The word that best summarizes Łukasz Barczyk's Italiani would be: experimental. The production of the film was privately funded by a group of friends who'd been to Tuscany on holiday in 2006. Inspired by the Tuscan landscape, Barczyk frequently visited and ultimately decided to shoot a film on location.
The story revolves around the protagonist, a fascist in hiding and on the run from the Allies, at the turning point of the battle for Italy. According to Barczyk, "The realities of life in Italy are shown, but the film is to be much more universal".
Why would Barczyk, a quintessentially Polish filmmaker who was showered with awards in Gdynia for his 1999 film Patrzę na ciebie Marysiu" / "I'm Looking at You, Mary, make a film about Italy? Barczyk's reply is that it is not a film about Italy and it was not his intention to make it such.
Italiani has its roots in Hamlet, which in itself is a Shakespearean adaptation of an Italian novel from the Renaissance. It's about a young man who returns home only to find that his father is dead and that his uncle now lives with his mother. To the young man, this suggests that his father did not die of natural causes. The tension mounts between the young man, his mother and uncle. Was his father murdered by his uncle? Was his mother complicit? To make matters more intense, the relationship between mother and son inches closer and closer towards incest.
"This is a modern version of "Hamlet" in which the relationship between the son and his parents has a psychoanalytical undercurrent", wrote Kino magazine contributor Katarzyna Czeczot. "Barczyk's Hamlet does not accuse his mother of matricide, but instead seduces her, and she seduces him". He does, however, accuse his uncle of the crime as he battles his own uneasiness about his role in the death. Czeczot adds:
The father in Barczyk's film was the figure who kept the social rigor of the norms of sexuality. When he is removed from the playing field, the home erupts with forbidden eroticism. Eventually the son allies with his uncle. His father's murderer no longer evokes hatred but desire instead. Barczyk creates a situation where a son's rebellion against his father stirs up feelings of homosexuality, polyamory, and the desire and appreciation of the sexual beauty of everyone. Exceptional scenes in the film are those which do not show this sexuality directly but rather obliquely through the eyes of the camera given brilliant lighting, cinematography, and camerawork.
It is the art direction of the film that demands appreciation. The selection of places, sets, the cinematography elements underline the theatrical experience of the film. It invokes the opera-like works of Luchino Visconti. The historical context and the relationship between mother and son allude to The Damned, the ambiance of the places and tensions between family members are reminiscent of Conversation Piece and the portrayal of intimacy is an echo of Death in Venice.
The film is deeply Italian. The scenery and the language are portrayed as in classic Italian cinema. It also stars Krzysztof Warlikowski, a theater and opera director known all over Europe, who adds an enigmatic magnetism to Barczyk's work.
Barczyk underlines Warlikowski's role in making the film:
I always wanted to have him feature in one of my movies as the lead role. I always envisioned him in one of my films because he is a smart, courageous and beautiful person. He is the ideal actor. The camera loves him. Our cooperation in this film was ideal in my opinion. The interpretation of his character was immensely impressive; Krzysztof brought energy to the set. The off screen chemistry was great among Krzysztof and all the actors.
This, however, does not necessarily mean that Italiani can stave off criticism. Some will say that its point is to provoke the audience by showcasing societal taboos. Others will say Barczyk wants to participate in a fully planned-out controversy. As Kino's Czeczot has written:
The film shows a different way in which a family drama can unfold; it shows a version of alternative behavior as opposed to the dominant and typical conduct of 20th century European culture. The film is well thought-out, bold and visually enjoyable. A first rate nightmare.
- Italiani, Poland 2010. Screenplay and direction: Łukasz Barczyk. Director of Photography: Karina Kleszczewska. Music, sound: Robert Sędzicki. Scenery: Donatella Raugei. Costumes: Małgorzata Szczęśniak. Featuring: Krzysztof Warlikowski (Bruno), Renate Jett (Teresa), Jacek Poniedziałek (Massimo), Thomas Schweiberer (Tomasso), Margherita Di Rauso (Maria). Production: WFF Błyskawica. Koprodukcja: SF Kadr, Opus Film. Distributor: Gutek Film. Running time: 61 min. In theatres: March 11, 2011.
Author: Konrad J. Zarębski, March 2011.