Cinema mis en abyme
by Camillo De Marco
- A movie made out of silent images, dreams and feelings, and proofs of devotion and love for the cinema
A film quoting films, cinema mis en abyme : Ferrario chose to locate After Midnight within the Torino Film Museum. His intention was to make a movie out of silent images, dreams and feelings, and proofs of devotion and love for the cinema. This museum is a nowhere-land where all the films —cinema itself— are gathered, the same kind of nowhere-land as the cinema theatres where Truffaut used to spend his afternoons as a child, watching the films over and over, and "learning life", which is exactly what Martino does in After Midnight. For that matter, the film often refers to Truffaut’s, and Buster Keaton’s films, and borrows elements from both. From Truffaut, it takes a way to dream the world and turn life into a film. From Keaton, it takes the silence, the mute images which are the expression of something pure, pure as films used to be, as the soul should be. Martino is a dreamer and he is in love ; he lives a dream in a museum. He himself is pure, delicate. In this film, as in Guardami, Ferrario pays much attention to the body, especially Martino’s grotesquely fragile body, as a reminiscence of Tim Burton’s frail heros (in Edward Scissorshands and Big Fish). Martino is in love because he is incomplete ; he feels he misses something and tries to understand the logic of desire so as to learn its language... As Truffaut said, "Films are meant to fill in our sense of sentimental vacuum... and sentimental vacuum is what films are filled with, it is their raw substance, found in real life".
What is striking in After Midnight is Ferrario’s art : he obviously has seen and directed a lot of films. One could expect him to indulge into a film-pundit’s tendency to over-intellectualise his work —after all, Ferrario started as a critic, and he is clearly very erudite— but it is not at all the case : Ferrario does not impose his passion for old-fashioned cinema on the spectator ; instead, he uses it. He alludes to other films in order to guide the public through the film to what is at its core.
Being a film erudite is not enough anyway to make such a film. Ferrario uses images as an amazing alphabet which tells a beautiful tale. He is as clever as ever, so clever as to deal perfectly with the low budget and the digital technology, balancing the emotional impact of the dramatic moments, editing thoroughly, making a brilliant use of slant and focus to increase the depth of the images —and such a wonderful building as Antonelli’s Mole is definitely worth it. His way of filming Martino/Giorgio Pasotti’s silence and Amanda/Francesca Inaudi’s restless eyes is just stunning.
The main characteristic of After Midnight is its light-heartedness, its gentle ways, which obviously comes from a positive view of cinema. His film is not the expression of a pretentious (and banal) high-brow theory ; it explores, in the subtlest way, the frontiers between fiction and reality. By explicitly referring to Truffaut’s Jules and Jim and all the other films in the museum, the film becomes a vision of the essence of cinema itself, as if it worked on its own, without a director. However, this is only an impression : in Ferrario’s films, every single image is suffused with his distinctive talent ; it bears, as a signature, his style, a style which finds its most poetic expression in the small film his character Martino makes with an old camera from the 1920’s.
Martino is actually someone who lives the present moment, as the brothers Lumière must have been doing. For him, "it is not the people who make films, it is the places". Martino shoots in "nowhere-lands" such as the station, the museum, the fast-food place, and this is what Ferrario does too when he shows the whole city around the museum, making it seem like some kind of invisible place you can only get a glimpse of despite its very real aspects —such as the guetto La Falchera. Present reality is seen through the magnifying glasses of mute cinema, where everything is exaggerated. But as light-hearted as the film may be, After Midnight also deals with society and its outcasts ; the film ends on a quick glimpse at a huge poster from Prime Minister Berlusconi’s campaign, and it is specified in the credits that the film is "non-governmental". And when Martino shows young Amanda the Fibonacci series, it proves not only that there is a natural order in the universe, but also that it is probably by dreaming your life that you make it freer.
(Translated from Italian)