- This article incorporates text from the Wide Screen journal site.
Matteo Garrone in Castiglioncello on June 21, 2008
October 15, 1968 |
Matteo Garrone is an Italian film maker.
Born in Rome, the son of a theatre critic, Nico Garrone and a photographer, in 1996 Garrone won the Sacher d'Oro, an award sponsored by Nanni Moretti, with the short film Silhouette, that became one of the three episodes that are on his first long film Terra di Mezzo in 1997. He won Best Director at the European Film Awards and at the David di Donatello Awards for "Gomorrah". His latest film Reality competed in competition at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and won the Grand Prix.
Garrone and Italian Neorealism
When Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah won the 2008 Cannes Grand Prix, the victory of his account of the ruthless Italian criminal organization known as camorra surprised the public and critics. The cinema of Garrone attracted considerable critical consideration because of its bleak, authentic portrayal of contemporary Italian society. The American popularity of Gomorrah that followed the European acclaim, shed light on this young Italian filmmaker, winner, among other awards, of the Best Screenplay at the Chicago International Film Festival and a 2009 nominee for the Golden Globes Best Foreign Film. Garrone found fame and appreciation in and outside Italy, proving to be a fascinating new voice in Italian cinema.
Because of such unpredicted international success of Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah and Paolo Sorrentino's Il Divo, some critics have seen in these films a signs of resurrection of Italian cinema. A few critics have even gone further and have implied that with these two films, a new Italian Neorealism was born. In an interview by Richard Parton that appeared in Cineaste, Garrone admits to an unconscious influence of Neorealist filmmakers such as Rossellini, but underlines that Neorealism was a product of the post-War period and, therefore, a result of unique social and economic conditions. Despite the specific historical context in which Italian Neorealism originated, it is worthwhile to think of Garrone's style as a contemporary version of that aesthetic movement.
Garrone points out that the careful attention to the real living conditions of his characters, the use of vernacular language, together with his choice of non-professional actors, are clear reminders of characteristics that contributed to the creation of Neorealistic cinema. His choice of mixing professional and non-professional actors offers an insight in his artistic intentions of provoking and shocking his audience. His popularity represents a move back to stories about real people and real situations, which is strikingly reminiscent of Italian Neorealism. There is an original component in Garrone's cinematic style and that comes from his attention to details in the depiction of Italy. While other contemporary directors like Marco Tullio Giordana, Francesco Munzi, Tonino Zangardi, Stefano Reali, Cristina Comencini and Giuseppe Tornatore too have paid attention to social and cultural tensions in contemporary Italy, Matteo Garrone stands out for his visual style. Trained as a painter, Garrone embraces cinematography with a style that reflects an emotional involvement with his art. By mirroring contemporary social and cultural instability, Garrone's filmmaking has become one of the most significant voices in today's Italian cinema because he employs a visually engaging look at social problems. As suggested by Italian film critic Goffredo Fofi in his preface to the anthology, Non Solo Gomorra. Tutto il cinema di Matteo Garrone, Garrone's filmmaking emerges from the latest and most innovative cinematic voices because of his refusal to make films simply to denounce societies and peoples. His stories are about people he has known and as a result, the tone is one of engagement, and the view is from the inside. Garrone demonstrates that an inventive filmmaking style has reached artistic maturity. His cinematic style relies on the importance of details and simple gestures, and as a result, the characters in his films are able to appropriate the mannerisms and moods of the people they embody and then display a subjective interpretation of reality. In his speech when accepting the Cannes Grand Prix, Garrone referred to Gomorrah as an example of what cinema means: an interpretation of a reality more than a projection of a situation because it was always his intention to move his viewers. He stated that to him, the most important thing is to move people.
Gomorrah reveals several moments of emotional intensity such as the shooting of two young boys, Marco and Ciro, two people who inhabit the tense, gripping community affected by camorra. This sequence stands out in the film as one of the most significant moments as it exemplifies the core of this drama: camorra touches everyone's life, like a spreading disease that infects Italian communities. Women and children too are involved in this great danger, as the shooting of the two young boys clearly emphasizes. In the end, Marco and Ciro have to pay with their own lives because they dared to defy camorra. In this sequence the camera follows Marco and Ciro as they are on the beach stalking their target. All of a sudden, this "mission" is revealed to be a trap and is ended by the killers.
