Forbidden for dogs and Italians



Considerations on the film by Alain Ughetto

Image credit: Gebeka Films.

Between the end of the 1861th century and the beginning of the 1946th, the newly created Kingdom of Italy (XNUMX-XNUMX) experienced an accelerated process of modernization, concentrated in three regions of the North: Liguria, Lombardy and Piedmont. The attraction exercised by the three industrial centers provokes, on the one hand, a consistent rural exodus and, on the other, the subtraction of capital from agriculture and the reduction of peasant wages.

From the 1870s onwards, the rise of a capitalist bourgeoisie was offset by the beginning of a consistent migratory flow to Europe (Belgium, Switzerland and France) and the Americas of peasants and workers, whose main motivations were the lack of work, low industrial and agricultural wages and the disappointment caused by the frustrated revolution that many expected from the process of national unification. The dissatisfaction of the proletariat and the middle classes became more acute with the customs war with France (1888-1892), the real estate crisis in Rome (1889-1890) and the increasingly sharp difference between the industrial North and the South landowners, resulting in uprisings, demonstrations against the government and the first attempts at general strikes, violently repressed by the State.

It is in this climate of restlessness and lack of perspectives that the narrative of the animated film begins. Prohibited for dogs and Italians (Interdict aux chiens and aux Italiens, 2022), by Alain Ughetto,[1] set, at first, in the Borgata Ughettera, located at a thousand meters of altitude, at the foot of the Monviso, not far from Turin, the main industrial center of Piemonte and headquarters of FIAT, founded in 1899. It was in the winter of 1899-1900 that a good part of the population of the small town, including children, emigrated on foot to France due to a severe famine. Among these seasonal migrants are the brothers Luigi, Antonio and Giuseppe Ughetto, who find work shortly after crossing the border.

On that occasion, Luigi (the director's grandfather) meets Cesira, the daughter of a master builder, whom he marries and migrates to Switzerland in search of another temporary job. After Marie-Cécile's birth, the couple returns to Italy, where Cesira gives birth to three more children.

While Cesira remains in the village, Luigi and the brothers continue their life as seasonal migrants, in addition to participating in two bloody episodes: the Italian-Turkish War (September 29, 1911-October 18, 1912)[2] and the first world conflict.

The conquest of power by the fascists and the continuous lack of perspectives generate in Luigi and Cesira the desire to emigrate to America, but the shipwreck that was transporting their belongings makes them give up the project and settle permanently in the South of France . Three other children are born there, one of whom, Vincent, will be the father of the animation director. With a lot of work, Luigi manages to buy land and build his own house (Paradis), where he died in 1942.

To tell this saga, in which there is a personal search for one's own origins and a sociological vision of the universe of people forgotten by great history, Alain Ughetto uses oral sources and a book by Nuto Revelli published in 1977, I gave my wine [The world of the vanquished]. As revealed in the interview with Benshi, the project began to take shape after discovering that the Ughetto family was naturalized French in 1939,[3] shortly before the occupation of four departments in the south of the country by Italian troops.[4]

He then begins to interrogate family members – sisters, brothers and cousins ​​– and manages to establish a chronology. He also talks to older people who knew their grandparents or who went through the same experiences, discovering, for example, how seasonal workers were hired. The decisive push for making the film comes from the discovery of “testimonies collected by the sociologist Nuto Revelli, who recorded peasants, men and women, who were the same age as my grandfather and grandmother and who lived in the same place. They witnessed misery and war with great dignity and these archives are magnificent.”

Self-taught who develops his own research method, perfected from experience and adapted to the different situations faced, Revelli records in his book the collapse of peasant civilization, “condemned to a slow agony”, due to the exodus of the youngest between the ends of the 1950s and early XNUMXs. The research focuses on the province of Cuneo, located on a plateau in Piedmont, and its protagonists are elderly people, bearers of “a heritage of history and culture that could not and should not be lost”, in the words of Francesca Loi.

Of the 270 testimonies collected, Revelli edits and publishes 85, which reiterate a set of information about a past made of renunciations and sacrifices: “The hunger for bread, the people who emigrated to France and the Americas, [...], the mesh,[5] the curate, the long winters and the long vigils, this was the world of my witnesses. Add wars as well, and the picture is complete.”

