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BERLINALE 2024 Forum

Review: The Secret Drawer


- BERLINALE 2024: In the documentary dedicated to her father, Costanza Quatriglio combines a personal story with an account of a bygone era and a tribute to the crucial work of library archivists

Review: The Secret Drawer
Giuseppe Quatriglio in The Secret Drawer

Do children have the right to open their parents’ secret drawers? Not really, Costanza Quatriglio tells us, but there is an appropriate moment in which such action becomes a necessity. In her new documentary, The Secret Drawer [+see also:
interview: Costanza Quatriglio
film profile
, which was presented in the 74th Berlinale’s Forum line-up, the Palermo-born director tells us how and why she one day decided to open the drawer in the studio belonging to her father Giuseppe, a journalist, writer and “avid traveller”. And this is how – by way of film footage, photographs and audio accumulated over an entire working life, more or less 70 years of journalism – she offers up a precious testimonial of an era and allows us to partake in the intimate journey of a daughter rediscovering her father.

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It all began in 2022, when the director decided to donate the vast library belonging to her father who died in 2017, Giuseppe Quatriglio - a long-standing writer for the Giornale di Sicilia and other leading newspapers, a keen observer of his time, and a friend to 20th century men of culture - to the Sicilian Region. The house where the filmmaker grew up, in Palermo, was subsequently “invaded” by strangers, archivists and librarians who literally attacked Giuseppe’s shelves and bookcases, taking, moving and cataloguing books, indexing film footage and slides and trying to lend order to an endless mound of documents of unquestionable cultural interest. Quatriglio details their work meticulously and films everything with her camera, in the present day. But her lens had also wandered between these rooms twelve years earlier, between 2010 and 2011, when she’d started to film her father who was almost ninety at the time, purely to preserve her memory of him.

Consequently, thanks to skilful editing courtesy of Letizia Caudullo (who sadly passed away a few days ahead of the film’s premiere in Berlin), the movie alternates modern-day shots of the Quatriglio residence with those from the past, when, in those very same spaces overflowing with books, magazines and folders – which we see gradually being emptied in the present day – Giuseppe himself told his own story and satisfied his daughter’s curiosity. The first half of the film is dominated by the immense archive – in all, upwards of 60,000 photo negatives taken from the post-war period onwards, dozens of 8mm film reels, and hundreds of hours of audio recordings – which reflects almost a century of history: from Palermo to America, where Quatriglio was a correspondent for many years, taking in Paris in the ‘50s, Berlin during the wall era, interviews with Carlo Levi and Jean Paul Sartre, his friendship with Leonardo Sciascia and Renato Guttuso, his encounter with Nobel Prize-winner Enrico Fermi, lighter images depicting the journalist alongside Cary Grant and dramatic photos testifying to the devastating earthquake in Belice, Sicily.

The film flicks through trolley-loads of photographs bursting with life, documenting major events but also moments of everyday life, accompanied by carefully selected music, until, at a given moment, the director herself enters into the frame: the beloved daughter, her newborn cries, photos of her with pigtails and messy clothes appearing alongside the greatest intellectuals of the time, or posing, as an adolescent, for major artist-friends of the family. All of this and more re-emerges from the Quatriglio archive (“his way of ordering the world also applied to me and my mother”, Costanza observes) in an endless dialogue between personal and collective memory, which, over the course of this two hours-plus film (which might have benefited from a little “haircut”), continually changes pace and atmosphere, without forgetting to reflect upon issues which are just as topical today as they were in the past century: migration, pollution, war in Europe, and many more.

The Secret Drawer is produced by Indyca, Luce Cinecittà and RAI Cinema, in co-production with Rough Cat and RSI Radiotelevisione svizzera. International sales are entrusted to Film Harbour.

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(Translated from Italian)

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