At the Universale the audience was the attraction
by Camillo De Marco
- The debut piece by documentary maker Federico Micali is a comedy about the legendary cinema in Florence which reflects historical events that affected the whole country
L’Universale [+see also:
film profile], which was selected in competition at the Bif&st and will be released in Italian cinemas on 14 April, is not a film built on personal memories, but the cinematographic reworking of a local legend about a place that really existed: the Universale Cinema, which operated during the 1970s in the working-class district of Pignone, halfway between the suburbs and the centre of Florence. The director, Federico Micali, class of 1971, wanted to bring the story of this cinema, handed down by word of mouth, back to life in comedy form, after making a documentary about it some years ago.
At the Universale, the audience was the attraction. To exemplify this concept, the film opens with one of the most important episodes: during the screening of Easy Rider, a vespa 50 comes bursting into the theatre, driven by a character who is never identified. Yes, the loyal and certainly colourful clientele of the Universale would smoke hash and marijuana, crack jokes non-stop, snog, dance if the film was a musical, and sing ‘Bandiera rossa’ (a left-wing political song) if the film was political. They would do everything but watch the film in a calm and composed manner. Which doesn’t mean they didn’t love film. When a hard-working programmer (Paolo Hendel) turns down peplums and westerns in favour of Godard, Kurosawa and Bertolucci, the audiences of the Universale respect this and the audience actually broadens and diversifies. It becomes an arthouse audience.
Within this historical, albeit legendary truth, Federico Micali intertwines the destinies of three friends over the course of more than a decade: Tommaso, the son of the projectionist (Francesco Turbanti, The First on the List [+see also:
film profile]), Alice (Matilda Lutz, Summertime), and Marcello (Robin Mugnaini, Every Blessed Day [+see also:
interview: Luca Marinelli
film profile]). These private and collective stories, which centre around the cinema, reflect historical events that affected the whole country: changing habits and customs, politics (years characterised by social struggle and terrorism), even music: from John Wayne to Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris, heroin, punk and the New Wave, free radio and the kidnapping of Aldo Moro. L’Universale is thus an exhilarating tribute to arthouse film, to arthouse cinemas, an absolute point of reference for a couple of generations, and to an era, that of the 1970s, which was full of contradictions but hugely rich in artistic and cultural ferment, passion and emotion.
Alongside the young protagonists, the cast features Claudio Bigagli (the projectionist), cartoonist Vauro Senesi (Marcello’s staunch communist father), Roberto Gioffrè (the silent ticket-collector), Maurizio Lombardi, Anna Meacci, and Margherita Vicario.
Micali’s debut work was written with Cosimo Calamini and Heidrun Schleef, the screenwriter for Nanni Moretti, Mimmo Calopresti, and Gabriele Muccino. It will be released by L’occhio e la luna with the support of Lo Scrittoio.
(Translated from Italian)