Review: SACRO GRA Looks More Like a Quiet Sheep Than a Golden Lion
"Come with me, my love, on the Great Ring Junction" was the beginning of a popular parody song by Corrado Guzzanti, one of Italy's most famous TV comedians, and for twelve years that was what the media had to say about the GRA, in Italian the "Grande Raccordo Anulare" (Great Ring Junction) a ring-shaped highway surrounding Rome. Nothing to be happy about it, nothing to be proud, every unfortunate Italian who has to get inside Rome knows he'll have to spend at least one hour in the feared and well known Great Ring Junction, lost in the traffic jam for God knows how long.
Suddenly it was dragged out of the traffic news, its name was said out loud to the world by one of Italy's leading documentarists, Gianfranco Rosi (who's not related to the famous Francesco Rosi) in his award winning Sacro GRA (Holy GRA). Surely no one felt an urge to hear something about such a disgraced place, but Rosi was called back to Italy - after having directed Boatmen in India, Below Sea Level in California and El Sicario - Room 164 in Mexico - when called by Nicolò Bassetti. Bassetti is a photographer who had nothing to do with Rosi when he first started his project exploring the surrounding of the GRA, looking for its identity, looking for what made that place sacred, above the heads of those living around it.
Ten years and loads of pictures later, Bassetti passed his idea to a man who had seen the world and could see a place he knew well from another perspective: this man was obviously Rosi, a director whose movies had always been screened in Venice and many other important film festivals around the globe. And that's how, this year Golden Lion, began his life, with Rosi shooting for two years in a huge area outside Rome, trying to capture the feelings affecting those ones who wanted or had to live and work around, over or down the Great Ring Junction.
Observed from above, by a camera outisde a window there are an old cultured man from Turin living with his daughter in a small room while in the same building a family tries to ignore their son's DJ mania. Straight down the highway there's a botanist studying and classifying which palms are filled with killer parasites, planning a way to strike back. A fisherman complains about what journalists write on their newspapers and talks to his foreign wife. In a huge and kitsch mansion lives an aristocrat who earns his living by renting his place to film crews and photographer and collects more noble titles when he's able to. But the main character, if we could appoint someone as such, is a young paramedic who often had to drive as fast as he could to the Great Ring to aid the many people who every day, month and year have a car accident.
No one of these characters has any relation to each others apart from being next to the GRA, the highway is seen just a few times and us as viewer never really catch a glimpse of what it is. Sacro GRA is a movie which can't be really understood, felt by anyone who lives outside Rome, no one can really understand what it means to live next to a place sold as a peculiar one, when it is not shown what makes it a (horrible) landmark. What is clear is that Rosi knows what could be of some interest, but never acts to make it more interesting or catchy. Sacro GRA sticks to its ground and works in the same way as the GRA itself: it doesn't move, it doesn't change, it doesn't have a real end.
It's hard to understand what the Jury had watched in Venice when they decided to give the Golden Lion to Rosi, an accomplished director who had done better movies than this sort of beautifully crafted TV report show on the invisible men and women chatting, talking, walking and working around the GRA. Despite its interesting premise it never goes or even tries to enhance itself and for less than 90 minutes, it is just a showcase of curious people who'll make you smile or think about a specific problem, but never get you really glued to the chair or explore a single topic as many documentaries would do, like Rosi's previous ones.
In Italy there's a proverb: "better one day as a lion than a hundred years as a sheep". Sacro GRA had surprisingly been a lion for one day, but underneath its golden mane there's just a quiet and lovely sheep.