There is sick. And there is wrong. And then there is sick AND wrong.
Meet the delightful Mr. Bissinger!
I’d somehow missed it until now, but as is so often the case with films, books and music it came to me at precisely the right moment, that is, at a time when I needed to see it with eyes wide open, to be touched by it just to the juncture of laughter and tears, to joy and sorrow breathtakingly balanced on the head of a pin like so many angels. The Cocteau piece is fine and many of the melodramatic deficiencies are compensated for by Magnani’s stellar performance, but it the second film ‘Il Miracolo’ that makes ‘L’Amore’ that rare and wonderful thing that is a masterpiece, albeit a minor one which in no wise is a criticism, but rather an acknowledgement of its place in the world and not just its stature. Here again it is (as Rossellini himself acknowledges in the dedication) Magnani’s incredible talent that, fusing with his own, forms a work of art of such exquisite sensitivity and power that the story itself seems somehow extraneous, the anecdote almost incidental.
The simple-minded character of the shepherdess, Nannì (Giovanna), masterfully incarnated by Magnani, who here manages to eliminate completely the slightly hysterical tone that sometimes threatens to topple La voce umana into the realm of pure melodrama, clearly anticipates the characters of Gelsomina and Cabiria in Fellini’s La strada (1954) and Le notti di Cabiria/Nights of Cabiria (1957), but Magnani channels an animistic vitality into the role that makes the poetry of Fellini’s two later creatures appear wan in comparison. And in fact, despite Fellini’s own appearance in the film as the silent and mysterious vagabond who prompts Nannì’s religious delirium, perhaps more than the Gelsomina of La strada Magnani’s strong-willed Nannì brings to mind the “durochka” or holy fool, of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Roublev (1966). Indeed, in spite of the undisguised and feral sexuality of her character, Nannì’s via crucis through the jeers and cruel taunts of the townspeople likens her to nothing less that the Christ of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Il vangelo secondo Matteo/The Gospel According to Matthew (1964).
The tour-de-force of Magnani’s acting is paralleled and sustained by some truly inspired filmmaking on Rossellini’s part. Having chosen to film at Maiori, on the Amalfi coast, a location he had discovered during the making of Paisà, Rossellini manages, through some of the most carefully-engaged camerawork and shot composition of his career, to create a series of extraordinary images which fuse character and landscape into an indissoluble whole, a unity that’s both sealed and emblematised when Nannì, in the final stages of her laborious climb to the hilltop church, drinks by sucking moisture from the rocks. At the same time, with absolutely no hint of an affected pictorialism, many scenes effortlessly evoke medieval and Renaissance fresco painting.
As a filmic diptych, juxtaposing the claustrophobia of individual psychological disintegration in a dark, closed room with the unboundedness of a self-induced spiritual delirium in the luminous wilds of nature, L’amore would now seem to represent nothing less than a minor masterpiece in Rossellini’s entire oeuvre. (Senses of Cinema)
Prior to his condemnation to three consecutive life terms without possibility of parole, the 18-year-old confessed spree killer turned to the parents of one his victims and said “This hand that pulled the trigger that killed your sons now masturbates to the memory. Fuck all of you,” He then flipped off the victims’ grieving families with a shrug.
My old friend Ron A. posted this on his Facebook recently and it served to remind me yet again that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The urge to transgress is eternal, a fixed component of our being, the dark and contrary side of our personality, the creative dimension that seeks to square the circle and misfit the even with the odd. But it’s not something that we all share in equally. Some of us are born to be bad, some of us cannot help but shout “NO” when all around us the world is screaming “YES.”
“For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm. There are not many such books. All the rest is either topical trash or what some call the Literature of Ideas, which very often is topical trash….”