Monday, September 19, 2011

Lavazza Italian Film Festival Review: Sorelle Mai (Marco Bellochio, 2010)

Writer/director Marco Bellochio (Good Morning, Night) embraces the notion of autobiographical filmmaking in his experimental 2010 film, Sorelle Mai, which is actually an extension of a short feature, Sorelle, which debuted in Rome in 2006. Bellochio shoots this familial drama in his hometown of Bobbio over a ten-year period and cast several members of his immediate family in lead roles; including his wife, his son and daughter and two of his aunts.

The films emotional centre is Elena (Bellochio’s daughter) who we first meet at age five. Elena is living with her uncle, Pier Georgio (Bellochio’s son, who looks a bit like Christian Bale) and his two aunts, while her mother, Sara (Donatella Finocchiaro, Bellochio’s wife), an actress, is away. This absence has caused some unrest between the siblings, because of Sara’s lack of contact with her daughter and continued promises to return. Pier Georgio is a struggling artist, who initially seems ready to combust at any moment. In the 2004 segment he returns to Bobbio with his fiancĂ©. Much happier and content with his life – if marrying her quite spontaneously - he seeks guarantors for a loan to open up a jeweller store. 

In 2005 Sara returns to Bobbio with the intention of taking Elena with her to Milan. Elena, who is approaching Confirmation age and has friends in Bobbio, wishes to stay, which disappoints her mother, who seems not to recognize her impact of her unintentional desertion. The family lawyer (Gianni Schicchi Gabrieli) advises Sara to return to Bobbio, find a job, rent out her aunt’s house as a hotel, and be with her daughter. Pier Georgio becomes an actor, but he later runs into trouble when he owes some money to small-time thugs. A few other interesting things happen, a subplot in 2007 involving a young teacher who stays at the house, that challenge the family dynamics, while the film's bizarre conclusion is a strange touch.

Elena is a quiet observer of the diverse sagas, learning more about love and the troubled relationships that plague her family, as she grows older and matures. The film remains predominantly in Bobbio, with the characters coming and going. Throughout the film we are revealed to themes of balancing professional and family commitments, sibling estrangement, the beauty of the bonded extended family, and other melodramatic tropes. 

What gives this film a unique quality is the fact that it feels like a documentary – a personal account of Bellochio’s family, though distorted and dramatized. Some lovely moments are of the spinster aunts sitting around reminiscing on the ‘old days’ as the younger generations sit around and listen. I also liked the subtleties. We know that the marriage between Pier Georgio and Irene will never eventuate, because when they leave Bobbio she does not take the engagement ring given to her by Pier Georgio's aunties - it is discovered by a confused, and disappointed Elena. 

The visuals, which are of the grainy ‘home movie’ style, consist predominantly of lengthy takes, with Bellechio mostly interested in the faces of the performers. Sorelle Mai is the result of 10 years of shooting, mostly crewed and put together by Bellochio’s students from 6 different groups of the Fare Cinema Workshop – which explains the film’s segmentation (1999 and 2004-08). The experimental styles of visuals are likely due to budget constraints and inexperience.

As much as this feels like a true-to-life account, and some of the conversations appear to be fleeting, natural captures, it is a film. The editing is purposeful, there is an accompanying score (which often suggests approaching tension) and there are short clips of Bellochio’s older films (I believe) cut into the film also. These relate to the experiences of the cast members. 

This is a film that will likely appeal to niche audiences, and while the film is comprised predominantly of conversations and ever present individual and familial conflicts, it is actually quite engaging. From seemingly hours of footage, I think the choice inclusions are all commendable. The natural performances from the entire key cast (and especially Elena and Pier Georgio) give this an added realism that I think greatly benefits the experience.

Sorelle Mai is playing at Palace Norton Street on Monday 19th September (6.15pm) and Tuesday 4th October (6.45pm)

No comments:

Post a Comment