Analysis Saturday Matinees Preview

Saturday Matinees Preview: C’era una volta il Covid (2020)

Director: Giuseppe Arcieri

Writer: Giuseppe Arcieri & Michele Piazzolla

Cast: Antonio Sarcinelli

Running time: 5mins

The costs of running a film festival often mean they struggle to break even, let alone make a profit, making fee waivers difficult to grant. As a result, filmmakers who already struggle to have their voices heard are often further marginalised.

But movies from artists from low-income backgrounds, opposition groups hit by censorship, or individuals in nations subjected to international sanctions still need a platform. That’s why Indy Film Library’s Saturday Matinees are returning for a third season. Over six weeks, the latest series of Saturday Matinees is showcasing work from places where monetary and legal constraints have prevented the free communication of political and social issues.

The fourth film in our free-to-view programme comes from Giuseppe Arcieri, a filmmaker based in Foggia, Italy. The film examines the prolonged solitude which many people around the world endured throughout the lockdown months of 2020. C’era una volta il Covid (translated by the director for English audiences, to the much less poetic Once upon a time there was the Covid) follows Antonio (Antonio Sarcinelli) – an ageing man, marooned alone amid a turbulent sea of ominous headlines.

Emphasising some of the anxieties which were – and to an extent, still are – swirling around our consciousness at the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, a newspaper seems to have been written to mock Antonio in his desperate search for peace. It makes various remarks about human ageing, before its articles turn their eyes to the mounting casualties of the global medical emergency, “those who died in agony”, “in desperation” or who “were suffocated by dejected calamities” – ending with a descent into despairing pleas to a higher power, and making contrived references to Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener.

Tormented by the whirlwind of bad news, even in the midst of one of the most beautiful coastal towns you could ever imagine, Antonio struggles to drown out the noise. In the film’s climax, memories of the countryside, and thoughts of a world beyond the panic of human language, help to quell his fears, enabling him to catch his breath, and unwind on the idyllic sea shore.

As well meaning as this very straight-forward narrative might be, however, there are some drastic shortcomings worth bringing up in Arcieri’s final product. Not least, its misuse of its picturesque surroundings.

As was the case with L’Elefante nella stanza and its steadfast failure to exploit the wonderous Calabrian coast, Arcieri seems to underestimate just how gorgeous his home his, and the cinematic opportunities that offers up. It’s his hometown, so perhaps he takes it a little for granted. But from the outside looking in, deciding to shoot a climactic fishing scene without using the setting sun to highlight Antonio’s silhouette is little short of criminal. Instead, we get a strange, over the shoulder shot. Were the camera angled differently, this shot could have made use of the endless blue stretching out before Antonio, like the infinite time he has been spending alone, but instead it is angled down to minimise the view. We might as well be looking at a terracotta gnome dipping his line into a garden pond.

At the same time, incidental footage of another blood-red sunset that bookends the film seems to have been sped up, as if Arcieri doesn’t have any faith in the concentrations of his viewers. In this case, the framing is beautiful, but we rush past the scene as though we really needed to get into four minutes of Antonio reading the news paper or cooking dinner instead.

This lack of patience bleeds into those scenes, too, though. What characterised the initial lockdown months for many people – on top of the continued, exhausting fear of the unfolding health crisis – was an infuriating shift away from being eternally busy, to having nothing to fill the time. For someone living in a society that expects you to always be doing something, that initial jump into protracted rest can be excruciating – and we do not get nearly enough slow-burn footage of Antonio’s daily routines to get a feeling of that, en route to embracing his spare time, and making the most of the peace that life before the pandemic saw so little of.

As a result of this, C’era una volta il Covid is an inoffensive watch, which rips past at just shy of five minutes. But it is also something of a missed opportunity. Should Arcieri want to return to this kind of storytelling in future, and apply a little more patience with his shooting to make the most of the surrounding beauty of Foggia, he will undoubtedly produce something much more accomplished.

C’era una volta il Covid will be available to view for free in full from 09:00 UK time on Saturday the 22nd of July, until the end of the weekend, via our Saturday Matinees theatre page.

As the film is still trying to gain access to other festivals, the page is password protected. Use the code IFLMATINEE23 to access the film.

Viewers can also vote to score the film out of five stars – the Saturday Matinee which receives the highest score will be declared the winner of the third season.

Stay tuned for another film next week!

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