Actor-director Pippo Delbono’s shrink won’t be the only observer to diagnose signs of narcissistic personality disorder coupled with willful abnegation of analytical faculties on the basis of “Blood,” a maddeningly undisciplined docu ostensibly meant to track the emotional toll from watching the dying days of two women: the helmer’s mother and his friend’s wife. Yet the director’s freewheeling associations and need for the spotlight, not to mention uncritical response to his friend Giovanni Senzani, an unrepentant leader of the 1970s terrorist group the Red Brigades, freezes sympathy. Controversy in Italy might generate curiosity seekers at home.

Newspapers were abuzz following the Locarno screening, jumping on Senzani’s unapologetic, clear-eyed description of the kidnapping and murder of Roberto Peci (Senzani served 17 years in a high-security prison). Some may see Delbono as a loyal friend unwilling to criticize his pal, but given the Italian far-left’s dangerous tendency to act as apologists for the brutal activities of the Red Brigades, his stance is troubling to say the least. Like many, Delbono can’t separate sympathy for some of the Brigades’ stated objectives (like equitable distribution of wealth) from their terrorist methods, making “Blood” anemic as well as wrong-headed.

The docu’s putative subject is the confluence of two declines: Delbono’s mother, Margherita, is dying at the same time as Senzani’s wife. While the latter is never oncamera, Margherita gets ample screen time, first trying to convince her son of the Virgin Mary’s efficacy, then dying in a hospital, followed by shots of her corpse in the mortuary. Perhaps Delbono thinks that only by recording something can you make it real, though many will question the need to digitally capture such indecorous images (judging from his mother’s monologues, she would not have been pleased).

Delbono’s real focus, though, is himself, as evidenced in a sequence immediately following her death, when he props his iPhone on the steering wheel so he can lense himself crying while driving. Earlier behind the wheel he filmed his phone’s slideshow of Che Guevara images; Werner Herzog needs to give Delbono a talking-to about cell phones and driving, not to mention a crash course in critical thinking. Delbono travels to Albania to buy his mother cancer medication, but apparently never looked into the country’s worrisome recent spike in cancer rates (unmentioned), which surely should have given him pause.

Bookending “Blood” with images of the scandalously abandoned earthquake-hit city of L’Aquila is presumably meant to concretize the failure of the far-left’s revolutionary actions in making a difference to contempo Italy, but the images feel disconnected from the rest of the docu. Overall, visuals are rough and frequently self-indulgent, apart from irrelevant shots of Delbono’s production of the opera “Cavalleria Rusticana.” It’s indicative of the whole facile nature of this project, which cries out for a modicum of superego to moderate an overdeveloped id.

Locarno Film Review: ‘Blood’

Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (competing), Aug. 13, 2013. Running time: 92 MIN. Original title: "Sangue"

  • Production: (Documentary — Italy-Switzerland) A Compagnia Pippo Delbono, Casa Azul films, RSI Radiotelevisione svizzera, Vivo Film production, in collaboration with Rai Cinema, with the support of the Cinematheque Suisse. Produced by Pippo Delbono, Fabrice Aragno. Coproducers, Silvana Bezzola Rigolini, Gregorio Paonessa, Marta Donzelli.
  • Crew: Directed, written by Pippo Delbono. Camera (color, DV), Delbono, Fabrice Aragno. Editor, sound, Aragno; music, Victor Deme, Stefan Eicher, Camille; assistant director, Pepe Robledo.
  • With: Pippo Delbono, Giovanni Senzani, Margherita Delbono, Anna Fenzi, Bobo. (Italian dialogue, Genoese dialect)