Close Up

28 November 2017: Assunta spina


Bologna Monumentale
1912 | 5 min | B/W | DCP

Recorded music performed by Daniele Furlati (piano).

A short “tourist" documentary on the city of Bologna. In 1911 the film company Panorama Italici was founded in Milan for, according to its articles of association, the promotion and production of "Italian beauties abroad". In 1912, Ambrosio launched the series Bellez­ze Italiche, which, in the hands of camera­man Piero Marelli, captures the most exqui­site sights of the Italian landscape. During the absence of the most famous documentary maker, Luca Comerio, who was busy capturing (or mystifying) the war in Libya and the Italo-Turkish conflict, actuality films shot in Italy continued to be very popular. The filming of natural beauties, historical ruins, and monumental Italian cit­ies thrilled foreigners who reminisced about the aristocratic lifestyle of their ancestors and could now enjoy, in turn, a low cost, virtual Grand Tour. Screening these movies in European and American theatres became the perfect advertising tool for Italian tour­ism, which explains why government institutions involved were more willing to invest in productions.

Assunta spina
Gustavo Serena & Francesca Bertini
1915 | 70 min | Tinted | DCP

Recorded music inspired by the Napoletan tradition and performed by Guido Sodo (Voice and guitar) and François Laurent (Guitar).

Assunta spina is without a doubt one of the unforgettable films of Italian silent cinema. Adapted from a play of the same title by Salvatore Di Giacomo, Assunta spina represents the excellence of the happy partnership between film and the dramatic repertory of Italian verismo that developed in the mid 1910s. Assunta spina was shot in fall 1914 in Naples, and during its filming the city itself became its uncredited protagonist: the picture shows the city’s soul, scrutinizes its every aspect, realistically portraying the serenity and beauty of its most colorful areas, the chaotic frenzy of its neighborhoods and markets, as well as the run-down state of the working class suburbs. Similarly, the film reveals the spirit of Neapolitans, emphasizing their exuberance and passion but also their vengefulness and unrestrained reactions that often degenerate into violence. A stereotyped picture no doubt, but one that escapes cliche through the honesty of the camera, with the neutral lens capturing the crumbling facades of low-income housing, the poverty of unhealthy environments, the faces of unaware passersby, the clumsiness of improvising extras.

The raw image of the city can be glimpsed in a close-up just behind Francesca Bertini and Gustavo Serena who, with equal authenticity, bring to life the dramatic story of Salvatore Di Giacomo’s laundress and the primordial conflict of human passion, forever poised between love and death. Bertini and Serena are not the film’s only main characters: the unlucky laundress’s shawl, in Bertini’s skilled hands, comes to life and acts as a kind of metronome marking the various stages of the tragedy as it unfolds.

Francesca Bertini is the true deus ex machina of Assunta spina: when producer Barattolo approached her for the part of the laundress, a role the Neapolitan actress had debuted in on stage, Bertini accepted as long as she was also the film’s director. It was a gamble that paid: with capable cameraman Alberto Carta at her side, Bertini demonstrated a surprising sensitivity in directing, framing, and handling the actors, revealing an unexpected talent in a new area for her.” – Giovanni Lasi

Bologna Monumentale was restored by Cineteca di Bologna in 2014:
Assunta spina was restored by Cineteca di Bologna in 2015:

Part of our Il Cinema Ritrovato programme. With thanks to Ehsan Khoshbakht, Guy Borlée (Il Cinema Ritrovato), Carmen Accaputo (Cineteca di Bologna) and L'Immagine Ritrovata for making this programme possible.