Kino Lorber gives us 4 films from the Award winning documentarian.
Director: Gianfranco Rosi/2017 Box Set
Contains: Boatman (1993), Below Sea Level (2008), Sacro GRA (2013), Fire at Sea (2016)
Street Date: April 25, 2017/Kino Lorber
Gianfranco Rosi, fresh off his Oscar-nominated documentary Fire at Sea, is being celebrated by Kino Lorber in a collection of 4 of his greatest documentary films. Included in the set are Boatman, Below Sea Level, Sacro GRA, and the aforementioned Fire at Sea. Each film is unique both in its subject matter, and its style. What is consistent, however, is that each film is shot through the eyes of Gianfranco Rosi, and all of the films are edited by Jacopi Quadri.
Rosi’s films are often jarring to those who hear the word “documentary” and expect a series of interviews on a particular subject, whether that involves the principle individuals related to the subject at hand, or a series of experts commenting on said subject. For Rosi, the camera does not lie, and therefore is all that is needed to tell the “story”. He simply employs an observational style of shooting that tells a story through the editing process. He puts together sections of film that simply “watches” his subject. Often, we get a heightened sense of his subjects as we observe the mundane aspects of daily life. It is here that his subjects stand out as extraordinary.
For Rosi, the camera does not lie, and therefore is all that is needed to tell the “story”.
This collection is being released on Blu-Ray, with many of the films receiving some level of restoration. The Gianfranco Rosi Collection features a booklet essay by Nicolas Rapold, editor-in-chief of Film Comment Magazine. For Fire at Sea, there is an interview with Gianfranco Rosi and Pietro Bartolo. There is also a NYFF Q&A with Gianfranco Rosi courtesy of Film Society of Lincoln Center, as well as trailers for each film.
Boatman (1993) follows a boatman who ferries passengers on the River Ganges in India. He shares his frustration with Europeans who are always asking the question “Why?” as it relates to his own countrymen bathing in the river, while in the same location people are using the river as a holy resting place for the dead. As Nicholas Rapold says in his booklet essay, the answer is provided through Rosi’s camera as we hear answers from many locals talking about their own religious beliefs, mythology, and traditions, all of which inform the viewer about the grandiose nature of this river in the lives, hearts, and culture of India. Rapold succenctly states, “The fact of their lives is all the answer to “why” that we will ever need”. He is right. Through black and white 16mm, Rosi films Boatman, his graduation thesis, in just 55 minutes. It isn’t obsessed with any particular viewpoint or voyerism into a subject so few of us are familiar with. Instead, like he is oft to do, Rosi simply wants to show us what looks like a mundane way of life for the local community, but it is this daily look at the use of the river by these people that makes this river so spectacular.
15 years later, Rosi filmed Below Sea Level (2008), following a group of flatland squatters in the California desert. These are people who exist in community in a place without police or fire protection, government, or infrastructure. It is also an active bombing site for the U.S. military. The collection of people that inhabit this place are a unique collection of musicians, a Vietnam veteran in drag who has started her own business, an exiled doctor who is homeless after losing everything to fight for custody of her daughter, and many more. While many of these community members talk to the camera, it is not in the format of an interview, they are just simply talking as they do to their fellow neighbors. Like Boatman, and the other films in Rosi’s catalogue, water features prominently as a symbol of the cycle of life, death, and community, flowing in and out of the lives of those under the gaze of the camera’s eye. In a desert community, water is vital, and it serves as a perfect metaphor for how people “float in” and find this place before “floating out” of this community in their own time, for a variety of reasons. Not receiving a U.S. theatrical release, the inclusion of Below Sea Level is made more valuable as a part of this collection.
The third film chronologically is 2013’s Sacro GRA. Filmed in Rosi’s native Italy, this is a look at the famous “ring road” in Rome (Sacro meaning ‘holy’ and the road being called the Grande Raccordo Anulare, or GRA in Italian). Rosi’s camera takes a look at many eccentric people’s that populate the communities along the road. Winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, it is a great look at the many facets of traditions, and unique interests that make up the “Eternal City”. There is a certain sense of grace and holiness despite it being a most unlikely place, filled with the most unlikely people. This grace is seen in the little conversations between a father and daughter, the EMT who nightly is trying to save lives and who also visits his mother who is suffering with some senility. The ebb and flow of daily life that was seen in both Boatman and Below Sea Level is also seen here, albeit in the loud hustle and bustle of a large city like Rome that somehow seems as intimate as the close knit community seen in the California desert of Below Sea Level.
Finally, there is the inclusion of the winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, and Oscar-nominated film Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare) (2016). This was released by Kino Lorber as an individual title in March, and all of the extras on that blu-ray are included here in this collection. For a more detailed review, read my review here. Fire at Sea saw Rosi seeking to disappear more into the background making his camera’s eye more natural. To accomplish this, he used a tripod throughout the film. A fascinating look at the current refuge crisis in Europe, Fire at Sea looks at the island of Lampedusa and their stunning involvement in the rescue at sea of many African refugees making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea. At the same time, Rosi follows the mundane day-to-day life of a fisherman’s son named Samuel to show how despite this giant crisis is taking place all around them, for many on this island, their way of life is untouched. By extension, so our lives are untouched as we are able to tune out the tragedy right in front of us and carry on with our daily life. The passion of island doctor Dr. Pietro Bartolo, though, sounds the alarm that this isn’t a crisis that is going away. If we are to be the kind of society we long to be, we must help those who risk everything to make the journey. And we can’t turn a blind eye. Rosi’s camera seeks to insure that we don’t.
The following is a list of the films and the presentation formats:
Disc 1: Fire at Sea: 1.85:1, 1920x1080p; 113 minutes, Italian with optional English and French subtitles, 5.1 surround, Color.
Disc 2: Below Sea Level: 1.85:1, 1920x1080p, 117 minutes, English with optional English subtitles, 2.0 stereo, Color.
Disc 3: Boatman: 1.33:1, 1920x1080p, 57 minutes, English, Italian, and Hindi with optional English subtitles, 2.0 stereo, B&W.
Sacro GRA: 1.78:1, 1920x1080p, 91 minutes, Italian with optional English subtitles, 2.0 stereo, Color.
The images used in this review are used only as a reference to the film and do not necessarily reflect the visual quality of the Blu-ray.