#15 – Second Spring and Another Wisdom
This article is an English version of another one, published yesterday on online magazine Cinemafrica – Africa e diaspore nel cinema as La donna che avrebbe potuto vivere due volte.
Second Spring and Another Wisdom
Starting 4 February, the sixth work by Francesco Calogero (La gentilezza del tocco, Nessuno) is out in Italian theaters, initially in 30 cinemas. A 59 Messina-born director, Calogero here finds again a feature film after sixteen years from Metronotte, and this time also also co-producer with his society Polittico, that recently produced the documentary Mise en scène with Arthur Penn (A Conversation), directed by Amir Naderi. Seconda primavera (Second Spring), premiered at Trieste Film Festival in 2015, is a melancholic, intimate drama, on the await and construction of a spiritual rebirth: the protagonist is a 50 years old, successful architect, Andrea Ricoli (Claudio Botosso), burnt from a familial, unhealable loss and a young woman of Tunisian origin, Hikma Bouchri (Desirée Noferini) who, thanks also to his solicitude, learns how to cope with an early motherhood.
Set over a period of six seasons, from winter to second spring, Calogero’s pic unravels the stories of several characters but focuses over a few locations, notably an isolated villa near Messina, in Sicily, and built from Andrea himself in his young age for a local landowner and for his daughter Sofia (Barbara Silva), later to become his wife. The villa is surrounded by a big garden, now abandoned and invaded by brambles, and has a very particular structure, projected as it is toward a little iron bridge leading to a terrace on the seafront. At the beginning of the plot, Andrea wishes to get rid of it, as after the disappearance of his wife, 8 months pregnant, in mysterious circumstances, he can live there no more and even his career ambitions seem lost. The casual encounter with Hikma, sister of Tunisian caterer Nabil (Hedy Krissane), who addressed his studio for a renovation, wakes him from his slumber: Hikma recalls him immediately his wife Sofia, for her features, as well as for the common etymology of her name, to be associated with the notion of wisdom.
A New Year’s Eve party reunites the destinies of Andrea, Nabil and Hikma, but also those of Riccardo (Angelo Campolo), a young man with pulp writer ambitions and of his 40 years old wife Rosanna (Anita Kravos): frustrated for the umpteenth fight with the woman, Riccardo seduces Hikma and gets her pregnant. Andrea hosts them in the villa and helps Riccardo to find a job, fatally in the same hospital where Rosanna works. Once known the terrible story who marked forever Andrea, Hikma decides to call her baby Eugenia, as would have been called Sofia’s baby if she would come to life. The sudden departure of Riccardo for a cooperation project in Benin transforms the cohabitation of Andrea and Hikma in the villa and as under her care the garden starts to blossom again, so the architect too seems slowly to regain the will to live and long dormant ambitions. Soon this interlude will be over, giving him a new awareness and the mirage of an enigmatic back to the future.
Andrea belongs to the same family of Nico (Nessuno) and Giovanni (Cinque giorni di tempesta), that of gentle, hesitant, convoluted men, to whom the fate seems to give again a last occasion to start biting life but not the strength to take advantage of it. Antiheroes of a potential film noir, as it was the lead of Neve by Stefano Incerti, him too, not by chance, played by Roberto Francesco, for long a pet actor for Calogero. Here Andrea has the hollowed and sensitive face of Claudio Botosso, a Pupi Avati (Impiegati, Gli amici del Bar Margherita) favourite actor, who finds again after several years a lead role and with honors. Alongside him you find a cast taken care of also in minor roles, also because Calogero creates a narrative score that is complex, multi-layered and rich with subtexts and references (to literature, music, film), giving space to the micro-community living around Andrea. At the same time, this subplots descend into scrambles and that amplifies the literary dimension of the plot, while the deliberate choice of theatrical huis clos is weighed down by a certain didascalicity in dialogues and by a mise en scène effective but slipping constantly in an insistent usage of subjective camera.
