THE HUMAN CARGO/ LA NAVE DOLCE. Italy, 2012, 90 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Daniele Vicari.
Stop the boats! Turn back the boats!
No, this film is not about current Australian asylum seeker policy. It is a documentary about events in Italy and Albania in 1991. Already this episode about Albanian refugees has been the subject of a feature film, L’America, directed by Gianni Amelio in 1994, winner of the Catholic Film Office award.
This time, a documentary has been made utilizing footage shot at the time, home movie, film material, television footage. It is a striking compilation and tells the very interesting story of thousands of Albanians who took the opportunity to storm a cargo boat and sail to Italy. Thre are quite a number of talking head interviews from men, women and boys who made he trip as well as from the captain and local Italian authorities.
The film gives background to Albanian history in the later 20th century, especially under communist rule. When the Berlin wall came down, there was a sense of relief in many Soviet empire countries, including the very strict Albania. Protests began, people wanted to move away from the somewhat impoverished country.
In August 1991, a cargo ship which had travelled around the world and had brought back a load of sugar to Albania, was mobbed by, possibly, 20,000 citizens. It was a sunny day, people were at the beach, the word got around, and men and women and children headed for the boat, climbing aboard en masse. The visuals of the thousands on the boat are quite striking, prow to stern people.
While the ship needed some repairs, the captain decided to move out with his human cargo. They sailed to the port of Brindisi but were refused entry to the port. They sailed along the coast to the port of Bari which they entered. The mayor responded favourably but the government in Rome was far more cautious and ultimately critical of the behaviour of the mayor, condemning his him as unpatriotic.
However, what the mass of people as well as the authorities in Italy did not take immediately into account the need for food and water as well as hygiene. On arriving in Bari, many of the men leapt from the ship and authorities contained them on the docks. Others were bussed into the local stadium, food being thrown in by helicopter, gangs set up in order to commandeer the food, and there were riots on the wharves.
Ultimately, the people were returned to Albania.
The value of this kind of documentary is to present the visuals within the space of 100 minutes, reflection on what happened in Italy and the 1990s, but a challenge to what is happening in Italy, with refugees from North Africa, at the present, let alone the migrations of asylum seekers and refugees from the Middle East. The film is a sobering experience for Australians to watch, considering the comparatively few refugees who come by boat from Indonesia, the demands that it makes on government, on the detention centres as well as all that logistics of processing, housing, education.
The English version of the title, Human Cargo, gives a particular emphasis compared with theatre Italian original, La Nave Dolce, The Sweet Ship.
THE RED AND THE BLUE. Italy, 2012, 98 minutes, Colour. Margharita Buy, Riccardo
Scarmaccio, Roberto Herlitzka. Directed by Giuseppe Piccioni.
The Red and the Blue is the story of a teacher, a substitute who comes into an average school in Rome, with its own difficulties, especially in staffing, in financial management, in accepting students who are not interested in education.
The film opens with a voiceover by an old teacher, Professor Fioretti, looking rather ancient, played with effective cynicism by Roberto Herlitzka. He sounds as if he despises the students, sees them as failures, unable to respond to his course in art history.
He is aloof and alone in the staff room. He is critical of substitute teachers and behaves that way towards the latest teacher, Prezioso, played by Riccardo Scarmaccio. After this introduction, the film shows the journey of Prezioso and his encounters with staff and students.
The film has the usual group of teenage students, familiar from many American films. They are not particularly interested in the course, Italian literature, and tend to misbehave in a nonchalantly dismissive manner.
There are several subplots, including Professor Fioretti’s being contacted by a past student, who did not pay attention in class but has affectionate memories of the Professor. Is it possible for him to change, come out of himself?
Another subplot involves the principal, Margharita Buy, whose main preoccupation in managing the school is to avoid potential lawsuits. When she has to take care of a boy whose mother seems to have abandoned him, she takes him to hospital, and something of an attachment develops, her bringing him pyjamas and some Manga comics, and she even considers adopting him.
Prezioso teaches literature, eliciting some gradual responses from the students, especially from a young Romanian student, attached to a girl who is his exact extroverted opposite and who wants to act out her frustrations, with the boy helping her, even to finding a gun and an episode in which brings him back to reality.
Prezioso becomes attached to a rather sullen and insolent girl, trying to help her, especially when she says her mother has just died. In his encounters with her, with cautions from the principal, he think she has been lying and gives up on her. But there is something of a twist towards the end in his encounters with her.
To this extent, the film is episodic, building up its portrayal of life in a school, especially in the classroom, and the consequences for the students.
It is a small story for this part of Prezioso’s life and career. We might hope that he will become a substantial teacher and that this will have an effect on his life - or he could become cynical and become a Professor Fioretti of the future.
THE INTERVAL/ L’INTERVALLO. Italy, 2012, 89 minutes, Colour. Salvatore Rucco,
Francesca Risi. Directed by Leonardo di Costanzo.
The Interval is a brief drama, more for a specialist audience than for a popular audience. It is set in Naples, with a background atmosphere of the mafia. However, it focuses on a small amount of time, a couple of hours, where a young woman who has fallen foul of a boss is guarded in a warehouse by a young man who sells ice creams with his father. The woman, obviously, does not want to be there. The young man does not want to be there either and does not know exactly truth about the woman.
At first, the woman is sullen, taunting the young man. He is patient, putting up with her tantrums. However, as time goes by, they begin to talk, begin to share their stories and a friendship is underway. This is important when the thug who has put the woman there returns with subsequent clashes.
The film moves at a leisurely place pace, the indicating the slow passage of time for each of the two protagonists. The performances are convincing and we can believe that this kind of low-burning drama could happen on any afternoon in Naples. The Interval won six awards at the Venice Film Festival and Best Film at the Italian Golden Globes awards.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.