Boss father



Considerations about the film by the Taviani brothers, dedicated to the memory of Vittorio (died in 2018) and Paolo, who left us on the last day of February this year

In cinema, when we talk about sound, we often tend to privilege dialogue, forgetting that the soundtrack is also made up of noise and music and that it is this homogeneous amalgam that will be linked with the visual element to form the universe. filmic.

This simplification of analysis led me, some time ago, to see in the film Boss father, by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, a struggle between the language of power (the father's) and the language of revolt (the son's), but only in strictly linguistic terms, that is, between Logudorese (one of the Sardinian dialects ) and standard Italian, respectively. An equation that was very poorly resolved from an ideological point of view, since, in the daily linguistic reality of Italy, the data were inverted: the standard language corresponded to the language of power and the dialectal manifestations to the language, if not of revolt, of resistance, resistance of an entire cultural heritage, whose linguistic forms, however, were, most of the time, an index of “how much of the provincial, the old-fashioned, the oppressive, the laughable remained in Italian society, forms, therefore, to be overcome as current models of expression, to be considered as archaeological remains of the past”, in the words of Tullio De Mauro, reported in a book I authored.

A certain uneasiness arose within me, not in the face of the Taviani's work, which was dialectically balanced between tradition and transgression, but in the face of my irresolute participation as a spectator. Re-watching the film led me to a re-read. Just like Gavino (the character), I was awakened from my dullness by the strains of Strauss's waltz. And from the music I discovered the noises, and from both I reevaluated the dialogues, or rather, the absence of dialogue and the conquest of the right to have a voice, the conquest of the word.

It is in this sense that the present analysis will be oriented, which, in principle, should deal with music as a privileged element of the soundtrack of Boss father, without excluding, however, noise and speech, as the sound record that is articulated over the record of images cannot do without the conjunction of these three elements for the film to produce its speech.

Strauss's waltz, which suddenly expands through the air and breaks the silence that surrounded Gavino and nature, opens the second block of the film on what constitutes one of its nodal points, as it corresponds exactly to the moment in which the protagonist Begin to discover your means of communication.

If we look carefully, the first block – which goes from the day the father picked up his son from school to choral coitus, going through little Gavino's hard learning – is characterized by the absence of dialogue, as the prevailing voice is the of Efísio, a voice, most of the time, threatening, which does not admit of replies, a voice supported, when not replaced, by the dry sound of the beats of his staff (when taking his son out of school; in the scene in which the mother is preparing Gavino for the isolation of the reserve; in the various corporal punishments applied to the boy). In this sense, it is interesting to note that the final shot of the prologue shows us Gavino Ledda (the writer) giving Omero Antonutti/Efísio a staff and saying: “My father used this too”.

If, on the one hand, this gesture marks the passage from the space of reality to the space of representation, on the other, it is a device to draw attention to the object itself, an object that, as I have already highlighted, is used frequently throughout the world. block, symbol of the violence that characterizes paternal speech.

The prologue, in fact, is also very interesting from a musical point of view, as the two sound recordings that alternate over the presentation titles are a choir of children singing “bê-á-bá”, a melody with strong chords, which they resemble hammers, blows, and again the “bê-á-bá”. This musical prelude ends up foreshadowing and synthesizing the first block, in which Gavino's school education is replaced by the violent apprenticeship taught by his father.

Block of absence of dialogues, as I said, because the teacher's timid interventions, the thoughts in off of Gavino's classmates, reduced to silence by the father's anathema and the mother's conversation with her son, which seems more like a soliloquy, come to reinforce the power of the paternal word as an instrument that destroys the possibility of communication.

If a dialogue is outlined in this block, it is the argument between Gavino and the rebellious sheep (in off, because it also belongs to the sphere of thoughts), which reminds us that the only code that the boy is authorized to appropriate is that of nature, a striking presence in the film through the sounds that populate his silence: the footsteps of the Efisio's donkey, the branches of the oak, the murmur of the stream, the footsteps of Sebastião's horse, the claps and bleating of the sheep, the clucking of the chickens, the barking of the dog, the wind, the Sardinian song sung by his father, a kind of bleating, which, like a chorus, expands across the field, and the labored breathing of the children who mate with the animals, of the adults who mate with each other, of the entire village in heat, which closes this first part of the film.

