– Emma Dante confirms her full expressive force by way of her third feature film, which depicts a harsh reality steeped in poverty, ignorance and violence against women
Arturo’s mother was young and beautiful, but she was beaten up when her son was still in the womb and she died soon afterwards, once she’d given birth to him. It’s a shocking opening offered up in Emma Dante’s new movie, Misericordia [+see also:
film profile]: this brutal feminicide sets the tone for the degradation and human misery we’ll subsequently witness over the following 90 minutes. After her 2013 debut, A Street in Palermo [+see also:
interview: Emma Dante
film profile] (awarded the Volpi Cup in Venice thanks to protagonist Elena Cotta), and her return to the big screen in 2020 with The Macaluso Sisters [+see also:
film profile] (which scooped the Pasinetti Prize and the Lizzani Prize at the Venice Film Festival, as well as 5 Nastri d’Argento awards), the esteemed Palermo-born theatre director and playwright has now presented her third film – based on her play of the same name and penned with the help of Elena Stancanelli and Giorgio Vasta – in an international premiere, in competition at the Tallinn Black Nights Festival, following its world premiere in the 18th Rome Film Fest within the Special Screening section. It’s a bloody and visceral story exploring an unbearably harsh reality steeped in poverty and ignorance, where women are exploited and sexually assaulted in every possible way. And where Arturo, who’s lived with an intellectual disability since birth and who has the mental age of a child, is their only hope.
“I’ll cover him with punches and kisses”, is the line which sums up the love/hate which this young unfortunate – who’s now 18 years old, who doesn’t speak and who doesn’t sit still for a second – arouses in anyone looking after him. We’re in Sicily in a small seaside town composed of beat-up huts and shacks, surrounded by scrap and rubbish and overlooked by a majestic mountain from which, every so often, a volley of rocks cascade. Orphan Arturo (Simone Zambelli, a dancer by profession but also a star of the stage) has two mothers at this point in time: Betta (Simona Malato) and Nuccia (Tiziana Cuticchio), who are both sex workers under the thumb of the repulsive Polifemo (Fabrizio Ferracane), who take care of the boy between loving caresses and impatient outbursts, and who fight violently amongst themselves over any old nonsense. Young Anna (Milena Catalano), a new “worker” whom all the men in the establishment queue up for, joins their wretched home, and Arturo ends up with three mothers. Together, they protect him from the hell which surrounds them and which he somehow manages not to see.
Misericordia isn’t a film which puts you at ease. A sense of malaise is palpable in each and every scene, either physically or morally: squelching through mud, water seeping into homes, bodies deformed by age, cruel male faces, the squalor of the human relationships depicted… But the expressive force of this author, who’s so unaccommodating, who isn’t afraid to show unpleasant, violent realities or abuse against women and vulnerable people, reaches its climax when this unpleasantness turns into a possibility for a different future, for salvation, even for those who seem beyond all hope. Accompanied by the beautiful melody of a famous song by Claudio Baglioni, which was dedicated to his son, this incredibly dark tale ends up filling our hearts to bursting point. As explained by the audacious Emma Dante, “Misericordia [compassion] is the emotion I want to feel when I see an unlucky person; I shouldn’t pity them, I should feel like I share their misfortune”. And the audience is invited to do the same.
(Translated from Italian)