×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Sacro GRA’

Gianfranco Rosi explores Rome's Grande A the most extensive urban highway in Italy, in this intriguing but all-over-the-place docu.

With:

(Italian dialogue)

The ring road around Rome, the Grande Raccordo Anulare is the most extensive urban highway in Italy and the locale for Gianfranco Rosi’s intriguing concept of a documentary, “Sacro GRA.” Punning on the “Sacro Graal,” or “Holy Grail,” this follow-up to Rosi’s American-set “Below Sea Level” takes a neutral look at intriguingly disparate lives near the highway’s edge, yet neglects to demonstrate why they should all be in one film. Diversity alone isn’t enough to warrant inclusion, and without deeper delving into personalities or a more cogent construction, the idea remains more absorbing than the final product. Docu fests await.

Rosi spent more than two years scouting and filming along the 43.5-mile freeway, and eight months working with ace cutter Jacopo Quadri, editing the material in a manner described as choral but more accurately labeled recurring solos. Though the idea of locating what’s distinctive about people living in proximity to a major city artery is itself fascinating, “Sacro GRA” fails to pinpoint the road’s identity, perhaps because it’s so varied.

Coldly constructed buildings, palm-tree groves, seedy caravans and flocks of sheep all occupy spaces around the thoroughfare, whose concrete pylons rise above river, fields and low-rise urban sprawl. While searching out locations, Rosi was inspired by Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities,” yet a novel’s structure doesn’t always work onscreen, and identifying the docu’s connecting thread indeed proves as elusive as the Holy Grail.

Subjects are woven throughout the film, with varying degrees of frequency. One of the few seen often enough to acquire three-dimensionality is EMS worker Roberto. A warm and efficient presence in his ambulance, he’s later seen as a lonely figure Skyping with two relatives (unclear), and then touchingly caring for his elderly mother. Also given significant screentime is Francesco, a scientist who catalogues palm trees ravaged by the red palm weevil. Many indeterminate metaphors can be mined from his statement that the palm can’t defend itself against the hundreds and hundreds of mouths gnawing, sucking and destroying in their repulsive feast.

Cesare, one of the few remaining eel fishermen on the Tiber River, attests to endangered traditions and a sense of what existed before the GRA was built. Filippo is the stogie-chomping proprietor of a house emporium stuffed with bad 1980s-style furniture and fake statues, rented out for movie sets, theater companies and parties when not doubling as a B&B.

Two of the most interesting subjects are Paolo and daughter Amelia, down-on-their-luck nobles originally from northern Italy who have been transferred for unknown reasons to a new housing block. Rosi shoots father and daughter using a fixed camera located outside and above their main window, creating a fascinating though cold angle confirming the director’s surveillance-like sense of space. Other residents are similarly glimpsed through their own windows, including a South American family, but only Paolo and Amelia are granted enough time to pique more than passing interest.

Making brief appearances are a couple of aging prostitutes (presumed) and two go-go dancers, attesting to the more down-and-out side of the limbo-like neighborhoods that continue to draw Rosi close. In an artfully though unnecessarily overxposed scene, crowds gather staring into the sun in hopes of glimpsing a sign from the Virgin Mary, and later coffins are removed from ossuaries in a cemetery apparently slated for destruction. In keeping with Rosi’s style, there are no explanations and no interactions with the camera, and “Sacro GRA” suddenly ends without a sense of having come to any conclusions.

Even those partial to this sort of uninvolved p.o.v. will question how the GRA differs from other urban byways: Is it simply a locale where a cross-section of people from all walks of life reside? Financial health certainly plays a part — comfortably well-off people don’t live next to highways — though interestingly, Rosi shows that class alone isn’t a signifier. Sound use is especially rich, particularly the disturbing noises of weevils chomping along their path of destruction.

Film Review: 'Sacro GRA'

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 5, 2013. Running time: 82 MIN.

Production:

(Documentary — Italy-France) An Officine UBI (in Italy) release of a Doclab, La Femme endormie production with Rai Cinema, with the participation of Cine plus. (International sales: Doc & Film Intl., Paris.) Produced by Marco Visalberghi. Co-producer, Carole Solive.

Crew:

Directed by Gianfranco Rosi, based on an original idea by Nicolo Bassetti. Camera (color, HD), Rosi; editor, Jacopo Quadri; sound, Rosi, Giancarlo Rutigliano; associate producer, Lizi Gelber; assistant director, Roberto Rinalduzzi.

With:

(Italian dialogue)

More Film

  • Mara Watkins Nabhaan Rizwan Steven Wouterlood

    Diverse Talents Pepper Variety's Fifth 10 Europeans to Watch List

    Variety has unveiled its fifth edition of 10 Europeans to Watch, spotlighting 10 rising talents from across the continent who are poised for breakthroughs in 2019. The selection includes emerging actors, directors, showrunners and cinematographers from six countries whose dynamic talents are being showcased on screens big and small, and on both sides of the camera. [...]

  • Glass Movie

    Box Office: 'Glass' Shines Overseas With $48.5 Million Weekend

    After autobots and aquatic kings have dominated foreign markets over the past few weeks, a different kind of hero has risen to the top of box office charts. M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” is the new champ overseas, pulling in $48.5 million from international territories. The supernatural thriller, a sequel to 2000’s “Unbreakable” and 2016’s “Split,” debuted [...]

  • Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marco Graf

    'Roma' and 'The Favourite' Lead London Critics' Circle Winners

    After ruling the U.S. critics’ award circuit, “Roma” continued its dominance on the other side of the pond, as the London Film Critics’ Circle announced its winners tonight. A week after landing seven BAFTA nominations, Alfonso Cuarón’s Mexico City memory piece landed film of the year and director of the year honors from the group [...]

  • M. Night Shyamalan Should Stop Writing

    The Big Twist M. Night Shyamalan Needs: He Should Stop Writing His Own Scripts (Column)

    Quick, name the greatest film by each of the following directors: Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, David Lean, Robert Altman, Roman Polanski, Kathryn Bigelow, Jonathan Demme. Answers will vary (mine would be: “Psycho,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Nashville,” “Chinatown,” “The Hurt Locker,” “The Silence of the Lambs”), but whatever your taste, odds are that [...]

  • Andy Vajna Dead: 'Rambo' Producer and

    Andy Vajna, 'Rambo' Producer, Dies at 74

    Andy Vajna, executive producer of several “Rambo” films as well as “Total Recall” and several “Terminator” movies, died Sunday in Budapest after a long illness. He was 74. The Hungarian National Film Fund confirmed his death, calling him a “dominant figure in the Hungarian and international film industry” who was responsible for the development of [...]

  • Glass trailer

    Box Office: 'Glass' Dominates MLK Weekend With $47 Million

    M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” topped box office charts during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, collecting $40 million over the weekend for a four-day sum of $47 million. If estimates hold, “Glass” will come in behind “American Sniper” ($107 million) and “Ride Along” ($48 million) as the third-best showing for both January and MLK holiday [...]

  • FICG Names Estrella Araiza As New

    Estrella Araiza To Head Up Guadalajara Intl Film Festival

    The Guadalajara Intl. Film Festival (FICG) has announced that Estrella Araiza, until now the festival’s head of industry and markets and director of the Guadalajara IntL. Film Festival in Los Angeles, has been promoted to the position of general director of the prominent Mexican festival. She replaces Ivan Trujillo, appointed director of TV UNAM. More [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content