Lack – Hell: The exterminating reparative angel

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Lack – Hell. Faces astonished yet mobile, talkative and yet paralyzed with terror, bathed in a strange light, neither day nor night. Hell are already those signs of their being matter, flesh equal to barriers and fences. Twenty people, women and men, surrounded in a pile of rubble: damned. They work through a trauma, stare and cry, question themselves and talk. “Are we dead! … Are we dead?”

Amazement and disbelief. It looks like a 70’s happening. Glances, necks, bodies amidst the sound of stones, scrap metal and footsteps. Visual close-ups and acoustic close-ups. The sound is heard above all in the silence, absolute, if it were not for the (in) signifier of their gestures, minimal. Tear off a leaf, dance, hint a shy smile, smoke. Every now and then, used with eloquent parsimony, as an axis of lyrical symmetry, to better give sound form to the listening void, to the diegetic sound props, the music of Andrea Manzoli and the voice of the soprano Valentina Coladonato arrive.

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Stefano Odoardi, the director


Virgil of independent cinema, Stefano Odoardi had already been able to guide us in the tunnel vision of previous works, magnificent sensory expansions aimed at recreating and reuniting separate universes. A gray, leaden, opaque vision, as here, or immersed in the light of a resplendent and imperceptible landscape beauty, that of milky mourning in A White ballad (2007).

The echoes of Chekhov and Beckett, possible tutelary deities, are once again transcended in a magma-work that rearticulates bodies, pain and light. For everything to re-understand and heal, right from the disaster.

A moment before arriving in Hell, the work opens in another part of the space. A few seconds in the woods, in a sacred enclosure guarded by trees, where the Godot who never arrives, this time a female Angel, is instead about to free himself from the huge cage that imprisons him, evoked by the not completely extinguished darkness of the souls in pain.

While a touch of the bell, the sound incipit of the film, acts as a link between the two worlds. It is the secret threshold of nature, a sphere of the psyche and of divine fury. It appears parallel to the laceration of the damned, as the principle of an initiatory rebirth related to the fall.

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Lack-Hell, the first piece of a trilogy

Lack-Hell, the first piece of a trilogy that will arrive at the natural opposite Paradise, does not deny right from the start, right from here, the paradoxical equivalence of what appears to be opposed. The space pertaining to the Angel and that relating to the damned are equidistant places, recalling each other.

Their convergence distills the awareness of the transience of things, the terrible yet luminous (and illuminating) discovery of the hell of need and attachment. Like a Buddhist text. The mono no aware resides in the stones seen as humiliated drops of a rock believed to be indestructible. Numinous metaphor of an inner earthquake.

To divide nature and culture, eternity and time, permanence and impermanence, the film uses different technical and linguistic tools. If a high-definition digital camera revolves around the damned, it is instead a 16mm film camera that stalks, contemplates and recreates Angélique Cavallari’s gaze.

The Angel in a light raincoat with a Louise Brooks helmet, but more disheveled. Seductive and stylized Angel of imperfection. On the one hand, a professional actress, struggling with a great classic, Rilke’s Elegie duino (1912-1922), a poetic text that is the capital of the (non) meaning of life; on the other hand, the protagonists taken from the street, called to improvise unwritten dialogues and monologues.

Lack – Hell: divide to converge, synthesis of antithesis. In this way, the verses spoken by the Angel, exterminator and repairer at the same time, Angelus Novus harbinger of truths kept at bay and bright lights , they reformulate the theater. The scene becomes a pure image, a cinema of gaze, far from literary conventions and academicisms. Where, the non-fictional testimonies of the authentic damned / victims draw on the depth (psychological, poetic) of an expressive documentary, never of mere information.

Schism more than earthquake. In fact, any mention of the 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila has been banned, except in the credits. The characters are out of time, actors of a trauma confused with the pain and horror of living. They could belong indifferently to a place of war or occupation, of economic crisis and eviction, of loss of work or of a love. The reconstruction alluded to is the Rilkian one of re-perceiving things differently, in the shadow of a higher positivity.

Even the re-construction (but negative, standardizing) of the marginalized Franz Biberkopf took place in a stony and undifferentiated landscape, watched by the Angels (two), in the final and cemetery part of Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980). Fassbinder, in addition to Döblin (same generation and language as Rilke), was inspired by Pasolini’s concrete abstract Inferno.

That Sadian Salò (1975) on the anthropological mutations of the system, already foreshadowed by the naked corpses among the stones of the dream of Accattone (1961), another character transformed Dialectic of enlightenment , the revelation of the barbarism of civilization and rationality, the ground trodden by Rilke. The same forced civilization, which with stones and rubble marked the scenario of a re-founded theater in cinema, the avant-garde of the Tunisian Nouveau Théâtre collective by Fadhel Jaïbi and Fadhel Jaziri.

