Singing Behind Screens
Photos and Video
Shockingly modernist in its masterful displacement of time and space, for many critics Singing Behind Screens is one of the high points of Italian cinema in recent years. The work of Italian filmmaker Ermanno Olmi has gone through a number of evolutions in his 46-year career, but none as amazing as his current transfiguration into a romantic symbolist. He seems capable of creating an original film world with a few powerful strokes of his brush; or in this case, a camera sumptuously manned by his talented son Fabio Olmi. Like his previous film The Profession of Arms, this is an anti-war story. Instead of drawing on medieval history, it takes its inspiration from a Jorge Luis Borges tale about a Chinese pirate queen sailing the high seas. To this Olmi adds another story, that of a young man in what looks like a Chinese brothel circa 1930 who is watching everything take place on stage, as in an opium dream. The strange fable is narrated by an old captain (Bud Spencer). Admiral Ching, tempted to give up pirating by the Emperor's edict, has been murdered by his own capitalist backers, who have a vested interest in his activities. Surprising everyone, his widow (Jun Ichikawa) boldly takes his place at the head of his pirate fleet and takes her revenge, ravaging the coast of China. When the old emperor dies, his heir ascends to the throne and personally engages the widow Ching in a great naval battle.
Director's Statement Collapse
Defying gusts of wind and torrential rain, a tottering rickshaw with its fragile and dimly-glowing coloured lantern leaves the broad street with its brightly-shining shop windows, headlights and signs, and turns into a labyrinth of dark lanes.
Hauled along by an old Chinese man (an emaciated and soaking-wet Charon ferrying his passengers to their squalid destinations), the rickshaw makes its way along sinister alleys; and, turning a corner, draws up abruptly near a reddish light. This comes from a coloured bulb that is hidden in the jaws of a china dragon hanging above a closed door: the only sign of possible human presence.
There is a precise and unspoken understanding between those whose commerce is vice. And now a crack of light announces that the door is being opened.
The foreign client has reached his destination.
The show can begin.
As soon as the client steps over the threshold that marks the boundary between the licit and the illicit, and as soon as the door has been closed behind him, everything changes instantly. It is as though the flat mundaneness of everyday life has been left behind, and now it is time to enjoy, with pleasurable abandon, the unfettered transfiguration of reality.
Up on the miniscule stage, to the accompaniment of the magic play of lights and delicate musical harmonies, a number of painted female figures act out with sinuous movements, imaginary epics, heroic battles, sly betrayals, serenity and apprehension, quiet enjoyment and sudden fear, melancholy and solitude, the travails of work and explicit abandonment to amorous acts.
Thus begun, the narrative subsequently develops as a form of reverie in which the stage and life, the small company of actors and their motley public, and the world of harsh reality and that of the imagination, all cohabit and blend; in order that experiences, emotions and shades of meaning might be represented with an intensity that a simple reconstruction of the facts, however rigorously executed, is incapable of producing.
Film Information Collapse
[SINGI] | 2003 | 100 | Narrative Feature
Foreign Title: (Cantando dietro i paraventi)
Premiere: New York
About the Director(s)Collapse
Born in Bergamo in 1931, Ermanno Olmi's illustrious career has garnered him the Cannes Film Festival Palme D'or (The Tree of Wooden Clogs), and from the Venice Film Festival, a Critics' Prize (The Job), a Silver Lion (Long Live the Lady), and a Golden Lion for his masterpiece The Legend of the Holy Drinker. His other film credits include One Fine Day, The Circumstance, Camminacammina, The Secret of the Old Woods, Genesis: Creation and the Flood and more recently, Profession of Arms, which narrates the last days in the life of the condottiero Giovanni dalle Bande Nere and was a candidate for the Palme d'Or. In 1982 he co-founded Ipotesi Cinema, a hands-on apprenticeship program for aspiring young filmmakers. Since 1976 he has lived with his family in Asiago, Italy.