To Be and To Last: Parkour seen through a mother’s eyes
by Vittoria Scarpa
- Serena Mignani’s doc, in which the director accompanies her son as he dives into the universe of a spectacular and perilous discipline, but one rich in high principles, world-premiered in Bologna
Somersaults, spins, climbs, dozens of metres above the ground, perched precariously over the void. The vertigo-inducing To Be and To Last [+see also:
film profile] is the brilliant new documentary that Italian director Serena Mignani has presented as a world premiere at the 13th Biografilm Festival in Bologna (9-19 June 2017), accompanied by an energetic group of young traceurs. Indeed, the feature debut by the Bolognese director, who is also an audiovisual producer (as well as being an actress active in both Italy and the USA), shines the spotlight on parkour. This urban discipline, born in France in the 1990s, involves its practitioners charting a course from one point to another while overcoming all sorts of obstacles and obstructions in their efforts to reach it – be that a wall, a railing or the gap between one roof and the next. Spectacular images of breathtaking athletic feats obviously abound, but there is so much more: sure enough, Mignani’s documentary is able to blend thrills with a deep and heartfelt reflection on danger, coming of age and the need for a parent to set his or her children free.
Forced to cope with a hyperkinetic child, jumping and climbing over any surface he could, the director was browsing the internet around ten years ago and came across an activity that seemed to suit him down to the ground: parkour. Thus she stepped into this world together with her son Lorenzo (who at the time was barely more than a little boy), followed him around during his training and, video camera in hand, using the excuse that she wanted to immortalise his escapades and those of his friends, she stayed by his side throughout his journey as he discovered risk and the process of growing up. But one night, she receives the phone call that all mothers of traceurs fear more than anything else in the world: one of them, barely 12 years old, has fallen off a roof. The age of innocence is over, the fun and games give way to pain, and mother and son go their separate ways. He gets his freedom, while she learns to let him go.
Tremendously rich – bristling with adrenaline-filled videos, interviews, suggestions, doubts and reflections – To Be and To Last portrays the emotional voyage of a mother through her son’s adolescence, but also an exploration of a life philosophy, that of refusing to stop dead in the face of obstacles, which is shared by so many passionate, highly skilled kids who are fully aware of what they are doing. This journey that started in Bologna and stemmed from her own personal experience leads Mignani to look for answers in other places around the world, in Liverpool, Paris, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and even Gaza, where she has a confrontation with other families and comes across different concepts of danger and freedom (for example, it is interesting to see a Palestinian person’s different perception of risk, for obvious reasons). This is a meticulous, captivating undertaking that lasted years, and which also has the merit of showing that dialogue between the generations, sharing and mutual understanding are quite possible and natural; for this reason, the movie is able to speak to both young people and adults. “As a mum, I’ve also been doing parkour, mentally, trying to overcome my limits and facing up to my fears,” is the satisfying conclusion that Mignani reaches. A fine example to keep in mind.
The film was produced by Imago Orbis.
(Translated from Italian)
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