Certainly mindful of Fassbinder and Pasolini, and possible predecessors of Odoardi’s multi-phonic path (theater, cinema, poetry, video-art). Everything comes back, inevitably. In consideration of the fact that today more than ever we are suffocated by the chaos of “civilization” (if you still like to call it that) and the earthquake in L’Aquila was immediately read as an emblematic metaphor for even excess ruins.

Political degradation ( Draquila , 2010, by Sabina Guzzanti), the existential condition, especially youth, already earthquake of its own ( Into the Blue, 2010, by Emiliano Dante), the pathological artificiality-spectacle of our social life. Right in the midst of those rubble, Pippo Delbono has chosen to frame the deep, unbearable pain of Love flesh (2001) and Sangue (2013).

Now, more than in the center, the tragedy appears in the background of a discourse of which it is nevertheless an integral part. The director amplifies its scope, moving it to an anthropological and psychoanalytic level. Social film? politic? Also.

Without being, however, to the end. Like Rilke’s elegies or the earthquake do not fully express the film. Everything is text and pre-text together. We do not bind ourselves to anything in particular, constantly remaining on the threshold, determinedly indeterminate. The current waste land emerges from a form-content in symbiosis with the original literary work, a sad journey of sublimation of one’s own split.

Structure-story adhering to everything and coherently beyond, and beyond, every element and topic it serves. Classic text and scene free , film and digital, set diction and docu neo-realism. Examples that define but do not exhaust the scope of the film.

In his pantheistic way, the author looks with respect to any form of pain, large or small, and placing high literature and daily testimony (both arising from the depths and from the psychology of the depths) on the same level. It is nice to see how non-professional actors, placed in a condition aimed at materially recreating the “great unity” pursued by Rilke, and matching the themes and cinema of Stefano Odoardi (suspension between natural and supernatural, confrontation with death and precariousness from which previously they had been distracted, convergence of individual with collective, sense of the finite as the infinite), are able to touch, with their own words and means, an equal poetic essence. Speaking of the punishment inherent in the human condition, of loneliness and absence, they recreate Rainer Maria Rilke at the height of everyday life. Even by cross roads, through the unconscious.

A boy names the animal , an example, for the Austrian-Bohemian poet (together with the angel, the hero, the acrobat, the puppet and the child), of serene unawareness of death . “I saw a cat spinning,” he whispers prophetically, so close to Viridiana’s Buñuelian girl (1961) who had seen a menacing black bull, prolapse to the drama of restrained impulses. Later, even a man, in tears, tells of the death of his kitten, Lulù: an unconscious reference to the character of Wedekind and Pabst, at the same time innocent and terrible, depending on how you look at him. “I feel innocent. I feel in hell “is reported by a joke. And on Lulu, it was said, perhaps the Angel (s) composed by Cavallari was modeled.

The division underlying the film thus gradually reveals the dawn of a new understanding. “How can you say that there is no more beauty? … that there is only silence? … that you would like to do something and you cannot do it because it is forbidden?”. New articulations of light and shadow outline the persecuted (ta) communion. A dialogue between two men becomes almost imperceptible, intimacy flows into silence and the inaudible, in the blurry frame.

Here and elsewhere the focal length resizes the background, bringing out the image-affection, the face. The displaced fire of the floors highlights the oscillation between hell and the antechamber of purgatory, a prelude to paradise. And it is also the words that lose fire, weight, or probably acquire it, elevated to Eucharistic formulas, transubstantiated in prayer.

It will be a verse from the tenth elegy to Duino (“May my face wet with tears shine, and the weeping that cannot be seen flourish”) to celebrate the union of the two horizons, human and superhuman, which in the final embrace liturgical with touching stylistic dryness.

Referring to the cinema of historical reconstruction, Umberto Barbaro warned that the imagination, if developed consistently, always ends up matching reality, guessing the past and also predicting the future: the supreme mystery of art.

Of course it also applies to the adaptation of a text and the visual re-creation of a complex state of mind. Mancanza-Inferno offers itself as a multiple and unitary work, capable of breaking down the distances of time and space not only within it. If willing to welcome it, the split viewer can receive in exchange a renewed gaze, the gift of a radical aesthetic experience.

Otherwise, we risk being damned, sheltered from the broad and intimate semantic horizon that the film unfolds. An interior panorama, full of beauty that is never taken for granted or separated. To which Rilke himself would perhaps have looked out with joy.

Leonardo Persia



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