Film

Social Satire, Italian Style

In Garibaldi's Lovers, Garibaldi, and others from Italy's past, looks on from the afterlife and mourns for the state of his country.


Garibaldi's Lovers

Director: Silvio Soldini
Distributor: Film Movement
Rated: PG-13
Release date: 2014-01-21

Silvio Soldini is well known for his accurate depictions of Italian society as examined through the lens of satire. In films like Bread and Tulips and Days and Clouds he has proven his worth as a man who offers clever observations on how the ridiculous and the sublime coexist in modern Italy.

In his most recent film, Garibaldi’s Lovers, the director seems to have taken this concept almost quite literally and has a statue of General Giuseppe Garibaldi (voiced by Pierfrancesco Favino) lament the state of the country he helped form as he watches his fellow citizens lead their daily lives. “The sad truth is that with every passing day, my mind is increasingly instilled with fear that these people aren't fit to govern themselves” he expresses as a stork (the film is called The Commander and the Stork in Italian) comes to share in his pessimistic, but funny, views.

Among the citizens that catch his attention are Leo (Valerio Mastandrea) a plumber living with his two teenage children and who still has conversations with his dead wife Teresa (Claudia Gerini), who seems to have taken to heart the ”till death do us part” vow. Every night the wife comes to see her husband to discuss how he’s bringing up their kids, a job which gets especially complicated when their daughter Maddalena (Serena Pintucci) ends up performing a very graphic sexual act which is then shared on YouTube by her beau.

Similarly, we meet Diana (Alba Rohrwacher) a young artist trying hard to make ends meet, who finds herself agreeing to paint the mural of a wealthy lawyer’s office. We also meet Diana’s landlord Amanzio (Giuseppe Battiston) whose destiny is directly connected to Diana’s because the poverty of one equals the economic instability of the other.

All of the characters in Garibaldi’s Lovers are “little people”, the likes of which Garibaldi fought hard to defend in the 19th century, who even more than a century after his passing seem to be living the same injustices they did during the time of his greatest achievements. Now Garibaldi has nothing left to do but mourn for the state of his country and to wonder how is it that the people have amounted to so little in such a long time. Through Favino’s acidic delivery, we almost come to “feel” how the statue wishes nothing but to break free from its static state and set out to help those most in need and a such, the film achieves a superb tone of bittersweet comedy and poignant social commentary.

Yet sometimes it feels as if Soldi had so much to say and wanted to make it so approachable that he ended up losing aim of where Garibaldi's Lovers was headed, making it a film of several very good scenes, but a sense of larger greatness left to be desired. The director has very important ideas and the way he and his screenwriters set out to depict them is fantastic (there are opinions from the spirits of other Italian greats like Leonardo da Vinci and Cazzaniga for example, the latter of which pokes fun at Garibaldi constantly reminding us of how Italy is a country where timeless history shares a space with modernity.

The commentary provided by the statues and ghosts is a wonderful way to move from scene to scene, making these scenes into sort of tiny “situation comedy” episodes that we crave as we get to see the other characters. The trifles of the characters who are actually alive seem pale in comparison to the exciting discussions offered by the “historical characters,” which in its own way is a great reminder, perhaps even a completely intentional technique, of showing us how the government’s so-called respect and reverence for history, more often than not amounts to its creating a series of monuments to ideas and ideals it doesn't really hold as true.

All of the actors deliver really good performances, with Rohrwacher bringing a sense of cynical lovability to Diana and Battiston stealing practically every scene he’s in. Gerini, who might just have the film’s most complex part, is also a treat to watch, especially when we consider how silly and superfluous her character might’ve turned out to be if played by a lesser actress.

Garibaldi's Lovers is presented in an effective DVD edition by Film Movement, which continues to excel in providing audiences with non-English-speaking cinema that might otherwise escape us. The DVD includes a trailer of the film and also features a lovely short film by Anete Melece called The Kiosk, in which an overweight woman realizes she’s trapped forever in the small newsstand in which she shells magazines and candy. Like the feature presentation, this enchanting short film shows us how we interact in stituations we might otherwise take for granted.

6

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

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From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

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9

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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