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ROME 2018

Review: Butterfly

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- Alessandro Cassigoli and Casey Kauffman direct an interesting documentary about the sporting pursuits of Irma Testa – the first Italian boxer to qualify for the Olympics

Review: Butterfly
Irma Testa in Butterfly

Italian documentary-maker Alessandro Cassigoli (with a wealth of experience in Berlin, where he made six documentaries for the Franco-German channel Arte) and the American reporter Casey Kauffman (Al Jazeera, Sky Italia) return to join forces – after co-directing the documentary The Things We Keep [+see also:
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, winner of the Audience Award at Biografilm Film Festival – to focus on the trials and tribulations of the first Italian female boxer in history to qualify for the Olympics: eighteen-year-old Irma Testa from Torre Annunziata (Naples). Butterfly [+see also:
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– presented in the Alice nella Città section at the 13th edition of Rome Film Fest (18 to 28 October) – is a cross-section of an exciting sporting adventure, but also and most importantly, the portrait of a young woman grappling with a partial failure that threatens to ruin everything.

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Irma first goes to the ring when she is just 12 years old and never looks back after following her sister, who opts to box instead of going to dance classes like all the other girls. La Boxe Vesuviana in Torre Annunziata, where she is taught by the clever and paternalcoach Lucio Zurlo, has since become her second home. The ropes in the ring sometimes make it look like a prison, but without them, she’d be left breathless. When you earn a place in the national team at the Olympic qualifiers (for Rio 2016) your life is turned upside down. At a centre far from home, where she does nothing but throw punches for four years, she only has one goal: to win a medal. The stakes are high, and the media pursues her because this is an exemplary story: a girl from the "ghetto,” one of the most violent towns in Naples, becomes the first Italian boxer in history to participate in the Olympics, and the whole town is behind her.

In Rio, however, things don’t exactly go to plan: Irma doesn’t get through the first knock-out round and is eliminated immediately. From there onwards, another film begins. The young woman returns home and begins to wonder if it’s really worth sacrificing her youth and loved ones for boxing, she thinks about quitting and finding a job in Torre Annunziata, where there are slim pickings ("if you come back here, you’ll end up as a kitchen maid," her mother warns her. She tries to make up for lost time with her little brother Ugo, who at just 13 years old is already skipping school and heading down a bad road. Irma is full of regrets, overwhelmed by all the sacrifices she has had to make, and plans a trip to Patagonia to undergo a shamanic ritual and to "rid herself of the four years she dedicated to the national team." While in the meantime, everyone else would like to see her back in the ring...

Cassigoli and Kauffman direct an interesting film that has all the authenticity of a documentary while looking like a fiction film – accompanied by music by Giorgio Giampà (a young Italian composer nominated for a Fenix award – the Latin American Oscars – for his work on Time Share [+see also:
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) – and focusing on what happens to people after a sporting failure, both in terms of Irma herself and the community that surrounds her, "her" people, always there for her and who the two directors pay particular attention to. A story of triumph and failure whose ending has not yet been written: Irma Testa is currently training for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Butterfly is an Indyca production with RAI Cinema, with the contribution of MIBAC and Creative Europe MEDIA.

(Translated from Italian)

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