As part of our ongoing series, “Basilicata: Terra di Cinema”, we turn the spotlight to the latest film to reach international shores. This week, Antonello Faretta’s “Montedoro” will be shown at the St. Louis International Film Festival. “Montedoro” is the story of Pia Mann, whose journey to find her birth mother lead her to Craco, a deserted town in the heart of Basilicata.
Born in Potenza in 1973, Faretta has been making films for years, but he first showed up on our radar in January when he presented his documentary, “Nine Poems in Basilicata” in Rome. A couple months later, “Montedoro” made its North American premiere at the Atlanta Film Festival and this filmmaker from Basilicata, along with his partner, Adriana Bruno and their protagonist, Pia Mann, were thrust into the spotlight, forever changing their lives.
With “Montedoro”, Faretta captures the immortality of a land that has been raped and pillaged through time by invaders and Mother Nature alike but continues to stand steadfast in all its splendor and eternal natural beauty. Its inhabitants are natural-born warriors whose rich history can be seen in the contours, shadows and expressions of their faces. Their eyes gaze through your soul, and their guarded, instinctive nature enables them to spot the integrity of your character right away. This message is communicated loud and clear in “Montedoro” with each tortured, introverted, suspicious character we meet. Pia brings an innocence to the landscape, a breath of fresh air with her curiosity, her cell phone camera and above all, the ambitious mission to find her mother.
Like Faretta’s Lucani predecessors and peers, he provides a decadent, visual escape for the audience. And also like those predecessors and peers, he does so in his own unique style and fashion. When we take into consideration a few of the talented contemporary filmmakers to come from Basilicata.. directors like Rocco Papaleo, Daniele Chiariello and Giuseppe Marco Albano and try to compare their work to Faretta’s.. well, it just can’t be done. While the aforementioned filmmakers follow their formula for filmmaking and show Lucania for what it is today, a beautiful, modern region technologically competitive to any part of Italy, Faretta presents the polar opposite. Although equally beautiful, he places a completely modern character and plot in a poetic fantasy world that doesn’t seem possible to exist today. In doing so, the purity of the land is emphasized- a land that existed yesterday before it was polluted and its resources extracted by the modern man.
Putting aside the film critic in me- the human story, the story of Pia Mann is the real protagonist in this film. Her ambition to find the land of her origins and her birth mother coupled with Faretta’s love and passion for his land make up what he describes as “a very personal, intimate film”. When I initially saw the way in which Basilicata was presented, I felt a little confused. However, after spending about 20 minutes with Pia’s sincerity and sweetness, immersed in Faretta’s spellbinding cinematography and sumptuous colors, I fell in love with this film and was completely drawn into its surreal world.
The first moments of the film as we experience the train ride to the south of Italy brought tears to my eyes as I recalled my first train ride to Basilicata in 2002 when I met my great grandmother’s family for the first time. There’s a uniqueness about the sunlight south of Lazio and Campania that changes and becomes the light of Lucania. I don’t know how he did it, but Faretta nailed that particular atmospheric light.
I spoke with Faretta about his vision for “Montedoro” and his beloved region of Basilicata.
JG: Tell me about this world you’ve created in “Montedoro”. It’s almost reminiscent of the Old Wild West in America.. eerie and surreal.
AF: The film was shot in and around Craco, which is located near Matera. It’s literally a ghost town today. It was completely abandoned in 1963 following a large landslide. The magic and mystery are inherent in this place that for me has become a place for the soul. The fact that the lead actress was born in the area adds to the charm and mystery of the landscape. The film shows the valleys of Calanchi di Aliano as well as the most desolate and anonymous area of Matera where there are no tourists. I tried to make a film that followed the flow of consciousness and emotion of this woman and this place. I wanted to find an abstract way to delve deeper into the truth of Pia and this land.
JG: A very poignant moment of the film is near the beginning when Pia is in the car with the taxi driver and he’s talking about his land.
AF: I am very fond of that scene. It represents the connection I have to my land and to the violence thrust upon it by the waste of the modern world. My region, Basilicata is a beautiful land that is facing energy issues in relation to the environment. In Basilicata, we extract petroleum, a lot of it and the scene in the taxi for me is an act of love for my land and the beauty of nature against the ruins of contemporary life.
JG: I’ve read news reports about the petroleum issue in Basilicata. What are the dangers, and what is your perspective as a native to that land?
AF: I do not know exactly how things are going and what is actually true. What I know is what comes out in the newspapers. There should be an open forum that would include the executives of mining companies, representatives of environmental organizations, the region’s president and the citizens … I know that it sounds like a pure utopia but I like utopias much more than reality- the current one in particular. It horrifies me. I can only say that I am opposed to the extraction of oil in general, as the taxi driver in the film said- “the farmers once caressed the earth with their hoes, now they pull the blood , which is black in color…” “Once there was a culture here, that of the earth, the peasant (the film is inspired by and dedicated to Scotellaro). Once there were values.” Today, what is left? I believe the oil in Basilicata has brought no development and it will not bring any in the future. What I can tell you is that I personally think there are a lot more creative ways to economize with alternative energy. In Basilicata, we have everything- water, air, sea, river, the wind … it’s as if this wonderful land is just being raped.
JG: There are several scenes with animals. What is the significance of the animals? The goat, the horse, the sheep and the bird with the broken foot?
AF: The film contains many symbols and among them there are different animals. They all have different meanings, and I prefer to have those that watch the movie give their own meaning to the symbolism. For me, each symbol has one meaning but it’s interesting to see the meaning other people give to these symbols. The film relies heavily on the active participation of the viewer.
JG: Explain to me your belief that film follows life but never viceversa.
AF: Life is an art superior to cinema. So, the actors are not actors- they are human. It’s how we all are. You have to clear the “burden” of the camera to be part of the living. I lived the story of Pia and Craco for many years. I spent so much time in Craco because I wanted to know the people, so they would tell me their story. The films that interest me the most are those that are inspired by true stories, the truth and that they become tools to make a path with those who are represented in the film itself. Movies are a tool to reach a deeper truth, and to go beyond the surface of things.
“Montedoro” will be shown at the St. Louis International Film Festival on the following dates: Thursday, November 12 at 2:15pm & Sunday, November 15 at 9:30pm at Plaza Frontenac Cinema. (http://www.cinemastlouis.org/venues/plaza-frontenac-cinema)
Click here (http://www.cinemastlouis.org/sliff/2015/montedoro) to purchase tickets.
Watch the trailer: