents the life that the Italian veterans in Albania had after World War II. He was in prison for the past 50 years, and after the downfall of communism he was released. His mind though was stuck in the Fascist era. While Michele travels with Gino, he sees ‘Enver Hoxha’ written in a mountain, but he actually thinks he sees ‘Duce Mussolini’, the Italian dictator back in the day.
Gianni Amelio with this could represent that these two dictators could be the same or totally different. This could be ironic, as Enver Hoxha was against Mussolini. He did not let anyone in Albania listen or speak Italian. Before Enver Hoxha, the Italian was the second language, but during communism only the Albanian language was allowed. He also thinks that he still has a family that left back home to come to Albania in the 30’s. Also at the end, while Gino and Michele were travelling by ship, Michele thinks that he is travelling to America. He was tired, but he wanted to be awake when he was going to land at New York. As New York and “Lamerica” were for Michele, so was Italy for the Albanians the land of opportunity.

Gino, an Italian businessman that became the actual immigrant, (clandestino).

As Gino was trying to find and take Michele with him, he lost everything. He lost his car, as some Albanian kids stole his car’s tires. Also he lost his passport and documents when at the end he was arrested for trespassing on a private area. It is ironic, as Gino was shown as a person that hated the Albanians, but in the end became one. The police in jail told him that no one had a passport in Albania, so he was not going to be exceptional.

The end of the movie, the reach towards ‘Lamerica’, Italy.

Gianni Amelio at the end shows how emotional and dramatic is the experience by boat. He takes extreme close-up camera shots. By showing the facial features, you can see the emotions that these people have while leaving their country. It makes the end of the movie exceptionally realistic and beautiful. As Gino became one of the immigrants on the boat, you could see him being sad. His facial expression was different from the other people in the boat. As he became the unexceptional one, it made him one of the poor Albanian people in the boat. The other immigrants’ facial expressions were different on the other hand. They were happy, as they were going to see the land of opportunity, Italy.

This movie for me was an experience of my past. I was five years old when this when on, but it kept going till 1997, and after 1991 Albanian people have embarked on those ships to reach the new world. As we knew Italian by television, it was easier for Albanians to live in Italy. At the movie though, you could also see that Albanian people thought that Italy was going to be as great as on the Italian television. They would see “Non è la Rai“ or “OK il Prezzo è Giusto” and think that living in Italy was the best thing. My family and I on the other hand had to find a better way of living. We had the chance to fill out an application and win the lottery for legal documents to live in the United States of America.

