Sunday 19 September 2021
It was strikingly clear on my Saturday evening walk through the streets of Lecce that life has returned to something like normality again, including the feeling of vibrancy and elation you get in any good city or town on a Saturday night when the weather is temperate, and people feel free to associate with one another without fear or anxiety.
As of September 2021, at least ninety percent of the population of Puglia is vaccinated against Coronavirus with a “first jab”, and approximately eighty percent have had both vaccination jabs, excluding children under the age of twelve who are exempted (links for the official governmental sources for this information are provided at the end of this article). The introduction in August of stricter rules related to the “Green Pass”, which require people to show proof of vaccination to be allowed into any indoor public space, including open-air events, spurred most people who were sitting on the fence about vaccination to get it done.
There was a palpable feeling of relief last night…
The result of this is that people are socialising with more confidence and in a more relaxed way. There was a palpable feeling of relief last night– a great deal of laughter, an effervescent tone in conversation, and less concern about maintaining physical distance. I felt a little like I had missed a meeting, or maybe two meetings – my perception of the Covid situation was considerably darker, but I was glad to be surprised.
I have always loved going to the cinema, and to film festivals especially. Going to the Vive Le Cinema festival I had an experience something like continuity with other phases of my life. Lately, I have had an unsettling feeling of discontinuity with the temporality of the world and the temporality of my own life. Trying to be logical, I could attribute this to not having had the opportunity to see old friends from England or travel outside of Italy for two years. But I feel also it is something more a matter of the spirit – I am finding it difficult to feel a connection to the world as it is, which I feel, superstitiously perhaps, is related to my trouble feeling a connection to my former self.
I am talking here of a feeling of joy, of freedom from care, that comes from “being in the moment”
My former self is younger of course, and no doubt improved through the soft-focus lens of memory, but the thing I want most from him is that ability – an ability that comes I think from a certain feeling of assurance about one’s relevancy to the present – to be completely engaged in the present. I am talking here of a feeling of joy, of freedom from care, that comes from “being in the moment”. Film screenings and film festivals seem to be the only thing I have experienced in recent years that give me something like that experience, that sense of continuity with my past and – perhaps because of the feeling of substance that feeling engenders – connection with the present. Sharing a space with two-hundred or possibly more people, many dressed to the nines, in front of a cinema screen, with the company of a friend, in the beautiful surroundings of the courtyard of the Chiostro del Rettorato, I was for those three hours living happily in the present moment, with no thoughts of yesterday or tomorrow.
This was the last night of the festival, and the French film they screened was an animated feature called Josep (d. Aurel, 2020) , which like the rest of the films presented in the programme, was fairly new. Josep tells the story of a left-wing Spanish painter , Josep Bartoli, who is forced to flee Franco’s forces in Spain but is imprisoned in an internment camp on the French side of the Spanish-French border by the Vichy French forces. He is treated savagely by the Vichy guards, but one guard, the sensitive and compassionate Serge, decides to risk his own life to help him escape to Mexico, where Josep claims to have a friend, the artist Frida Kahlo.
Josep is brilliantly drawn and animated and its heart is in the right place. Josep Bartoli (1910-1995) was a real-life artist and was interred in a prison camp during the Second World War, though other events and characters seem fictionalized. The story is told in flashback from the present day to the internment camp where Serge meets Josep, but also includes further flashbacks to Spain before Josep’s internment and shifts in narrative perspective from one character to another, which makes it a little hard to follow. There is a lot of brutality in the film, which though probably authentic to the true-life experience of Josep Bartoli, sits a little uneasily with the tender scenes of warmth and humour more typical to animated features, and at times the film seems to lack pace, perhaps due to its picaresque style.
On the other hand, the pace is perhaps suitable for what is a wistful, melancholy film. It certainly deserves an audience and critical respect, and it is perhaps just not my genre. I would have preferred to see the documentary that had been screened the night before, Marcher sur l’eau (d. Aissa Maiga, 2021), which is a documentary about the trek of a tribe from a remote village in Nigeria towards an underground lake, during a period of drought. The director won the “best film” award on the night I was there – no one had told her she was going to win and so she had to be hurriedly called to return from her own trek of the Lecce streets in, as my friend noted, rather beautiful high-heeled shoes.
The event was very professionally done, with a great-looking programme and image for the festival, and the organisers (which runs to a team of around fifty, not including volunteers) deserve all credit and the expansive support they received from various notable institutions including the Apulia Film Commission, The University of Salento, and the Museo Castromediano.
On percentage of population of Puglia currently vaccinated (as of September 2021)
Vive le cinema festival website: