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BERLIN 2019 Panorama

Review: Normal

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- BERLIN 2019: Through a rigorous but somewhat moralistic lens, Adele Tulli explores the normalisation of social practices characterising gender identities in Italy today

Review: Normal

Girls play with dolls and boys play football – this should come as no surprise to any of us. But many of us often forget about the whole spectrum of colour that exists between these black and white options and where we might find shades of activity invisible to the human eye, wavelengths which go undetected. Where else could we classify MammaFit, the park workout for mums looking to exercise around their baby-filled buggies? Or “PUA Training” which teaches the “natural” seduction of women? Or super kitsch hen parties with their limousines and phallic cakes?

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Reminding us of the existence of all this is Normal, the documentary by Adele Tulli which had its world premiere at the 2019 Berlinale, competing in the Panorama section of the festival. With her Masters in Screen Documentary from London’s Goldsmiths University, Tulli has put a clear focus on gender studies and queer culture (her work, 365 Without 377, which won an award at the Turin GLFF in 2011, recounted the struggles experienced by members of the Indian gay community). With Normal, she is switching perspective to reveal the “normalisation”, as suggested by the title, of social practices which wouldn’t have been considered so conventional once upon a time, but which are now part and parcel of gender identities in Italy. This “unexpected atlas” of norms and stereotypes, as the director describes the film in her notes, is actually, to take the metaphor even further, the portrayal of two distinct planets whose orbits never cross and whose inhabitants are probably unaware of the existence of the other.

Girls express their identity through Sunday gatherings spent worshipping fairies and princesses (imaginations inspired purely by Disney), or through the long-time, classic ritual of piercing their ears. Adolescent girls huddle together to idolise innocuous Italian YouTuber, Antony Di Francesco, under his hotel balcony. Young women deploy their charms while decked out in bikinis and taking part in Miss World (“What would you like to do in life?” “Hmm… I’d say criminology”).  The picture is slightly more domesticated for brides-to-be attending marriage preparation courses (“having to iron shirts, clean your houses and cook for your husbands might be quite traumatic for you …”).  The seven-year-old alpha male, meanwhile, bombs along at a hundred miles an hour in his mini-motorbike race. The older boy gazes admiring at the models pouring water on one other, perched on the cars on display. The sad ritual of the post-wedding photoshoot on the beach is rather less macho, and of equally poor taste is the rainbow cake and the embarrassing gay wedding ceremony in Ferrara. Paradoxically, the Catholic Church has made an exception here, represented by a parish priest who speaks in the same way as the young couple, without distinguishing between male or female, and who calls the lack of dialogue on the matter “the real betrayal”.

The film’s images have the charm of horror vacui, the camera fixed meticulously, observing adolescent boys shooting aliens or zombies in an amusement arcade, while all the audience can hear is the intolerable racket of their weapons blasting out from the boys’ headsets. The music, courtesy of Andrea Koch, emphasises these images, while the editing by Ilaria Fraioli, with the help of Elisa Cantelliand and the director herself, sets a calm and unhurried pace to proceedings.

Viewers may well ask themselves where it all began or believe the director’s viewpoint to be too moralistic (as we do), but the documentary doesn’t give us answers on the social dynamics we are witnessing. Ironically, it can all best be explained by the final scenes of the film, where we see a magician cut his assistant in half and make her disappear before finally setting fire to her.

Normal is a FilmAffair production which is co-produced by AAMOD – Archivio Audiovisivo del Movimento Operaio e Democratico, in association with the Istituto Luce Cinecittà (who is also distributing the film in Italy), Intramovies, Rai Cinema and Swedish firm Ginestra Film. International sales are managed by Slingshot Films.

(Translated from Italian)

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