VISIONS DU RÉEL: No matter what the subject is, Martina Parenti and Massimo D'Anolfi always have one aim: to drive us beyond the immediate.

We know little about Martina Parenti and Massimo D’Anolfi, as they are quite private, and seldom speak of themselves. A couple not only behind the camera but also in life, together they have shot seven documentaries: always off the beaten track. They have the gift of untangling complex topics. The Never Ending Factory of the Duomo, for example, is about immortality, as seen through the constant endeavour of maintenance and restoration of works like the Dome of Milan. The Castle, whose title is a cross reference to Kafka, is about contemporary non-places seen through an airport: a space of passage, seemingly, of movement, of freedom, and yet of control and restrictions. Their latest documentary, Blue, is the story of a new metro line – its construction a subterranean job, carried out by the miners of our time. And it soon turns into a much more challenging story about the relationship between manual labour and technology, blood and iron. Day and night.

The marvellous spiral

No matter what the subject is, Parenti and D’Anolfi always have one aim: to drive us beyond the immediate. The poster of their most famous movie, Spira Mirabilis, featured at the 2016 Venice Film Festival, is a cell seen through a microscope – an image beyond reach for human eyes.

Martina Parenti and Massimo D’Anolfi are quite familiar with uneasy choices.

The title is the Latin for «marvellous spiral», and refers to the so-called logarithmic spiral, studied by mathematician Jakob Bernoulli.

Spira Mirabilis, Parenti and D’Anolfi

In Spira Mirabilis, Parenti and D’Anolfi return to the subject of immortality through regeneration, developing their Duomo story. The movie has the same structure of the spiral it is named after: five intertwined stories based on the five elements of the universe. It is a conceptual movie, and in Venice the screening ticket came with a usage guide. The film is about our longing for infinity, about our efforts to overcome our own limits, and the film’s disorientation points at human finiteness.

War without war

Disorientation and no words, as in Dark Matter (2013). A film about war from a place with no war and using only minimal sound. Explosions, and in the background, bleating sheep. The daily life under the pressing rhythm of helicopter blades. At some point, a bomb sparks a wall of flames. It burns, and burns. Then the framing widens – it widens onto a wonderful bay. And you think: what madness.

All the images are deeply metaphorical.

Dark Matter is in my view one of the best war documentaries ever. Because it is set in Sardinia, where there is no war. But there is the Inter-forces Test Range of the Italian Air Force in Salto di Quirra, near Cagliari, a military range since 1956. In its over 12,000 hectares, main weapons used by NATO get tried out and checked here. And many other weapons as well. Gun manufacturers from the world over can rent it and show new products to their customers – from bullets to jets, to tanks, to air-ground missiles. With the result that in its subsoil there are now tons of toxic and radioactive substances. And from the subsoil, they contaminate the soil too, and its inhabitants.

Throughout the area, cancer rates are much higher than the average. And yet you won’t find any news in national newspapers. The range was placed in Sardinia not only because it is a scarcely populated region with lots of space, but most of all, because Sardinia is poor. The struggle, here, is between multinational arms producers on one side – the defence industry – and on the other side shepherds, farmers.

Silence speaks louder

The story of Salto di Quirra and its deadly pollution is such a staggering story that there is no need for words. Literally. Dark Matter has only images. Here the two filmmakers, who are quite familiar with uneasy choices, risked it all. The film’s message is all in the language – in its absence.

All the images are deeply metaphorical: war nestled in landscape; barbed wire blended in among shrubs and trees. A small stone shelter stands and on its left is a concrete military post – both the same grey, symmetrical and specular. Technicians, with their white overalls, among the shepherds, watching the rockets’ contrails in awe, as if watching a movie.

Protection of the environment during However the damage of weapons, of ammunitions in themselves is not prohibited: of metals that scatter throughout the soil and the air and which are as dangerous as mines. While mines leave behind immediate damage – amputees and dead – the damage to the environment is not an instant damage. It raises its head many years later in the form of birth defects and cancer. And that’s the issue: it’s a war in the making. A war with delayed effects. And it takes place in countries we don’t care about – well, perhaps if they have oil.

In the end, they are just shepherds. As elsewhere they are just poor Arabs.

Don’t miss the Masterclass with Martina Parenti and Massimo D’Anolfi at Visions du Réel: April 10th, 2019