Hand Gestures (Il gesto delle mani, Italy 2015)

IL-GESTO-DELLE-MANI-1

This is already a contender for ‘canine film of the year’. In fact the dog in the film is a wax model later transformed into a bronze sculpture. But the recumbent body reminded me of mine own Oscar [not the uncle], especially when at one point the wax sculpture was placed on its back, just as he reclines on our sofa. The film was screened in the Hyde Park Picture House ‘Tuesday Wonder’ slot [supported by the Henry Moore Institute], so unfortunately there was only one screening.

The film follows the process of making a bronze sculpture at the Fonderia Artistica Battaglia in Milan. The foundry uses the age old techniques of ‘lost wax’ casting: a process little changed from the bronze age though now they use modern technology including plastic piping. The film opens with the almost complete wax model, which then has a ceramic shell constructed in a series of stages before the molten metal is poured into the cast to form the bronze copy. The final stages are a series of scaling and polishing and then – this glowing metal sculpture.

The film opens with a series of brief onscreen titles which provide basic information. The rest of the film relies on limited dialogue but no commentary. The process is filmed in a series of discrete shots, showing the craftsmen and the object as the process develops. The angles of the shots are carefully chosen to display the craft, how the workers stand, use the wax or the clays, how they move and handle the sculpture. There are constant ellipsis as the process carries on, only one of which is signalled. I think the process takes quite a number of days but the duration is not clear in the film. The film also uses footage shot at the foundry in 1967 [on 16mm] and in 1974 together with stills of the foundry and its workers from earlier periods.

After the screening a friend commented that the film was a little like “watching paint dry”. The S&S review uses the phrase  ‘slow cinema’ and also ‘fly-on-the-wall’. Neither was really my sense of the film. In some ways it parallels the earlier Italian documentary Le quattro volte (2010, also referred to in S&S). But there is a vastly different tone to this film. It is careful and loving documentation of a particular artistic process. The process is fascinating, and the stages in the development of this work of art do suggest the wonder that accompanies the process whilst displaying the work-a-day labour which achieves it. At the end the new bronze dog is placed among a litter of similar sculptures, but all with their distinctive characteristics.

The title of the film comes from a quotation by the Italian sculptor Giacomo Manzoni, comparing sculptures to a series of ‘hand gestures’. The film only lasts 75 minutes. it combines colour and black and white film. It was directed by Francesco Clerici and written by Francesco Clerici with Martina De Santis

I had two reservations during the screenings, both examples of the problems with digital cinema. The earlier film footage has been reframed to fit the widescreen image: though the stills were in their correct ratio as was the film [with the only accompanying music] in the end credits. And the subtitles in English were right on the bottom line of the frame: this seems in part because the DCP is in 1.78:1, presumably for television usage. One of the staff advised me that the distributors frequently fail to provide exact detail of these aspects: which dismays me but does not surprise me.

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