This timeless universe is recovered in Alain Ughetto's film which, as Claudio Panella demonstrates, makes use of various testimonies in a textual manner. This is the case of two assertions by Cesira – “the land was everything”; “we were hungry for land” –, in which two testimonies collected by Revelli echo. This is also the case with the advice given to children to eat the polenta with a fork “to make the milk last longer”, extracted from two interviews published in the book. And also an emblematic episode, mentioned in passing in the animation: the Barcelonnette fair (Haute Provence), in which children between 5 and 13 years old, from Piedmont, were “hired” by their parents for up to six months to carry out the most diverse tasks for an amount ranging from 80 to 100 francs.[6]

Oral tradition, in turn, is present in the episode of Luigi's recruitment, submitted to the test of lumps of sugar. To check whether the worker was in fact a mason, the master builders asked him to build a wall with lumps of sugar, thus separating the handymen from the real professionals. The test is applied again in a funny sequence, in which Luigi, who went to recruit labor in Italy, builds two solid walls with his thoughts to help inexperienced colleagues.

By giving grandmother Cesira the role of depositary of family memories, Ughetto performs a double movement. It reaffirms, on the one hand, this function traditionally delegated to the female universe. On the other hand, it challenges a patriarchal attitude recorded by Revelli: with the exception of widows, women did not like to participate in interviews; when they did, they were almost always interrupted by their husbands, who took the floor.[7]

“More French than the French”, the grandmother never spoke the mother tongue, but “her habits were Italian: the gnocchi, the polenta…”. To these data recorded in the interview given to Benshi, the presence of the unfailing Moka Express can be added.[8], with which Cesira prepares the coffee she offers her grandson during the imaginary conversation that serves as the film's guiding thread.

In addition to reading Revelli's book and resorting to oral memory, Alain Ughetto travels to the family's original village, which he finds in ruins. There he recovers what represented the daily life of his grandparents: “broccoli, charcoal, chestnuts, the earth…, broccoli becomes trees, coal becomes mountains”. With them, he creates a “small minimalist theater” (Olivier de Bruyn), animated by 52 characters, made using the bricolage technique. As the director himself declares, his intention, from the beginning, was to tell the story of his ancestors “from the inside of a DIY workshop. The idea of ​​bricolage was central. […] I wanted to talk about hand-to-hand transmission. My grandfather made things with his hands, he transmitted this knowledge to my father, who then transmitted it to me”.

The idea of ​​bricolage led him to adopt the technique of stop-motion, in which the models are moved and photographed frame by frame, reinforcing the feeling of knowledge transmitted from hand to hand. To this craftsmanship, which Ughetto claims to have inherited from his grandfather and father, could be added that of Cesira, “a tireless producer of gnocchi and polenta”, in the words of Panella.

The presence of the director's hand in several sequences reinforces this idea of ​​artisanal production, based on the use of materials such as modeling clay, elastomers, resin and iron. Florent Le Demazel believes that the choice of modeling clay recalls “the malleable and floating character of memory, of the imaginary, as if memories emerged from clay”. The presence of the director's hand would reaffirm not only a “proletarian affiliation”, but also his subjectivity, that is, the ability to tell a story marked by tragedies with “a mixture of empathy and detachment, without attenuating the reality of the facts”.

This aspect underlined by Le Demazel is attributed by the director to his fascination with two specific films – Ugly, dirty and mean (Ugly dirty and bad, 1976), by Ettore Scola, and sowing the illusion (The scientific scope, 1972), by Luigi Comencini – and by directors such as Dino Risi and Vittorio De Sica, who “have the elegance to use humor to tell tough stories. […] in my film there are three wars, a rape, people forced to leave their own country”.

To the “harsh stories” cited by Alain Ughetto can be added the death of Antonio in Libya and of Giuseppe in the First World War in a dark trench; the Spanish flu epidemic; the grief faced by Cesira and Luigi, who lost some children; the torn apart of the head of the family by the fascist invasion of the French department in which they lived; the attempts at recruitment to the Italian cause by rather aggressive nuns; the invasion of Paradis by Nazi soldiers.