Alongside this silence populated by the voices of nature, interior silence coexists, which sounds like the ringing of death bells, the silence of the muteness to which Gavino seems condemned. It is over this silence, not just the one recorded by the soundtrack after the collective copulation, that Johann Strauss's waltz rises. Gavino, now twenty years old, discovers music and, fascinated by it, performs his first act of disobedience to his father: he exchanges an old accordion for two lambs.

The use of the waltz, not only in this sequence but in almost the entire second block, is masterful. The music seems to descend from the sky to the ditch in which Gavino finds himself. Even when the boy looks outside, it seems to come from nowhere, as the landscape remains deserted. A pan reveals two musicians, one of whom is playing the operetta's famous leitmotif on the accordion. The bat (The bat.

The melody we hear, however, is played by an orchestra, which gives a much broader meaning to the scene, as it recalls a widespread culture from which Gavino was excluded, and again imbues the film with a strong anti-naturalism, as had already happened in the previous block, when, in front of his injured son, the father expressed his pain, which grew in a dramatic collective chorus. In that sequence, also, with a slight pan, the camera had moved from the foreground of Efísio to a deserted landscape, but not depopulated, as it echoed the pain of all those generations condemned to the solitude of pastoralism.

Strauss's waltz explodes again on the astonished face of the patriarch, who, upon realizing that he is losing control over his son, tries to steal his most secret thoughts during his sleep, and continues into the next sequence, this time played by inexperienced hands from Gavino, who is learning to communicate with others. A shepherd's flute responds to its painful chords and, in contrast to the two instruments, the broken sobs of a boy carrying milk on a donkey. Music now has the value of words, as each sound is translated by a subtitle:

“I am Gavino, son of Pastor Efísio, who is the son of Pastor Lucas. Yesterday's cold filled the den with fleas, I can feel the greediest ones under my armpits” (accordion);

“I am Elígio, son of pastor João, who was the son of carabinier Henrique. I ate cheese that was too fresh, if I blow on it hard my tongue burns” (flute);

“Angels of paradise that you touch, I am Matthew and I beseech you: make a basin of boiling water appear for my feet. Otherwise I will die. It’s a supplication” (crying).

The subtitles will appear again in this block, when a group of boys, including Gavino, try to emigrate to Germany: over the image of a huge oak, austere, almost religious music rises, poetically interpreted by the words: “Sacred Sardinian oaks, goodbye…”. The “counter song” of the young people in the truck, however, is desacralizing: one makes a disrespectful noise with his mouth, another gives a banana, Gavino pisses. The traditional values ​​of mother earth, sacred but also restrictive, need to be reevaluated: the atavistic uses and customs (such as the ancient revenges that weigh on Sebastião's head); the delimiting water (like the stream in the Baddevustrana preserve), which also makes Sardinia an island of ignorance; the circumscriptive landmarks of human knowledge (the oaks), which seem insurmountable like the columns of Hercules once did.

If Sebastião was killed, if the water will be crossed, the oak will remain as a bulwark until the son dares to challenge paternal authority once and for all and assert his independence and individuality. To overcome the confines of his own condition, it is necessary to challenge the “natural order” within which he, his father and generations of pastors are enclosed: “Consider your seed: / you didn't go to live like brute, / but you continued virtuous and canonical".[1] With these words, Ulysses, in the 26th corner of the Inferno Dantesque, he had exhorted his companions to broaden the scope of their knowledge: words that suited Gavino, ready to continue his odyssey.

Let us return, however, to the second block. With music, the isolation of silence breaks for Gavino: he begins to communicate with people, he begins to learn about the stories of other shepherds – so similar to his own! –, even though we do not yet have command of the word (hence the didascalic use of subtitles, so that we, spectators, holders of a different code, can understand it).

In fact, following the purchase of the olive grove, which follows Sebastião's death, the father is the only one who speaks to the widow to close the deal; from the rest of the family we only hear the voice in off of thoughts, over which music explodes again, a song sung by Mina, of which we distinctly capture only two words, “the dream…”. Music that continues into the next sequence, in which the whole family is working frantically, each one chasing their pipe dream; music that Gavino will play at the olive merchant's house, instigated by his father.

This last sequence is very significant, as it is the first time that Efísio allows his son to express himself. Forced to remain silent in the face of the culture of the olive merchant's son, he regains his authority thanks to Gavino's skill, and, if he had been denied entry into the world of dominators, punishing him for having responded in his place, he recognizes him , however, the ability to express itself.

