Living Maps and Legends: The Creation of Meaning

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The Creation of Meaning
Directed by Simone Rapisarda Casanova
December 17-23 at MoMA

Taking root on a mountainside in the Apuan Alps, the Italian quasi-doc The Creation of Meaning manages to look beyond all the golden sunlight, examining recent history as it makes itself felt at the highest earthly altitudes. Up in these climes, air traffic whirs overhead, joining chorus with the chirping insects, but things are perhaps not so peaceable as they appear: Here, the Germans dug in along their Gothic Line in the waning days of World War II, and the casualties piled up during the Allies’ offensive against this string of positions. Today, this landscape, still scarred by combat, is not above the fray of Berlusconi’s Italy. In one of the more memorable sequences of this sometimes-meandering film, a man tunes the radio dial to a political shouting match as he goes about his morning routine.

Adept at logging the ever-shifting effects of the atmosphere (particularly the pillowy fog, peeling off in sheets as it rolls through the Apennine valleys), this film—directed, edited, and shot by Montreal-based filmmaker Simone Rapisarda Casanova—feels altogether lighter than its portentous title might suggest.

Like many features that patch straight nonfiction with the odd fictional setup, Creation concerns a seemingly anachronistic day-to-day whose time seems to be running out, rendered in unbroken takes that attempt to induce in the viewer a spellbound state not dissimilar from mindfulness meditation. Rapisarda Casanova’s human subject here is the sixty-something Pacifico Pieruccioni, a farmer who has adapted closely to his thin-air situation. At one point, Pieruccioni leaves a single jar of his goat’s milk in a woodland box for customer pickup; at another, he sends sacks of gravel flying down the mountain on a manually operated zip line. This man, who’s always in day-hike attire (athletic shorts, laced-up boots), might not carry himself like someone feeling the squeeze, but evidently he is: Bookend scenes reveal him closing in on a deal to sell his property to a German family man in the market for a vacation home.

Creation, which won an emerging-director prize at Locarno last year and premiered locally this past spring at New Directors/New Films, is more tactful with the matter of collective memory than it is in dropping that one giant historical irony. Pieruccioni might be trying to weather the global financial crisis, but the farmer, born several years postwar, nonetheless keeps pulling pro-bono duty as a caretaker of the area’s 20th-century heritage. In his downtime, the farmer shows munitions he’s scavenged to a curious grad student, listens closely to a firsthand war story from an older neighbor, and leads cast and crew of a short film about the Italian resistance right to the desired location. In such moments, Pieruccioni appears to shepherd this living local history with the same care he bestows on his flocks and his fields. This is perhaps the most lasting takeaway of the only intermittently transcendent Creation—growth industry or not, the legacy of the land is, like the arable land itself, something that needs tending to.

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