SXSW 2017: Spettacolo
Tradition plays a key role in the documentary Spettacolo. For over 50 years, the small town of Monticchiello, Italy comes together each summer to put on a play, with the parts played by the townspeople. As time passes, the original players numbers start to fade, either by natural causes, creative differences, or lack of interest. As the fly-on-the-wall cameras follow the making of the latest in this yearly ritual, it becomes clear that the weight of keeping this seemingly hallowed production going is too much to bear for some.
Directors Jeff Malmberg and Chris Shellen interview the townspeople of Monticchiello, who recall the origins of the play, dating back to when the quaint Tuscan town came face-to-face with Nazi forces. The documentary does an exemplary job of providing archival photos and footage of past plays. The town recognizes there is history and importance attached to the event, but as the film progresses, the impending production starts to slip away from its director Andrea Cresti, who ends up being the film's main focus. It’s understood how and why the town continues the tradition, but the question remains, “How long is it too long to keep a tradition alive?”
Malmberg previously directed Marwencol, the incredible documentary about a brain-damaged man who recreates a 1/6th scale World War II-era town in his backyard. Some of the themes represented in Marwencol correlate with those in Spettacolo, such as the importance of art and to whom it’s important. Andrea, at one point, contemplates replacing the production with a food or wine festival because he thinks the actors/townspeople just don’t care anymore. One particularly heartbreaking scene involves a potential young actor being asked by Andrea about whether or not he’ll be in the production. Andrea is rejected, further adding to his frustration about keeping the production afloat. He seems to be the one person who’s the most invested in the play, keeping its history squarely on his shoulders. Andrea's son runs a bed and breakfast and recognizes the times are changing for Monticchiello — tourism reigns.
Each year, the townspeople pick a topic to tackle for their play, range from socio-political to meta. Monticchiello has been growing into more of a tourist hotspot, and the citizens within have tackled that fear of corporate redevelopment with plays dealing with the selling of their land. While other plays have taken a step back and become about making the play itself, with its actors blending into the stage asking the question, “What will we do this year?”. The present day’s production deals with the end of the world, seen through the destruction of the class system by corporate forces. With each passing year, thought and care goes into each performance, even as things start to crumble — actually, quite literally the decades-old set falls apart in front of us. Spettacolo ends up being a touching look at a town’s long-standing tradition; the film deals with the importance of art and creation and the fight to keep it alive amongst the hardships of time.