'The Mouth of the Wolf'

Vintage images of a city on the decline are woven into the story of a couple separated for decades.

Vintage images of a city on the decline are woven into the story of a couple separated for decades by prison bars in “The Mouth of the Wolf.” This hauntingly beautiful, practically uncategorizable docu by Pietro Marcello takes the story of a jailbird and his transsexual partner and creates parallels with the life of their city, Genoa. Honest, unpretentious pic nabbed top prize at the recent Turin fest. Though its skedded February local release will generate little biz, “Mouth” should be well fed by fests worldwide.

Film was co-produced by the adventurous Indigo Films (which produces Paolo Sorrentino’s pics, among others), but was commissioned and supported by Fondazione San Marcellino, a branch of the Jesuits known for its work with the indigent and homeless. Among Catholic orders, only the Jesuits, with their famous independent streak, could be connected to a film that celebrates the love between a felon and a transsexual former heroin addict.

Docu uses staged scenes to dramatize the story’s trajectory, beginning with Vincenzo Motta, known as Enzo, making his way home after his latest stretch in prison. Enzo’s hard-scrabble life culminated in a police shootout that got him multiple stints in the can — during one of which he and Mary Monaco, a prisoner in the transsexual ward, met and fell in love.

After her release, Mary set up house in a dilapidated neighborhood and waited for Enzo. At its core, the pic is a simple love story about an unlikely relationship that blossoms against the odds. When they’re finally seen together (about three-quarters into the film), Mary movingly talks about the waiting and their dreams — though auds’ sympathies may be tempered by the fact that Enzo appears to be as high as a kite.

Helmer-d.p Marcello invests the pair’s story with a reflection on the shifting fate of Genoa, a once-flourishing city with an impressive artistic and industrial heritage that fell into decline during the 20th century. Through material ranging from 1920s homemovies to scenes of massive ship launches and dynamited machinery, Marcello pays mournful tribute to the city’s degeneration. Its fortunes are compared with those of shipwrecked survivors — a comparison that also fits Enzo and Mary.

Marcello’s images are unselfconsciously poetic, often caught at the exact moment when sunlight brings out the richness in every hue. Pic’s soundtrack, too, is confidently layered, incorporating offscreen voices, narration, music and direct sound in ways that draw viewers in and keep them there.

The Mouth of the Wolf

Italy

Production

A Bim Distribuzione release of a Fondazione San Marcellino Onlus presentation of an Indigo Films, L'Avventurosa Film production, in association with RAI Cinema, Babe Films. Produced by Nicola Giuliano, Francesca Cima, Dario Zonta. Directed by Pietro Marcello.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, DigiBeta), Marcello; editor, Sara Fgaier; music, ERA; sound, Emanuele Vernillo, Riccardo Spagnol, Paolo Segat. Reviewed on DVD, Rome, Dec. 5, 2009. (In Turin Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 67 MIN.

With

Narrator: Franco Leo.

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