While in Gamorrah, Garrone depicts his characters denouncing the corruption and uncontrollable violence that camorra produces, in the films made prior to it, he captured, the characters painful conditions without actually passing his judgment. In L'Imbalsamatore (2002) and Primo Amore (2004), the filmmaker sets up gloomy scenarios in which the viewer is asked to quietly participate and witness the range of emotions that characters are going through, surrounded by a space that not only confines them but also mirrors their despair. In his cinema, Matteo Garrone has always shown a curiosity about outcasts and the spaces and landscapes that surround them. From Terra di mezzo (1996) to Ospiti (1998) and Estate Romana (2000), his considered interest in prostitutes, immigrants, and artists living in Rome has contributed to making his cinematic world a well-crafted space in which to project the harsh reality of those who live on the outskirts of society.
Garrone's stylistic characteristic as a filmmaker lies in the investigative eye that makes him study peoples and places before shooting since he is interested in understanding how people are, how they think, where they come from, and how he might represent them effectively. His early films represent moments in the development of his artistic view. They also reflect the creative phases in which poignant depictions of social outcasts create a typology of those people who, even though rejected by society, contribute to making Italy a multifaceted country. His cinema thus offers a view of the underground world, a topic that rarely finds sympathy in the audience. Garrone's portrayals of obsessive attraction and deadly passions in L'Imbalsamatore and Primo Amore exemplify this unique visual style. Directed in 2002 and 2004 respectively, these films illustrate dangerous obsessions. A closer look at the films also suggests symbolic readings, critiques of today's Italy, a society that Garrone sees as devoured by selfishness, loneliness and despair. In this desolation, pathological feelings have replaced fulfilling loving relationships.
Love, Obsession and L'imbalsamatore
In L'imbalsamatore, Garrone reveals a profound understanding of how people struggle to relate to each other on an emotional level, but also of the thin line that separates love from obsession. The film narrates the story of Peppino Profeta (played by Ernesto Mahieux), a taxidermist, who works for the camorra and implants contraband drugs in dead bodies after he carefully prepares them for their final destination. The film opens with Peppino meeting Valerio (Valerio Foglia Manzillo), a handsome waiter who is easily persuaded to give up his job and work as his assistant. The two men develop a special bond that takes them on an unexpected journey. These men's destiny moves towards a deadly and inevitable ending given Peppinos uncontrollable obsession for Valerio, a behavior that he desperately tries to repress. When Deborah (Elisabetta Rocchetti) enters Valerios life, Peppino sees this woman as an intrusion into their relationship and thus tries to eliminate her. By luring Valerio into promiscuous sexual encounters with other women, Peppino aims at sabotaging the couples relationship, inevitably provoking an outburst of jealousy in Deborah and leading Valerio to be confused about rather than convinced about his love for her. One day, Valerio and Deborah decide to leave Peppino and move back to her native northern town in order to start a new life away from the illegal criminal organization and the dangerous influence that Peppino still has on Vittorio. In an expected twist, Peppino meets the couple at Deborahs family home and finds out that Vittorio and Deborah are expecting a baby. In a desperate attempt to convince Valerio to return to Caserta with him, Peppino threatens the woman with a gun, as he blames her for taking Valerio away from him. He dies while in the car, next to his beloved Valerio who agreed to join him only to save Deborahs life.
