Il Mio Corpo

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Il Mio Corpo
"The camerawork is artful."

Il mio corpo (“My body”) is a documentary. No, really, it is a documentary. Though given how absent are both camera and director Michele Pennetta, you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise. There is some narrative shaping going on here. But not too much.

The focus is on two young men, scraping a living on the underbelly of Italy’s underbelly: Sicily. Men? Not quite. No longer boys. Yet still the insecurity and uncertainty of the young teen pokes through. Oscar is a Sicilian teenager. His mohawk seems to signal rebel, though in the context of his family, it is his reluctance to wear one that betokens rebellion - yet his occasional, open lapse into smiles and playfulness signifies a character not yet fully formed.

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Stanley is a young Nigerian immigrant, attempting to settle down. Yet, in his attachment to his Christian upbringing and determination to cook banku – fish stew – the way his father prepared it, is still clearly hankering after a life now past.

Two very different young men, yet also very similar, as both are situated on the bottom of the Sicilian heap, eking out a hand-to-mouth existence as best they can. Oscar helps his father scavenge a living for the family, collecting scrap metal from wherever it has been dumped by the roadside, helping out on a farm. Stanley, through his connection with the parish priest, lands the odd cleaning job, harvests grapes, herds sheep.

It is a harsh life, an unfair life. Having agreed the rate for one job, Stanley walks away with half the amount. No explanation needed. Because life’s like that. Oscar, too, is target of constant abuse from his father, a bully, who takes any and every opportunity he can to humiliate his son. Even though, without Oscar’s efforts, the entire family would be that much poorer, that much closer to falling over the edge and into the ultimate economic chasm that, we can only guess, awaits those who fail to measure up.

So, no, Oscar and Stanley have nothing in common except a shared desperation to get by and, despite all, a certain limited optimism. Life is not great but it comes with good parts attached. Like when Oscar freewheels downhill on his bike, or Stanley enjoys the freedom of a swim in the sea. So why not enjoy those?

And then, omnipresent, the third character occupying this documentary space: the island of Sicily itself. But not the Sicily of Comisario Montalbano or the glossy travel brochure. No, this is Sicily as she is lived. Harsh, dry, dusty, cluttered with poor housing and people just about managing to get by.

Il Mio Corpo is third film in a series of projects put together by Pennetta that home in on life on the edge in modern-day Sicily. As such, it follows the award-winning short film, A Lucata, on the subject of clandestine horse racing and the slightly longer Pescatore Di Corpi, following a group of fishermen running an illegal fishing boat.

And it is more than documentary. The camerawork is artful, alternating between close-up of intimate, awkward domestic moments, such as a confrontation between Oscar and his father over the kitchen table, or Stanley pretending he’s poisoned his flatmate’s food , and a wider, panoramic scope taking in the beauty of the landscape. Beauty? When the land is littered with the detritus of modern living? Not exactly. But still, there is magnificence to the scenery behind.

Elsewhere, there is absence. Absence of voiceover or obvious directorial presence pointing out which way to look, what to think. Absence of music, except in one final glorious moment as Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater swells up over the final credits.

Just one moment stands out as all too improbably contrived, and that is a moment when the two narratives intersect. There is a brief encounter between Stanley and Oscar, perhaps intended to highlight just how much the two have in common. But again, with no words uttered. It is what is not there that speaks volumes. This is not an “issue” film, not a film that is there to change your mind.

Listen carefully, watch and you may detect a hint of religious sensibility here, whether in the choice of title, which echoes the Catholic communion rite, the closing music, or the focus on the statue of the Virgin Mary, discovered by Oscar on one of their foraging trips. But that seems mostly incidental.

Rather, it is a reflection: this, in one part of the world, for a certain slice of society, is life. It is not the worst. But nor is it great. That is how it is. Pennetta’s film is observation, meditation even. Almost poetic in its sensibility, inspired, as the author himself reveals, by the work of Sicilian author, Pirandello.

Reviewed on: 09 Dec 2020
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Il Mio Corpo packshot
Under the Sicilian sunlight, Oscar collects scrap metal with his father. At the other end of town, Stanley the Nigerian migrant gets by thanks to small tasks given by the parish priest. Both share the same desire for a better life.

Director: Michele Pennetta

Writer: Arthur Brugger

Year: 2020

Runtime: 81 minutes

Country: Italy, Switzerland

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