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Translational and transnational directions of Italian cinema

By Flavia Laviosa, Wellesley College (USA)

At the awards ceremony of the 71st edition of the Venice Film Festival, on 6 September 2014, Swedish director Roy Andersson,

winner of the Golden Lion for Best Film for A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, said in his acceptance speech that Italian films— especially Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist masterpiece Bicycle Thieves (1948)— had a major impact on him. ‘You have such a fantastic film history’, Andersson told his Italian hosts. Additionally, Wang Xiaoshuai (Beijing Bicycles, 2001),[1] whose new thriller Chuangru zhe/Red Amnesia was selected in the competition for the 71st Venice Festival, declared at the ‘ANICA[2] meets China’ event,[3] the strong impact of Italian cinema on his work. More specifically, he was profoundly moved when he visited the places where Fellini shot 8 ½ (1963). Maria Giuseppina Troccoli, General Director for Cinema MiBACT, announced that tax-credit for Italian cinema and television productions in China would become effective as a result of the regulations set with the Sino-Italian coproduction agreement signed on 18 June 2014. This agreement supports the production of films that belong to both countries, not only from a strictly technical perspective, but also as stories involving the two nations.

After China Day on 22 October 2014, organized by the Business Street with ANICA, Ice and MiBACT as part of the Rome Film Festival, Conchita Airoldi, producer of Urania Pictures, and Chinese Stephen Lam, from Sil Metropole, signed an agreement for a film with a screenplay written by Ni Zhen[4] and directed by Maurizio Sciarra.[5]  In the autumn of 2015, Sciarra will film Everlasting Moments in the region of Yunan. The story of this Italian-Chinese co-production is set in 1905 Shanghai and is about the impossible love between an Italian photographer and a Chinese girl who is doomed to an arranged marriage.

Borderlessness, hybridity and cross-fertilization
The shifting of geo-political and economic axes, the rebuilding of borders, the redrawing of world maps and the reconfiguration of human atlases are due not only to wars, political unrest or natural calamities, but also to the increased mobility of the so-called ‘cosmopolitan elites’ consisting of intellectuals, business people, entrepreneurs, politicians, professionals, international criminals and investigators. These changes have placed countries in the position to receive, produce, consume and distribute new ideas, material goods and capitals, and simultaneously to host transient communities, accommodate migrant cultures, and include diasporic societies. The intensified encounter, spatial and generational transfer, fruitful fusion and fertile collision of diverse traditions epitomize the syncretic complexity and problematize the joint effort and inevitable conflict of traversing demarcated public boundaries, intersecting increasingly permeable geographic spaces, sharing and reallocating economic resources, intermingling with different communities and experiencing people’s odysseys of collective displacement and resettlement in contemporary societies. Plurality of ideas, changeability of identities, personal and professional mobility, and global inter-connectedness of cultures and societies impose a new understanding of transnational human interactions.

These global manifestations of dialectic coexistence have turned into a sound-box reverberating in a continuum of unstable national identities constantly in flux, resonating with a contamination of ethnicities and producing a cinematic cross-fertilization of experiences. These phenomena contribute to the connotation of world cinema beyond cartographic national lines, and lead scholars to explore the rapidly hybridizing notion of cinema in order to apply broader and more inclusive definitions of cinematic trans-locality.

Within the realm of a post-national debate, Italy can be viewed as a unifying geo-cultural locus for studies on translocal cinema. This discussion fosters new theoretical frameworks and critical methodologies to elaborate a multifaceted definition of Italian cinema, transcending geo-ethnic frontiers, land and sea borders, and moving away from merely celebratory localized cinematic experiences. Furthermore, Italian cinema in a transnational context is multiple and rhizomatic. It is both European and Mediterranean, and moves in many other less-explored directions towards Africa, Asia and South America. Subsequently, new critical approaches to Italian film studies explore cinema reflecting a multiethnic and interconnected Italy, while opening up a neglected seam: the influence of Italian productions on Italophone filmmakers and diasporic cinemas. Within such context, scholars engage in a methodological ‘tension’ between national and transnational Italian cinema, thus recovering these overlooked relationships, re-composing them in an aesthetic map marked by cross-national dialogues and trans-generational exchanges. Such ‘tension’ is, in fact, a spring-board for a stimulating intellectual discourse that establishes a new theoretical canon and re-defines the field of Italian film studies.

When ‘translation’, as transmission and re-appropriation of meaning, is applied to cinema the attention shifts to the interpretative processes set in motion by the reformulation of the artistic source. Translationality,[6] in the domain of cinema refers to transformation and transfer as forms of cultural exchange negotiating between equivalence and duality. Italian cinema is nomadic and traslato (transferred, carried across) when imported and exported, subtitled and dubbed, adopted and adapted, and ultimately re-interpreted and re-invented. Translationality defines the way Italian cinema permeates other cinematic cultures.

Italian cinema can be viewed as a geo-cultural and spatio-temporal bridge for the multidirectional routes connecting the tempestuous coalescence of cultures and a landing stage setting the dramaturgy of the galloping change of the world ethnic and socio-economic make-up, and artistic fabric. It can also be thought of as a new aesthetic and narrative destination surfacing through the interstices of progressively borderless geographies, and for the proliferation of new stories, myths and legends. Therefore, the distinctive aesthetic approach of translational cinema is both the product of cultural hybridity and the expression of a transvergent vision. It resists the homologizing effects of globalization, while foregrounding issues of diversity.

[1] A leading figure of the Sixth Generation of directors in China.
[2] Associazione Nazionale Industrie Cinematografiche Audiovisive e Multimediali/National Association of Audiovisual and Multimedia Cinematographic Industries.
[3] The Dragon and the Butterfly: How Italian cinema can cooperate with China Held on 3 September 2014, at 10.30am-12.00pm, at the Hotel Excelsior in Venezia Lido. The event was hosted by ANICA, Venice Days, Beijing Film Festival, Chengdu, Xin Hua and Foundation Italy-China. It was presided by Riccardo Tozzi, President of ANICA, moderated by Thomas Rosenthal from Foundation Italy-China, introduced by Giorgio Gosetti, General Delegate of Venice Days,  Maria Giuseppina Troccoli, General Director for Cinema MiBACT, and Andrea Cicini, The Experience of ANICA Desk. At the event participated speakers of the China Film Forum with presentations by Jiang Yan, Deputy Director of the European HQ;  Xinhua News Agency of China; Xu Lin, Vice President of Inlook Media; Qin Hong, Stella Mega Film Ltd. Producer; Li Yansong, President of iQIYI Motion Pictures; Isabelle Glachant, Representative for UNIFRANCE Greater China; and Yang XiangHua, Vice President of iQIYI; and film director Wang Xiaoshuai.
[4] Screenplay writer of Zhang Yimou’s Raise the Red Lantern (1991).
[5] Director of Alla rivoluzione sulla due cavalli/Off to the Revolution in a 2CV (2001), and President of the Apulia Film Commission since 2015.
[6] Translationality is a concept in translation theory which refers to the capacity of a text to be well translated into another language.