Review: Sow the Wind
- BERLINALE 2020: A young woman passionate about agronomy and its links to ancestral tradition fights against the corruption of nature and minds, in this second feature film by Italy’s Danilo Caputo
"People’s thinking is polluted", "illness is a symptom of something bigger." We’re in the heart of the Apulia region, on the bank of the Gulf of Taranto, in an Italian landscape rife with contrasts, where the smoke pumped out of immense steel complexes envelops the surrounding scene, taking in both the sea and the arid countryside which is home to centuries old olive trees, currently under attack by the Xylella fastidiosa bacteria. Such is the highly suggestive decor of Danilo Caputo’s Sow the Wind [+see also:
interview: Danilo Caputo
film profile], a work unveiled in the Panorama section of the 70th Berlinale, which blends together social realism and the portrait of a young guardian of nature with a highly atmospheric exploration of the ancestral pagan traditions of the region, as they wrestle with the destruction wrought by modernity.
It’s through the eyes and the perceptions of Nica (the charismatic Yile Yara Vianello, who was also the young protagonist of Alice Rohrwacher’s Corpo Celeste [+see also:
interview: Alice Rohrwacher
film profile]) that the ambitious plot devised by the filmmaker alongside Milena Magnani unfolds. At 21 years old, the agronomy student suddenly ups and leaves Rome (for reasons left unexplained) and returns home to Apulia and her parents Demetrio (Espedito Chionna) and Rosa (Caterina Valente). The latter - in financial dire straits in a region which is struggling economically and which the younger generation dream of leaving behind - eagerly await the felling of their trees and the compensation that was promised by the State to landowners who have been affected by "olive tree leprosy" over the past three years. It’s a perspective which is totally rejected by Nica, who embarks upon solo scientific research in order to restore nature’s balance by tracking down an insect antagonistic to the Liothrips caeruleus – the creature currently eating away at the olive trees. She displays a highly decisive level of faith in the future, underpinned by the link this young woman maintains with the beliefs which she inherited from her “witch” grandmother, and symbolised by a crypt which houses a mysterious fertility stone. But will it be enough to stem the appetites of predators?
Coming courtesy of a director discovered in 2014 via Late Season [+see also:
film profile], what this second feature film really succeeds at doing is immersing the viewer in the great subtlety of Nica’s senses as she listens to nature (the trees creek, the leaves seem alive in the wind), with its remarkable sound, varying atmospheres and powerful visual contrasts (thanks to Greece’s Christos Karamanis, at the helm of photography). Intelligent and instructive, the message of the film - which dares to attempt a tricky mix of genres - is an ideal vehicle as regards its main actor, but it doesn’t do much for the film’s secondary roles, which feel a smidgen too monolithic. And at this time of highly advanced threats to the planet’s ecological balance, Sow the Wind conveniently reminds us that the forces of nature do wield powerful energy reserves, which allow them to fight back against attacks and corruption, providing we have a minimum of faith in the future and decide to lift the veil on what’s hidden beneath.
(Translated from French)
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