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VENICE 2020 Giornate degli Autori

Review: Una promessa

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- VENICE 2020: Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio return to fiction film with a story of fatherly love set in the cruel, illegal world of exploited farm labourers

Review: Una promessa
Salvatore Esposito in Una promessa

Nine years on from Seven Acts of Mercy [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio are making their return to fiction film with Una promessa [+see also:
trailer
interview: Gianluca and Massimiliano D…
film profile
]
, a work set in the world of illegally hired farm labourers exploited in the fields of southern Italy. The brothers tell the heart-breaking story of a father and son devastated by a great tragedy and forced to accept all manner of humiliations in order to survive. This second work by the Turin-based duo (who travelled to the Lido back in 2015 with their documentary River Memories [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
) is the only Italian title competing in the 17th edition of Giornate degli Autori, unfolding within the 77th Venice International Film Festival.

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The film’s lead is Salvatore Esposito (Gomorrah’s ruthless Genny Savastano), who steps into the new shoes (for him, at least) of a modern-day slave. We’re in Apulia, and Giuseppe is a loving father and husband, but he’s no longer able to carry out his work as a stone breaker in a quarry, owing to a terrible eye injury. As such, it’s up to his wife Angela (Antonella Carone) to leave home in the dead of night and earn money labouring in the local tomato fields so as to keep herself, her husband and her son Antò (Samuele Carrino) afloat. One day, the telephone rings: while harvesting the crop, Angela keeled over and has died. The cause: a heart attack, no doubt a result of stress and fatigue. Giuseppe and Antò are left alone and desperate, homeless and penniless. They find work in the very place where their beloved Angela lost her life: in the fields, where Italians and immigrants break their backs for just a few coins, and where those in need of a place to sleep are offered a bed in a rancid shack.  

What follows is an immersion into the horrors of exploitation affecting seasonal farmhands: human beings treated like animals, forced to work ever more quickly and without ever resting by unscrupulous overseers, who, for their part, lounge about in their beautiful homes and swimming pools, and see the tragic death of a labourer as just another “hole to fill””. Extorsion, abuse and humiliation: it’s in one such scene that we’re introduced to another key character in the film, Rosa (Licia Lanera), a woman who - like Giuseppe and Antò - has lost someone very dear to her, and is also being harassed by the farm overseer (Vito Signorile). Rosa was a friend of Angela’s, and the umpteenth incidence of abuse endured by Rosa will lend Giuseppe the strength he needs to react.

Using their own family history as their starting point for this film (their grandmother died in the fields of Apulia at the end of the 1950s, and their grandfather was a stone breaker), the De Serio brothers take a raw, realist approach to telling this story but they also lend it a spiritual air, and emphasise the loving relationship between the father and his son, positing it as essential for the withstanding of so much misery. When Angela dies, Giuseppe makes Antò a promise: that he will bring Antò’s mum back with him. It’s a promise that’s clearly impossible to keep, and which lends the film a new, metaphysical level – which viewers may or may not appreciate – but, ultimately, it unites the many souls who have suffered the same fate of exploitation and pain.

Una promessa is produced by La Sarraz Pictures together with RAI Cinema, and is co-produced by Shellac (France) and Take Five (Belgium), with the backing of Mibact and the support of Creative Europe, among others. International sales are in the hands of Shellac Films.

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(Translated from Italian)

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