Film Reviews

REVIEW: Sacro GRA

Hot Docs 2014

Sacro GRA
Italy/France, 93 min.
Directed by Gianfranco Rosi
Programme: Special Presentations (Canadian Premiere)

Sacro GRA takes audiences for a loop. The film, which made history last year as the first documentary ever to win the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, is an amusingly elusive observation of the Grande Raccordo Anulare ring road that charts the perimeter of Rome. Director Ginafranco Rosi embraces the convoluted system and drives Sacro GRA in circles as he meditates upon a world in transition.

Rosi’s doc is less about the roadway and more about the vessels flowing through this arterial passage. The film rejects iconic images of Rome and instead presents some drolly opaque vignettes featuring ordinary citizens performing mundane tasks in dank interiors and nondescript haunts. A man chews a cigar during a workout. An elderly couple eats a melon. A fishmonger babbles about eels to his pokerfaced wife. Dancers shake a leg for boys more interested in their iPhones and two drifters debate whether they should go for legal advice for a charge of indecent exposure while sharing mozzarella cheese. These random encounters could just as easily be fly-on-the-wall observations of any urban space.

This rambling travelogue offers two chief guides as it peers into the windows and alleys of the city. The headlights of the ambulance offer one set of eyes as it motors along the road. Racing against time and maddening congestion, the paramedics bring a pulse to Sacro GRA. Alternatively, the film’s most cohesive thread comes via a botanist who studies the pests feasting in the local palm trees with operatic hunger. Sacro GRA offers its most striking juxtaposition when the botanist exterminates the pests in a plume of smoke and the film cuts to the smoggy logjam of idle cars. This ironic endnote asks whether the peripheral GRA harbours the life of the city or offers a vehicle for cultural erosion. This maddening play on contemporary urban environments is a trip.

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Pat Mullen is POV’s Associate Online Editor, etc. He covers film at Cinemablographer.com, and has contributed to The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, BeatRoute, Modern Times Review, and Documentary magazine and is a member of the Toronto Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. You can reach him at @cinemablogrpher

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