Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Mirror

Viganella is a village in the Italian Alps, tucked deep in the valley between two mountains. It's been steadily losing population as youth head out of the village for the cities and the charming young mayor, Pierfranco, is searching for something to revitalize the village, especially the village square. Viganella doesn't receive sunlight for several winter months. Why not place a mirror on the mountainside above the town and reflect sunlight into the village square?

While Viganella is inhabited by mostly aging Italians, up on the mountains nearby in Bordo and Cheggio are clusters of Germans who are trying to live an ecologically pure life. One of these Germans, Tomas, becomes the second main character in the film as the site for the mirror is chosen next to his farmhouse.

The first effort to land the huge mirror on the platform on the mountain via helicopter is unsuccessful as the helicopter reotors create such a wind off the mountain that the mirror swings helplessly in the air and can't be guided to the right spot. Back to the drawing boards, have the helicopter lift the frame, and then land the mirrors in a stack. They finally get the mirror erected, and choose to unveil on the day when they already have a celebration planned for their twinning with a village in Spain. There's press from all over (even Al Jazeera turns up!) and Pierfranco is in his glory, but, alas, the results are, ah, underwhelming. There's enough sun to cast some shadows, but most people are a bit disappointed with the whole exercise.

Having said that, the film is equally interesting as a study in contrasts between the Italian and German communities. The Italians are first skeptical then enthusiastic about the project; the Germans are bemused and gently point out it could have been constructed more sustainably. The priest talks up the project in church and the Germans practice Buddhism up on the mountain. The local Italian band plays in the square, while up on the mountain we hear the haunting music of the East.

The director, in Q&A after the screening, said he was encouraged to play up any antagonism between the two communities, but said that he frankly hadn't seen much. There's even one hilarious scene where Tomas is visiting a family he's friends with in the village. He has a very long walk back up to his farm, and he is being roundly - and fondly - castigated by the Italian mama that it's time for him to move down into the village and, basically, get a life. He calmly replies that when he finds he's too old and tired to make the trip, if he's in the village he'll stay there and if he's on the mountain, he'll stay there.

A lovely film - highly recommend to anyone.

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