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Tribute 2004: Matteo Garrone








All films of the section TRIBUTE 2004 here.

In the In-Between Land. On the Italian Director Matteo Garrone

by Markus Vorauer

There are two constants that distinguish Matteo Garrone‘s film work, one relating to structure, the other to subject matter: on the one hand there is the specific presentation of space that makes Garrone‘s work unmistakable. On the other there is the recurrent motif of the outsider seeking to escape a world that has become too constraining. This endeavor never has a heroic effect, but seems rather to stem from an existential desperation.

Garrone‘s career seems to be rooted in his family: mother, stepfather and cousin all worked with photography. And thus Garrone also started out as a camera assistant and still insists today on photographing his films himself. He shot his début in 1996: SILHOUETTE deals with three Nigerian prostitutes waiting for customers at the periphery of Rome. In a semi-documentary way, this short film leads us into a marginal world without ever attempting a sociological analysis or succumbing to a penchant for mythic glorification, as found with Pasolini, with whose early work Garrone connects through a willful representation of marginalized places.

In 1997 Garrone edited this début with two other short films to create his first feature film with the characteristic title TERRA DI MEZZO - In-Between Land/No Man‘s Land. In the second episode, EUGLEN E GERTIAN, which accompanies two Albanians working illegally, we find ourselves again by the side of the road, where Roman citizens collect workers. And also in SELF SERVICE, the third episode, which observes an Egyptian immigrant working nights at a gas station, the real protagonists are not so much the foreigners, for whom Garrone consistently refuses subtitles when they communicate in their mother tongue, but rather the Italian customers, who seem to be turned into foreigners in their own country by means of this artifice. 

OSPITI (1998), Garrone‘s second feature film, continues the story of the two young Albanians from TERRA DI MEZZO. In mid-summer Rome they attempt to get by with casual jobs. They find a place to stay with a young photographer, who seems out of place in the prosperous city district of Parioli. Salvatore also lives there, a shepherd from Sardinia, also a foreigner in this city, whose crazy wife disappears in the course of one of her mad wanderings through Rome. OSPITI insistently refers to the (physical and metaphorical) homelessness of the individual in the modern metropolis. The figures move through a world where there are only passages, but no home. Unlike the classical cinema hero, they no longer pursue any goals, but simply roam around, nomads among nomads.

In the subsequent drama ESTATE ROMANA (2000), while preparations are being made in the background to celebrate the founding of the city, Garrone has two lost characters collide. This film marks a transition in Garrone‘s oeuvre, as here the documentary, sketch-like style gradually gives way to a narrative discourse concentrating more on the figures, whereas the locations seem increasingly surreal at the same time.

L‘IMBALSAMATORE (2002) also tells of the encounter of three outsiders: the short Peppino, who works as an embalmer and becomes entangled in the intrigues of the Camorra; the attractive Valerio, who gives up his job as a waiter to work for Peppino; and Deborah, who loses her job and falls in love with Valerio, resulting in a complicated triangle constellation. Although the protagonists of this film are constantly in motion (with boats, go-carts, cars), they seem to be prisoners of the space. The interiors become darker and darker, needs oriented to the outside give way to a centripetal, inner force, which makes the figures appear as though embalmed. 

The settings are heartless, indifferent places, regardless of whether it is the empty beaches of the Villaggio Coppola in Salerno or the misty landscapes of the Po Delta by Cremona, where the film ends. With Ernesto Mahieux, who plays the short Peppino, a new figure enters Garrone‘s filmic universe, an inscrutable, ambivalent, obsessive manifestation like from a film by David Lynch, with whose BLUE VELVET L‘IMBALSAMATORE has much in common: the decadent atmosphere of a world in between bourgeois ambiance and a criminal underground milieu, the forward motion of the camera into blackness, the disquieting end. Who is the figure on the river bank that disappears in the misty mid-shot?

The bright summer colors from the early work have now given way to a cold tone of autumn, the soundtrack from the group Banda Osiris, which accompanies all of Garrone‘s films, no longer sounds like street music with Balkan influences, but is dominated more by cool jazz rhythms.

All these tendencies converge in Garrone‘s most recent film PRIMO AMORE (2004), in which a goldsmith from Vicenza puts a bloody end to his morbid obsessions. Vittorio wants to mold the body of a young woman that he considers too fat to his own ideas. In a remote forest cottage, he forces her to lose weight. The leitmotifs from L´IMBALSAMATORE, possessive desire, the complex relationship of perpetrator/victim, undergo a radical intensification in this film, which is reminiscent of William Wyler‘s masterpiece THE COLLECTOR. Garrone has now finally arrived at abstract film. 

Tribute 2004: Pritt Pärn

„Hotel E“. On the Estonian Animation Artist Priit Pärn By Thomas Basgier

by Thomas Basgier

Overcoming the Iron Curtain in Europe was not only a protracted political historical process, but also an event that was heralded visually. In this west, however, this had a less succinct form. The sharpest critics of the Soviet system grew out of this system itself, had suffered the internal and external effects of this „real existence“ for decades, and some of them, at some point, devoted themselves to the power of images, the power of their personal images - to the subversive force of optical worlds, which could be realized relatively unhindered in presumed niche arts such as animations and therefore dared to describe the actual bankruptcy of the state control in all its despair, increasingly by means of unambiguous symbolism. The Czech artist Jan Svankmajer belongs to the ranks of these directors of eloquent imagery, as does the first, Priit Pärn. 

With BREAKFAST ON THE GRASS, created in 1987, the latter magnificently demonstrated how the instruments of animation could be used to pass a damning judgement on a model of society, yet without providing the ruling apparatus with an opportunity to block the international distribution of this condemnation. BREAKFAST ON THE GRASS can certainly be characterized as a key work of the political cinema of the eighties. Another masterpiece followed in 1992: in HOTEL E (the title of which has been borrowed for the entire show) Pärn already deals with the head-on collision of a pseudo-flourishing system and a dying one, or rather with collapsed „Socialism“ being devoured by western capitalism. Shortly thereafter, Pärn conceived a performance, the motto of which sounds more optimistic than the project was intended to be, and which directly referred to HOTEL E: The Death of Dark Animation in Europe. 

Priit Pärn was born in 1946 in Tallinn, first studied biology in the last sixties and worked for six years at the botanical gardens in his home town. Relatively late, not until 1976, he became involved in the field of film, although he had worked for some time before that as a caricaturist and illustrator. Today he is considered not only a distinguished director, but also an excellent graphic artist. His language of forms, through which any viewer immediately recognizes a Pärn work as such, was developed in both professions. The small corpus of the world of signs that he favored can best be characterized as a synthesis of reduction, surrealism and fractured folklore: the screen is populated by minimalistically cast physiognomies furnished with dead eyes, empty eyes, spectacled eyes, bushy eyebrows, sometimes moustaches, noses occasionally missing. And if there is a body dangling under the austere faces, then it is uniformed: with a suit, a coat, whereby ties, hats, shoes, briefcases, luggage in general and suitcases form a part of the uniform. 

The Pärnian figures are set into surroundings and architectures where the windows appear as dead as the eyes of many protagonists and are otherwise marked by a disturbing emptiness. The stock of utensils needed to pointedly formulate a graphic statement, bring a picture composition to perfection, is consequently sparse: a running television, a newspaper lying around, a painting on the wall, a bicycle, scissors, an iron, cigarettes, various clocks. This minimalism in the figuration virtually provokes the use of visual leitmotifs (rabbits and rabbit ears, for instance, are a recurring theme in Pärn‘s work) and corresponds, at the same time, with the use of (non-) colors and patterns also to be taken as a leitmotif: Priit Pärn‘s films are studies in the scope of grey coloration, they work with coarse grains, with conspicuous stippling and striped motifs, and they are, not least of all, disturbing bad-weather films.

What is also fascinating about this style is the fact that it can no longer be ascribed to a singular artist. With his aesthetic, Pärn has defined a kind of sign language that numerous directors, animators and graphic artists have long since incorporated, especially in Estonia (but also elsewhere: the influence meanwhile ranges - for instance in the person of the gifted scenarist Igor Kovalyov - all the way to Hollywood). In fact, what is expressed in Pärn‘s style and the way it has been soaked up is the eternally subdued desire of a small people for national independence, a tenacious insistence on cultural identity.

In order to illustrate this, the program series „Hotel E“ is not simply arranged as a conventional retrospective. Instead, Priit Pärn is embedded in a context of relevant animation films with largely political subject matter from the period of 1986 to 1994. This confrontation is intended to raise even more tangible awareness of Pärn‘s significant role. One thing is certain in any case: disdaining animation as kid‘s stuff is clearly childish. So-called „trick films“ are quite capable of social criticism. In fact, they are capable of moving our hearts and activating our minds. 

// Films of Priit Pärn here.