The importance of this sequence is increased by the following, in which the opening narration is given by Gavino Ledda in voice off. The narrated excerpt is practically taken from the book he authored Padre Padrone: L'educazione di un pastore (Father boss, 1975) and this seems very significant to me, because the Taviani give the floor to Gavino Ledda exactly at the moment in the film that Gavino has his “voice” authorized by his father. The narration changes from the third to the first person, there is a realistic pause within the film, a new distancing effect is created, as the fact that the cinematographic discourse is creating another reality is highlighted.

The anti-naturalism sought by the directors reaffirms itself with all its force in what is perhaps, from a musical point of view, the most striking sequence in the film: the procession. To the Wretched Sardinian song sung by the parents (the same as in the first block), the young people's muffled conversation alternates under the scaffold, until a German beer hall song fills the air: Trink, trink, Brüderlein trink, lass doch die Sorgen zu Haus...[2]. The two corners compete with each other, without achieving osmosis. There are two worlds that collide and there seems to be no possibility of reconciliation. It is the moment when young pastors, servants of their bosses or parents, think about leaving for Germany, where a life of servitude awaits them, but in which they envision the possibility of having their individuality recognized:

“– You will continue under the orders of a boss.

 – But at least we have a name there.

 - What name?

 – Himself, here I forgot yours. To talk about you, we say: your Zé’s servant, your Zé’s servant”

Deceived by his father, who let him go, but did not sign the authorization to emigrate, deceived because, although he learned to communicate, he still does not have the ability to speak, Gavino goes to serve in the army, following the wishes of Efísio, who closes him down again. it in a world isolated from the present (third block). The music disappeared from the film and will only return when he finds his form of expression again. During his military service, he falls into silence again, because, coming from another civilization, from another language, he cannot easily integrate. Sardinian culture (more linked to the land) and Italian culture (expression of a bourgeois class) clash.

The ringing of the death bells echoes again in Gavino's head, eliminating the other sounds. These, however, burst into the film at the moment when Cesare's friendship manages to overcome the barrier of silence (in the Square of Miracles in Pisa). The magical world of words begins to open up to the semi-literate shepherd and this discovery culminates in another great moment in the film, when Gavino, based on an explanation of the meaning of the flag, lines up a whole series of words that are linked together in meaning. , for its evocative power, for its phonetic effect:

"Bandiera banderuola bando bandito bandita baritono bantù barocco basílio barone…

Sheto stagnino staffile stadera stalagmite starnuto status…

Shezzo ragazzo pargolo infante putto bebé livido rattrappito screpolato rapace… rapace wild wild. ..

Bucolic alpestre idillico arcadico pastorale pastorizia pastorizzazione deportazione separazione esclusione masturbazione libido turgore languid laid…

Padre patriarch padrino padrone padreterno patron…"[3].

Another great moment of detachment, of reflection on one's own condition, of painful awareness, of mastery of expression. Strauss's music explodes again, he comes tumbling out of the device built to obtain his radio technician diploma. Having acquired his word, Gavino disobeys his father again: he enrolls in college to become a glottologist and returns to Sardinia. His meeting with Efísio is commented on by a chorus in off and indistinct from what he says, overcome by his thoughts, which, once again, denies his son food (as during the first disobedience).

Intellectual work appears to him like a trick: anyone who doesn't earn his bread with the sweat of his own brow doesn't eat. He tries to confine Gavino to the den as before, but his son rebels, dedicates himself to his studies, and returns home. Now the death bells ring for Efísio deprived of his voice by his son, who made him silence. He stops working on the farm and heads home to reestablish his authority. The music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that Gavino is listening to in the kitchen rises above his footsteps.

The decisive confrontation between two cultures begins: on the one hand, the son, who is refining his knowledge (and it is significant that from the Strauss waltz, a recreation of popular dances, we move on to the Mozart concerto, the great composer of the Enlightenment century). ); on the other, the father, who continues to express himself authoritatively: he hits the table with the palm of his hand to order dinner, orders the boy to turn off the radio, tries to hit him with a stick and, faced with his resistance, plunges the device in the sink water.