Links and videos to be interested in.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Nuovomondo (2006) is a film directed by Emanuele Crialese. Crialese has done a wonderful job with this film in representing the journey of a family immigrating from their small village in Sicily to the United States of America. He starts the film with two men holding rocks in their mouth. This opening scene is characterized by silence and mystery. The theme is composed of the mountains that the characters are climbing and also their dirty clothes along with them walking beare feet. The two characters, Salvatore Mancuso (Vincenzo Amato ) and his son walk up the mountain with the rocks in their mouth to pay as a token to the holy place.
This is where Salvatore asks whether he should leave Sicily or stay. He is then shown pictures from his younger child showing money growing on trees, gigantic carrots and chicken that are ten times bigger than normal, and takes this as a sign from above to depart for the new world. This is an important aspect of the film as it develops and initiates an imaginative world that these people are about to depart into. The imagination of the new world from Salvatore’s prospective will be leading the film and will open the doors to the viewers imagination as to what these immigrants belief of their new world is. This will the skeleton of the film, which will keep the viewers to continue thinking of how the story will continue even after it has been watched. When leaving their village, Salvatore brings with him his mother Fortunata (Aurora Quattrocchi) who is the village doctor and has certain which powers which uses against curses, his two sons and two other women who are to be married in America.
The Boat Trip
Upon arrival at the shipyard, Salvatore and his family go through the standard procedure of getting the documentation ready to depart. While waiting, a mysterious English woman appears and acts as if she travels with them. Her name is Lucy (Charlotte Gainsbourg ) and although she has nothing to do with the Mancuso family, Salvatore is enchanted by her beauty and therefore acts as if she really is part of the family. She plays a big role throughout the film in Salvatore’s imagination of being his wife and partner upon arrival to the new world. Her classy dressing and behaviour also catches the attention of all the women on the ship, to whom she becomes as an ideal female from a stylish prospective. Lucy becomes a symbol in the film, for the characters she assumes the transition that allows them to witness what the new world will hold for them, whereas the viewer gains knowledge of the reason why the immigration is occurring and what the rest of the characters aspired to be.
The long journey begins on the boat as everyone sees it leaving the coast of Sicily. Everybody is nervous, sad, and worried simultaneously since they leave everything they have and know, to go into a world that they have only heard about. Throughout the boat trip the viewer sees compassion between everyone on the boat as if they are a big family going towards the same goal instead of separate people following their personal journey. This unity among the third class poverty is interrupted by an upper class travelling to America and Miss Lucy. The dissonance of the upper class travellers appears in many cases towards an interest in Miss Lucy, who has attracted everyone’s attention due to her beauty and tactful dressing. Due to the same reason she catches attention she becomes dislikes by most of the women and men in the third class. A group of men keep on trying to bribe her by telling her that they will find her a husband, apparently in return for sexual favours. Many rumours spread throughout the boat about this English woman who is travelling alone, but this does not stop the way Salvatore feels about her, which in an instance, when he hears the other men speak of Lucy becomes protective of her as if she really is travelling with his family. Throughout the trip Lucy starts to become interested in Salvatore instead of the other men who keep bribing her, and she begins to flirt with him. Shortly upon arrival to Ellis Island Lucy asks Salvatore to marry her. Salvatore immediately replies to her by saying that he would be honoured, but she tells him that she does not want to marry him because she loves him. Lucy only wants to marry him so she can get into United States but he tells her that he would marry her anyway and replies to her statement saying that love takes time to grow on people. Lucy creates for the immigrants the idea of perfect from an appearance point of view and simultaneously she breaks their perfect marriage, rules and cultural standard ideologies which many of the Italian immigrants have grown up with and live by. Since she does this right before getting off the ship, the viewer gets the hint that the new world might not be as perfect as everyone believes and the culture that one came with will start an immediate “mutation”.
The New World
When arriving in Ellis Island, there is a fog, which clouds any opportunity for anyone to see what will come ahead of them. When everyone comes off shore, they are separated and put into different groups. The authorities start differentiating them based on their intelligence, knowledge and usefulness that each separate individual has. The differentiation is used to see whether they are good enough to enter and live in the United States, since the authorities believe that intelligence is spread through genetics. Whoever does not pass the test is sent back to the old country, while the people who are deemed “worth it” or needed remain in America. Throughout these tests, Lucy reveals her identity as an English woman, and is threatened by the authorities who tell her that it is very uncommon for a single English woman to travel with Italians. Salvatore’s younger son who is deaf and mute also is threatened to be deported because of his handicap which the Ellis Island authorities feel that he might somehow transmit. While being tested by the customs, none of the immigrants get to see the new world except in an instance when Salvatore climbs himself up a window and sees enormous, unfamiliar buildings. Despite him looking outside the window the viewer does not get to see anything, and this is another trick that Crialese uses to leave space to the imagination of whoever is watching the film. Most likely this is because any immigrant that watches it, will be able to relate their own personal experience and feel all the emotions represented in Nuovomondo. Salvatore finally obtains permission to marry Lucy, but he is faced with the problem that authorities want to deport his mother and his son. As he is told this news, Fortunata takes her grandson’s curse of being deaf and lets him tell his father that she wants to go back home since she does not find America a world where she belongs in.
The End
The film ends with an imaginary sequence that Salvatore has throughout the entire trip about being with Lucy and his family in a river of milk. It is accompanied with the rest of the people that came along for the trip, which once again shows the unity towards the same dream and goal. There are no scenes representing the new world these people travelled for and Crialese uses this as a closing scene to allow the film to proceed in each individual’s mind as they would like to portray it. This way of ending the film is extremely artistic since it leaves it open to each viewer’s imagination even after the film is over.

