J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

BFF ’12: [s]comparse


This is not a “making of” behind-the-scenes documentary.  It is an examination of several culture clashes.  When Emanuele Crialese’s crew went to the Mediterranean island of Linosa to shoot the immigration drama Terraferma, they hired many real life refugees from North African to relive their experiences as extras on the production.  Rather than produce a publicity film, Antonio Tibaldi scrupulously captured their ironic experiences in [s]comparse (trailer here), the recent winner of the Spirit Award in the documentary category at the 2012 Brooklyn Film Festival.

Selected by Italy as its most recent foreign language Oscar submission, Terraferma is not a bad film that has had a fair amount of festival play (including this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival).  Though it bemoans the laws forbidding citizens from sailing to the rescue of drowning would-be illegal immigrants, its primary characters are all native Italians.  This fact is not lost on Terraferma’s North African cast-members.

While the treatment of refugees is the driving issue of [s]comparse, the film crew’s hypocrisy is never papered over.  Not so shockingly, wages are a contentious issue and the concept of withholding tax comes as a rather unpleasant surprise to the somewhat disgruntled extras.  Though not always enlightened in their attitudes, local islanders also start to feel the demanding film crew is abusing their hospitality.

Aside from some interviews with the migrant actors, [s]comparse is a quiet, fly-on-the-beach observational-style documentary.  Linosa still looks like a beautiful place to visit, but the graveyard of stripped-down boats, abandoned on the shore by those fortunate enough not to be swallowed-up by the sea, clearly testifies to the magnitude of the situation.

To an extent, [s]comparse cuts both ways, openly siding with the global downtrodden and distressed, but also highlighting the self-serving pretenses of a film ostensibly advocating on their behalf.  Of course, it is easier to pick up on the latter if you have actually seen Terraferma.  It would be fascinating to watch them programmed together at a festival, but that is probably not likely to happen. 

To his credit, Tibaldi never belabors his points, wrapping it all up in just over an hour.  Sure to find its niche on the festival circuit as Terraferma develops its own, [s]comparse is easily recommended for followers of Italian cinema and international refugee issues.

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