The relationship between Peppino and Valerio starts like a perfect friendship as they work together and relax together until the harmony of the two men's relationship is disrupted by the presence of a beautiful, sexy woman. In a powerful sequence, Deborah challenges her rival, Peppino, in an argument meant to assert that only she, a woman, can own and control Valerios life. The films conclusion also suggests a similar reading: Valerio and Deborah are meant to be together as their love is socially acceptable whereas Peppinos obsessive desire for another man needs to be destroyed because it is considered forbidden by society. As Valerio and Peppino are in the car and about to leave Deborah behind, gunshots are heard. The scene that follows shows the couple getting rid of Peppinos body, plunged in the dark waters of a river. The real cause of Peppinos death is left unclear, as if Garrone wants to give the viewer the power (and freedom) to decide whether Peppinos death was caused by Valerio or self-inflicted. Despite this ambiguous conclusion, it is still possible to read in Peppinos death the ultimate sacrifice love entails when rage and infatuation prevail but most significantly when it defies its conventional norms. To reinforce this notion, one can point out that it is Deborah, a woman, who challenges Peppinos sexual confidence by mocking his sexuality. In another significant scene, Peppino, Valerio and Deborah are in a hotel room, and Deborah convinces the two men to dress up as women. Peppinos depiction here demands some critical consideration as his heavy make-up vividly makes him resemble a drag queen. The camera follows the three characters from a certain distance, gently moving around their bodies, to allow a complete look at the scene. This visually intriguing scene recalls a similar moment in Fellinis depiction of the festive atmosphere in the Carnevale (Mardi Gras) sequence of I Vitelloni (The Young and the Passionate).
In Fellini's 1953 account of five young men living in the small Adriatic town, Alberto (played by Alberto Sordi) is dressed up like a woman; at the end of the party, he sadly reflects upon a life which slowly drifts away. In that powerful image of Alberto resembling a gloomy clown, Fellini projects his benevolent view of selfish, childish men who, like Alberto, are unable to accept life's responsibilities. Garrone seems to depict a similar drama: Peppino is dressed up as a woman, wearing a costume to emphasize his inability to reveal his real self, his need to mask his real sexual identity. Selfish and afraid to fully and openly embrace his sexuality, surrounded by loneliness and misery, he fails in life, as much as in his performance of a man pretending to be a woman or as a man pretending to be someone else. Peppino is a short, out of proportion man, his physical appearance closely resembling a dwarf, a man who relies on the criminal world to be socially recognized and accepted. The mask he wears, that of the straight man who flirts with women, is also a symbol of a society that creates categories more to contain than to let people express their identity.
Primo Amore: Love for disease
In Primo Amore, the film released two years after L'imbalsamatore, the filmmaker continues to explore obsessive passions and fatal attractions. As in L'imbalsamatore, the viewer is invited from the very beginning to enter the realm of passions, in this instance, between two heterosexual people, Vittorio (Vitaliano Trevisan) and Sonia (Michela Cescon). The film is based on a book-confession entitled Il cacciatore di anoressiche, in which the author, Marco Mariolini, confesses to the murder of a young woman, Monica Cal. Found guilty of the crime committed in 1998, Mariolini describes in his book published a year prior to his crime in 1997, the origins of his obsession for anorexic women. As he explains in his book, pathological behavior led him to fall in love with an anorexic woman, Monica Cal. After an initial relationship, Monica left him to escape from his cruelty, but eventually fell into his trap again and, with her death, ended Mariolinis pathological obsession.
Garrone's film tells the story of Vittorio and Sonia, a goldsmith and a store assistant, and the abusive relationship they develop when they move in together. This is an obsessive and pathological relationship because it is based on Vittorios demands to that Sonia lose weight so he can fully appreciate (and love) her. Sonia at first accepts his requests as if she has to please him to be appreciated by him. She then realizes that he is depriving her of her own life and ultimately finds the strength to end this oppression. In Garrone's cinematic account of Vittorios tragic obsession, the viewer is invited to enter into a forbidden space: that of a most secret desire and obsession: an uncontrollable and totalitarian love or the desire to love so deeply one owns the beloveds mind and body. In this space, as in L'imbalsamatore, viewers are once again left to wonder about the emotions evoked by Garrone's images and by their own responses to a narrative that shows how controlling anothers mind and body can be mistaken as an act of love.