Extra Sources:
Nuovomondo Review:
Biography of Emanuele Crialese:

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Per un pugno di dollari

The landscape is a key convention of any western and Leone makes good use of it, almost as if it itself were a character. The film begins establishing both the landscape and the protagonist, the Man with no Name. The camera looks down at the ground, showing rocks and dirt both harsh and dry. The land has little to no vegetation, which suggests that there is little to no love or nutriment to be found out in the wilderness, and that life, like the terrain, is rough. This is soon to be reinforced as Jesus, Marisol’s son, is pitifully shot at by Rojo’s cruel goons. In the first scene alone, both The Man with no Name and Jesus are shown to be a part of the landscape. The boy is dressed in all white, blending into the walls of the two houses he is caught between.

The Man with no Name is shown in close-up, against a backdrop of brown mountains, his brown face under his brown hat and above his brownish poncho. This could be an effort to suggest a few things. One thing being that both MWNN and Jesus are in their natural surroundings. The MWNN is a wanderer and presumably does a lot of traveling through the desert, it is only natural he would become a part of the landscape.

Jesus, on the other hand, stands out against the brown of the desert, but blends in with the houses, possibly to suggest that he is not suited for the life outside of the house, at least, not yet. In white, he represents innocence and because he matches the house, he represents family and roots. The MWNN has neither.

The landscape is usually shown to be vastly immense and overwhelming, dehumanizing in WS and LS. In these kinds of shots, it is made most important, reducing humans into small, indistinguishable figures. This may cause confusion over which faction we are observing, or at least realize that, on such a grand scale, they all look the same.

While the Rojos and the Baxters have their shootout in the desert, near the graveyard, the men all become part of the landscape as they are obscured in darkness and become faceless. But even in the landscape, there are idyllic images to be found, including a shot through a window that shows a trail of soldiers on horseback among two bushy trees and a two leveled white and blue sky. This shot is both simple and stunning.

Landscape of the Face – CloseUps
Perhaps as to counter the dehumanization of the immense and unavoidable landscape, Leone utilizes a TON of close-ups. In the initial shootout between the Man with no Name and the Baxter thugs, shots are at a distance, WS or MS, but as the tension begins to mount, close-ups become much more frequent. First, there is a MCU on one of the Baxter thugs, the one who stands alone. Then, there is a CU of another thug, as he begins to look worried. Then, there is a CU of the Man with no Name. He looks up with determination in his fierce eyes, a crease between his eyebrows, and his grimacing squint. He talks through the grit of his teeth, still clamped on his cigar, this thin lips moving quick and furious. There is another CU back to thug#1, who is static, but clearly feels the imminent danger. There is another CU to thug#2, who was grinning, but now his smile is shown to falter. Then, there are the onlookers. There is a CU of the coffin-maker, looking worried, and another of Silvanito, who is terribly fretful. Cut back to the Man with no Name, cut to thug#1, who just spits, back to the Man with no Name. His eyes drift down and then back up. Then, this chain is broken by two shots that show the thugs at a distance and then subsequently drawing their pistols, but then there is a CU of the Man with no Name shooting, and then a WS of the men falling. The sequence ends with a CU of the coffin-maker smiling. Close-ups not only provide the characters with a face, but also allow the audience to see what the other characters cannot from their distance. The audience is allowed into the character’s private world and able to study their face and read into their emotions. These close-ups provide visual character development in the absence of dialogue to where even characters with limited screen time are shown to be three-dimensional.

Ramon’s Perspective
Ramon is the only character who the audience actually shares a point of view with. First, in his introduction, he guns down soldiers and we, the audience, are allowed to look down the barrel of his gun with him. This alternates between the CUs of his sweaty, rugged face as he sadistically smiles.

Later, the audience shares Ramon’s perspective as he dies. The camera “woozes” and sways into the bright white light of the sun, spinning and swirling until he falls over defeated. This is a curious element, why are we allowed to see and possibly sympathize with the villain, but not the supposed hero? Perhaps if we could see through his eyes, his hero mystique would be ruined. Or, maybe, it would have killed chances of a sequel.

A Fistful of Dollars at Rotten Tomatoes:

A Fistful of Dollars at Clint Eastwood’s tribute website: