Lucania

Italy (2019) Dir. Gigi Roccati

The relationship between humans and nature could be paralleled with that of a mother and child – both are in need of care, attention, and proper nurturing or they will never prosper or grow to reach their true potential. As times change, some people sadly lose focus of this.

In the rural province of Lucania in southern Italy, farmer Rocco (Giovanni Capalbo) tends to his land with loving care, and is quick to defend it from anyone or anything. He lives with his guard dog and his teenage daughter Lucia (Angela Fontana), an uneducated girl who lost the ability to speak since the death of her mother Argenzia (Maia Morgenstern). However, Lucia can still communicate with her mother though nobody else can see her, leading Rocco to think Lucia is either ill or possessed.

Meanwhile, an old acquaintance, Carmine (Pippo Delbono), now working for mafia boss Don Fortunato (Marco Leonardi), shows up asking to dump toxic waste on Rocco’s land for a handsome reward. Rocco doesn’t want his land tainted by chemicals and brusquely rejects him. Carmine presses forward regardless, resulting in Rocco shooting Carmine’s son (Enzo Saponara) when caught in the act. Realising Carmine wants revenge and with Mafia backing, Rocco takes Lucia and goes on the run.

Whilst I can’t claim to be a hardcore aficionado of Italian cinema, I have seen enough to allow me to say with some confidence, Lucania may be the first Italian film I’ve watched that isn’t set in Rome or any urban location. And for one that has Mafia involvement, that is quite something. It also stands out as one of the least likely coming-of-age tales I’ve seen, although one may argue Lucia is less a focal point than Rocco is.

Former documentary maker Gigi Roccati blends the journey into womanhood for Lucia with an environmental parable on how modern development is ruining our natural land – whether portraying the mafia as the guilty parties in this instance is a wise idea might be answered by the fact Roccati has yet to make another film since this one. Technically, this is Carmine’s revenge, I’m just covering my backside, just in case.

Lucia the character, it is later implied, is something of a metaphor, representing the land Rocco is keen to protect and maintain the purity of. Her sudden muteness is nature not having a say in the changes surrounding it; her eventual blossoming in the climax is a result of the care of her father – though this comes at a price – symbolising the newly restored land’s growth again. At least that is my interpretation.

Strongly implied by her actions is some form of empathetic bond between Lucia and the nature around her; it’s not quite as mystical as Hayao Miyazaki’s similarly themed works but has a mythical aura about, as if Roccati is referencing an old traditional fable about a child of nature. This is why the film doesn’t seem typically Italian to me – its themes and pared back presentation is more akin to Eastern European countries like Slovakia of Hungary.

Rocco is a strict, blunt man even with his daughter, suggesting there is no “Best Dad in the World” mug in his kitchen, but like many stern fathers, this is born out of love, fear, and missing his late wife. But like a hidebound farmer, his ideals are unrefined so when he sees Lucia “talking with the wind” (i.e. conversing with her mother’s spirit) he calls for a local spiritual healer to cure her of this curse.

On the run from Carmine, the relationship between Rocco and Lucia naturally undergoes incremental improvement, not that Rocco is going to show outwardly it per his alpha male rigidity and duty as a father. To further the symbolism of Lucia as a supposed healing force, their journey across barren terrains is made easier by Lucia’s innate positive effect on the people they meet, en route to an old friend of Rocco’s. Little touches like stroking a poorly sheep lead to a revival in hope among the impoverished farmers.

But let’s be clear, Lucia is not a saviour. She can’t heal the sick by the touch of her hand and flowers don’t bloom in her presence, it is the purity she represents, in tandem with being able to see her mother, the source of her power so to speak. Argenzia does all the talking and physical interaction is shown for the audience’s benefit, offering the comfort Rocco is perhaps too uptight to provide. This informs the ambiguity of Lucia’s character as someone we expect to be revealed explicitly as thaumaturgical.

Getting past the symbolism might be a hurdle for those unable to lock on to Roccati’s wavelength, which is why the main story of revenge holds its end up well enough that it usurps Lucia’s arc as the more interesting of the two. It brings an element of danger and drama to the proceedings, framing Carmine as rural Terminator relentlessly pursuing Rocco across the countryside, fraught with nicely crafted yet simple near misses.

Coming from a documentary background, Roccati shows a keen eye for the b-roll shots of the Basilicata vistas, making them as important cast members as the actors. Giovanni Capalbo charts Rocco’s road to redemption with nuance whilst defiantly squaring up against the towering Pippo Delbono as Carmine, nicely juxtaposed against the ethereal succour from Maia Morgenstern as Argenzia to the story’s gemstone, Angela Fontana’s wistful Lucia, a protagonist about to hold the whole world in her hands.

84-minutes is not a long time to tell a superficially simple story with this many pertinent layers, something the obliqueness of the abrupt ending attests to. Not that it doesn’t work as is, it just needed coda of some sort to clarify our assumptions of what Roccati was saying here. Regardless, Lucania offers a whimsical if perhaps passive protest against manmade environmental damage in the form of a curious coming of age drama.

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