the filmmaker is a traveller

Gianluca Pulsoni

We have lived in our own shade, isolated, not very sociable, enjoying each others’ thoughts. In the midst of the complacent and superficial crowd we felt lost. We looked for personality in everything; in every work, painting or poem, we looked for a personal note. We maintained that the masters, the geniuses, were creators who, every one of them, had created a world out of many pieces and we rejected the followers, the impotent ones, whosemetier it is to here and there steal a few scraps of originality. Do you realise that we were revolutionary without knowing it?
-E. Zola to P. Cézanne. Paris, 20 May, 1866


These words written by the French writer, Émile Zola, to the French painter, Paul Cézanne, are probably a useful help in revealing the ethics of the man behind some of most brilliant contemporary films made in Italy, Mauro Santini. Both artist and craftsman, like a few other contemporary Italian filmmakers, his body of work seems strictly related to the meaning of being independent in making cinema nowadays, especially for those who are currently based in Italy: such independence is a status at once globally experienced as work and radically translated as viewpoint, a condition comparable to the wanderlust of an eternal foreigner, constantly on the move towards other borders and lands, always alone and always alive, conscious of the difficulties to be faced but always open to any possible digression, suggestion, improvisation.

Mauro Santini (Fano, 1965) had a traditional artistic education and his interests were immediately directed towards figurative painting, which he actively practiced. Later, the personal discovery of abstract and conceptual art led him to prefer photography, especially once his studies ended: a sort of necessary step to get familiar with techniques needed in embracing the Super 8 film format, just a year before the coming of Hi8 video. Obviously, his increasing curiosity towards matters of technology did not hinder him from continuing to visit art exhibitions or from thinking about possible connections between painted and filmed images:

I remember in a very particular way an exhibition I visited in Venice when I was younger, it was at Ca’ Pesaro, it was a Paul Klee’s show, featuring his minimal paintings. I remember well, it impressed me greatly. I was completely shocked by the sizes of those works and think now that my works done during those years, minimal videos and films, both in length and scale of production, can be related to that. I believe this form has influenced me, somehow. (1)

Aside from the study of suitable formats, painting has also been decisive in shaping his cinematic language. He openly declares the influence of two great painters, the German Gerhard Richter and the French Nicolas De Staël, undoubtedly different in style but recognizable as great contemporary masters. Two models to face images in depth: Richter for his ‘adaptation’ towards the heterogeneous indeterminacy of reality; De Staël for his ‘inspiration’ towards the empathic abstraction of intimacy.

These tendencies are confirmed by analyzing Santini’s most important works: the astonishing series entitled Videodiari (2001/2005), consisting of many videos, often selected by several prestigious film festivals (their titles are: Di ritornoDietro I vetriDa lontano, which was awarded in the Spazio Italia section of the Torino Film Festival in 2002;Fermo del tempoPetite mémoire; Da qui, sopra il mareFlòr da Baixa); his first feature film, Flòr da Baixa (2006); Un jour à Marseille (2006), which played at Annecy, Turin and at DocLisboa; the series called Giornaliero di città e passanti (2008) dedicated to the cities of Marseille, Lisbon and Madrid; and the short Cosa che fugge (2008). (2)

Therefore, is his cinema an ‘artistic’ practice? Yes and no: yes, if you consider the term ‘artistic’ as a key factor in his methodological research and a way to appreciate his pictorial attitude in making images; no, if you mean a filmmaking totally dependent on painting or visual arts in general, absorbed by them, merged with them, as though they were the original effort and cinema a sort of void, technological extension of them. What remains clear in Santini’s works is the centrality and autonomy of film language.
Confirmation of such a statement can be found in the inserts in his works on the cities he has been filming for years in his travels between Europe and America, and also in his ‘video-diaries’ series, simultaneously travelogues and meditations which deconstruct both image and the function of a traditional ‘diary’. Let’s examine some examples in detail.

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