Thursday, August 28, 2014

Locarno 2014: Concorso 4 Attrici 1 Speranza, Alfredo Guarini, 1953

The compilation film is called Siamo donne, or, in english, "We, the Women". Four of the five segments bear the names of famous actresses who more or less play themselves (Anna Magnani: definitely more). The most interesting (not the best, of course, for there'll always be this hillarious Rossellini short in which Ingrid Bergman chases a chicken through her garden) part of the film is the first episode, though: before cinema can expose a famous woman, it has to produce her, select her, name her.

The title of this episode doesn't make much sense (maybe I just don't understand it), for there are way more than four women involved. One of the most impressive shots shows a long line of them in front of the Titanus studio gate, waiting for a chance to take a screen test (for a film called Siamo donne, that is... just one more proof that classical cinema never was a stranger to reflexivity). Many will have to walk back almost immediately, being rejected by the selecting studio personal (all or at least mostly male, of course...) shortly after entering. The others will procede to the weirdest part of the selection process: A dinner, where the candidates are seated next to judges, and told to behave "naturally" - while a spotlight swoons over the chairs, illuminating the hopeful women / girls one after another. For most of them, this "fluorescent long shot eating" will remain the only encounter with show business... This one moment, when, instead of trying to charm the weird guy next to me, I proceeded to eat pasta clumsily - and just then I felt the light hitting my face... Some of them, however, will bloom at this first encounter with the limelight, this first step towards public individualisation, and they'll move on towards the real screen test, towards another, way more intimate gaze.

The special ploy of the film: Not only has the selection already been made, the film recognizes this (its own...) selection from the start. We enter the selection process not as objective observers, but together with one of the women (Anna Amendala, I think - all wanna-be-actresses are adressed by their real given names), through the prism of her hope to escape a confining family environment, of finally earning her own money etc. Of course, she is one of the two who'll finally make it (searching for one, finding two - cinema is also a multiplier of women). So is the main part of the film only a "rite of passage" she has to go through? Not really... Perhaps the most interesting thing about "Concorso 4 Attrici 1 Speranza" is the way her individuality is somehow swept aside as soon as she enters the studio facility: The film is taken over (never completely, though...) by the selection process, the camera angle changes to a god-like perspective, almost as if the cinema suddenly did own up, rather unvoluntarily, to its own bias towards voyeurism and monitoring - as if the cinema suddenly realizes, that every shot implicates an act of selection and therefore exclusion. And accepting this fact might be the most important prerequisit for anyone (and in a sexist world maybe especially: any woman) trying to enter the gaze of the cinema.

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