Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 06, 2021 5:01 pm 
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Hairy-beautiful: portrait of late Italian 'cantautore' Lucio Dalla

Following Lost and Beautiful (2015) and Martin Eden (2019), Pietro Marcello returns to documentary with a warm little reminiscence by his longtime manager, Umberto (Tobia) Righi, and a lifelong friend, Stefano Bonaga, of late Bolognese cantautore (singer-songwriter) Lucio Dalla, who died in 2012 at 68. The film will introduce anglophone viewers to a cultural figure they won't know, but it is of most interest to Italians and it's also limited by only providing information that comes in on-camera interviews with Righi and a long lunch between Righi and Bonaga. There are few other voices heard, despite a TV clip of a round table featuring politicians and journalists deferring to Dalla, showing his status by then as a national figure.

Dalla's song 1986 "Caruso" has been covered by numerous international artists and led to his singing a duo version with Luciano Pavarotti. His fame seems to have grown through the nineties

Dalla is hard to pigeonhole, but seems halfway between Bob Dylan and a French auteur-compositeur-interprète like Jacques Brel or Serge Gainsbourg, but maybe less central to the culture, though still loved. Marcello has a penchant for interjecting historical footage, processed to a uniform look, into his films, and here such footage, evoking the look of people and cities of the period of his rise and flowering, alternates with interviews and performance films of Lucio Dalla himself.

Dalls began as a cherubic child "genius" star performer. He mastered several musical instruments, including the clarinet and piano, and he had a penchant for jazz. As he grew up, turning to song writing with less complex but musically-informed melodies, he was a quietly striking figure, a stocky little guy with a short beard, often in beret, often with open shirt displaying a hirsute torso. His hairiness led to the nickname ragno, spider. He was not handsome, maybe even "ugly," but he had a distinctive look. He represents the same group of singers valued for their content and not their prettiness - like Dylan, like Serge Gainsbourg. He is known for his collaboration in the early seventies with Bolognese poet-intellectual Roberto Roversi, whom the two interviewees describe as an enigmatic loner. For a period of years Dalla issued three albums on which he sang songs written to poems by Roversi. It was a prestigious collaboration, even if some of the work was not popular. Some of the songs also were. Dalla had issued his first recording in 1964.

A high point, probably the high point, of the film focuses on Dalla's gong "Mille Miglia." This celebrates a high point of the event that dominated the Italian car racing scene and captured the international imagination from 1927 to 1957. We see Dalla singing the song, while Marcello uses historic footage to bring to life this colorful event that shows Italy at its most handsome, sexy, and elegant and illustrates what pop stars racing drivers were over several decades. The vibrancy of moments like this make up for the fact that a lot of Marcello's film is just talking heads. We get a glimpse of the way Dalla's songs were rich in commentary on Italian politics and society and expressive of the decades of his greatest popularity. But a more ambitious film, or perusal of books and articles, would be required to grasp the full value of the man and his time. But if it was not rigorous this was pleasant and (for the rich use of clips) artistic, and a nice relaxing way to end FLC's Open Roads Italian series, which has contained some somewhat demanding watches.

"Mille Miglia" comes from Dalla's 1976 album Automobili ("Automobiles"). The opening track is a long dig at FIAT owner Gianni Agnelli delivering bland answers when accused of selling a part of the company to Libya and thereby losing Italian jobs. A clear sign of how of his time and engagé Dalla was.

But not totally an agent for change: the Wikipedia article mentions that he was outed as gay after his funeral and he kept a low profile all his life, though for many years living with a male partner, Marco Alemanno, who was with him when he died of a heart attack the morning after a concert in Montreux, Switzerland. Not mentioned in Marcello's film. The article says Dalla's funeral in his native Bologna was attended by approximately 50,000 people.

For Lucio/Per Lucio, 79 mins., debuted on the internet in Italy Mar. 1, 2021. Also shown at CPH DOX (Denmark) Apr. 21, 2021 and scheduled for the Berlinale for Jun. 18, 2021. It was screened at home online for this review as part of the FLC Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series (May 28-Jun. 6, 2021).

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