In an intriguing reading, Maria Vittoria and Paola Golinelli discuss Primo Amore from a psychological perspective, emphasizing the effects that Garrone's film produces on the audience. Although anorexia, they claim, remains as much unknown as it is painful, the film succeeds in letting us witness the struggle and the emotional involvement of the two characters through painful images that speak of deprivation and physical as well as psychological abuse. In adapting Primo Amore from the book based on the actual story of its author, a killer, Garrone inevitably refers to several medical pathologiesanorexia, mental illnesses in order to speak metaphorically. As he explains in the last section of Non solo Gomorra, the film was meant to address the instabilities and insecurities of two people who search for a normal life together by means of what they believe is love. Vitaliano Trevisan, a renowned writer from Vicenza, plays the protagonist Vittorio. The filmmaker decided to cast Trevisan as the films protagonist mostly because of the writers introspective and somewhat mysterious personality. This element, together with the choice to shoot the film in Trevisans native town furthers the possibility of Garrone creating a character in a more realistic, authentic way. The drastic loss of weight endured by the actress Michela Cescon during the films shooting also contributes to the true-to-life portrayal of a dramatic, tragic obsession and its dangerous outcome. Most interestingly, with this film, Garrone moves from the familiar space of Rome seen in previous films to the northern province of Vicenza to show the dull, isolated landscapes that surround the characters. In this space, the filmmaker highlights the couples struggle to adapt to a normal life. Furthermore, the filmmakers curiosity about the real drama of a sick man, Mariolini and his obsessive desires for slim, even skeletal and emaciated women, gives him the opportunity of reflecting on Italy. If on the surface Italy appears a shining collection of artistic beauty and richness, of economic growth and prosperity, using a different lens, reveals a country consumed by violence, from racial intolerance to political and social divisions based on geographical borders. The horrific obsession between Vittorio and Sonia in Primo Amore suggests Italys darkest side, that characterized by violence and undisclosed corruption, unruly passions and dangerous obsessions which are responsible for spreading insecurity, instability, and loneliness. L'imbalsamatore followed a similar artistic path, as it was loosely based on a real event that occurred in Italy. In it, Garrone expressed his concerns about social issues that revolve around human interaction and values and examined the fragile boundaries between good and evil.
Garrone's peculiar vision of obsessive emotions uncovers a fascination that the filmmaker has with the human body. Rather than focusing on the physical aspects that denote beautygenerally employed by male filmmakers to address femininity and sexualityin Primo Amore, Garrone privileges the sinister consequences of an obsession that derives from looking at a human body. Determined to shape Sonias body in order to make of her the perfect ideal of feminine beauty, Vittorio maintains an almost diabolic control over her body and mind. Sonia agrees to lose weight, as if this were the ultimate proof that love exists between her and Vittorio because of her sacrifice in letting him appropriate her body. Vittorios bleak, obsessive look, while staring at Sonia when he first sees her in the bar at the bus station, projects his uncontrollable desire for her body. During their first conversation, Vittorios prevailing power over her is well illustrated when he succeeds in convincing her to stay in the bar. While in the bar, despite Sonias initial uneasiness caused by Vittorios disappointment in noticing Sonias body, not as thin as he was expecting, she is nonetheless attracted to his charismatic persona. The life they start together is based on a co-dependence Vittorio depends on Sonias anorexia because only by molding her body, can he fulfill his obsessions. Sonias life depends on Vittorios desires to feel she is fully accepted, resulting in a sinister game of attraction, destruction and self-destruction. Vittorios pathological glances at her silhouette contain a wide range of emotions whenever he is confronted with the overwhelming forces that push him to take over Sonia. Close-ups of Vittorio and Sonias face are often used in scenes when the narrative demands an emotional involvement on the part of viewers.
Italian writer Italo Moscati suggests that Vittorio's obsession comes from wanting to deprive Sonia of all feelings, as if she is a metaphor for today's Italian society which has become, on the surface, wealthy, gaining weight and getting comfortable with its excessive futile commodities. This fascinating reading adds to the complexity of this fatal attraction, especially since it is based on a true story. It points to another significant aspect of the film: the symbolism given the numbness and human isolation often found in the lifestyle of the northern provinces. As mentioned by Garrone in an interview, the depiction of the suburban Vicenza in Primo Amore gives him the ideal situation to depict a relationship between a man and a woman in which the geographical space becomes a metaphor for loneliness and psychological instability.
