Session One: Laura Rascaroli Lecture With Screening Of La Bocca Del Lupo

Essay film specialist Laura Rascaroli will give a talk on lyricism and poetry in the essay film, and introduce Pietro Marcello’s La bocca del lupo [The Mouth of the Wolf] (2009).

Wednesday 21 March 2018, 18:00 

Birkbeck Cinema: FREE event [book here]

Opening Lecture: ‘Compounding the Lyric Essay Film: Towards a Theory of Poetic Counter-Narrative’, by Professor Laura Rascaroli, University College Cork; followed by a screening of Pietro Marcello’s film La bocca del lupo [The Mouth of the Wolf] (2009)

La bocca del lupo [The Mouth of the Wolf], Pietro Marcello, Italy, 2009, DVD, 68 minutes, Italian with English subtitles

For the opening event of this year’s Essay Film Festival, we have invited one of the foremost authorities on the essay film Professor Laura Rascaroli to present her remarkable new book on this form — How the Essay Film Thinks (Oxford University Press, 2017) — and to choose and discuss a film that raises some compelling questions about the conception of the essay film as a form of audiovisual thinking. She has chosen to screen Pietro Marcello’s 2009 film La bocca del lupo [The Mouth of the Wolf].

Marcello’s film, commissioned by the Genoese Jesuit community Fondazione San Marcellino, is a story of extreme marginality interweaving an essayistic reflection on the decline of Genoa as an industrial port town and the unconventional love story between Enzo, a Sicilian tough guy, and Mary, a transgender woman and former drug addict, who met in prison while serving sentences. Mixing archival footage, documentary images and fictionalised reconstructions, the film is, however, much more than a biography of Enzo and Mary. The film’s elegiac lyricism emerges as a form of counter-narration, an undoing of the logic of documentary storytelling and its progressive linear narrative; as such, it produces gaps within which a multivoiced, utopian political argument on the invisibility and inaudibility of marginalized subjects can make itself heard.

Frequently described as neither wholly documentary nor wholly fictional, Marcello’s work, with its noteworthy mix of cinema vérité, performativity and lyricism, raises questions regarding the nature of nonfiction’s relationship to the historical world, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, regarding the conception of the essay film as a form of logocentric and rational audiovisual thinking. La bocca del lupo was Best Film at the 27th Turin Film Festival and the winner of a number of other prizes, including the Teddy Award – the official queer award at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Abstract of Laura Rascaroli’s talk:

‘Compounding the Lyric Essay Film: Towards a Theory of Poetic Counter-Narrative’, Laura Rascaroli, University College Cork

Artists and critics refer increasingly today to a diverse range of contemporary films as lyric or poetic essays – from Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Forgetting Vietnam to Patricio Guzman’s The Pearl Button, from Alexandr Sokurov’s Francofonia to Laurie Anderson’s Heart of a Dog, to cite only some recent, prominent examples. Lyricism is indeed acquiring increasing relevance as one of the key modes adopted by an artistic practice that is spreading fast throughout the globe. Although a poetic vein is clearly distinguishable in the history of the essay film (as the examples of Chris Marker, Marguerite Duras, Alain Resnais, Forough Farrokhzad, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Agnès Varda, Jean-Daniel Pollet, Joris Ivens, Manoel de Oliveira all show), the lyric essay is still substantially undertheorized. This might be explained by the impression that affect and sublimity are at odds with the essay’s characteristic rationalism. In her talk, Rascaroli proposes, by contrast, to look at lyricism not as separate from, or subordinated to, logical thinking, but rather as enmeshed with and contributing to argumentation. Her discussion will draw on a case study, the essayistic cinema of contemporary Italian filmmaker Pietro Marcello. Characterized by a distinctive syncretism of realism and elegy, Marcello’s cinema mobilizes the lyric not as stylistic cypher, but rather to produce thought-images and meanings associated with affect. Drawing on his cinema’s counter-narrative lyricism and its elegiac temporality, this paper aims to refine our understanding of the relationship between narration, lyricism and argument in the essay film.

Profile of Laura Rascaroli:

Laura Rascaroli is Professor of Film and Screen Media at University College Cork, Ireland. She is the author and editor of several volumes, including The Personal Camera: Subjective Cinema and the Essay Film (2009), Crossing New Europe: Postmodern Travel and the European Road Movie (2006), co-written with Ewa Mazierska, and Antonioni: Centenary Essays (2011), co-edited with John David Rhodes. Her new book, How the Essay Film Thinks, was published by Oxford University Press in 2017. She is general editor of Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media.