Sacro GRA


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Sacro GRA
"Rosi's panorama manages to circle back, making you love humanity."

"You take delight not in a city's seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours,” writes Italo Calvino in his novel Invisible Cities, an inspiration for Gianfranco Rosi's risky and vigilant Sacro GRA, the first documentary ever to win the Golden Lion for Best Film at the Venice Film Festival. There are a lot of answers to find as Rosi's camera travels along the Grande Raccordo Anulare, the ring shaped 43.5-mile highway that coils around Rome. Lives on the periphery, people who inhabit the houses you see from your car window leave the margins and become the focus.

The Grande Raccordo Anulare, compared to a Saturn ring at the very beginning of the film, is shown in all seasons, during day and night and structures our glimpses into the worlds we visit and revisit. There is the busy ambulance driver who is concerned about his aging mother and a scientist, trimming palm trees to record the squeaking of the infesting larvae, a sound "not unlike human chatter in restaurants". Another man with a permanent cigar in his mouth rents out his gaudy "aristocratic home" for photo novellas and to bed and breakfast guests.

Yellow-tinted Roman light, absolutely beautiful, set on an empty playground near a low-rent housing complex. Sheep are grazing by a stream. A fisherman lives on a houseboat on the Tiber and lets us in on the secrets of catching eel. When we return to him in another season, he shares a cantaloupe with a new woman sitting in his kitchen. The tablecloth has lemons on it, "Ukraine is also beautiful," she says.

We don't know their names or backgrounds and have to trust what we see and what they tell us themselves. Rosi counters our interconnected world's tendency to spy and check up on people instead of paying attention in their presence. The present matters and is informed by personal and shared histories. Two prostitutes casually putting on make-up while having a picnic of cheese at a rest stop in their camper, conjure up images from Fellini films.

Horseback riders in the early morning, a train goes by in the distance, a plane is landing - there is more to transport than the orbiting car traffic. Resentful clouds frame the highway. A learned man with the mighty beard of a mountain spirit who lives with his college age daughter in one room of a high-rise, talks of Lawrence Durrell and how any marvelous wine must have a touch of mold. The daughter works in front of her computer and they also have a cat Chris Marker would have loved to film. A woman in the same building watches a TV program on UFOs, she wonders who lives in the villas over there.

The demolition of an old coffin leads to a field of wooden crosses. Are bodies unearthed to build a new road?

Compared to Ulrich Seidl, whose slices of quotidian Austrian lives on the margins and in the hearts, churches, and homes make you shiver to understand, Rosi's panorama manages to circle back, making you love humanity. "How lovely it is to give you birth," is the lullaby the prostitute sings in a traffic jam. "The palm tree has the form of man's soul," says the scientist. The Madonna seems to have made an appearance in the area and a large group of women look into the throbbing red of the glaring sun. Two strippers get ready to dance on the tiny bar of a rest stop for young boys, busy on their phones and drinking turquoise shots.

Rosi's nonjudgmental gaze lands on bodies that matter. He shows us worlds we never stopped to ask about, without voice-over, without impertinence or knowing commentary.

Reviewed on: 27 May 2014
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A documentary journey into the lives of people who inhabit the outskirts of Rome.
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Director: Gianfranco Rosi

Writer: Niccolò Bassetti, Gianfranco Rosi

Year: 2013

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: Italy, France

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