By Douglas Gosse (Toronto, ON, CAN)
The Creation of Meaning, brings light to the CINEMATIC EXPERIENCE
The Creation of Meaning / La Creazione di Significato (2014) is a noteworthy and provocative documentary. I had the benefit of seeing an introduction and follow-up discussion by filmmaker-writer-producer-director, jack-of-all-trades, Simone Rapisarda Casanova. We embark on a meditative journey with main character Pacifico Pieruccioni, as he goes about his daily life in the Tuscan Alps, Tending chickens, washing and drying his clothes (he seems to have only one set but keeps them pristine), making fires to cook his food, and tending to the land, his donkey and dog frequently by his side. Minus the donkey, and add a few rocks and sheep here and there (yes, and the ocean), the imagery reminded me of Newfoundland, where I was born and bred, spending many weekends and summers at my grandparents’ home—New Perlican, a former fishing hamlet.
Much of the scenery is the pastoral, idyllic, stuff of dreams—peeps of the sun through overhanging branches, misty mountains, densely treed mountain pathways, a glimpse of the faraway orange setting sun, antique copper kitchen implements hanging from hooks, and then—the sudden invasion of the modern world, as a plane or helicopter noisily zooms overhead, or the discordant ringing of the cellphone Pacifico’s grown kids gave him, so they can check that he is all right, not lying injured and helpless in some dank rift. Both light and darkness linger amidst the Tuscan Alps, as Pacifico works from dusk ’til dawn, and converses with sundry guests and passers-by.
Casanova made the film in a two-month period. Amazingly, he used but one take for scenes involving people, to keep the authenticity and flow as natural as possible. The Hot Docs synopsis indicates that The Creation of Meaning is inspired by what Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges,”… referred to as an “Aleph“: an allegorical singularity where all points in space and time overlap and intertwine.” This is indeed the case, for the film makes use of fact and fiction (Is not everything fiction, anyway?), and makes numerous references to this region’s involvement in past wars.
Some of the characters are local people used as actors, such as the teacher and young school children in an opening scene, seated on a grassy slope in the Alps, amiably discussing the Gothic War (535-534). Then there is a graduate student who is conducting his dissertation on World War II stories from the area. What Pacifico knows of WWII is hearsay, since he appears middle-aged, but in one scene, an elderly neighbor recounts a memory. She was only about 5 years old at end of WWII, but there was a battle nearby where German and Italian boys were injured and killed. She recalls going with her aunt to give a suffering German boy some water. He was calling out for his mother. In other scenes, Pacifico guides local men and visiting hikers though mountain trails, exchanging stories of German invasion, and identifying artifacts he has found, such as different types of bullets, and the harrowing weapons that fired them.
The German language is seen not as the language of Goethe and poetry for Pacifico and other locals, but a language of orders, commands, and the military invaders, to his new landowner’s realization, but had not masses of German tourists been welcomed to Italy since the 1950s, with many, such as he, living and working there today?
Amongst evolving ethnic, linguistic and cultural allegiances, pulls, and tugs, a basic premise of the film in that of economic domination, and devastation. Pacifico may lose his land and house in foreclosure to a German, and his rustic way of life (while Pacifico is a real, local person, his fictionalized story is representative of realities for similarly situated Italians). Several scenes feature discussion with Pacifico’s new German landowner (also an amateur actor).
Economic misfortune and opportunism is a valid and troubling theme, extending to other ‘democracies’. While Italy has suffered from two decades of corrupt government, and is held to be suffering a slow social and economic suicide, this can be said of recent years of the Unites States’ housing market collapse, and the dire plight of Greece and Ireland, to but mention a few. As a Canadian, I wonder, what will become of Canada with the growing rift between rich and poor, and the uncharted, perilous territory of mounting household debt and unfettered spending?
Canadians now owe a whopping $1.65 for every dollar of after-tax income they earn, having surpassed average household debt levels of our American cousins. Most of this debt is attributable to astronomical increases in housing over recent years; Household debt has grown 80 per cent since 2005 in Canada; even the majority of retirees are now carrying debt, an incredulous development. Meanwhile, Canadian banks report revenues in the billions. The future is pessimistic, and many Canadians now view owning a home as improbable. For many middle-aged and younger Canadians, our lifestyle and financial security, and that of our progeniture (I mean collectively), will likely be inferior to that of our Baby boomer parents, grandparents, friends, and colleagues.
Foreign investment and opportunism in real estate, e.g., German in The Creation of Meaning, has been attributed to the prohibitive costs of home and land owner – and retainer-ship in Italy. This menagerie is evident in Canada’s faltering real estate market, where statistics are far from clear, whether by devise or incompetency. Poor Pacifico is not alone, as he discusses this phenomenon at length with the new German landowner towards the end of the film. We Canadians, across the pond, empathize, although the sunny countryside of Tuscany seems a superior, if doomed paradise, to our blimey weather.
Overall rating: (4.4/5) As Goethe declared, “Misunderstandings and neglect occasion more mischief in the world than even malice and wickedness. At all events, the two latter are of less frequent occurrence.” However, whether in so remote a location as the Tuscan Alps, or the metropolis of Vancouver or Toronto, this parody of economic collapse, demoralization, and the threat of losing one’s home, or never being able to afford one, is a reality for many of us. We citizens labouring in so-called “First World” countries, may not maintain that first place designation forever. Power, privilege, and stability are not a birthright, and passivity, as Pacifico and his German landowner muse, can be our biggest downfall. How can be resist, when corrupt forces are so overwhelming?
The blinders, cunning, and narcissism of many of the ridiculously wealthy and ruling elite, are relevant and universal, whether referencing Italy’s highly criticized judicial and governing system, or recent years of tolerated, and even exalted, political carnival in our very own Toronto municipality. Filmmaker Simone Rapisarda Casanova, with cinematic juxtaposition of light and dark, deftly encourages us to see the forest, and the trees. The Tuscan Alps are like a maze, but even there, Pacifico is a reflective communicator, seeking ways in and out of predicaments.
Viewed Sunday, April 26, 2015 at TIFF Bell Lightbox @ Hot Docs, Canadian International Film Festival
Director, Writer, Producer, Editor, Cinematographer and Sound: Simone Rapisarda Casanova