Similarly, the space embodied by the two towns chosen for L'imbalsamatore, Caserta (near Naples) and Cremona, reinforces the importance the filmmaker gives to space. In this film, the journey the three characters take in the second half of the film brings them from the southern town of Caserta to the northern province of Cremona. Like Vicenza in Primo Amore, these towns in L'imbalsamatore symbolize more than a geographical space. The cinematography employed by Garrone in depicting the different landscapes of the two towns, using sunny and well-lit scenes in the southern town and rainy and dim ones in the northern one, clearly suggests an inner division, a separation between spaces that is more than visual, symbolizing the social and cultural fracture between the industrial North and the agrarian South. Once again, Garrone decides to let the landscape, its regional variety and cultural diversity, speak by itself with long shots that offer the viewer an imagery absorbed with symbolic significance.
Desolate scenery functions as a mirror of the lonely and at times dull life that both Sonia and Vittorio experience. Since their first encounter in the bar at the bus station, the viewer realizes that women's and men's different mannerisms and roles in communicating symbolize a relationship based on a hierarchy. Vittorio is the dominant figure, demanding attention and assertive to the point that Sonia, once she becomes emotionally involved in this relationship, moves in with him. Sonia is not only submissive to his desires; her submission is the result of loneliness and a desire to be with someone. From the moment Sonia moves in with Vittorio, the couple starts playing out a masochistic and at times horrific relationship in which the man psychologically, more than physically, dominates the woman. As mentioned earlier, controlling anothers body by having her lose weight is for Vittorio the acknowledgment of the power he has over Sonia. Is this obsession a distorted, limited vision of love? Does brutality triumph? The film does not provide an answer as it leaves the viewer to interpret through the images the strange dynamics developed between the two.
Gold is at the core of this film in the characterization of Vittorio as a goldsmith, another reminder of a metaphor that functions to speak of obsessions in terms of a desire for shining, aesthetically perfect beauty more than for emotional and profound connection. Vittorios need to mold Sonias body also signifies his reaching a fulfillment, almost a spiritual enrichment that only an ideal of beauty with a body that becomes a perfect embellishment of a self can give. A body that can be shaped and adjusted according to his own desires: this is the ultimate manifestation of love that Sonias body symbolizes for Vittorio. In conclusion, Vittorio and Sonia present the different ways in which an obsession can be manifested and even mistaken for love: it can become a tool through which one possesses the other, as if by metaphorically eating the beloved, one can fulfill his/her desires to love. There is no joy or happiness in the relationship developed between Sonia and Vittorio, and death seems to be the ultimate way to consummate their mutual dependence. As for Vittorio, prevailing over Sonia is, in his pathological state, the only way he can experience what he feels love is but, at the end, Sonia finds the strength to rebel and put an end to her (and his) misery. In the end, Sonias reaction to Vittorio s dominance adds a new component to the complexity of the character: her female agency. By hitting Vittorio and making him unconscious and thus helpless, Sonia, a female body and mind controlled by male dominance, evolves from being a property, an object to mold, to an active pursuer of life. Vittorio and Sonia lose touch with the surrounding reality because they are so preoccupied with their own relationship. Primo Amore therefore succeeds in reveals the dangerous and distraught consequences of love when confronted with uncontrollable obsessions.
- Silhouette (1996)
- Bienvenido espirito santo (1997)
- Un caso di forza maggiore (1997)
- Oreste Pipolo, fotografo di matrimoni (1998)
- Terra di mezzo (1996)
- Ospiti (1998)
- Estate romana (2000)
- L'imbalsamatore (2002)
- Primo amore (2003)
- Gomorrah (Gomorra) (2008)
- Reality (2012)
- Silhouette (1996)
- Terra di mezzo (1996)
- Ospiti (1998)
- Estate romana (2000)
- Mid-August Lunch (2008)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Matteo Garrone.|
Pierpaolo De Sanctis, Domenico Monetti, Luca Pallanch. "Non solo Gomorra. Tutto il cinema di Matteo Garrone", con un prefazione di Goffredo Fofi e un saggio di Italo Moscati. Roma, Edizioni Sabinae, 2008.
Luciana d'Arcangeli. "The Films of Matteo Garrone: Italian Cinema is Not Embalmed" in William Hope (ed) "Italian Film Directors in the New Millennium". Cambridge, Cambridge Scholars Press, 2010, pp. 175–187.