The issue of discrimination deserves a separate treatment, as Ughetto manages to convey a complex and sometimes tragic problem with lightness and irony. As Le Demazel reminds us, the issue of Italian immigration is essentially dialectical. The construction of large works in rural regions requires the recruitment of foreign workers. The press, however, foments a feeling of “Italianophobia”[9], creating opposition between nationals and foreigners, which takes the place of the cleavage between bourgeoisie and proletariat. Ughetto entrusts the denunciation of the behavior of the press to a definition of the Italian worker read by Cesira in a local newspaper. The main characteristic of the peninsular worker would be “condescension: he endures everything [...], he lowers his head and obeys”.

It is also up to Cesira to denounce, in a melancholy tone, the discrimination suffered by Italians through language: the first words learned by children at school are, in reality, an insult, “Macaroní son of a bitch”. In another sequence, the director shows how prejudice can be used by those who are discriminated against. Nino, the son born in Italy, calls “Macaroní” one of his younger brothers. The latter returns the insult and stresses that he was born in France, therefore not living up to the nickname.[10]

The denunciation of the false myth of the rapid assimilation of migrants is treated with a certain amount of humor in explaining the words on the poster which inspired the title of the film. Luigi explains to his children that the sign “Prohibited for dogs and Italians” posted on the door of a cafe was a form of protection, as the owners of the establishment did not want them to be bitten by animals. With this explanation created by him, Ughetto exposes, but in a soft way, a defined manifestation “abominable. Of an incredible ignominy” that, from Belgium, spread to Switzerland and the South of France, particularly the region of Savoy.

In several sequences, the director lets himself be carried away by irony and humor. It is the case of the treatment given to the greed of the curate who seems to sink in the snow with the package of provisions subtracted from the peasants; to the cow in the pasture, which is nothing more than a toy; to the sinking of the ship, which refers to a cut-out figure; to the death of masca of the village and her attempt to transmit magical powers to Cesira, who interposes a broom between her and the old woman; the demystification of the Libyan campaign, presented as a vain fight against a persistent wind; to the garish and grotesque publicity displayed by some vehicles that followed the cycling tour of France.

Alain Ughetto takes advantage of one of the passages of the event through the Paradis to capture his grandfather's discreet support for “Gino” [Bartali]. The evocation of the name of the sportsman, who won the French event in 1938, being considered “the second most famous Italian in the world”, acquires a political meaning, if one remembers his work on behalf of the Jews in Italy occupied by Nazi troops from September 1943.[11]

The dialogue between present and past proposed by Alain Ughetto is not guided by the search for the pathetic, but by a delicate and prudish poetic feeling, which does not exclude a critical view of the harsh reality faced by the paternal family.

Cesira serves as a spokesperson for the expectations, doubts, uncertainties, sadness and, why not, the joy of an immense legion of workers from Italy, Spain, Poland and Portugal, who fought, suffered prejudice, but they resisted and were finally recognized by the chosen country as a safe port of arrival. The director makes this intention clear when he states that he wanted to show how “Italian immigrants contributed to the greatness of France. It was they who built most of the infrastructure – from tunnels to hydroelectric plants – but they remained anonymous. I made the film also show how Italians and all foreigners in general were received at that time”.

Guided by the idea that “the universal takes root deep within”, that “the more we are personal, the more we open ourselves to others”, the director transforms family memory into a poetic and critical instrument, capable of leading the spectator to reflect on the treatment given by wealthy societies to new migratory flows, which will radically change their beliefs and ways of life. The option for a handmade animation process is part of this frame of reference, in addition to referring to a problem evoked at the beginning of the narrative.

Craftsmanship, symbolized by the presence of Alain Ughetto's hand in several sequences, represented a kind of taboo for the father, who wanted his son to put aside artistic pretensions and dedicate himself to some work that required the use of his brain. With Forbidden for dogs and Italians, Alain demonstrates to Vincent that there is no dissociation between the two[12], because no type of human creation can do without the hand that molds the matter and the brain that conceives the action.

