Sacro Gra

Director: Gianfranco Rosi

Actors: Gianfranco Rosi

Release Date: Saturday 30th November 2013

Genre(s): Documentary

Running time: France minutes

A winner of the Golden Lion at the 70th Venice Film Festival (and the only documentary to do so thus far), Sacro GRA is a loose but sometimes riveting exploration of the lives that occupy the areas near the titular ring road surrounding Rome.

Rosi picks from disparate groups but finds something in common with them all: there's the ambulance medic with a mother who suffers from dementia, the owner of an upmarket B&B, transvestite campers, a postmodern church, bar dancers, a fisherman working the waterways, the occupants of the apartments near the airport, and the scientist who doesn't hide his distaste for the weevils eating the local palm trees (more of him in a moment).

What do they have in common? That life is forever in a state of flux - nothing remains still, not for a moment. The medic happens across new victims every day, the changes of gender, the squirming eels in the fisherman's bucket never cease to escape their prison, the scrambling weevils that destroy the outlying trees won't stop until they have demolished their own environment.

Throughout, Rosi looks for ways to marry one image to the next, to bring the audience from one scene to another: At one point, a religious group watches an eclipse, attributing the phenomenon to God, just before Rosi cuts to a blasphemous driver cursing the traffic. Rosi juxtaposes these constantly busy visuals with slow, peaceful pans and chilled music.

Where the documentary slows down is the inordinate amount of time the director spends shooting fly-on-the-wall conversations in those airport apartments. The camera is allowed to run as the various occupants ramble on about, well, life. Using the same askew angle perched just outside each window, Rosi seems to suggest that it's the same apartment over time and these are different occupants (life in flux again). Sacro GRA returns to this scene(s) time and time again and the documentary begins to repeat itself, saying all it has it say by an hour in. Then the scientist returns.

Exacting a terrible revenge on those pesky weevils, Rosi seems to make comparisons between humans and these irritating tree-eaters. "We're not prepared to fight such an organisation," the scientist says and he meticulously prepares his vengeance. Hmm. Is that the insects or us?