Here I laugh (2021) by Mario Martone

In Qui rido io – in competition at Venice 78 – Martone rediscovers the thread of his reasoning between cinema, theater and historical film, where our past must always speak to the present, otherwise it makes no sense. And, in doing so, he launches a warning against single thought and against the ever-recurring fascism.

Death of a Neapolitan stroller

At the beginning of the twentieth century, in the Naples of the Belle Époque, Eduardo Scarpetta is the king of the box office. Of humble origins, he established himself thanks to his comedies and the mask of Felice Sciosciammocca. However, when he made the parody of D’Annunzio’s The daughter of Iorio, the poet sues him and a series of Neapolitan authors get together with him, accusing Scarpetta of embodying an outdated way of conceiving theater. Shadowing death, the comedian indulges in one last show on the court stage. [sinossi]

We approached a bit like disappointed lovers in the presence of the new film by Mario Martone, Here I laughpresented in competition at Venice 78. Disappointed first by the excessive didacticism de The fabulous young manthen from the unresolved ambition of Capri-Revolutionthen from the cheap and hasty operation de The mayor of the Sanità district. Disappointment perhaps due to too high expectations, born following the electrocution of We believed, which the present writer considers the most important film of Italian cinema of the 2000s. Well, Martone is back Martone, thanks to this portrait of Eduardo Scarpetta, embodied by an absolutely perfect Servillo.

Already the incipit of Here I laugh is dazzling: the opening credits scroll images of the dawn of cinema filmed by the Lumières in Naples, then with an abrupt break we find ourselves in the middle of a scene – in medias res – with Servillo/Scarpetta who is preparing to go on stage to embody the his character par excellence, that Felice Sciosciammocca who is the protagonist of Poverty and nobility; this, while a commentary Neapolitan song is heard in the background, clearly non-diegetic. And immediately everything is clear, there is no need for explanations, contextualisations, explanations or signs. We are already inside the scene and inside the film. And Martone’s method of reappropriation of historical film and history is also immediately clear: as in Death of a Neapolitan mathematician and how right in We believed, the so-called costume film must be done in period clothes, but it always serves to talk about the present, it always serves to give an interpretation of history, its pouring out on us, on our lives and on our cinema. Also in this sense, in our opinion, those initial images of the Lumières should be understood, as well as the brief reference to the cinema that is made towards the end of Here I laugh: in Martone’s new film, in fact, the theater is a tool to talk about art in a more general sense (also about cinema and literature), about how we are always on the verge of a single thought, of an always eternal and always returning that is constantly being eradicated. And it was precisely this, on the contrary, the main flaw de The mayor of the Sanità district: an update in contemporary clothes of Eduardo’s text which proved to be totally dressed up, unable to speak either in the present or in the past.

So, the story of Scarpetta, the author of Poverty and nobility, actor and dialect playwright who lived between the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, in a period in which Naples was the Italian cultural centre. That Eduardo Scarpetta who “killed” Pulcinella’s mask, replacing it with his own, with his character of Sciosciammocca, who made the definitive transition from the ancient commedia dell’arte to the theater of the “population”, of those starving they shun poverty by aspiring to nobility, or even just to a petit-bourgeois tranquillity. That Scarpetta who was the father of Eduardo, Titina and Peppino – never officially recognized by him – and of no one knows how many other children, all generated with the aim of creating a large extended family, a lineage of actors, to be thrown on stage ever since as children. Martone skilfully staged all this, outlining – alongside the enthroned Servillo – a series of very well-chosen characters, from the eldest son who did not want to inherit the mask of Sciosciammocca from his father, to the actor-friend lifelong companion who then betrayed him by going to act for Salvatore Di Giacomo, to the slightly stupid and not pretty eldest daughter who Scarpetta always holds in the palm of her understanding dad, up to the trio of the De Filippo brothers, who we only see as children and who really inherit – as opposed to children recognized at all registry office – talent and visceral passion for theatre. Even if it must be said that, of all of them, the character of Eduardo De Filippo is the slightly weaker one, in which some element of leopardism is overshadowed, some traits of that excess of respect towards the supreme cultural authority which in his time had partially invalidated the result de The fabulous young man.