* Annateresa Fabris is a retired professor at the Department of Visual Arts at ECA-USP. She is the author, among other books, of Reality and fiction in Latin American photography (UFRGS Publisher).


“Alain Ughetto: 'L'universel prend toujours sa source dans l'intime'” (26 Jan. 2023). Available in: .

ANTUNES, John. “'It was a pleasure to work with Portugal'”. Available in: .

BENSHI. “Interdit aux chiens e aux Italiens: entretien avec Alain Ughetto” (sd). Available in: . Accessed on: 298 June. 26.

BRUYN, Olivier De. “'Interdit aux chiens et aux Italiens': fait main” (24 Jan. 2023). Available in: . Accessed on: 1900097 June. 26.

CERNIGLIA, Pietro. “Vietato ai cani e agli italiani: when eravamo noi a esser trattati male” (2 Aug. 2022). Available in: . Accessed on: 26 June. 2023.

DEL GIUDICE, Luisa. “Revelli, Nuto. L'anello forte (La donna: storie di vita contadina)”. Italian Carte, v. 1, no. 7, 1986. Available at:>. Accessed on: 3 Jul. 2023.

GIROUD, Nicole. “La foire aux enfants de Barcelonnette” (28 Oct. 2018). Available in: . Accessed on: 5354 Jun. 30.

“Italo-Turkish War”. Available in: . Accessed on: 30 Jun. 2023.

“La storia della moka”. Available in: . Accessed on: 3 Jul. 2023.

LE CERRE, Hélène; Blanche, Pauline. “Interview with Alain Ughetto” (27 Feb. 2023). Available in: . Accessed on: 1 June. 26.

LE DEMAZEL, Florent. “Interdit aux chiens et aux Italiens, Alain Ughetto” (15 Feb. 2023). Available in: . Accessed on: 26 June. 2023.

LEWIS, Niamh. “The Italian cyclist who saved hundreds of Jews from the Holocaust” (Aug. 31, 2020). Available in: . Accessed on: 53953886 Jul. 6.

LOL, Francesca. “Nuto Revelli: voci e memorie dal 'mondo dei vinti' tra storia e microstoria”. Medea, v. V, n. 1, Fall 2019. Available at:>. Accessed on: 26 June. 2023

“Loi du 10 août 1927 sur la nationalité”. Available in: . Accessed on: 10 Jun. 1927.

LUCIOLI, Francesco. “1933. Moka (the Moca)”. Available in: . Accessed on: 90 Jul. 1933.

“Chew”. Available in: . Accessed on: 8 Jul. 2023.

PANELLA, Claudio. “Ricerca storica e perizia tecnica in Manodopera, a film by Alain Ughetto” (6 dec. 2022). Available in: . Accessed on: 2022 June. 12.

RAIMONDO, Norm. “Le masche, streghe piemontesi dispettose and vendicative” (15 jan. 2021). Available in: . Accessed on: 8 Jul. 2023.

STEYER, Serge. “Téheran mon amour”. Available in: . Accessed on: 1978 Jul. 7.

“Zone d'occupation italienne en France”. Available in: . Accessed on: 30 Jun. 2023.


[1] During the current year, the film was shown in São Paulo under two titles: Forbidden for dogs and Italians (“28th It’s All True – International Documentary Festival”, April 13-23) and Forbidden to dogs and Italians (“81/2 Festa do Cinema Italiano”, 22-28 June).

[2] Also known as the Libyan War, the conflict between the Kingdom of Italy and the Ottoman Empire resulted in the creation of the first peninsular colony in Africa. The war is characterized by several technological innovations: the presence of armored cars, motorcycles and radiotelegraphy service and the use of the airplane as a reconnaissance instrument and offensive means. On November 1, 1911, the first aerial bombardment in history took place with the launching of a hand grenade over a Turkish camp.

[3] The naturalization process for foreigners is facilitated by the law of August 10, 1927 to compensate for the decrease in the French population as a result of the First World War. Between 1927 and 1940, 320.000 people were naturalized, of which more than half were born in Italy or had Italian nationality.

