Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat May 29, 2021 5:45 pm 
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Life of Italy's most famous "Naive" artist

It's said that Elio Germano tackles every role with gusto. This one, which won him the Silver Bear at the Berlinale for his pains, he grabs by the cojones and throws against the wall. It's the story of a tormented, differently enabled soul expelled to his native Po Valley as a child from Switzerland, just when the Fascists were taking it over. Antonio Ligabue had spells in an insane asylum, was mocked, suffered and was tormented, but became a celebrated Naive artist whose paintings of wild animals, especially big cats, came to be prized during his own lifetime so his handlers could provide him with a red motorcycle, a gramophone and all the tubes he needed of the best quality German oil paints. Shot in wide aspect ratio with wide angle lenses in quiet renaissance settings with Thirties trappings and delicate colors for the urban and natural landscape backgrounds, this is, framing the torment and violence of its human subject, a tranquil and beautiful film. But in anglophone circles at least, its audience may be limited.

By good fortune we have a thirteen-and-a-half-minute YouTube video in which Santa Sangre filmmaker Roberto Leoni talks with enthusiasm (in Italian with subtitles) about LIgabue and this film. His personal background makes this an especially charming and interesting testimony, and, strangely, the paintings by Ligabue shown here are more beautiful and complex than most of the ones we glimpse in the film, as well, helping one understand why this film was thought worth doing. (He also mentions an earlier film about Ligabue.)

It is evident that Germano's performance is, alarming though it is, a fine piece of mimicry, from the records we have, and he looks just like the man. However, there are difficulties in experiencing Ligabue, understanding him, and enduring two hours of him. His "conversations" with other people are staccato and primitive. His motions are jerky, abrupt, and alarming. Even if this is true to life it still feels over the top. Jay Weissberg's Variety review states the matter clearly enough. This film is a "mélange of impressionistic episodes and straightforward biopic recreations" and its composition makes Hidden Away "more a record of a performance than a satisfying cinema experience."

The alternately opaque or child-simple behavior of the protagonist is unvarying and we don't see transitional moments of development very much. We don't, for example, see him adjusting to life in Italy after living in a German-speaking Swiss world. We don't see how he comes to be such a prolific painter. We see that there are articles about him and his fame grows even as insensitive locals go on making fun of him and we see that he has champions and kindly caretakers. But somehow as Weissberg implies this is a formally awkward picture, almost as if a personality as primitive as Ligabue was at the helm. I have observed of the two previous Giorgio Diritti films I've seen, The Man Who Will Come/L'uomo che verra[/i] (SFIFF 2010) and [I]There Will Come a Day/Un giorno devi andare (2013 San Francisco NIC), "he makes much use of documentary material and a meandering non-structure." Narrative coherence and drive aren't quite his thing. Diritti is a sui generis director who experiments, and found a thespian acrobat in Elio Germano for the role of Antonio Ligabue. But watching Hidden Away is an exercise in patience.

This film reminded me of another feature film about a troubled, ultimately insane, visionary artist, Martin Provost's multiple César-winning 2008 Séraphone, with an excellent Yolande Moreau as the flower painter now known as Séraphine de Senlis. But at the I compared this unfavorably to Bruno Nuytten's more dramatically exciting 1988 Camille Claudel. It's hard to beat a movie with Gérrard Depardieu as Auguste Rodin and Isabelle Adjani as Camille Claudel.

Hidden Aeway/Nolevo nascondermi, 120 mins., debuted Feb. 2020 at the Berlinale (winning Germani the best actor award; other festivals including Milano, Brescia, Moscow, Thessaloniki. Screened online for this review as part of FLC's 2021 all virtual Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series.

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