Nico Cirasola – Critical Notes
Nico Cirasola was a figure truly endowed with a mythical aura all of his own, only fitting for how he left us with that same lightning-fast surprise as he had always appeared here and there (Da do da …) wherever cinema was involved. He reflected something that disappeared from the depths of that continuous, unwavering operational practice, undeterred by the limits of reality, in which he was relentlessly driven by a frenzy of carpe diem of practicing cinema (cinema, of course; always and only cinema). However, all this did not deny the sweet slowness of time, characteristic to our South where he was well-steeped in.
His was a mechanism that operated between naiveté and cunningness, between the sincerity of inspiration and the ingenuity of making sense out of reality. It was always a vague sense, far from the conceptual framework and volumes of proper political commitment. The latter along with activism, he had experienced from an early age, something that remained active within and out his inner being, even in his disillusioned detachment in his later years. He was seen winning over the audience at the most institutional conferences, where rules, designs and negotiations were laid out and he would spar with a precise knowledge all the hypocrisies of the cultural industry. He engaged with an irony and extraordinary comic verve that turned every chat, every dinner with him into a storytelling experience.
He possessed a true and sincere generosity that poured out especially onto the young people who, like him, dreamed of cinema and pursued it. He became a dispenser of a wisdom made up of tricks and ways of accessing a system that tended to slam doors in their faces, as he well knew. A Cinephile of doing and remembering, Nico Cirasola was a true homme cinéma: a collector, organizer, projectionist, operator, director, actor, narrator … a great storyteller of himself. And when it came to filmmaking: he was without means and without compromise in following his inspiration, yet always poised on the edge of production compromises that he had to navigate with unparalleled ingenuity, especially in the early part of his career. In that phase, as a pure and simple filmmaker, he created a mythopoetic reality that literally combined the high with the low, the past with the present, dream with reality and fable with news.
The dreaming poet of Odore di pioggia (1989), his first film co-written with the working poet Tommaso Di Ciaula (whose Tuta blu he had shot in Super8, but never managed to complete it), is the emblem of the antihero who germinates in the abstract brightness of a southern spirit. The ancient gods of Olympus who descended on Bari and fell in love with New York’s Statue of Liberty in Da do da (1994), is a magnificent and bewildering film that, obviously was rejected by the traditional Venice Film Festival, overseen by Rondi and Pontecorvo. Despite this, Cirasola brought it to the Lido with midnight screenings of other discarded authors such as Zangardi and Eronico, an autarkic “Salon des refusés.” The reverse emigration of Albània Blues (2000), which dematerialized the border views of various Vlora landings in Puglia into the Albanian escape of a television technician in search of peace. Following was the epic of the Levantine mercantile bourgeoisie, which in Bell’epoker (2005) relives the operatic dreams of Bari’s belle époque, gone up in smoke in the Petruzzelli fire, in a somewhat ironic and dreamy reenactment.
And then the glocal epic of the documentary Focaccia Blues (2009), which reconstructs the victory of a small Bari bakery over the neighborhood McDonald’s, eventually forced to close due to lack of profits; and in Rudy Valentino (2017) the reconstruction of a possible return to the star’s native Castellaneta: both remain his two most productively structured films, in which his bizarre inspiration brooded under a more orderly and regular form.