'Al Di Qua': Film Review

AL DI QUA_Cosimo Cavallo_Still - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Sherpa Film
A solemn reminder of the humanity of those society chooses not to see.

Corrado Franco's artful doc lets the homeless men of Turin tell their own stories.

A self-consciously solemn meditation on homelessness in Turin, Italy, Corrado Franco's Al Di Qua lets that city's poor speak for themselves even as it coyly acknowledges the way Franco frames their experience. Attention-grabbing for its artifice but most affecting when it is unadorned, the documentary will find many admirers as it makes an Oscar-qualifying run in New York and Los Angeles. Getting that nod may be a long shot (according to The Hollywood Reporter's Scott Feinberg), but the distinctive film will put Franco on the "to watch" list of some observers in the doc arena.

Filmed in black-and-white, the picture spends much of its time in and around an unidentified hospital where Turin's homeless population seeks aid. It begins with an arresting eight-minute monologue in which a man named Emanuel speaks directly to the camera, acknowledging that "my life up to now has been going ... I can say, very badly." Emanuel recounts the many jobs he has held and his Army stint in Bosnia before getting more philosophical, describing his positions on alcohol (make sure you're drinking it, not letting it drink you) and God ("I believe only in myself," he says).

After this extended speech, Franco offers wordless street scenes, playing mournful Bach choral works as he slowly pushes in on men occupying mattresses and blankets on the city's sidewalks. Though these men don't get to speak to us, Franco ensures that each holds the camera's gaze and each is introduced by name.

Fifteen minutes or so in, the doc observes as an EMT discovers the dead body of a man called Rodolfo. Some viewers will suspect that this is a staged scene, and they'll later be proven right — the conceit of the rest of the film is that other homeless men and women have gathered at the hospital to pay their respects to Rodolfo, taking the occasion to speak to the camera and us. [After publication, Franco informed THR that Rodolfo Spagone died this week, while the filmmaker was in Los Angeles for an Oscar campaign.] 

Franco translates his title as "life here," and in the ensuing interviews, subjects have clearly been prompted to sum up what life is currently like for them. Some enjoyed a measure of domestic comfort until recently, and many were brought low by the loss of parents: One man, an only child, reports that after both his mother and father died, "my so-called light went out" and he suffered both depression and panic attacks.

But mental health and substance abuse are sidelined here. Franco showcases interviewees who can speak cogently, and views them as victims of society. Pairing its Bach with long voiceover quotations from Rilke, the film recalls Wings of Desire, another monochrome attempt to look within the souls of humans who go lonely in the midst of crowds. Franco digitally slows down his speakers' voices, just enough to drain away any conviviality they might offer; this and other technical choices will seem manipulative to some, but it's almost certain that, had he wanted to wallow in misery, Franco could have chosen interview clips that were more bleak than these.

Midway through, Al Di Qua offers an enigmatic scene in which a man rooting through a dumpster gets some instruction from an offscreen director. "Cinema is cinema," admits a title card. But it isn't until a closing sequence in the hospital's chapel that the filmmaker's manipulations threaten to upstage his message.

Production company: Sherpa Films
Director-producer-editor: Corrado Franco
Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

In Italian
82 minutes