The ‘face of the Eolians’, the emblematic title chosen by Panaria Films to illustrate the pictures of Francesco Alliata, Renzo Avanzo, Quintino di Napoli and Pietro Moncada, could be the leitmotif of the love story between the cinema and these islands.
Cinema Vulcano, Stromboli.
It is undeniably a question of love at first sight for these black lava and white pumice cliffs, for the arrogance and wildness of nature, which is, at the same time, prickly like a cactus, but warm and passionate like the flowering brooms.
Foreign travellers who visited the islands in the 18th and 19th centuries, in search of adventure and discovery, had no influence at all on local customs, but nonetheless collected images and evidence which are very useful to us today in reconstructing the recent history of the islands.
The first strong social and cultural influence came from political internees in the 20’s and 30’s.
Perhaps for the first time, an interpersonal relationship was established between ‘foreigners’ and islanders, fruitful and important for both: for those who realised that beyond the cliffs and the sea exists a complex and ancient civilisation and for those who learnt of a new cultural dimension.
Nitti, Lussu, Rosselli and Malaparte left a deep impression on the Eolians, giving the islanders a cultural depth and literary dimension which proved to be another step towards the transformation that would change the face of the islands.
An important role was played in this transformation by the cinema, which, after the documentaries by Alliata, Avanzo and Moncada, began to invest energy and resources in a series of productions which suddenly enlivened these ‘cliffs lost in the blue’.
In 1949 Dieterle and Rossellini began filming ‘Vulcano’ and ‘Stromboli’ at almost the same time; scriptwriters, costume designers and others fussed around the stars of the moment Anna Magnani and Ingrid Bergman, who scowled at each other from one coast to another: one with popular passion and the other with Nordic arrogance.
Never had there been such disturbance to the peace of those lava stones and black sandy paths; but, in reality, the cinema managed to say little or nothing about the people, people with faces hollowed out by the wind and the salt, the men bent over the vines and fishing nets, the busy serious women, with large industrious hands and large black intense eyes, the children, thin and agile like wild animals.
In the newspaper reports of those years the myth of the wild island was born: but the men, their culture, history and marvellous dignity were of less interest to the scandal mongers than the loves of Ingrid and the fury of Nannarella.
All of this took place in the frame of a continually stormy sea and a volcano in all its splendour with powerful lava flows at sunset.
Yet the men were there and gradually their relationship with nature, the land and the sea changed.
Slowly but inexorably, the men of the Eolians became aware that there is also life ‘elsewhere’: beyond the timeless spell of the cliffs lost in the sea and still inviolate.
Slowly but inexorably, like an unhappy destiny (the same one which violated the rain forests and coral reefs and decimated the New Zealand Maoris and Amazonian Tupis), they invented new opportunities, another life.
The large knotted hands, which used to tend vines, to pickaxe pumice and weave nets, turned to mixing cement to build roads and houses. Then unexpected riches arrived after the great wave of emigration, and noise and chaos after centuries of silence.
Through the cinema it is possible to reconstruct the most recent history of the islands: from the myth of the wild island of ‘Vulcano’ (1949) and ‘Stromboli’ (1949), to Antonioni’s ‘L’Avventura’ (1960) which represents man’s search for himself, up to the dazzling splendour of the Taviani brothers’ ‘Kaos’ (1983) an unforgettable fresco of indigo and white tones.
Nostalgia for so much silent but overshadowing beauty, unconsciously arrogant, hard and mysterious, justifies Moretti’s choice of these ‘islands’, excessive and chaotic, hybrid and contrasting: microcosms symbolic of the absolute, inexorable madness of our time, which destroys not only with hydrocarbons and nuclear weapons, but also and above all, with uniformity and forgetfulness.
Another example of nostalgia is ‘The Postman’ with Massimo Troisi, made at Pollara on Salina, just before the actor’s death.
But in this case the nostalgia has a different taste, or rather sound: the unceasing sound of the waves, the intriguing rustling of the leaves, the mysterious beating of life within the womb.
It is the nostalgia of those who discover the meaning of life just before it ends; of those who look at death in the knowledge that everything passes away, without ever ending completely; because man’s worth is in the message he leaves to his children and in the memory of his friends, and in the discovery of the poetry that each of us has inside which can be reawakened by a breath.
The trouble, writes Mario Luzzi, is to endure beyond this moment.