Review: Le Belle Estati
- Mauro Santini’s loose adaptation of two Cesare Pavese novels into an experimental film plays with the limits between fiction and reality
Le Belle Estati is the title of Mauro Santini’s new movie, presented in the Italian Documentary Competition of the 41st Turin Film Festival. Intended as an audiovisual laboratory for students at Mengaroni Art School in Pesaro, it has ultimately turned into an experimental and, at times, lyrical offering, very loosely reworking Cesare Pavese’s two short novels, The Beautiful Summer and The Devil in the Hills - modern classics offering a unique depiction of youth. Mauro Santini and his students depict situations and characters originally created for Turin but now transposed to modern-day Pesaro, in an endeavour which highlights the universal nature of Pavese’s work and the capacity of film to draw on literary sources with great imagination. As the film’s images flow past on screen, we see these youngsters transforming, growing and acquiring world experience in the same way as Pavese’s characters Ginia, Amelia, Pieretto and Guido, in a continual dialogue between the words of the two novels, between sound and image, and between fiction and reality.
Le Belle Estati sets itself the challenge of exploring the ardour and embarrassment inherent to youth, mixing the various languages of art, from painting through to the modern films of Antonioni, in a continual mise en abyme which allows the young actors to reveal a little something of themselves while acting. All the literary characters are played by at least two actors, closely mirroring the dual nature of the film which draws on two sources. This approach, which sees the protagonists showcasing themselves as both students and actors, allows the movie to cover several events narrated by Pavese in both novels, notably the scene of Ginia undressing or of the youngsters bathing naked. A nakedness which has to be metaphorical in the film, playing with the idea of an immature, developing identity.
In this sense, the film becomes an essay on mise en scene and a testimony to the joys, difficulties and fears characterising the last year of high school, full of leaps of faith and fleeting loves. It’s not an easy challenge which Santini sets himself, measuring himself against an author whose works have previously been brought to the big and small screen by none other than Michelangelo Antonioni (The Girlfriends, 1955) and Vittorio Cottafavi (Il diavolo sulle colline, 1985), and who carries enormous weight in Italian culture. A weight which the director and his students free themselves from, treating the text as if a piece of modern writing and endowing the characters with the same spontaneity Pavese afforded them; a spontaneity fuelled by their provincial nature, which is juxtaposed with the temptations and vices of the world.
Mauro Santini speaks of how he showed his students Jonas Mekas’ films and Stan Brakhage’s Mothlight in order to prepare them for the film-shoot, to give them an idea of a kind of filmmaking which doesn’t necessarily involve using a camera. It’s a pedagogical approach to unorthodox images, which should prove educational and which results in a very free film, shrouded in mild teenage modesty.
Le Belle Estati is produced by the Mengaroni Art School with funding from the Italian Ministry of Culture’s Cinema and Images call for submissions, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Merit.
(Translated from Italian)
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