Dignity, Always Dignity

in 27th Torino Film Festival

by Paola Casella

Although the international selection of the competition entries at the 27th Torino Film Festival was quite heterogeneous, one theme was emphasized in several films: the desire to maintain a sense of dignity in even the most difficult circumstances. Take, for example, the Filipino children of Ralston Jover’s Baseco Bakal Boys, living in extreme poverty along the seaside and making little extra money to help out their families by diving for scrap metal. After one expedition, an older boy named Bungal disappears; the rest of the film is dedicated to his friend Otay’s incessant, fruitless search. The missing boy’s grandmother gives Otay a totem Bungal made to boast his own ability as a diver – which now eerily looks like a tombstone. Otay refuses to accept it with great dignity and goes on looking for his friend. In the same vein, Otay’s older brother gives up all his savings, patiently collected to buy himself a new pair of fins, to help out his family, without complaint.

Human dignity is also put to the test in Calin Peter Netzer’s Medal of Honor (Medalia De Onoare), which tells the story of Ion, a 75 year old Romanian veteran who is honored by the government for brave conduct during the war. The medal not only earns him great respect and admiration from his friends and neighbors, but it also entitles him to several social and economic privileges, extremely helpful to him and his wife, both living on retirement income. But when Ion realizes that he was awarded the medal by mistake he feels like an impostor. Even though he is the only one within his small circle to know the truth, he can no longer enjoy his newfound popularity. Even more principled is Ion’s wife, who despite her love for her husband and her pride in his medal of honor, will not let him get away with the guilt for having denounced their son when the young man chose to flee Romania rather than bear life under Ceausescu’s dictatorship.

The gang of runaway convicts in Jonathan Auf Der Heide’s historical drama Van Diemen’s Land has to confront the issue of human dignity when their collective hunger forces them to consider eating the weaker – or less popular – members of their party. While some dismiss their cannibalism as a necessary means for survival, others can’t come to terms with their gradual loss of humanity and have to own up to their debasement and their crossing to the side of Evil.

Finally, Italian competition entries, Gioberto Pignatelli’s Santina and Pietro Marcello’s The Mouth of the Wolf (La bocca del lupo) – which was awarded the FIPRESCI prize – deal with the desire of people in the worst possible life conditions to maintain a shred of dignity and even soar above their circumstances. Santina (based on one of the many characters in Elsa Morante’s historical novel La storia) is an aging prostitute living in extreme poverty on the outskirts of Rome (Pasolini’s turf) at the mercy of her pimp, a brute reminiscent of Zampanò from Fellini’s La strada. The woman’s path to retrieving her human dignity is her love for the pimp who ends up killing her, a reminder of the relationship between Gelsomina and Zampanò. And love gives a chance also to Enzo and Mary, the protagonists of The Mouth of the Wolf, an ex-convict and a transsexual prostitute, both living in the underbelly of Genoa. Their longstanding relationship, sustained by respect and mutual support, lifts them above their predicaments and makes them fly high above the ghetto of a port city which hides its human misery deep within its alleys.

Edited by Yael Shuv