The best is yet to come

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By GUILHERME PREGER *

Considerations about Nanni Moretti's film

Italian director Nanni Moretti's latest film opens with an unusual scene: men climb down scaffolding to write in ink on a large wall that looks like a prison the words that later turn out to be the film's title: The best is yet to come. Later we will know that this passage is actually called the “What a fuck”, by directors of the Netflix streaming channel. Every movie sponsored by this video-on-demand channel needs to have a “what’s that?” scene. in its opening moments to capture the spectators’ attention (“the first ten minutes are crucial”). Nanni Moretti challenged the producers to put the scene in the first two minutes, which they thought was too early.

This is obviously an ironic, or even parodic, scene. This opening is a pretext for the credits to appear, but it has no real function in the narrative. However, its meaning only becomes clear (if at all) after Nanni Moretti's meeting with the young people on the platform, which happens halfway through the film.

Parody is an element that Nanni Moretti's films introduce into the scene in the form of metalanguage. The best is yet to come is a film about cinema itself and its increasing difficulty in appearing as a work of art in the contemporary period. The protagonist, Giovanni, present in other works by the director, is his assumed alter ego. Like Gustave Flaubert, Nanni Moretti can say that “Giovanni c'est moi".

In this film, Giovanni is a film director in decline who films a fiction that could have taken place in 1956, when there was the Hungarian Revolution and its subsequent crushing by Soviet tanks. At the same historical moment, a Hungarian circus comes to perform in Italy, in a district that is administered by a militant member of the Italian Communist Party. The Soviet invasion of Hungary takes place precisely when the famous circus is in the Italian capital at the invitation of the PCI. In solidarity with the circus artists who watch with sadness the dismantling of the revolution in their country, the party, however, is unable to take a clear position of repudiation of the Russian invasion. This is the drama that Giovanni wants to film now in the present, but he can't in the end.

And it fails because initially there is a lack of financial resources for production. The main financier is French actor Mathieu Amalric, who plays himself and who ends up revealing himself without the resources to invest in the film. Amalric combines Giovanni's enthusiasm for cinema as a work of art and a source of aesthetic joy. But this idealism of both does not fit with the new times. Amalric is detained for alleged tax evasion and the production is left without sponsorship.

However, financial problems are not the most serious that the film's production faces. There is also the complicated private life of Giovanni as he ages, and in particular his marriage to Paola (played by actress Margherita Buy) which is falling apart. Paola is the producer of Giovanni's film, but at the same time she produces another, more blockbuster film, by a young Italian director who imitates the American Quentin Tarantino. Paola is more dedicated to the production of this latest film, which is full of violent scenes, than to Giovanni's film.

And there are also historical problems. The work intended by Giovanni intends to review the history of the PCI, at the time the largest communist party in the West. At that moment, the PCI leaders, with Palmiro Togliatti at their head, ended up endorsing the Soviet repression of the Hungarian revolution. For Giovanni, this decision was a lost historic opportunity to truly advance the “Italian path to socialism”, proposed by Togliatti himself. In one of the scenes The best…, the director tears up Stalin's portrait. In one of the documentary images, the statue of Stalin is toppled by the Hungarian crowd in Budapest.

Now, the Hungarian revolution was a result of Khrushchev's own “secret speech” reporting the state crimes of the Stalinist period and criticism of the “cult of Stalin”, a speech that had taken place at the beginning of 1956. The Hungarian revolt occurred at the end of that year as a historical consequence of this process of “de-Stalinization” of the regime. Giovanni ignores this reality when portraying the PCI's position as one of continuity with the Stalinist era. What was at stake in Hungary was above all the break with the Soviet bloc and the construction of an autonomous path to socialism.

But for Giovanni the issue is of yet another nature. How to talk about the history of communism to contemporary generations? In Italy, the PCI was dissolved and the far right now rules Italy without any real competition with the left. In one scene of the film, to the director's dismay, a young actor mistakes a communist for a Russian. Giovanni wants to make a political film, but the protagonists want to emphasize the romantic (and individualistic) perspective of the characters.