[4] After the armistice of June 24, 1940, Italy occupies 800 km2 of French territory, on the so-called “Alpine Maginot line”, which included the departments of the Alpes-Maritimes, the Lower Alps, the Hautes-Alpes and Savoy. In this process, the re-italianization of Menton also took place, which had been placed under the protection of the house of Savoia between 1848 and 1861. The occupation ended on September 8, 1943, with the announcement of the armistice of Cassibile.

[5] The mesh they were elderly, ugly, hunchbacked and white-haired women, to whom a capricious, spiteful and vindictive nature was attributed. Endowed with supernatural powers, they were characterized by bilocation and the ability to transform themselves into animals, plants and objects. When a masca decided to die, his powers were transmitted to a living creature (daughter, granddaughter, young woman, animal or plant). The call "masca beneficial” had the power to cure diseases and wounds of people and animals and to save lives in danger.

[6] There was a similar fair in Prazzo (Piedmont).

[7] As Francesca Loi recalls, convinced that women were the “last link in a long chain of silent sufferings”, Revelli dedicates a specific book to their “precious testimonies”. Its about L'anello forte. La donna: story of vita contadina) [The strong link. The woman: stories of country life], published in 1985. In it, Revelli records confidences about a sexuality lived with ignorance and fear, cases of incest, family tyranny and forced marriages; she hears stories about early child deaths, child labor and a diet based primarily on polenta, potatoes and chestnuts. The women interviewed also recall magical practices and phenomena such as wars and emigration. The author also registers the encounter of the “two peasant Italys”, propitiated by the marriage of women from the South with men from the North who are much older.

[8] Created in 1933 by Alfonso Bialetti and Luigi de Ponti, the coffee maker derives its name from the Yemeni city of Mokha, one of the first centers of coffee production. The success of the designer coffee maker Art Deco in peninsular households is due, in part, to Brazil, which ignored the economic embargo of the League of Nations imposed on Italy by the invasion of Ethiopia in October 1935. Closed during World War II, the Bialetti factory was reopened in 1946 by the son of founder, Renato; the coffee machine was produced again in the 1950s and its use was widely publicized in advertising campaigns.

[9] “Italianophobia” developed between 1875 and 1914, at a time when European nationalisms were on the rise. Immigrant workers become the scapegoats for the recurrent diplomatic controversies between France and Italy and the crisis in the transalpine labor market. The rise of fascism to power further increased this feeling and Italians were only accepted by French society from the 1950s onwards.

[10] In Macaronì: novel of saints and delinquents [Macaroní: romance of saints and delinquents, 1997], Francesco Guccini and Loriano Macchiavelli evoke the humiliations suffered by Italian workers in France, having as epicenter the massacre of Aigues-Mortes, which took place between August 16 and 17, 1893. They were officially recognized 8 deaths of Italians by lynching, beating, drowning and shooting, but the peninsular press even spoke of 150 occurrences. The number of wounded was estimated at between 150 and 400.

[11] Taking advantage of his fame, Bartali transported to Rede Assis (operated by a sector of the Catholic Church) counterfeit identity documents that saved the lives of more than 800 Jews. In addition to this feat, which used the structure of the bicycle as a hiding place, he sheltered the family of his friend Giacomo Goldenberg in his home. For this performance, the Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem (Jerusalem), grants him, in 2013, the title of "Righteous Among the Nations". These actions, known only after his death on May 5, 2000, were remembered in the animated film Bartali's bike [Bartali's bicycle], directed by Enrico Paolantonio and co-produced by Lynx Media Factory, Toonz Media Group, Telegael and Rai Ragazzi, whose debut was scheduled for early 2023.

[12] The resource of “hands on malleable matter” had already been used in a 2013 production, Jasmine. Through clay animation, super-eight films, archival footage, letters and drawings, the director relives his love story with a young Iranian woman he met in Aix-en-Provence and his transfer to Tehran in a particularly dramatic moment. Completely in love, young Alain hardly notices what is happening around him: strikes and demonstrations that paralyzed Iran throughout 1978; exile of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (January 16, 1979); return of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (February 1, 1979); establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran (April 1, 1979), on a theocratic and anti-Western basis.

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