Saturday, August 09, 2014

Locarno 2014: La spiaggia, Alberto Lattuada, 1954

The first shot of the first film (a trailer for someting called Attanasio cavallo vanesio) I saw at this year's festival: A man standing next to a horse, and praising it by singing a weird, decidedly upbeat song. What more could I possibly wish for for the rest of Locarno.

After the trailer (featuring many other highlights; unfortunately the film itself isn't part of the nonetheless already glorious Titanus retrospective) a beautiful discovery: Alberto Lattuada's La spiaggia, a film (maybe) about holiday culture and its discontent. Or, once again maybe: about both the inescapable necessity for and the impossibility of holiday.

The first (?) shot: A train station, framed much like in the famous Lumiere film. Two nuns (btw: already a lot of nuns in this year's festival...) lead a small girl towards the camera, until the documentary-like framing has given way to a close-up of her face filling the whole screen. Is this Lattuada announcing his complete control over the image? Maybe, but there's still the weird look on the child's face. Lattuada conquers the frame not for himself, but for his actors.

Martine Carol, the main actress, arrives by train (the first few shots of her: maneuvering, searching for an equilibrium). She's the mother of the girl, together they start a vacation, which might become permanent. But first, they need to work through different social spaces: The train cabin, a hotel, and the small town the hotel is a part of. Lattuada constantly switches between the story of mother and daughter and the panoramatic exploration of these spaces: fun on the beach, gossip on the terrace, parading on the promenade. 

Already at the beginning, in the train, things get crowded, but there's still a sense of fluidity. Just throw everything out of the window: bad habits, sins, the past; your companions won't mind, they'll be gone in a short while anyway. Later on, when arriving in the hotel, escape's no longer an option. They see / hear / find you, they know you, they circle in. You have to deal with the economics of space.

The economics of holiday space in 1950s Italy: british ladies having fun with their wild beasts / Italian lovers; rebellious daughters piling up debts, wearing colorful trousers, pouting almost constantly (and spectacularly), finally taking off to Paris; microeconomics of dinnertime (who orders what? who has to sit alone?); microeconomics of childhood at the beach (actually: pretty hard economics...); the microeconomics (or: mastereconomics?) of gossip, including one fake queen of gossip.

Above all: a double leadership. One democratic, conventionally handsome, but ultimately powerless against the forces of gossip: the mayor, who has managed to turn a sleepy town into a tourist attraction; but who is ultimately too middle-class to fight middle-class prejudice. The other feudalistic, sleazy but sexless, money trenched, completely despotic, but ultimately benevolently so: A millionaire, scanning the beach with binoculars, accompanied by a small apecommanding the other tourists at will.

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