– BERLINALE 2021: Italian filmmaker Pietro Marcello returns to the documentary form with this tribute to popular Bolognese singer Lucio Dalla
After his foray into fiction cinema with last year’s Martin Eden [+see also:
interview: Pietro Marcello
film profile], Italian filmmaker Pietro Marcello returns to what he does best with For Lucio [+see also:
film profile], a documentary on famous Bolognese singer Lucio Dalla. The film world-premiered in the Berlinale Special section of the 2021 Berlinale.
True to its title, For Lucio is more of a tribute than a biopic. With only two interviewees and a mass of archive material, it is, at the same time, a poetic view of Bologna and Italy after World War II. Born in 1943, Dalla grew up in a devastated country, and saw how reconstruction and industrialisation started changing the heart of his city, which used to be much more strongly connected to the countryside, simultaneously transforming – some would say “destroying” – Italian culture and identity.
However, the film tells us basically nothing about Dalla’s childhood, and the man really kept his private life to himself throughout his career. We only learn that he was a very talented boy, a child performer and clarinet player who first ventured into jazz.
The main interviewee in the film is Dalla’s long-time manager Umberto Righi, aka Tobia, who was more of a friend than a business partner to the singer. This is why his testimonies are more emotional and anecdotal than factual, so what we get is an impressionistic view of the film’s subject. And these stories paint a portrait of a person who was constantly changing, both as an artist and as a human being.
“He was like a perpetual firework,” says Dalla’s childhood friend Stefano Bonaga as he sits down for dinner with Tobia to shoot memories over pasta and wine. This refreshing and quintessentially Italian approach to the documentary fits perfectly with the archive part of the film.
And, of course, Italy is its other main subject. When Dalla met Roberto Roversi, an intellectual and poet who later became his lyricist, he was finally able to address the social issues and contradictions of society, resulting in his greatest trilogy of albums. To reflect this, Marcello counterpoints a short film of the famous Mille Miglia car race with the protests of Fiat workers over Gaddafi buying stakes in their company. Dalla, and probably the director, too, saw the climax of the rise of the capitalists and the decline of workers’ rights in the terrorist attack on Bologna railway station in 1980.
At his best, Marcello creates immersive worlds and stories in which connections are built instinctively and associatively: it is as far as the documentary form can get from journalism. This is the case with For Lucio as well. We get neither title cards nor time stamps, not even titles of songs or albums; just a film with gorgeous archive footage, a lot of great music with expertly translated lyrics, and images of the subject through his personal and creative changes. There is also one especially candid archive interview with Dalla sitting on the ledge of a train carriage that really captures the spirit of the unlikely stage star whom Tobia used to call “Spider” because he was short and hairy.
There is one big thing missing, however, and Marcello (kind of) solves it through his tried-and-tested method of recycling pieces from his own movies. At no point in the film are Dalla’s sexuality or intimate relationships mentioned. Instead, when Tobia and Stefano’s talk seems to be about to move on to this topic, the director reappropriates images from his magnum opus, the 2009 documentary The Mouth of the Wolf [+see also:
interview: Pietro Marcello
film profile], in which a convict reunites with his transsexual lover, to Dalla’s song “Il parco della luna” – about a misfit lost “half the way between Ferrara and the Moon”.
For Lucio was produced by Italy’s IBC Movie and RAI Cinema, and The Match Factory has the international rights.