Thursday, June 6, 2013

Open Roads 2013: PRETTY BUTTERFLIES -- Salvatore Mereu in the slums of Sardinia

Yours truly tries to stay alert, during foreign film festivals such as the annual Opens Roads, to the differences between, say, the slums of Sicily (seen in this year's It Was the Son) and those of Sardinia, which we visit in PRETTY BUTTERFLIES (Bellas Mariposas). And while the look and feel of these two locations do seem noticeably different, I am not at all sure that I can begin to pick up the more subtle changes in behavior or interests -- let alone, to my American ear, the accent -- of the populace. Yet one of my compatriots, upon being asking what he thought of the film, post-press screening, told me, "When you've seen one movie about kids growing up in slums, you've seen 'em all." Well, hello, Spiro Agnew!

One of the things we notice first about the new narrative movie from filmmaker Salvatore Mereu (shown at right), who was born in Sardinia and has directed and written/adapted the screenplay from the novel by Sergio Atzeni, is how insistent is the heroine, Cate, a smart but sour little girl played very well by newcomer Sara Podda, on getting the hell out of her native land. Or at least out of her local community. She does not, at this point in her young life, have a very good or sensible idea of how to do this, but with someone this untutored, it's the idea that counts.

Once we get a load of her parents and siblings, her friends and neighbors, it's not difficult to understand what motivates the girl. Her best friend Luna (also very well played by Maya Mulas) understands Cate but doesn't feel so strongly about the negative aspects of her hometown -- though both girls are happy to get away for a day together at the beach. That day, which provides some fun and adventure (involving an older guy, below, who picks up the two girls), provides a kind of short vacation for our heroines.

Otherwise, we're back at home and environs, where the love of Cate's life (a near-sighted boy, who of course isn't at all interested in Cate, except as a friend) is being threatened by her brother, while her lazy father masturbates in the bathroom and mom works doubly hard just to put some food on the table.

All of this sounds pretty dour, if not downright creepy, but Signore Mereu mines an awful lot of humor out of it. It's this humor, in the film itself and in the attitude of the two girls, that finally makes the movie more enjoyable than you'd imagine.

Stylistically, Mereu also does something a little different. From the outset, he places himself almost at one with Cate, who narrates much of the movie as though she were working in tandem with the filmmaker. Of course she is, but it's this acknowledgment of same that also helps make the movie such novel fun. Growing up in the slums of anywhere can't be a particularly enriching or glowing experience. But I have to say that I'll remember the Sardinian variety better than many others in my movie-going experience.

Pretty Butterflies plays at Opens Roads at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center on Sunday, June 9, at 6pm and again Tuesday, June 11, at 6:30pm. Click here to see the entire Open Roads program.

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