Mozart's music, however, continues, whistled by Gavino. Upon seeing that he was unable to take away the weapons he gained to express himself, Efísio asks him to renounce his language (musical, articulate), which he does not master, and adopt his (that of violence). The challenge is accepted and the physical fight begins, in which the son defeats his father. Indifferently, the mother sings a Sardinian song, leaning into the silence of the night. Confined in a natural world, traditionally mute, not “contaminated” by reason (its laughter and slightly hysterical manifestations, its instinct for preservation), the struggle for domination, which takes place in the male universe, to which it has always been subjected and of which has always been excluded, it does not concern you.

Gavino defeats his father by speaking exactly the same language, that of blows, slaps, beatings, the language of the dominator, the language of power, which he does not want to appropriate. And, in the epilogue, Gavino Ledda confirms the interpretation that the Taviani brothers gave to his story, when he says that he returned to his village because on the continent he would exercise the power that culture gave him, in that he would be imitating his father, because his land, His people allowed him to write the book, from which the film was freely inspired.

The scene from the beginning then reappears, when the father, after taking him out of school, returns to stop the mocking screams from the other children. But now, over the images of frightened faces, no voice is raised in off of his thoughts, but Strauss's waltz, the same waltz that snatched Gavino from illiteracy, which soon merges with the wind. And the wind blows over the deserted village and over Gavino Ledda, who, sitting in the valley where he spent his childhood and adolescence, begins to sway like he used to. This time, however, the bells don't toll. Over the signs that close the film, you can hear the Mozart concerto and the wind. The barrier of silence was overcome, but the pain remained deep.

Without a doubt, the sound element and the visual element combine admirably in this work by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani. The music does not simply serve as a counterpoint to the image, but intervenes decisively in the film's plot, from which it never appears dissociated, as the struggle between the “natural order” and history is articulated above all in the sound plane.

In fact, if I wanted to characterize the blocks into which I divided Father boss, it would be easier to do it from the sound. The first block is that of noises, because the sounds of nature and the father's language predominate, telluric, atavistic, static. In the second block, music comes to break the silence suspended over the “natural order”, rhythmized by the successive seasons and generations, and begins to populate Gavino’s inner silence, with its evocations of another world, of a different culture. other than necessarily the circumscribed and traditional one of their island (or any isolated regional reality). The third block, that of words, is marked by the challenge to the “natural order”, by the individual search for expression as a guarantee of integration into a more dynamic and dialectical social order (history).

The sound material, therefore, permeates the narrative plot with noises, with words and with the music of Egisto Macchi,[4] which, in excerpts written by him, alternates with “bê-a-bá”, a re-elaboration of an Italian folk song, the song sung by Mina, an interpreter of Italian popular music, the Wretched Sardinian, the German beer hall song, the Concerto for clarinet and orchestra in A, K. 622 – 2nd movement: andante, by Mozart, the Sardinian folk song, sung by the mother, and, above all, the waltz, taken from Strauss's operetta. The waltz, representative of a metropolitan culture in opposition to the ancestral rhythms of Sardinia, the waltz, which, with its strongly marked ternary tempo, ends up determining the structure of the film.

This does not follow a linearly chronological order, but is subdivided, as we have already seen, into three synthetic blocks and evolves dramatically through ternary repetitions: the story itself was written by Gavino Ledda, it is narrated by the Taviani, it is told to Cesare by Gavino , which uses the words of Aenida, by Virgil; the voice of the book's author is present in the prologue, in the middle of the film and in the epilogue; Attracted by the waltz, Gavino, three times, puts himself in the path of the musicians; in the second block, the subtitles are used in three distinct moments – when Gavino turns twenty, when the accordion, the flute and the boy's cries echo in the solitude of the valley (and there are three instruments of communication), in the farewell to the oaks; the cutting of his lip with the knife, made by Gavino when he exchanges the lambs for the accordion and, during his military service, when he avoids being tested by the instructor, is resumed by Efísio, after the final confrontation, to justify his defeat in front of the other sons; Gavino's lulling movement begins in the first block (childhood), is repeated for a long time in the second (beginning of military service), and reappears in the prologue (performed by Gavino Ledda himself); The ringing of death bells accompanies the first and second movements of Gavino and appears again when Efísio realizes that his voice no longer has authority.

The examples cited also re-propose to us the question of language, which, if at first reading it seems to reflect the clash between a hegemonic culture (Italian) and a subaltern culture (Sardinian), on a more in-depth analysis it reveals itself as the confrontation between those who hold power and those who are subordinate to it. And this constitutes the great fascination of Father boss. The appropriation of hegemonic culture does not necessarily mean the denial of subaltern culture.

