FEATURES » Italian Documentary Sacro wins Venice Film Festival

Italian Documentary Sacro wins Venice Film Festival

The Italian documentary Sacro GRA by Gianfranco Rosi won the 70th edition of the Venice film festival. For the first time the jury, this year headed by filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci, handed the top Golden Lion prize to a documentary. The last Italian director to be assigned the prize was Gianni Amelio with “Così ridevano” in 1998.

The documentary by Gianfranco Rosi tells the life stories of people dealing with the most extensive urban highway in Italy, the Grande Raccordo Anulare of Rome.

The title “Sacro GRA”  is a play on words for “Sacro Graal”, the Holy Grail, but there is nothing holy in the documentary. Everything is extremely human and down to earth, and perhaps, as some critics have noticed, the holiness is expressed by its absence.

Gianfranco Rosi tells a very Italian tale, created after roaming and filming for over two years in a minivan on Rome’s giant ring road, the Grande Raccordo Anulare, or GRA.

Far from the famous sites of Rome, the GRA is a repository of stories of those at the edges of the capital city.

Elusive characters and fleeting apparitions emerge from the background of the Roman suburbs: a nobleman from the Piedmont region and his university student daughter, sharing a one-room apartment along the GRA; a botanist making audio recordings of the interiors of palm trees to detect and then poison the insects that are devouring them like a plague; a modern day cigar-smoking prince doing gymnastics on the roof of his castle, surrounded by new apartment buildings proliferating around him; a paramedic in an ambulance eternally on duty treating car accident victims along the vast road; and an eel fisherman living on a houseboat beneath an overpass along the River Tiber.

The director declared that he carried Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities” with him as he was scouting locations for the film. The book inspired the documentary, and the main theme of the book is travelling. It regards a relationship between a place and its inhabitants and also the desires and the confusion that are generated by city life.

The book advances along myriad paths and allows itself to be carried along by a series of mental states that overtake and overlap one another. It has a complex structure and the reader can be involved in it depending on his state of mind and life circumstances. 

“Sacro GRA” was enthusiastically received by Italian critics and viewers, but generated only moderate interest among the rest of the press. Let’s wait and see how it will be received by the international public.

Giulia Lombardo

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