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The Son did It (Daniele Ciprì, 2012)

October 13, 2012


Daniele Ciprì, along with his long time companion Franco Maresco, has been an outcast of Italian cinema since the ‘80s. Due to the provocative vein of their works (Cinico Tv, Lo zio di Brooklyn, Totò che visse due volte), they’ve often been censored, but they quickly gained a cult following, and permanently marked Italian cinema with their particular visual style. È Stato il Figlio is Ciprì’s first movie directed without Maresco, after the pair split a few years ago. After being the cinematographer for the latest films of Ascanio Celestini and Marco Bellocchio, he decided to direct a movie inspired by the homonymous book written by Roberto Alajmo, based on a true story.

Rather than being rooted in reality, È Stato il Figlio is more of a twisted fairytale, an old postcard coming to life where, behind the grotesque façade, lies the absurdity of life. A story within a story, told by a man who spends his days sitting at the post office, while hundreds of people swarm around him. He talks to nobody in particular, but he eventually gathers quite an audience, all agape while listening to the story told by this almost catatonic man.  The Ciraulo family is numerous, but broke: only Nicola, the father, earns some money by working by selling scrap iron from disused ships. One day, her youngest daughter is accidentally killed by a stray bullet shot by Mafia hitmen. The pain is unbearable, but they soon discover that a compensation for mafia victims can be asked. A large quantity of money is promised, and the family starts spending it even before receiving it. The plot is as simple as that, but the movie’s power lies in how the story is told.

Ciprì didn’t abandon the style that characterized his earlier works with Maresco, but has evolved, exploring new paths but maintaining numerous links with his personal visual poetry. The Grotesque Body has always been a trademark of the duo: here, it’s still present, even if in a less extreme shape. All characters have a strong physical presence, accentuated by camera work and cinematography (just compare the segments that take place “in real life” and the ones regarding the Ciraulo family). Bodies are exposed and exploited,  but mostly for a humorous purpose, covering the real horror that lies beneath. Except for a wonderful scene in which Nicola drives his newly bought car while all kinds of stereotypical elements regarding Sicily flies on the background, in a grotesque orgy of summer postcards horror, there are no fantastical elements in the movie. Yet, the atmosphere is that of a fairytale, with its own mythology and its recurring elements: the old man dressed in black who stand at the center of the courtyard all day, abandoned cars that lies around like skeletons, a money lender who’s actually two different and, apparently, interchangeable people, a lawyer that looks like a vulture, and also obese men, dwarves and so on. It’s a parade of characters that almost came out from a hall of mirrors of some cheap amusement park, but this doesn’t result in a cynical laugh, but rather in a greater distance between tale and reality.

Far from the rigorous self-imposed style of Cinico Tv and his derivatives, here Ciprì adopt a far more versatile style, placing the camera in the most various places, moving it freely and thus making suggestive takes that widely portrays not only the actors but the places as well, creating a Sicily so imaginative that seems real (in fact, the film wasn’t shot in Sicily at all). The cinematography is superb: Ciprì paints the scenes with subtle but definite sepia tones, increasing the feeling that what are we watching is nothing more than an old yellowed photograph that came to life.

The actors do a tremendous job: Toni Servillo on top of all, but also Alfredo Castro, who manages to leave his mark, despite the few minutes he appears on the screen, and each other component of the cast. The acting is always over the top, exaggerate and made unique by the use of dialect that makes every sentence burst as soon as its spoke.

Ciprì has shown that not only he’s able to achieve success even if directing alone, but also proved to be a complete filmmaker, with his own style that stands out in the crowd of mediocre products of today’s Italian cinema.

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