The power of celluloid, rediscovered

    FEMININITY / A marvellous representation of feminine resilience in a hostile masculine world.

    «Cinema has shown an image of women from a male perspective that is completely fake» says Chantal Akerman in one of her films. Filmmakers of today are rapidly changing this. Documentarists have a particularly significant role in the process because they have the power to provide a more appropriate perspective and to uncover aspects of femininity and the destinies of women that would otherwise remain obscured. They can change the way women are represented and bring about new knowledge about them. The Italian artists Tiziano Doria and Samira Guadagnuolo, the filmmaking couple known as Warshadfilm, connect the search for new knowledge with the very materiality of the film medium and its capacity to improve human vision. Their first mid-length film La zita brings an amazingly raw and touching portrait of four generations of women living in an abandoned angle of the Italian countryside, an allegory of feminine resistance and quest for love.

    [Documentarists] can change the way women are represented and bring about new knowledge about them.

    Synthesis and analysis

    The capacity to improve human vision was built into the film medium from the start as an intrinsic part of the complex net of inventions that led to the cinema as we know it. On the one hand, the study of birds’ flight patterns by Etienne-Jules Marey, on the other the ingenious experiment set up and performed by Eadweard Muybridge to see if, when a horse is running, all four hooves ever leave the ground at the same time. Synthesis and analysis. The film reveals a similar approach to the film medium as a tool of visual research. Total experimenters in the filmmaking world, they shoot films on 16mm negative using Bolex, Arri, and other antique film cameras. In Milano, they even set up a film laboratory, Labbàsh, full of machines they have assembled or even modified from the old equipment, where they develop the film stock themselves, using the traditional chemical processes or even intervening in the printing phase changing the technique. A great majority of their projects are multi-channel installations, between documents and experiments, found footage, and anthropological research. After the short film, Incompiuta (Unfinished) that premiered at the Locarno Film festival in 2019, La zita (a girl, maiden, bride in the Mediterranean dialect) is their second linear film work.

    When celluloid film media was replaced by digital, we lost its magic. Doria and Guadagnolo, with their meticulous work on the film processing, managed to make this loss almost tangible. In La zita, we see things we almost forgot existed – the translucent volume of the ray of light, the chiaroscuro of the wind moving the leaves in the shadow of the afternoon sun, the beauty of an older woman’s face, the purity of girl’s skin. La zita breaks up the smooth surface of digital screens of our post covid world by portraying the hardship of life in faraway places. The grainy 16mm images make for a perfect representation of the resilience of women, having to cope with the toxic masculinity of the Italian rural south.

    When celluloid film media was replaced by digital, we lost its magic.

    Little has changed

    The directors spent years observing life in a village in Basilicata, a rural part of southern Italy, and interviewing women of all ages about love. For the film, they selected the story of one of them, yet they left it fragmented and intertwined it with other female voices and images of the world around them. Thus the meaning remains fluid and fleeting, as it arises from the rough contacts between the images and between images and sounds – for example, between the images of a goat with legs tied up and of a woman peeling stems, or the film protagonist handling the accordion in complete silence. Thus, a complex narration about being a woman in a hostile masculine world evolves. For grandmothers, mothers, daughters, and nieces – four generations, one century – little has changed. While the grand-grandmother had nothing but silence most of the time, the niece is getting ready for her first karaoke performance. Yet, they did not lose hope. And the audacious beauty of their rebellious and anarchic spirit, resembling the goats plucking leaves from the thorny branches of raspberries, will remain forever inscribed in this marvellous film document.

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    Melita Zajc
    Melita Zajc
    Our regular contributor. Zajc is a media anthropologist and philosopher.

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