Therefore, there is a convergence of principles between the “communist hypothesis” (that communism is not only a possible, but a necessary destiny of world history) and aesthetic fiction. Both share alternative times and possible worlds. Or, in other terms, the utopia for human emancipation via communist experience could now only be worked on fictionally. Or, even more drastically, the revolutionary construction increasingly resembles the circus activity portrayed in the narrative, a precarious, shabby and declining experience.

There is then this melancholy element that the recovery of communist emancipation can only be achieved fictionally. This “spectre” haunts the film like a failed promise. To speak like Manuel Bandeira in Pneumothorax, are the specters of life that could have been and was not. But there is an even more serious melancholy that hinders the construction of the work. It's the feeling that the destiny of cinema itself is no longer up to par with its history. Great classics and directors of the seventh art are remembered all the time.

These references function as a kind of appeal for Giovanni/Nanni's work to fulfill its historical mission. At the same time, failed and abandoned projects such as the story of a swimmer who crosses several pools or a musical film with romantic songs reappear in the director's imagination while he is on the set of his contemporary production. Like this, The best is yet to come it is populated both by the recording of the film that portrays the year 1956, as well as other unfinished films by the director, reworked by his desire. They are works within a work, but they are films that are characterized by their impossibility, as if the history of cinema itself had come to an end, or as if art cinema itself, like the communist experience, were an anachronism.

In a long passage, Giovanni interrupts the recording of the final scene of the film by the Tarantine director, his rival, which is being produced by his partner. The scene depicts an execution being filmed in explicit mode, like many we know, especially in American films by Quentin Tarantino. Giovanni's interruption of filming has a pedagogical, humanistic purpose. He wants to remake the scene in different terms. He calls architect Renzo Piano to find out how art should relate to human violence.

He even calls Martin Scorsese, whose films also have many similar scenes, to advise the young Italian director, but the American director doesn't answer. Giovanni interrupts filming for an entire night, to the exhaustion of the set team, but in the end the scene has to be performed anyway, demonstrating the fate of contemporary cinematic sensibility, eager for images of death and destruction.

Therefore, it is cinema itself as a humanistic means of expression that becomes anachronistic, out of time and place. But this anachronism of both democratic communism and humanistic cinema brings a curious revelation: that the recovery of both is linked. Historical displacement then becomes the last reserve of utopian hopes.

If the historical moment reveals itself as hopeless, with climate change that seems irreversible on one side and the resurgence of global wars on the other, perhaps the last dignified attitude is not to conform, but to remain faithful to the work and replace hope for perseverance, bringing the project and its desire for fulfillment to the end.

“History is not made of 'ifs', but I want to make a film precisely with se”, reflects at one point the Italian director. Fiction is exactly this mode of “as if” that bifurcates the course of the narrative into many temporalities. If there is in Giovanni's work a desire to review the course of history, to transform the past from the perspective of the future, altering a position that later proved to be catastrophic, as the Italian director credits the Soviet model's bureaucracy with the destruction of his own party, then this same work needs to reflect this possibility.

The work thus becomes “The Sun of the Future”, the original title of the film, a beam that illuminates the past through the present. What happened is not complete or decided, as history is ongoing. And cinema is not an anachronism, as each film renews the trajectory of the seventh art by opening new paths. The director then changes the script, so that the historical transformation also goes backwards. The meaning of History is not what was stated, but what is understood at each moment.

Thus, the film takes place in a large parade and the circus experience proves to be the most effective in defining the precarious and disputed reconstruction of the historic march. The director, like a master of the ring, ends his show aware that his only message is precisely that the best is yet to come.

* William Preger He is an engineer and has a PhD in literary theory from UERJ. Author of Fables of Science (Gramma).

Reference


The best is yet to come (Il sol dell'avvenire)
France, Italy, 2023, 95 minutes.
Director: Nanni Moretti.
Screenplay: Francesca Marciano and Nanni Moretti
Cast: Nanni Moretti, Marguerita Buy, Mathieu Amalric, Silvio Orlando, Barbara Bobulova, Valentina Romani, Flavio Furno, Zsolt Anger.


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