But it is clear that the character of Eduardo – also because he was still a child – was certainly the most complex one to outline, while Martone does not meet these problems, either obviously with Scarpetta, whose strengths and weaknesses he tells lucidly, or with D’Annunzio or even , even, with Benedetto Croce, both staged in the film, both told separately in a single sequence and both effectively characterized: D’Annunzio with his effeminate and decadent but also hypocritical and vulgar manner, with his almost obscene bald , with his stunted body unworthy of wearing the ancient Roman toga that should elevate him in rank and with that group of women who assist and support him from the upstairs balcony, non-paying spectators but paid to applaud the Vate in his confrontation with Scarpetta (and, incidentally, in just one scene Martone does much more than Gianluca Jodice did in the recent The Bad Poet, entirely focused on D’Annunzio); Benedetto Croce, on the other hand, with those childish glasses and that arrogant and know-it-all face who, validating the right to parody, gives a lesson in literary criticism to poor Scarpetta who is increasingly isolated and outdated by the times.

And yes, because Martone, after having made us savor the old theater boards of the past, after having shown us the scenic rituality of that type of acting, still very charged and grotesque (and, therefore, conversely, the marked characterizations of D’Annunzio and Croce are authorized by what we have seen before on the stage, as an excellent example of how theatricality, if well conceived, can still enrich cinema today), after having told us about the family conflicts of the protagonist’s tribe, progressively directs us towards the center playwright of Here I laugh: Scarpetta’s decision to parody Iorio’s daughter by D’Annunzio, a decision that will lead to a court case and the questioning of the entire career of the old comedian. Starting from that moment the conflict between Scarpetta and the new generation of Neapolitan playwrights, led by Salvatore Di Giacomo, who see in D’Annunzio the incarnation of the new theater and therefore want to bury comedy and parody, in the name of tragic austerity, of the smug posturing, of the stentorian oration and the rolling of the eyelids which will then lead to Mussolini and fascism. Scarpetta, who at the beginning of the film boasted of having “killed” Pulcinella, now understands that he is the next to die, that soon he will have to give way to someone else. And, in this sense, the only visionary moment of the film is dazzling, when a dead Pulcinella appears on stage to the protagonist. Thus, the eldest son abandons him for the cinema, the actor-friend of all time goes – as already mentioned – to play for Di Giacomo, a child is born dead, and Scarpetta finds himself completely alone: ​​he visits the mother of the De Filippo where her relatives are also there, and they keep silent, embarrassed by the presence of that walking dead, as if he were a plague victim. And at that point Scarpetta understands that everything passes and everything remains, that everything is channeled into the cultural history of a civilization and that, to do this, we must continue to bury each other. That’s life. Thus, in court, to defend himself from the accusation of plagiarism, Scarpetta staged his last great performance, the most beautiful of all.

This sequence, among other things, has the further quality of alluding to Martone himself who, now two decades ago, was called to testify for the famous trial brought against Totò who lived twice of Cipri e Maresco. And there, on that occasion, the Neapolitan director defended the dignity of the work of art, which must always be free and which, to be art, must be uncomfortable and obscene, as Pasolini taught. That intervention, of which fortunately there is recorded evidence, was paradoxically the most beautiful theatrical piece of Martone’s career, where two antithetical and non-communicating codes were confronted, that of law and that of art. In fact, the public prosecutor watched dumbfounded, without understanding the concepts that Martone explained to him. All this, in an ingenious and indirect way, returns to the sequence of the court of Here I laughthus authorizing us to see in Scarpetta an alter ego of the director, and it is perhaps the first time that this has happened in Martone’s cinema, at least in such a clear and exact way: evidently also the author of Death of a Neapolitan mathematician he warns us and warns himself, because he knows that old age is coming for him too and that in the meantime new presumed and revered masters have been born in Italian cinema, see the D’Innocenzo brothers. Therefore Here I laugh it is an “old” film, starting from the choice to tell an old and outdated type of theatre, but it is at the same time eternal, because the theatre, that theater in particular (much more than that of D’Annunzio) is eternal in memory of our cultural history, just as Martone’s way of making films and tackling history must – hopefully – remain eternal and must not be forgotten by the new generations, because the reference to our roots can only be conducted in the belief that past, present and future are always communicating, in a continuous transfer between one and the other. Thus, we come to the key measure of Here I laughthe one in which the whole meaning of the film is concentrated, when the prosecutor points out to Scarpetta that, compared to the parody of Iorio’s daughtera certain parody of Divine Comedy it was possible to do it because Dante has already been dead for some years, so to speak. And then Scarpetta replies very seriously: «No, Dante is still alive». And here, as in the final monologue by We believed, Martone – making Servillo step out of Scarpetta’s shoes for a moment – speaks directly to us and to the way we want and must manage the history of our civilization. Because, as the immortal poet teaches, we are made to follow virtue and knowledge.

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The profile of Qui rido io on the site of the Biennial


Here I laugh (2021) by Mario Martone – Review | Quinlan.it