#23 – Il coraggio di vincere: Italian by accident
#23 – Il coraggio di vincere: Italian by accident
I donʼt know about the ways of the Lord but those of RAI producers and programmers are definitely finished. In the same days in which the voice of over a million second generation boys and girls reclaims the approval of the reform law on citizenship, blocked for more than a year in the Senate, and in the theaters it is still possible to watch the good documentary Il pugile del duce by Tony Saccucci (read my review in Italian for Cinemafrica), on the boxing exploits of a real Black italian champion, Leone Jacovacci, who in the 1920s knocked down the fascist pseudo-intellectuals who condemned «the plague of mongrelisation», proclaming the undisputed superiority of the white race, the first RAI channel broadcast in prime time this TV movie directed by Marco Pontecorvo, son of Gillo Pontecorvo. Il coraggio di vincere (Rai Fiction, Red Film) tells a tale of redemption about a young Senegalese born migrant based in Italy from his life as an undocumented black worker to the European middleweight title under the Italian flag, but the dominant point of view is still that of his Italian coach, a former champion betrayed by his immaturity and a fatal refereeʼs mistake.
Rocco (Adriano Giannini) is a former boxer considered by many as a loser in the noble art and in life. Hit by his opponent on the ropes, in the match that was supposed to give him the European title, and stopped by the referee who considered the wound as a result of a legal blow, Rocco couldnʼt react properly, got himself disqualified for a year and was left by his wife as well, being driven later to alcoholism and depression. Only the faithful coach Marcello (Nino Frassica) stood at his side in those 15 years. Slowly Rocco lifted up his head and opened a gym in order to train young boxers who in practice prove poorly endowed. Manager Mariotti (Patrizio Oliva) gives him back a last chance, thanks to the advice of Monica (Serena Rossi), a former admirer of Rocco ma he has no real talent on his hands, until one day he finds involved in a fight in the bar near the gym and watches Ben Wade (Yann Gael) standing up for twenty-something Lara (Nina Torresi) and for her father Arturo (Augusto Fornari) against two goons of the local boss, the loan shark Vito (Luca Angeletti).
Struck by the agility and the strength in Benʼs fists, Rocco decides to put all his eggs on this black young man, calling him to train in his gym. For Ben, on the run from a painful childhood in Senegal, and who hardly makes a living, is an opportunity not to be missed. Attracted to Lara, he ends up stuck in a game who he canʼt nor knows how to deal with, as he finds himself to fight and win one match after another for Roccoʼs team, and all this as an Italian boxer, since the tiny troublesome barmaid accepted to marry him. A few minutes before the match for the Italian title, he discovers to be only a pawn in Roccoʼs game and after the fight disappears. For the former champion all is apparently lost but when he was ready to sell his gym, Monica offers him the chance of a lifetime, the opportunity to train Ben for the European title, that he happened to lose in a fit of temper.
The screenplay is loosely based on the novel THE DANCER. Storia d’amore e di pugni in 12 round, written by Liliana Eritrei and Adriana Sabbatini (Minerva Edizioni, 2014). They authored the script as well, together with Salvatore Basile and Nicola Lusuardi, in collaboration with the director. Only the main storyline is left, as in the book the action took place in a farm in the Apulia region and the adventures of Rocco and Ben were shared by a wide extended family of workers and boxers, men and women. Despite the literary weaknesses of the case, this tale of a double ransom had a far deeper human and poetic dimension. Here the whole story is formatted so to keep only the most elementary and conventional elements, and the dramatic curve follows quite predictable times and stages. The most questionable choices, as for the narrative of people of African descent in film and audiovisual media, are three. First, we have the idea to crop Ben from his context of origin, reinventing the trauma he experienced in the novel as the memory of being sold as a boy by his own father for misery and what’s more saved by an Italian missionary. Sacrificed was also the character of the cousin who in the novel preceded him in Italy: with no family and no country to go back to, Ben ends up to be the ideal candidate for a project of integration via co-opting, with every elements of exceptionalism.
Quite controversial appears also the strategy in the casting and acting politics. Mind you, a 30 years old Camerun-born actor grown up in France, with a consistent background that took him to feature in dozens of productions for the theater and the audiovisual media and to win awards, Yann Gael is a rather interesting profile, and offers muscles and sensitivity to a role with evident limits. I assume nonetheless, even more after choosing a name so popular for the Italian audience as Adriano Giannini, son of Giancarlo, and developing the plot in his point of view, that the producers could bet on one of the several black Italian emerging actors out there, forced to accept marginal roles and often chained in ghettoizing stereotypes. Otherwise, once taken the decision, not so original, to rely on an imported actor, they could have him at least resort to a linguistic coach, in order to avoid the dubbing, such an easy choice for creatives and producers short of ideas, interested to a strategy of immediate gain more than to one of professional and industrial development.
The combination of these three choices, on the plot and the casting, for a story that could have told us more about a country finally headed to the acceptance of a present and a future time (the past is a foreign country…) under the sign of cohabitation and intermingling, is likely to side with those who in the soccer arenas only a few years ago yelled against the black Italian striker Mario Balotelli that «there are no Italian negroes» («non ci sono negri italiani»). Italian by accident, out of self-interest and of someone else’s ambition, as a black who can speak Italian only thanks to the out of sync voice of an Italian, presumably white voice actor, despite the best intentions of the authors, Ben is a laboratory, alchemy, while outside of the cramped and self-referential mental space of RAI creatives and producers, within our borders, there’s a whole world moving, made of second generations and real black Italians, still struggling to be bring into focus and participating in the narrative of this country.
Contributors: Leonardo De Franceschi
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