'The Creation of Meaning' ('La creazione di significato'): Locarno Review

The Creation of Meaning Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Festival del film Locarno

The Creation of Meaning Still - H 2014

Mountain-country anthropology is a peaks-and-troughs affair

Multi-hyphenate Simone Rapisarda Casanova's documentary on an Italian farmer won the Swiss festival's best emerging director prize

High altitude affords rewardingly wide perspectives in The Creation of Meaning (La creazione di significato), an uneven but promising sophomore outing for Montreal-based Italian director Simone Rapisarda Casanova. Observing a middle-aged farmer in a beautifully remote corner of Tuscany's Apuan Alps where after-echoes of World War II continue to reverberate, sometimes in unexpected fashion, this follow-up to 2011's Cuba-set The Strawberry Tree picked up the Best Emerging Director prize at Locarno.

Non-fiction festivals and channels are the obvious homes for a film whose off-puttingly high-faluting title seems an odd fit for a picture whose strengths lie in directness and simplicity. Audiences impatient for the next bucolic charmer from Le Quattro Volte's Michelangelo Frammartino may find plenty to chew on here.

"It's a bad time for us," sighs sixtysomething Pacifico Pieruccioni, reflecting on the global economic crisis whose impact has finally reached even these far-flung valleys. "Here, even if times are bad, you can still feed yourself," he muses: "if things get worse, you can always count on the land." Rangy, loping, wirily-built Pacifico, single-handedly tending to his hens, donkey and goats, is the very picture of bygone self-sufficiency. But financial realities can't be resisted indefinitely, and the possible sale of Pacifico's land to a Pisa-based German and his family endow The Creation of Meaning with a low-key kind of developing narrative, as well as no small measure of historical irony.

As we're informed in an opening al fresco discussion of the district's past, the farms depicted were during WW2 "right on the Gothic line": the retreating Germans' last line of defense as they were pursued by Allied forces and harried by local partisans. This may all be 70 years ago now, but the way Pacifico — born seven years after VE day  — and his neighbors chat about events during this bloody epoch makes them sound like they took place the week before last.

The Creation of Meaning is structured around a series of such conversations, culminating in a kitchen-table chin-wag between Pacifico and the German buyer that rambles on for more than 20 minutes. It's not the only example of how Ripasarda Casanova might profitably have employed an external editor rather than taking care of cutting duties himself: a sequence showing Pacifico transporting rocks through the tricky terrain by means of a self-constructed pulley system cries out for trimming.

A three-minute short film directed by local prodigy Diego Bonuccelli, The Day of the Partisan, is meanwhile interpolated so clumsily that many will be thoroughly bemused by the irruption of this over-scored, violent WW2 no-budget flag-waver.

Rapisarda Casanova shows rather more flair as a cinematographer, deploying the 5:3 European widescreen ratio to capture the ravishing splendors of the mountain country without tipping into tourist-ad cliche. Grace-notes abound: a low moon on a black ridge; Pacifico and a neighbor filmed through a window which reflects the misty peaks beyond; a Malickesque montage of industrious micro-fauna to the jangly, muted accompaniment of distant goat-bells. 

Production company: Ibidem Films

Director/Screenwriter/Producer/Editor/Director of Photography: Simone Rapisarda Casanova 

Sales: Ibidem, Montreal

No rating, 95 minutes