Review: Lord of the Ants
– VENICE 2022: An overly classic style of production weakens Gianni Amelio’s biopic about a scandalous trial “under duress” in Italy in 1968
Luigi Lo Cascio in Ant Lord
“His crime was his weakness, an intentional weakness that rejected any form of authority”, wrote Pier Paolo Pasolini about him. Poet, visual artist and playwright, Aldo Braibanti found himself, in 1968, at the center of a sensational court case, accused of a non-existent crime, “coercion”, which was provided for in the fascist penal code and which still figured in the legislation of republican Italy in that time (“Anyone who exercises his power over another person in such a way as to reduce him to a state of total subjugation”).
Just like Oscar Wilde, prosecuted a century earlier for “gross public indecency”, this heretical and incoherent intellectual – former partisan and former leader of the Italian Communist Party, interested in the social organization of ants – is “above all” homosexual, a a difference which is intolerable in the eyes of the present social order, but which cannot be prosecuted as a crime. And when the very Catholic parents of Giovanni, 24, with whom Braibanti lives, denounce the poet to the Rome public prosecutor’s office for having physically and psychologically subjugated their son, an investigation is opened, resulting in the arrest of the “wicked maestro” and a trial which mobilizes Umberto Eco, Alberto Moravia, Elsa Morante, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Piergiorgio Bellocchio and Cesare Zavattini. At the time, director Gianni Amelio was 23 years old. He had just arrived in Rome, and he attended one of the court hearings with other members of the public. He realized that such an assassination could happen to anyone, including himself. Fifty years later, Amelio brings Ant Lord [+see also:
interview: Gianni Amelio
film profile] – a biopic and a free dramatization around the intellectual of Emilian origin who died in 2014 – at the Official Competition of 79e Venice Film Festival.
Narratively speaking, the film (written by the director alongside Edouard Petti and Federico Fava) is divided into three parts. In the first, Amelio introduces us to this gentle but charismatic man, embodied by Luigi Lo Casciowho recites his poetry to a young, adoring Giovanni (known as Ettore in the film and played by the newcomer Leonardo of Malta) whom he met in an art laboratory initiated by Braibanti in Plaisance. The couple soon moved to Rome where the poet introduced his companion to the gay art scene of the capital, during innocuous evenings characterized by cross-dressing. The youngster’s mother and brother soon materialize, forcibly taking Goivanni and locking him in a mental hospital.
The third section deals with the court case. Despite the dozens of electroshock sessions suffered by the “victim” of the constraint, the latter appeared before the court to testify that he freely and knowingly chose to embark on a relationship with Braibanti. It is in fact a young man with whom Braibanti had a brief relationship a few years earlier who testifies against the poet. Meanwhile, a journalist from the Unità newspaper (Elio Germano) follows the case, increasingly aware of the injustice playing out in the courtroom.
Gianni Amelio – who revealed his homosexuality in 2014, aged 69, during the presentation of his documentary Felice chi is diverso [+see also:
film profile] in Berlin – could not help identifying with the targeted intellectual in the name of public decency, or feeling the need to recall a fine example of a witch hunt (which was, moreover, very well reported by Carmen Giardina and Massimiliano Palmese in their 2020 documentary, moreover). But Amelio’s director’s approach is too classic, and struggles to render the stylistic registers expected by the new generations to whom the themes and lessons of the film are probably addressed. Indeed, the film’s slow-paced editing and impossibly long shots, not to mention the over-emphasis on acting, nuances, moods and accounts (the Italian Communist Party’s hypocrisy over the trial , the homophobic Calabrian character…) are all now so dated that they could easily be lost to viewers who didn’t live through that era.
(Translated from Italian)
Photo gallery 06/09/2022: Venice 2022 – Ant Lord
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