Wednesday, June 16, 2010

ND/NF: La Pivellina: A story of compassion

This was probably the sweetest movie out of the festival. I didn't watch all the movies in the New Directors/New Films Festival of 2010, but I can probably say that this movie is in fact the sweetest of them all. I said it twice because I want you to notice.
It is the simplest out of all of the movies that I watched, and it plays out in a documentary fashion, which is in fact, the background that Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel bring to the table (In fact, this movie has become much more interesting after watching it and doing a bit of research, and it has to do with this very point). It has a very simple narrative structure that follows the life of an older couple that have a very modest (if not poor and decrepit) ambulant circus which they set up in parks, and parking lots alike, hoping for anyone to come and watch and give them some money. They live in tents and trailer homes with their goats and other animals that are part of the show. The story starts when Patty, the female of the couple, is walking her dog in the park, and finds a toddler girl, probably 2 or 3 years old, left alone in her swing. In the girl's jacket pocket, Patty finds a simple note that just says to take care of her, that she will be back soon for her. So Patty, not knowing what to do, decides to take the girl in, and assumes the copy is from her mother. Tairo, her husband, is not very happy with the situation, and urges Patty to call the cops. Tairo is worried that if the cops are to find out they are keeping a young girl that is not theirs, they will be accused of kidnapping, and because of their particular situation, or "otherness", the cops will not be sympathetic to their cause. I don't think cops are sympathetic to circus gypsies that keep little girls that don't belong to them. But if it were that simple. Patty does not want to call the cops because she hopes that her mother will come back, and she does not want the little girl to be taken away from the little mother, even if in fact, she doesn't know who this person is.
The movie plays out in poor neighborhoods of what appears to be Rome, and it is the simple story of Patty, Tairo and the young teenager (probably 13 or 14) Walter who falls in love in a fraternal fashion with the toddler, and is happy to take care of her, feed her, and keep her close to him to have the girl have a good time. All that Patty, Tairo and Walter are trying to do is to have Asia, the little girl, have a good time, and not be afraid that her mother is not around. Patty hopes that the mother will show at one point or another and claim the girl back. This finally becomes an ambiguous feeling as Patty starts feeling attached to Asia, her delicate smile, and her beautiful presence. Asia is indeed beautiful. I imagine it would be hard to capture the charisma of a three year old in film, and try to make it look as if it is not a film, as if it is in fact reality. Or maybe it's very easy. Maybe toddlers in movies, like Asia, don't know exactly what's going on, and just manage to have absolute fun. But Asia's happiness and sadness are both captured in this film which makes it absolutely beautiful, and devastating at times.
Walter is, by far, the strongest character in the film. He has a mix of naivete, good manners and boyish attitude that cannot but be absolutely natural. He gives a tremendous "performance" and by his young age and devoted care to Asia wins the audience easily. Nothing is more charming than a young boy taking care of a toddler. It's probably an old and stupid stereotype. I accept it. But boys are roudy, and careless and immature. And this boy is that, sure. Plays soccer, has a girlfriend and is mean to her, but also lives by himself in a trailer, cooks his own meals, and manages to care for this little girl in his innocent ways.
This is a poor, circus, gypsy, filthy, and ignorant family that lives in the outskirts of society. Struggling for money, with not even a "proper" home to live in, but they have something that is much more meaningful than any capitalistic consummer gain, whether it is money, a home, good clothes, a good education, a proper bath and a good family, they have compassion, for a stranger like Asia.
What seems very interesting about this film after having watched it, and after having done some research is that this is not the first film that features Patty, Walter and Tairo. The directing couple Covi and Frimmel had already featured these three characters in a DOCUMENTARY called "Babooska" in 2005. Babooska, if I don't remember incorrectly, is a minor character in this movie ("La pivellina"), I believe it is Walter's grandmother that appears from time to time, or maybe, does not appear, and she's just merely mentioned. "Babooska" was a documentary depicting the life of this circus act, and of all of the different aspects of Babooska's life and the lives of those that were close to her.
I don't think "La pivellina" is also a documentary. I believe it is a work of fiction, because of some of its narrative techniques. However, the fact that Patty, Walter and Tairo stop being real people, to play themselves as characters in this new movie is very interesting. I did not want to anticipate a post that I was planning later on where I was going to pull together all of these film reviews that I am doing, but I seem to be needing to give a little heads up by saying something here. This is a tremendous play on the idea of the "other". Patty, Walter and Tairo who function as "others" for society (because of the fact that they do not belong to the consumer-based capitalistic normative), take on the role of a person who is not really an "other" but an integral part of modern society (and probably some ancient societies as well), the "actor" in order to play that role of "otherness" that they originally represented. It's almost as if they stepped out of their own reality in order to see it clearly. And the audience now sees that we are all "others" that don't belong, or partially belong, but at the same time that we are not "others" because perhaps we are all capable of what this family was capable of, even if we don't practice it as much as we should, even when we forget day to day about how easy it is and how helpful it can be to "others". That thing that we are capable of doing is to have compassion for others. Strangers, foreigners, or friends. It's all the same thing anyway.

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