Dai Bronzi 50 years of wonder: the docufilm “Semidei” by directors Fabio Mollo and Alessandra Cataleta in Venice


By John

Mysterious, yet there at your fingertips. Millennia old, yet with the strength of the contemporaneity of those who look at them, amazed and admired. Dense with a future, because their very long history assures us that they will continue to distribute charm and wonder. I am the Riace Bronzesalready protagonists of a thousand stories and a thousand theories and now characters in flesh and bronze (can we say? for them yes, we can say) of “Semidei”, the docufilm by Fabio Mollo from Reggio, who is also the director together with Alessandra Cataletaproduced by Palomar, made with the support of the Calabria Region – Department of Education, Training and Equal Opportunities and the Calabria Film Commission Foundation, on the occasion of the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of the statues, and presented in the “Venetian Nights” section of the Venice Film Festival.

«Art suspends time, mixing past, present and future. And for this reason it is anachronistic”, Mollo tells us. His film manages to unite History with a capital H and those of modern-day people who discover the Bronzes for the first time and open their eyes to wonder even before admiration. This is what happened in 1981, when they were exhibited for the first time, as seen in the sequence of period news broadcasts at the beginning of the film, between astonished looks, almost crushed by the beauty, and open mouths to mark the evidence of a discovery that sends the heart and mind into turmoil.

«This approach of people has not changed – explains the director – indeed we still read it in the eyes of the scholars and restorers who have been dealing with the Bronzes for decades now». It’s true: when they talk about their experiences and explain their theories, their gaze always goes beyond the camera. For example, the eyes of Nuccio Schepis, as he describes the latest restoration, overseen by him, seem to travel outside and even more inside these statues which have become his fathers and simultaneously brothers and sons. Or Daniele Castrizio, the archaeologist who teaches Numismatics at the University of Messina, who loses his gaze in the group of statues (I am sure he sees them) to which, according to his reconstruction, the Bronzes belonged, namely Eteocles and Polynices, the opposing brothers linked to the myth of Oedipus. But the German Vinzenz Brinkmann and the Japanese Koichi Hada also seem to sail through time and space. «For Castrizio and Schepis it is even more evident and more heartfelt because they are also from Reggio, they have a double involvement», notes Mollo.

There is a lot of Calabria in the film, Indeed. And this is the director’s main challenge. Able to avoid any rhetoric, and even more so any old controversy (without forgetting it), about the Bronzes and their discovery, the film voluntarily runs the risk of other rhetoric: those about the migrants who died in Cutro and about ethnic minorities such as the Roma; on the dreams of adolescents born in Calabria and those of women from stormy lands such as Ukraine; and also on traditions such as the feast of the medical saints Cosma and Damiano, patron saints of Riace, who also arrived from the sea. «I looked for stories and characters – says Mollo – to tell how they saw the Bronzes for the first time. The desires of Carlotta, a black-skinned teenager from Riace, full of enthusiasm towards the future she sees in Calabria (a revolutionary act), are intertwined with those of the Ukrainian Angela who lives in Roccella and the Roma Damiano who writes a letter to statues. In them we find something of ourselves and we better understand the aura, the charm, the power, the attractive force, the charisma that they exercise on everyone.”

If you think about it, they too were migrants and shipwrecked. It is believed that the Bronzes were initially brought from Greece (probably Argos) to imperial Rome, and then returned on a journey that ended in a shipwreck, which would have been forgotten forever if the Roman diver Stefano Mariottini had not found them at the bottom of the sea in Riace in 1972. «Theirs is a message of peace that crosses time», adds the director. «And even if Eteocles and Polynices killed each other, the statues were a sort of proto-cinema because they told a story, which was intended as an example and warning to desire peace. The civil war that leads to peaceful coexistence: for this reason it seems that the statues were brought to Rome and perhaps also for this reason they arrived in Reggio immediately after the revolt, which was almost a civil war. And the 50th anniversary of their discovery which coincided with the tragic shipwreck of Cutro is not a coincidence, with the Bronzes nothing is a coincidence.” There is something mystical.

The direction of the film is shared with Alessandra Cataleta: «We have known each other for 20 years and we learned cinema together. Even though the project is mine, it seemed right to share the direction: great teamwork for a complex project and a whole year of filming.”
Among the authors of the screenplay is Giuseppe Smorto, journalist former deputy director of “Repubblica” and author of many books, some about his native Reggio. «Mine was a small contribution – he tells us – I was a journalist in this case too, helping to identify real characters, not fictional ones. Mollo is a director of absolute value, capable of telling a Calabria capable of emerging from the last (in the economic sense) and bonding to its territory, in the center of the Mediterranean. A sentimental operation, of cultural promotion, through people whose lives the Bronzes changed.”

In “that one time” that Mollo managed to describe, the Bronzi probably also had the task of leading a rebirth of Calabria, even from itself.