In Seconda primavera Calogero articulates indirectly also a discourse on Africa, Afrodescendant communities and second generations, and does it on several levels and on the basis of interesting positions. Of course, Nabil, played with equilibrium and intensity by Hedy Krissane, a Tunisia-born actor and director in Italy since early 1990s, is a character who moves on the sharp edge of the stereotypical major brother in films over immigration from Muslim countries, but even from his most rigid stances, the director manages to express a sense of dignity, without hiding his critical issues, from his compression of freedom spaces inflicted to his sister to his all Italian glibness with which he would like to bypass the urban constraints in order to build a room on his terrace.
More complex and controversial is the portrait of Hikma, a character maybe overloaded with Hitchcockian echoes, who doesn’t succeed in emancipating itself from Andrea’s gaze and to take on a life of its own, oppressed by the iconic phantom of his “first wife”: apart from some basic ambitions of self-empowerment (she played the cello, wanted to attend university, etc.) and a perceived, more relevant rootedness to the local context (far younger than her brother, Hikma speaks Italian with a blatant Sicilian accent), the character stays sort of frozen in the image-body of a sensual, instinctive and not quite aware beauty (but a flashback from the party betrays her self-image and partly reinstates the imago of dark lady), notwithstanding the sensitivity with which is played by Desirée Noferini, an Italian-Ethiopian actress launched in the dark teen movie Un gioco da ragazze and recently seen in the miniseries Anna & Yusef. In both cases, it must be recognized, we deal with characters that have a certain degree of complexity and back out of any reductionist logic and of the temptation of ethnic or culturalist classification.
Two other discursive intersections are worth of mention, investing the relationship between identity and otherness and Africa, in connection with Riccardo. In a line of dialogue, the young man makes ironic reference to the hostility of Nabil towards him, protesting he himself seems “more Tunisian” than a Nabil’s compatriot, to whom he had promised the girl. Around the end, when the couple makes peace with Nabil, and Riccardo is involved in the administration of his Arabic restaurant, the aspiring writer recalls again he could easily pass for an Arab: «ho il fisico del ruolo» («I have what it takes»), he says with a broken Italian, like that one spoken by recent immigrants, to come back later to his “natural” Sicilian accent. Aside from the fact that Campolo recently played an Egyptian man, and moreover an older, intransigent and violent brother, in the fifth episode of the first season of crime miniseries Non uccidere, filmed after Seconda primavera, this double reference questions in an interesting way the issue of Italian “racial identity”, shifting further north an ideal color line, in order to incorporate Sicily and more generally the South in a unique Pan-Mediterranean space. It is striking to see that this discourse is promoted by one of the most morally nonchalant characters in the story, an exact reverse double of Andrea, that same Riccardo who doesn’t mind evoking the solidaristic imagery of Western NGOS in Africa, inventing an improbable three months well payed stage in Benin to teach how to set up separate collection of hospital waste («it is a project of the kind ‘help them at home’ so that they can do it all alone»), to cover his intention to go back for a while to his easy life of aspiring writer, guaranteed by Rosanna.
In the end, in Seconda primavera these different narrative on Africa and Afrodescendants are mobilized to denaturalize a certain imagery, reassuring and familiar, made of otherizing stereotypes and situations who reproduce well-established binarisms and an asymmetrical balance of power. Moreover, betting on two talented and experienced performers like Desirée Noferini and Hedy Krissane is to be considered a relevant added value. That said, if especially Noferini’s acting suffers for the frame of subject/object gazed at because of Andrea/Botosso, is Calogero ability as storyteller to be called into question, as the narrative aspires to a high profile despite its minimalism, and instead ends up remaining in a average, TV-movie standard formula, especially in all cases where he gives in to the temptation of explaining through the lines of dialogue what is hidden in the soul of his tormented characters.
Contributors: Leonardo De Franceschi
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