Taranto, the absence of the State and the directorial debut of Michele Riondino.
Mi I’m always asked what people feel when they see their city represented on a screen. Do Romans still get emotional when looking at Rome? When the Milanese recognize the Duomo or Piazza Gae Aulenti, do they feel something? Mine is an almost invisible city, which is known thanks to remnants of historical notions, one of those whose name you know but from which you don’t know what to expect. Over the years I have almost gotten used to the idea that it would remain so, immobile in the memory of those who knew it for a year in the military, for notions of geography, for friends or acquaintances.
I wasn’t ready for the awareness that I’ve had to get used to over the years, to face the fact that there is something worse than indifference. Environmental issues – the consciences environmental, I would say – in recent years they have brought my city into the limelight, which quickly went from invisibility to uncomfortable notoriety. When you say Taranto, you say Ilva. Imagine the steelworker. Reasons for illness, death, work, environment.
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It’s difficult – so much – explain Taranto to those who don’t know it. It is difficult to explain the traditions of a distant time, the authenticity resulting from the distance from tourism and homologation. It is difficult to explain the depth of the connection with the sea, the truthfulness of its inhabitants. Even more difficult is to separate everything from that cumbersome presence that is the steel industry. Even if I succeeded, if even once at the table with someone who doesn’t know my city I managed to make them understand what it feels like when you return home, when you live it, I couldn’t make them experience it firsthand without polluting the fairy tale with reality.
This generates anger, discouragement, leads to denunciation, leads to conflict – even if only ideological. We know – none on like us – that the city can live if the steel industry does not survive. It is from this anger that the need to tell the nightmare arises: waking up and leaving it behind is the only way to survive.
The first scene of LAF building it is the Taranto Good Friday Funeral March in the background, while the images are interspersed with close-ups of the mosaic of the Church of Gesù del Divin Lavoro; the chimneys, a worker, a sailor, a worker from the naval arsenals, Jesus Christ blessing everyone from above. A manifesto scene from ‘900 Tarantino opens the directorial debut of Michele Riondino. If I didn’t know the mosaic, I would think of it as a creation for the film: in reality it was created in 1967, placed there for the church built a few years earlier to coincide with the inauguration of the Italsider. A workers’ church, in the heart of the Tamburi district of Taranto, a few steps from the steelworks.
There, on the square overlooking the Church, there is also the Minibar, which has been the thermometer of the mood of the workers and the neighborhood since the 1960s. Inside, while he drinks a beer and comments on the news of yet another death in the factory, we meet Caterino Lamanna, ILVA worker, played by Riondino himself. For those who are a little familiar with onomastics, the surname Lamanna immediately refers to an Apulian origin while the first name, Caterino, represents a very specific stylistic choice. The reference is probably to the figure of Caterino Ceresaformer FIAT worker: in 1970 he denounced the company after being demoted, stating that he had been forced to draw up detailed reports relating to the moral characteristics, criminal records and reputation of the people with whom the company was supposed to interact.
The double plan – local and national – is the strength of the film: by telling a Taranto story, it does nothing but tell the story of a multitude of workers forced to suffer – helplessly – a system that sees them subordinate to the boss. I won’t dwell on the details of the film; I don’t want to tell the plot or the scenes that struck me the most. I leave it to you to watch it, to understand it, to appreciate it. I will limit myself to underlining the quality of the feature film, which hardly suggests a debut; the quality of the photography, the extraordinary work of the actors – not all from Taranto – with accents and cadences; the acting qualities, once again, demonstrated by Riondino, particularly at ease in this character who – perhaps – he knows well and feels close to.
What I am most interested in analyzing is the power of the message, supported by small details that an inexperienced eye with respect to the events in Taranto might struggle to appreciate. LAF building tells the Taranto of yesterday and todaywith a spatial and temporal continuity rendered by the use of images with great communicative power: “ILVA is a killer”, which appears on a plexiglass at the bus stop, is the slogan that invades the city, that is shouted loudly in demonstrations, a manifesto of that part of the city that recognizes the steel industry as the matrix of the major problems that afflict Taranto; the image of the dying sheep refers to the story of Vincenzo Fornaroa breeder and agricultural entrepreneur from Taranto, who in 2008 helplessly watched the slaughter of his livestock following the detection of too high a level of dioxin in the milk of his sheep.
The great merit of LAF building it is not that of having brought to light a judicial event so important as to be considered the beginning of the recognition of the crime of mobbingas much as that of having attributed a new value to the psychological implications that unhealthy working environments inflict on their workers. LAF building it stages the alienation of those who feel deprived of their professionalism, the progressive wear and tear faced by those who see their respect and value gradually taken away. Riondino must be recognized for the merit and courage of staging a political film, of having represented without discounts and idealizations the ignorance and lack of means of those who make the success of the masters possible, being at the same time victims and executioners.
Con LAF building I saw my city represented for the first time. The streets, the voices, the people. The stories behind the symbols, the destiny behind the coughs. For the first time I saw the images of Holy Week on a screen, I listened to the music, I recognized the rites. I am the son of a city enslaved to the blackmail of a State that forgets that the right to work is sacrosanct, but the right to life is more so.
I am the son of a city that for years waited, in vain, for someone to stop and recognize its beauty and then decide to fight for it. A city that will not be saved by the State, to save its inhabitants, and which will have to do everything alone. I am the brother of those who, like me, understood all this and decided to put their face, commitment and voice into it to make something change.
So thank you Leogrande, thank you Argentina, thank you Diodato, thank you Riondino. I am sure that, sooner or later, I will sit in a room admiring the beauty of my city on a screen: I will be enchanted by the blue of the sea, blinded by the white of the Doric columns, I will enjoy the light of the sun, the warm wind of sirocco, of the voice of the fishermen and – when it happens – it will also be thanks to you who have pursued “This fairy dream that keeps us tied with all our love to the earth”.