Cinema is a place of encounter, where different, and sometimes distant, worlds come together. So, it’s hardly surprising that current events should make their way onto the big screen. The films shown at the 79th Venice International Film Festival span climate change to human rights, war (in Ukraine and beyond), and the Mediterranean as a place of history and flows of people.
Suffocating heat, climatic migration, rain that either doesn’t arrive or, if it does, it comes with damaging fury. And how many meanings does the word dry have? Paolo Virzì’s new film, with Michele Mastandrea, Monica Bellucci, and Silvio Orlando, offers a vision of a future Rome seen through the eyes of pandemic isolation. Siccità (Dry) is the name of this out-of-competition film, which the director describes as looking at drought and loneliness through an apocalyptic lens. “At a time when the streets of our cities were deserted, and we were all shut up in our homes, connected to each other solely through screens, it felt only natural to look ahead, wondering what life would be like afterward,” Virzì said. “I started imagining a film set just a few years into the future – a future not too distant from the present.” This future Rome hasn’t had rain for three years, and the lack of water has broken down the rules and way of life. In this city that’s dying of thirst and prohibitions, a group of people forms. Young and old, marginalized and successful, victims and profiteers – all of them are seeking redemption.
«I dreamed about Rome the day after tomorrow, in the very near future, like a science fiction vision,” Paolo Virzì said at the press conference, “This Rome is facing a major climatic and health emergency. It had to be an ensemble movie, made up of many characters and many destinies. The result was an overall scheme that, in itself, holds the secret for potential salvation. It’s built into the structure of the story. Because all this loneliness and the destinies of all these troubled people grappling with their own greed, despair, and desperate hopes, are interconnected. They’re all tied to each other. So, will they find salvation? They probably will if they connect with each other. At a certain point, the film becomes a kind of prayer – a secular prayer for rain, for consolation. It’s an apocalyptic film, but it’s also a story that can’t be told without hope.».
Our relationship with both the real and imaginary Mare Nostrum is at the heart of the short film that won the Son of a Pitch Award in the Invisible Territories, Border Territories, and the Territories of Yesterday and Tomorrow category. Titled Luisa è al mare (Luisa is at the sea) and directed by Giuseppe Caponio, the film received the award during the 2022 Biennale Cinema. The Son of a Pitch Award is an international award for short films by filmmakers under 30. It attracts numerous entries from Asia, in particular Kyrgyzstan, Iran, and Taiwan, which make up the other five winners of the six categories (Best Short, Best Direction, Future Award, Sustainability, Intercultural, and Audience Award). Again this year, the awards ceremony was held in Venice during the festival, reflecting the organizer’s hope that it becomes a regular event.
Luisa, the protagonist of the film, is a ten-year-old girl who lives in a small house in the hills of Murgia. She’s never seen the sea. After daydreaming about an image that’s nothing but the product of her imagination, she sets out on her birthday to see it for the first time. Rummaging through her mother’s closet, she finds a black polka dot one-piece swimsuit. She puts on her sandals, packs a wicker basket, including a packet of salt, and leaves the house with her favorite doll. Staggering on her wedge heels, she crosses the road and plunges into a dense cornfield, headed for her sea. Pushing back the corn with her hands, she comes across an old stone cattle trough. Luisa stops, takes out the salt, and slowly spreads it on the water. She then lets herself drop gently under the water. This is her sea in her limited reality.
The award was presented to the director by the creator of the award himself, architect Alfonso Femia.
«Luisa’s imaginary and real journey happens within the dimension that connects each of us to an idea of territory, which in this case is the Mediterranean and, more so, the sea, in which the relationship with water symbolizes balance, harmony, and happiness,” said the founder of Atelier(s) Alfonso Femia and the 500x100 group. “The desire for a relationship with the sea, conjured and imagined, in a place that threatens to silence the feelings and soul that push Luisa to pursue her dream, materializes in how the character transforms her landscape into a still sea that’s more powerful than the real one, transforming the work into a form of imaginary realism».
Femia sees the film as another way of raising awareness of the importance of safeguarding the sea around the Italian peninsula, a commitment that extends to maintaining and strengthening ties between peoples of the Mediterranean in the name of inclusion. The idea underlying the award was precisely to promote invisible territories that that might be poor but are rich in hidden beauty.
«I’d like to thank the organizers of the Son of a Pitch Award for recognizing my short film Luisa è al mare,” said director Giuseppe Caponio. “I wanted to express the concept of territory and borders through a story that links the real and the imaginary, using the tool of the imagination to help people rediscover their own land – to truly rediscover themselves, to move forward into tomorrow, and to return to our land, which is sometimes narrow and distressing, like our mother’s womb, which gave us life as well as desire and hope».
The 2022 Son of a Pitch Award was dedicated to sustainable development and, therefore, the ways that young filmmakers are marking changes both personally and through their work, technology, and the environment.
The award also looked at war, and how the fear it causes has spilled over into cinema. The Intercultural category of the Son of a Pitch Award was won by The Only Woman, directed by Iranian filmmaker Ehsan Solgie. It was chosen by a popular jury made up of refugee women staying at Casa di Giorgia, a facility that hosts women who have fled war, persecution, social tension, and poverty. Frequently accompanied by their children, these women are from Ethiopia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Iran, and Ukraine.
Wanting to reaffirm its role as a platform for cultural dialogue and solidarity with the Ukrainian people, the Venice Biennale made September 8 Ukrainian Day, demonstrating how cinema and art in general can be a beacon in oblivion and a meeting place. Among the topics discussed by the president of the Biennale, Roberto Cicutto, the director of the 79th Biennale, Alberto Barbera, and, among others, the Ukrainian Ambassador to Italy, Yaroslav Melnyk, were the grim situation in which the Ukrainian film industry currently finds itself, including the plight of co-productions, and the role of writers and filmmakers. So, what does the future hold for Ukrainian cinema?
“How did this tragic war come about? Did it happen now or eight years ago and simply went unnoticed by the rest of the world? And where did the Ukrainian people find the strength and anger to fight? What will happen afterwards?” These questions were posed by Evgeny Afineevsky, director of the out-of-competition film Freedom on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, a documentary that details an atrocious war that’s now over six months old while also bringing audiences closer to the courage of the people.
«Through personal stories of civilians, children, soldiers, doctors, the country’s elderly, journalists, religious leaders, and international volunteers, - the synopsis reads, - this a humanizing diary of millions of people whose lives have been turned upside down by eight years of conflict».