Pagani: Mother Nature and the Virgin Mary
by Fabien Lemercier
- Elisa Flaminia Inno brings us an astonishing debut feature on the survival of rituals mixing paganism and Christianity in the south of Italy
In a dilapidated neighbourhood in a small town on the outskirts of Pompeii, as spring draws near, a busy man prepares for a rather strange mission, and his neighbours come to give him a helping hand in making a Christ on the cross and preparing a sort of mini temple, in a simple and very humble shrine in the walls, which will be decorated for the occasion and where Christian religious figurines and offerings from nature will be piled up: artichokes, bread, oranges, eggs, melons, etc. This unofficial place of worship is Tosello, and is the guiding thread of the unusual film Pagani (which is actually the name of the town where the action takes place) by Italian director Elisa Flaminia Inno, who rose to prominence following the international premiere of her film in the debut film competition of the 39th Cinéma du Réel Festival.
Plunging her camera into the heart of rituals inherited from ancient cults that celebrated Mother Nature, fertility and rebirth with the coming of spring, which date back to the Eleusinian Mysteries, the director shows us the extent to which these have attached themselves, in a popular fusion, to Christian events, in particular the Devotion to the Virgin Mary, which is part of more classical worship during the Easter period. But to do this, the film resolutely turns its back on a didactic approach, not giving any explanations and favouring total immersion in the enigmatic and fascinating passion of the event, which literally resonates through the entire community, to the sound of tambourines and monotonous chanting in honour of Our Lady of the Hens.
Going back 30 days before the big moment when the procession carrying the statue of the Virgin Mary arrives in the little back alley home to the Tosello, Pagani follows Alfonso del Forno, who has the responsibility of setting up the little sanctuary, a role that has been handed down through his family ("before he died, my cousin Franco gave me the keys… He told me that I had to carry it on… Otherwise…"). During the preparations, several other rituals are held in the town, most notably "the death of carnival", 10 days before Easter, when a procession carries a wooden mannequin through the streets, with fanfares, chanting and astounding characters, the "femminielli", men dressed as women who, once evening falls, in the secrecy of a house, act out the birth of the statuette of a black baby with a disproportionate penis. These are all meticulously organised rites which, from bonfires to fireworks, dancing to chanted prayers (chanted by Biagio De Prisco) to parades showered in confetti, culminate in the day of celebration. It is a cult which is deeply rooted in local society, which the director manages to convey with incredible passion, placing the viewer in the shoes of those practising, at the risk of times of losing them in the meaning attributed to the different symbols that accompany the celebrations, without the film suffering on the whole, however.
Produced by Parallelo 41, Pagani notably received support from the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism, and will be released in Italy by the Instituto Luce Cinecittà.
(Translated from French)