×
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

  • David Picker dead

    David Picker, Studio Chief Who Acquired James Bond Novels for UA, Dies at 87

    David Picker, who headed United Artists, Paramount and Columbia’s motion picture divisions and was known for forging relationships with groundbreaking filmmakers and material, died Saturday in New York. He was 87 and had been suffering from colon cancer. MGM tweeted, “We are saddened to hear that a member of the United Artists family has passed [...]

  • Abigail Disney on Bob Iger

    Abigail Disney Calls Bob Iger's $65 Million Compensation 'Insane'

    Disney chairman-CEO Bob Iger’s total compensation for Disney’s fiscal 2018 was a whopping $65.6 million. Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of Disney co-founder Roy Disney, calls that sum “insane.”  While speaking at the Fast Company Impact Council, the filmmaker and philanthropist insisted that this level of corporate payout has a “corrosive effect on society.” Disney took [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International

    'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International Box Office With $30 Million

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” led the way at the international box office, summoning $30 million when it opened in 71 foreign markets. The supernatural thriller collected $26.5 million in North America for a global start of $56.5 million. “La Llorona,” based on the Mexican folklore about the Weeping Woman, [...]

  • Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona'

    Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona' Wins Worst Easter Weekend in Over a Decade

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” ascended to the top of domestic box office charts, conjuring $26.5 million when it opened in 3,372 North American theaters. “La Llorona” is the latest horror movie to outperform expectations, further cementing the genre as one of the most reliable box office draws. Even so, [...]

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    UPDATED with statements from John Singleton’s family and FX Networks John Singleton, the Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow

    'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow Easter Weekend at the Box Office

    New Line’s horror pic “The Curse of La Llorona” will summon a solid $25 million debut at the domestic box office, leading a quiet Easter weekend before Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” hits theaters on April 26. The James Wan-produced “La Llorona,” playing in 3,372 theaters, was a hit with hispanic audiences, who accounted for nearly 50% [...]

  • Jim Jarmusch in 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    Film Review: 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    “Carmine Street Guitars” is a one-of-a-kind documentary that exudes a gentle, homespun magic. It’s a no-fuss, 80-minute-long portrait of Rick Kelly, who builds and sells custom guitars out of a modest storefront on Carmine Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, and the film touches on obsessions that have been popping up, like fragrant weeds, in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content