Monica, Why Don't You Cry For Me? By Davide Zanza

in 64th Venice International Film Festival

by Davide Zanza

After having been unjustly arrested for drug possession in the late 1960s, Alberto Grifi, the first underground Italian director, died some months ago but not before he decided to tell what really happened during his time spent in jail with reflections on his film career and life. Using the prison experience as a starting point, he began filming the true essence of the violence and hate, perhaps the only example in the Italian cinema of those years. The eye is, so to speak, the biological evolution of one tear and this 35 minute documentary Autoritratto Auschwitz; l’occhio è per così dire l’evoluzione biologica di una lacrima, covers mainly the period between 1965-68 (the Italy of that period was a difficult political and social situation) and it was completed some months before the director died.

In truth, all the cinema of Alberto Grifi represents a work in progress. Every film made in the past by the director was never finished and had always needed to move and follow the flow of the contemporary real. The first images in fact belong to the present. The Italian actor Alessandra Vanzi reads some letters in which she tells us of the past material from Alberto’s point of view. She uses the extension of the photos and some old newspaper pages while the voice is transformed in images. We see Grifi walking in the concentration camp of Auschwitz while reading a heartbreaking letter of a survivor who describes the hell of the camp. The photos show us the horrors and the violence. Afterwards, we find ourselves again in a studio where on a screen repeatedly is shown a wave document on the war in Iraq. This segment serves the director’s attempts to put in order the connection between the violence of yesterday with that taking place today.

We see Alessandra again as she takes another letter from the late 1960s. The words are those written from the same person, Grifi, but this time from the jail where he tried to depict towards the outside how much was happening within the Sardinian jail of Mamone where he had been imprisoned. The depictions of received violence seem unimaginable. There are physical but above all moral tortures. Describing the experience of violence alongside playing soccer, the days pass by in the cell of isolation. The words are accompanied from the images of some film cut that the director had saved. In particular we see footage of Monica Vitti on the set of Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Red Desert (Il Deserto Rosso, 1964), where she begins to cry. The strong sense of this parallel meaning is in the denunciation that the same Grifi writes purposely of the so-called director’s roman, more so than in that period made not by the film’s communication (the reference is turned above all to Antonioni) but the time spent in jail when the pain of the endured violence was screened to a high voice. But there is more. The film has been completed with the resumptions made from the same director some years ago, when he was to meet Antonioni and his wife. A scene that strengthens the sense of the images yesterday, a true and just indictment.

Autoritratto Auschwitz; l’occhio è per così dire l’evoluzione biologica di una lacrima has been projected as a dedicated prize to Alberto Grifi’s memory and serves as a fitting eulogy to the also recently deceased Antonioni (certainly a timely coincidence). And also the meaning beyond these details, ‘Self-portrait’ represents for the Italian cinema of that period and today, a lesson on succeeding in filming by depicting the horror and the violence without resorting necessarily (as it often happens in contemporary reality) to the macabre details of people being struck by bombs or from shooting. The film has been made on the subject of Grifi as if, using the camera, the same letter was addressed to one and all.

The choice of the witnesses to read real letters replaces the many lies of a screenplay with its rich bourgeois attitudes, composed stereotypes from converses rich of egoist thinking that can only tell of false problems. It would be beautiful to publish the text of the letter written from the director in the jail in order to become an account of the state of things, yesterday as today. For this they use the new ones for past scenes that turn to you through these years. A bridge that is still not finished and that must make us reflect every day on what happens to people. So, Alberto Grifi has worked in recent years to connect above all with the young people to whom he has taught to watch beyond the look, being used this time in the new technologies, to read, with little expense, and philosophically close to our mind’s eye.

In order to continue the job of Alberto on the historical memory of those years, an intentional association formed by his son Ivan with the collaboration of Interact (a house of roman production) has been set up.