In fact, in the film, the scene in which Efísio teaches his son to recognize the sounds of nature receives an affectionately idyllic treatment; when Gavino is learning to play the accordion, and the flute and the boy's broken sobs respond to him, the Taviani translate for us, literate spectators, the signs of that other code that we do not possess; Gavino scientifically studies the dialectal expressions of his land; the smell of mimosas allows you to reach the small building in the Square of Miracles in Pisa, in a beautiful moment of integration of the two cultures.

The new acquired language serves Gavino-Gavino Ledda to reflect on the mother tongue and its cultural heritage, it becomes an instrument of liberation (and not of transferring the power scheme to another sphere), an instrument of conquest of the word, of that articulate sound that overcomes the barrier of incommunicability, tears apart the silence and rescues the marginalized into history.

*Mariarosaria Fabris is a retired professor at the Department of Modern Letters at FFLCH-USP. Author, among other texts, of “Contemporary Italian Cinema”, that integrates the volume Contemporary world cinema (Papyrus).

Revised version of “Waking up the silence – the sound in Father boss”, published in Communications and Arts Magazine, São Paulo, year 13, n. 18, apr. 1988.


ALIGHIERI, Dante. The divine Comedy. Milan: Rizzoli, 1949.

“Il cinema, la musica, la prosa, la tv”. Bolognaincontri, Bologna, year 16, n. 4, apr. 1985.

COMUZIO, Ermanno. “Musica e suoni protagonisti nel cinema dei fratelli Taviani”. Bianco e nero, Rome, year 38, n. 5-6, Sept.-Dec. 1977.

FABRIS, Mariarosaria. Italian cinematographic neo-realism: a reading. São Paulo: Edusp-Fapesp, 1982.

HERZOG, Werner. “Von Ende des Analphabetismus”. Time and patience, Hamburg, 24 Nov. 1978.

LEDDA, ​​Gavino.Padre Padrone: L'educazione di un pastore. Milan: Feltrinelli, 1977.

TAVIANI, Paolo and Vittorio. Father padrone. Bologna: Cappelli, 1977 [transcription, from the film, by Emma Ferrini].

TRESOLDI, Tiago. “The introduction of the centrifugal Ulysses: translation and commentary on canto XXVI of Dante Alighieri's 'Inferno'. Translation, Porto Alegre, no. 12, Dec. 2016.


[1] Translation by Tiago Tresoldi: “Consider your origin: / you were not made to live like brutes, / but to follow virtue and wisdom”.

[2] This sequence has aroused the interest of several critics. Among the most enthusiastic is German filmmaker Werner Herzog, who highlights it (alongside Sardinian choral singing) as one of the moments in which the consonance between music and image in the film is fully realized.

[3] Translation (and interpretation): Flag weathervane summons/exile exiled coutada (land reserved for pasture) baritone (= music, voice) bantu (= African, uncivilized, southern) baroque (irregular, defective pearl) basil (= aroma) baron (= feudal lord)… // State tinker (who deals with tin, like a radio technician) whip scales (on which to weigh present and past) stalagmite (whose shape resembles the sheep's hut) sneeze ( = expulsion) status… // Ovil boy child infant boy baby livid huddled cracked bird of prey… bird of prey wild wild… // Alpestre bucolic idyllic arcadic pastoral pasteurization pasteurization deportation separation exclusion masturbation libido turgidity languid clumsy… // Father patriarch godfather boss (owner) Patron God-father…

[4] Egisto Macchi, avant-garde composer and disciple of Hermann Scherchen, has created music for films since the 1960s. Among the soundtracks he composed for several documentaries and feature films, the following stand out: La sing delle marane (1961, screenplay by Pier Paolo Pasolini), by Cecilia Mangini; All'armi, siam fascisti! (1962), by Lino Del Fra, Cecilia Mangini and Lino Micchiché; Travel in Lucania (1965), by Luigi Di Gianni; The oil route (1967), by Bernardo Bertolucci; Trotsky's Assassination (The assassination of Trotsky, 1972) e Citizen Klein (Mr Klein, 1976), by Joseph Losey; The crime Matteotti (The Matteotti crime, 1973), by Florestano Vancini.

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