The War of Bumpkins: A half-baked class struggle in Apulia
by Roberto Oggiano
- Lorenzo Conte and Davide Barletti present their new film: gangs of teenagers at war in 1970s Apulia, an allegorical story of the battle between good and evil
Participating in the Bright Future section of the International Film Festival Rotterdam is the latest film by Lorenzo Conte and Davide Barletti, The War of Bumpkins [+see also:
interview: Davide Barletti, Lorenzo Co…
film profile], the story of two gangs of teenagers, the ‘Signori’ (lit. ‘Gentlemen) and the ‘Cafoni’ (lit. ‘Bumpkins’), which have always fought to control the local area.
Based on the book of the same name by Carlo D'Amicis, the film tells the allegorical story of the class struggle between the upper middle class and working class on the fictional island of Torrematta, in rural 1970s Apulia.
The protagonists of this struggle are the leaders: Francisco Marinho for the Signori – who is promptly renamed Maligno (lit. ‘malevolent’) – and Scaleno for the Cafoni; they have been fighting since birth, according to the writers of the film for no apparent reason, but we know that there is actually a very clear reason: the Signori want to remain gentlemen, whilst the Cafoni want to become gentlemen. The outsider in all this is Cugginu, an unscrupulous boy from the city, an uncouth and arrogant young man ready to pounce on the spoils and titles up for grabs.
It is the latter that reigns triumphant, defeating Maligno, who has fallen in love with beautiful working-class girl Mela, stealing his land and symbols of power (his pinball machine, motorbike and castle); this bumbling epilogue neutralises the efforts of the film to allegorically portray a political situation that is still ongoing: the upper middle class has never been defeated (at least not in Italy), and rather than squabble with the petty bourgeoisie, has joined forces with it to the detriment of the bumpkins, of course. Commendable instead is the use of dialect by the protagonists and the decision to showcase all the varieties of language used in Apulia, from the Italian spoken in Salento to that which is spoken in Bari, helping to codify the social classes of reference, which are described well: the prologue to the film even unfolds in Byzantine Greek.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the making of the film served as a workshop for the actors, all of whom are teenage amateurs who spent a year getting a hands-on education in what it means to make a film, to the extent that participating in the film went from being a passing project to the beginning of an artistic and professional journey that looks beyond the film, like the character of Mela – we never quite feel like defining her as a bumpkin even if that’s the side she belongs to – she’s the only one capable of seeing the world beyond the island of Torrematta.
Mela’s idea of the future is therefore the only alternative offered to the arrogance of the middle class embodied by Cugginu, grappling with current issues: “Before we were starving hungry, now we force it on ourselves”, proclaims the barman as Cugginu sips his aperitif, anticipating the rapid change of decades to come, quite simply those of a drinker’s guide to Milan, in one of the more successful gags of the film. The piece nonetheless lacks the rigour necessary to make it the social fresco it claims to be, instead managing to give us back an archaic natural human and social landscape, that of pre-industrial Southern Italy, before the Signori and Cugginus of this world decided to destroy it in the name of the fight against the Cafoni.
(Translated from Italian)
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