LIGHTZOO:Italian Film in Review:Mario Martone

LIGHTZOO:Mario Martone

L'amore molesto (1995)

Mario Martone (Naples, 1959) is mostly associated with the theatre, beginning his work there in 1977. In 1979 he founds the group "False Movement" with which he produces the highly acclaimed Tango Glaciale (1982). He is a supporter of the foundation of "Teatri Uniti", through which he directs Rasoi, by Enzo Moscato (1991) and Terremoto con madre e figlia, by Fabrizia Ramondino (1993) among other productions. In 1991 he undertakes the filming of Death of a Neapolitan Mathematician. This, his first feature film, is awarded a number of top prizes, among which is the Grand Jury Prize in Venice.

L’amore molesto (Harassing love)

review by Teresa Fiore

Memory, search, revelation, and self-discovery are at the core of 
Mario Martone’s last movie before the presentation of his new film 
“I vesuviani” at the Venice Biennale 1997. The director privileges 
the use of the flashback to render the relentless shift between 
present, recent past, and remote past. Passages between scenes 
are markedly brusque and reflect the harshness of the story 
represented. In the best tradition of dramatic thriller, Martone 
produces suspense, and yet dispels it at every turn since the 
pieces of evidence given to the spectator rarely make up a coherent 
narrative. Fractures, fissures, misunderstandings, lost opportunities
 characterize a story that goes beyond the thriller mode and roams 
into the meanders of the psyche. Set in a noisy and car-jammed Naples 
whose dissonant modern architecture mirrors the psychological conflicts
of the protagonists, the movie relies on a troubling, and yet captivating, 
cacophony at various levels: people shouting, car honks, loud laughter are 
the background to a complex set of events. The movie opens up with images 
from the remote past, when Delia was a young girl and her mother Amalia 
used to work as a seamstress while her father was a painter. At the end 
of the introductory credits, Delia is caught in the act of writing, 
somehow anticipating her future occupation as a cartoon designer. 
No surprise then that in the next scene she is sitting at her drawing 
table in Bologna, engrossed in her working, when she receives a series 
of mysterious calls from her mother, whom Delia was expecting for a 
visit. Amalia’s body is found dead along the shore the next day. 
The event takes Delia back to Naples, the town she only marginally 
belongs to by now (it is interesting to notice how her initial use 
of standard Italian is gradually lost in the movie by resorting to 
dialect and local expressions during her stay in town). Delia gradually 
starts to gather pieces of information regarding her mother’s late 
movements, and thanks to a chatty and curious neighbor and a half-reticent 
rasping uncle, she realizes that her mother had a lover. The mysterious man 
is an old acquaintance of the family, as a matter of fact, and Delia sets 
out to find out more. Yet, the more she inquires into her mother’s life, 
the more she plunges into the past, her own past, trying to make sense 
of buried wounds and forgotten tensions. 

The smooth surface of the present is shattered and Delia willingly, 
yet cautiously, dives into the subconscious, a process that is 
beautifully translated on the visual level by the use of stairs 
and elevators. The shift between present and past (the childhood 
days and the day of her mother’s death) is not just horizontal, 
but also vertical, and the movement from different spatial levels 
establishes the complex architecture of the movie. Memories are 
not pleasant and often take place in dark corners, along stairs 
rails, in the solitude of elevators, in the dusky recesses of 
basements or in crowded public means of transportation. Movement, 
vertical or horizontal, in space or in time, reigns in the movie, 
yet never to create harmonious shifts, but to emphasize a sense of
growing discomfort. The transition between present and past is often 
too mechanically symmetrical (from the modern bus to the old coach, 
for example), but plays a functional role as a parallel to an 
increasing symmetry that is established, at times forced, between Delia 
and Amalia. The two women represent two conflicting characters, and 
even their names signify this difference: Delia comes from Delos, 
the birthplace of Artemis, hunting goddess, while Amalia means “industrious” 
in Greek. Yet, the talkative and over-solicitous mother as opposed to 
the reserved and determined daughter gradually start merging in the 
overt parallelism of their lives (sexual intercourse with men from 
the same family, hatred for an abusive father/husband, rejection of 
imposed roles). This coincidence is narratively marked by Delia’s 
decision to undertake her mother’s path in reverse (chronologically 
speaking) and experience her “immoral” (as her affair with Caserta 
is generally perceived to be) desires and temptations. Also on the 
visual level, Delia’s choice to put on her mother’s dresses invests 
her quest with a symbolic meaning, reaching its peak in the realization 
of the twisted secret of the story while wearing Amalia’s last outfit. 
This identification culminates in the closure of the movie. Similar to 
her mother before dying (or rather deciding to die) Delia emanates a 
sense of liberation: on the train (another parallelism) she nonchalantly 
accepts a sip of beer from a stranger’s can while she graphically distorts 
her mother’s image on her ID card and makes her look like herself. 
Interestingly enough even the names of the two women sound alike, 
the gossipy neighbor remarks their likeness, and the uncle keeps 
on confusing the two names. 

After all, confusion enwraps the whole movie and although the mysterious 
plot is finally disentangled in a scene of powerful interpretation by an 
intense Anna Bonaiuto, the linear trajectory of the plot becomes marginal 
since it is the search into one’s perversions and deviations that has surfaced. 
And yet, nothing is presented with a moralizing attitude or with visual voyeurism 
even when the content of the scene might have given the opportunity to indulge 
in it. Martone leaves room for inference, deduction, and reconstruction. 
This might in fact explain some poor reviews that the movie has received, 
due to its complexity, which is often seen as superfluous. Martone doesn’t 
foster useless disorientation, rather presents human relationships as a web 
of entangled threads whose pattern is scarcely discernible, yet nonetheless 
painful, if not lacerating. Like Delia (she always wears glasses), we are 
left with a blurred vision of images and events: sight can deceive, and this 
movie, although cinema is a visual form of arts par excellence is able to 
provide space for lack of vision where music (the soundtrack is an interesting 
collage of pieces), dialect (a choice that hinders interpretation even for Italian 
viewers), words from the TV in the background (Naples at the time of political 
election when Mussolini’s niece was running), and elliptical forms of narrative 
development “harass” a linear unraveling and comprehension of the film. 
Nonetheless, the conclusion dissipates some of the gloomy fears and terrors 
of the story and portrays an already determined woman, now fortified by the 
discovery of her mother’s strength and volition, her rebellion against 
violence and threat as organizing principles of family life, her rebuff 
of moral restrictions, i.e. her search for personal freedom outside the 
confines of societal regulations.  A fatal choice for herself, yet one 
that hasn’t gone unnoticed to the one who had the stubbornness to look 
beyond blurred images, and related mysteries.
Teresa Fiore
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