It has been several days since I have seen “The Creation of Meaning”, but the view of the mountains and the sounds of the protagonist ‘s footsteps on the forest ground are still vivid in my mind, and I can still hear his heavy breathing as he carries stones to build a path. Simone Rapisarda’s film invites the viewers to follow the everyday life of Pacifico, a shepherd in the mountains of Tuscany, and to immerse themselves in the sensual immediacy of the landscape and of his everyday tasks. With its attention to detail and to everyday gestures, the film shows an ethnographic sensibility, and conveys the complexity and richness of ordinary conversations, dilemmas, paradoxes, and relationships in the mountains. It is interesting here to note that the film does not privilege sight. Sounds and textures – from the crackling of fire, to the splashing of water, and the surfaces of objects – are all part of Rapisarda’s careful observation, documentation, and reflection on time, place, and lived realities. Importantly, some of the key characters in the film are keen observers themselves. In an illuminating scene, for example, Pacifico and another local inhabitant point to the mountains and discuss hidden forms they can see in the rock face – in turn inviting the viewer to engage in careful observation. In this context, the two interlocutors’ musings over the identity of the hidden figure is not just a playful exchange, but can be seen as a reminder that what we notice, see, hear, and comprehend includes zones of shadows and always yields partial understandings.
Rapisarda’s film is also an intimate and complex reflection on memory and the echoes of history. In the film, while the contemporary lefts and rights hurl insults at each other on a radio talk show, everyday life on the mountains still seeps with stories, events, and monuments from the Second World War, and the clashes between German troops, Fascism, and the Italian Resistance. Pacifico’s life and the landscape in which he moves is full of traces of these conflicts – from the landmarks of events, to left-over gun projectiles, to groups of young actors who impersonate the Partigiani in the making of a film. Stories abound too; it is not just Pacifico and other elderly inhabitants who can share their recollections. Here even the children can tell stories about the war. To complicate matters, the Germans who are still remembered as the enemy are now visiting as tourists and buying the farmhouses as recreational properties. Pacifico’s land is no exception.
Presenting the negotiations between Pacifico and the German buyer of his property, the film also documents the sense of crisis in this region of Italy. As the economic downturn continues, the local inhabitants might have to give up their homes and their work. Even more tragically, Pacifico and his neighbours denounce the hardship and unemployment that are leading some of the young people in their community to commit suicide. Keeping both remembered history and contemporary conflicts and tensions in focus, the film shows how the past seems to resonate through the present in many complicated and interconnected ways. To say it differently, the history recalled in the film is not simply something that happened a long time ago and is still remembered, but rather a tangle of threads pulling at the present. Borrowing Pipyrou’s insightful commentary on history and collective memory in the Italian region of Calabria, we may then ask if in the Tuscan mountains too, the “crisis that torments Europe is experienced as a massive temporal vortex within which other pasts (…) indistinguishably swirl, intermixing with each other and intensifying the lived experience of the present crisis by becoming what Daniel Knight terms ‘culturally proximate’ (…) embodied and felt in the present despite being disjoined or disparate in linear time” (Pipyrou, 2016: 48, quoting Knight 2012 and 2015). One of the most interesting aspects of the film is then its ability to capture the moments in which the present seems to acquire an uncanny and dizzying depth, and to depict so carefully the lived spaces in which everyday encounters and conversations can become vantage points from which to interrogate past and current questions and dilemmas.
Pipyrou, Stavroula (2016) Adrift in Time: Lived and Silenced Pasts in Calabria, South Italy. History and Anthropology, 27:1, 54-59