The Dokufest jury for the international competition awarded the Best International Feature Documentary to Italian filmmaker Pietro Marcello's La bocca del lupo (The Mouth of the Wolf) "for its haunting, lyrical and gorgeous depiction of one city and one remarkable love story." We are not the first jury to give this beautiful film top honors since its début in 2009. At this year's Berlinale, it won the Caligari Award, as well as Best Documentary at the Teddy Awards. It also took the Film Critics Prize for Best Film at the 2009 Torino Film Festival, the first time in the northern Italian festival's 27-year history that the prize was given to an Italian film. It's an exquisite, distinctive work, its director creating a layered story with unrestrained romanticism, a love letter to the port city of Genova in the Liguria region, founded by "abandoned castaways" washed onto its shores by the sea to create a unique culture of its own. Marcello, in turn, has made a unique film that is hard to define by one genre alone. Shot in luscious 35mm, it is an epic poem, an elegy, an archaeological excavation, a city symphony, and a true love story for the ages, told in a disorienting, mysterious dreamscape, using sound and vision, spoken word and music, brand-new footage residing beside ancient, fragile pieces of celluloid.
While in the midst of researching this utterly-transformed place for the San Marcellino Foundation, the Jesuits of Genova (an organization that offers aid to indigents and the marginalized, including ex-cons), the director met his extraordinary protagonists by chance. He met Vincenzo (Enzo) Motta (pictured right) outside a bakery, a ruggedly handsome man who promptly engaged the filmmaker in conversation, showing him the bullet hole marks in his leg from a shootout he'd had with the cops decades ago. Enzo's wife of 20 years, Mary Monaco, was a bit more reticent to participate, but the two ultimately agreed to share their incredible love story for Marcello's camera.
Enzo is front and center throughout most of the story--visually and aurally, his coiled presence and vibrating machismo and sexuality, the engine that moves us through time and space. We only hear Mary's voice (and see a couple of photos of her when she was young) through most of the film. We finally see her when she is sitting by Enzo's side for one of the most captivating interviews ever captured on film. Marcello purposely fools us into thinking we are seeing the woman who is speaking time and time again. We realize at the very end of the film, that she is one of the very first images we see, hiding in plain sight, a silhouette in repose. When we do see her, she is still mostly hidden in shadow, tentative and shy, but her eloquence and emotionalism, the beautiful language she uses to describe their first encounter, her impressions of him, how they saved one another, the synchronicity of their bond, will melt the most stoic heart. Enzo sits beside her mugging for the camera and flexing his muscles, then turning to her to sing her a love song, a born ham if ever there was one. He does make one hell of a movie star. Unfortunately, he's spent most of his life behind bars due to a talent for finding trouble from a very early age, never quite succeeding in getting out from under his own violent temper and hubristic "rule of law."
The story, like all good fairy tales, has a happy ending, the two lovers living their dream in a small, shabby farmhouse with their dogs, Enzo munching herbs from the ground like a goat as the camera gazes from a high hill overlooking the now-ugly, industrial city built upon the rubble of the old one, that world forever submerged. "Small, great stories, that's what it was."
There were many films we saw at Dokufest that pushed form, that found new and innovative ways of spinning a true yarn. Our deliberation was that much more difficult due to the stellar programming, not just in the competitions, but in the festival, as a whole. Yet a film like La bocca rose above a field of outstanding work because of its unabashed ode to all that we love about cinema, how it can transport and enrich us, capture our imaginations, allow us to be swept away by sheer beauty. Kudos to its creator, and a particular salute of respect to editor and archival researcher, Sara Fgaier, and composers Marco Messina, Massimiliano Sacchi and Nino Bruno (ERA). Bravissimi, tutti.
Coda: Sadly, Mary
passed away very recently and so this film, in essence, must become a tribute
to this remarkable woman, transformed throughout her life in many ways
most of us will never experience, or understand. (Pictured, Mary, Marcello and Enzo celebrating in Torino last year.)