The Genoese director Pietro Marcello made himself known two years ago with the documentary Il passagio delle linea. “Now he’s back with a film which crosses the border between documentary and fiction: The Mouth of the Wolf (La bocca del lupo).” The film tells the story of Enzo, a sixty-year-old man who has, to say the least, lived an eventful life, and his great love Mary, a transsexual whom he met during one of his many stays in jail. But The Mouth of the Wolf is about much more than the warm relationship between two extremely charismatic protagonists. Using a poetic documentary film language, director Pietro Marcello takes us through the history of the coastal city Genoa, the capital of the Liguria region, and exposes the life and fate of some of the city’s unsung heroes and villains.
Right from the first images, The Mouth of the Wolf casts a spell. Without ever descending into picture-postcard prettiness, the film establishes an atmosphere – we can almost feel the fragrances of the sea of Liguria.Through a deft mixture of archival footage and comtemporary images, we’re taken through the narrow streets of Genoa; the broad ports, the worn-out buildings, the monstrous cranes along the docks. Marcello gives us a unique view into the soul of this old and often wind-swept city, and also both the great achievements and misfortunes of its inhabitants.
Slowly and surely, Marcello turns his focus from the big, historical picture to the film’s main character, Enzo, a Sicillian who came to Genoa as a child and grew up to become a handsome, hard-faced, charismatic man – but with something of a dark personality: he fits in among the Genoese like a black jaguar among grey cats. In this way, he reminds me a lot of Johan Nilsen Nagel in Norwegian author Knut Hamsun’s novel Mysterier (Mysteries, 1892). Only Enzo is ultimately more warm-hearted, he has “the sweetness of a child in a body of a giant”.
The love story between Enzo and Mary is presented in a fragmented manner, combined with long takes in form of interviews. With his powerful blend of narrative techniques, Marcello manages to let us deep under the skin and far into the mind of the two protagonists. At times, though, Marcello seems to have found it hard to “kill his darlings,” as it were: one long scene in a bar, which portrays a sort of emotional drama involving several people, feels too fervent and stilted.
But those blemishes we can overlook, because when considering the whole picture, The Mouth of the Wolf is a brilliant film contemplating life, love, happiness, misfortunes and the longing of the human soul. With this film, young director Pietro Marcello has demonstrated an aesthetically bold and innovative way of telling a history of universal validity. He’s pushed the boundaries and reminded us all that film is a limitless art form.
Edited by Tara Judah
© FIPRESCI 2009