s a c r o G R A
27th October 2013 (LFF)
The Grande Raccordo Anulare, or GRA as it’s known is pretty much the Italian equivalent of the M25 (London’s orbital motorway foreign readers). A huge ring-road that circles Rome ‘like the rings of Saturn’. Not the first place you’d think of delving into for a study of humanity…But a wonderful place it turns out to be for Gianfronco Rosi’s latest documentary; Sacro GRA .
Rosi has managed to unearth a veritable treasure trove of oddball personalities as his camera roams around the outskirts of Rome. Without ever intruding on the characters with any form of questioning, we get snapshots of each person’s day. The constant soundtrack of the road is always humming away in the background and the stories told are a stark contrast to the brutal concrete and tarmac surroundings.
We visit a botanist, somehow finding plant life in this barren perimeter. Completely obsessed with dealing with a weevil infection of the local palm trees, his dedication is as amusing as it is impressive. By the end of the movie, he is busy inventing a sonic weapon to deploy on the residents of the palms. Prostitutes hanging around in a lay-by show a slightly less jolly side of the road. Optimistic in their own way, their endless banter fills the daylight hours as they wait around for their peak periods.
Stationed at an angle on the wall of a high-rise flat, Rosi’s camera peeks in through large open windows on families as they play out time. Wryly observing the mansions that evidently sit in the shadows of the, presumably newer, block of flats, the residents muse on why people no longer live in the over-sized houses. A young woman and her ageing father pass the time as he peers out of the window dispensing philosophy whilst she fiddles on a laptop. Time passes as routine is adhered to and the soft moan of the traffic in the background grinds on and another resident ponders the possibility of aliens on earth.
Through the nights we visit a paramedic as he attempts to clear up the wounded detritus on the streets. We follow him as he wearily removes his uniform when he arrives home after another long nightshift. A Skype call to his wife provides little solace as he attempts to cook something decent. Later we catch up with him as he visits his ageing mother. It’s endlessly touching and the constant sound of the road in the background adds to the world-weary but optimistic atmosphere.
Possibly the strangest character (amongst many) is an eel fisherman who sits reading what he considers to be a highly inexpert account of eel fishing in the local paper. One of his employees sits passively fixing nets as he rants to her about the state of Italian eels in comparison to imported eels. It’s genuinely funny but you never find yourself laughing at the characters. Later we meet up with him as he attempts to help his Ukrainian wife grapple with Italian - hilariously pointing out that a word she is trying to get meaning from is actually somebody’s name.
I could go on with the wonderful characters but I’ll leave it there. Rosi has done a superb job of constructing a wonderfully wry, entertaining view of this odd hinterland. His camera never intrudes and the comforting consistency of the traffic noise in the background makes for an atmospheric film. Warm and touching as well as downright funny in places, Sacro GRA presents us with a great hidden world at the social and geographical edges of Rome society.
Check out the trailer here.