Architecture on Film: Il Capo + Hand Gestures + Q&A

A double bill of films examining traditional Italian craft through contemporary Italian cinema, in collaboration with the Milano Design Film Festival.


06:30pm, Thursday, 19 November 2015


08:45pm, Thursday, 19 November 2015


Barbican, Beech Street, London EC2Y 8AE



AF Members:
£7.50 (Please contact AF for promotional discount code)


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This is a past event

In collaboration with:

Milan Design Film Festival
The Italian Project

A double-bill exploring the transformation of matter into form and film – and the meeting of traditional Italian craft with contemporary Italian cinema – in a special collaboration with the Milano Design Film Festival and The Italian Project.

We are delighted that directors Francesco Clerici and Yuri Ancarani will both be present for a Q&A with Christopher Turner (Director, London Design Biennale) following the screening.

Il Capo

The choreography of labour in a Carrara marble quarry becomes a highly painterly ballet mécanique, as Ancarani excavates a sublime documentary artifact from the interface of geology, man and machine. A lyrical mode of composition and editing gives shape to the celebrated Italian artist’s ongoing visual exploration of modernity, people and place.

Italy, 2010, Yuri Ancarani, 15 mins

Hand Gestures (Il Gesto Delle Mani) [Special Preview]

Winner of the Fipresci International Critics Prize at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival, Clerici’s feature length documentary reveals the workings of a historic Milanese foundry, The Fonderia Artistica Battaglia (est. 1913), through an intimate observation of the casting of a single bronze sculpture.

Tracing the chain of gestures and processes, unchanged since the 4th Century BC, employed in the artisans’ craft, the film bridges past and present to explore the foundry and its workers as collaborators in the act of creation.

“We see, hear, follow and feel a symphony: editing and sound form a unique flow, imitating a unique work-process. Black and white images from long ago blend in and out with terracotta, among fifty shades of red and brown, all to end up immortalised as bronze. Taking us into the heart and soul of an historic foundry in Milan.”
- Fipresci Jury Statement

Italy, 2015, Francesco Clerici, 77 mins

Programme Notes by Christopher Turner

“In the cinema,” wrote the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben in his essay ‘Notes on Gesture’ (1992), “a society that has lost its gestures seeks to reappropriate what it has lost while simultaneously recording that loss.” As a universally legible language of gesture fell into disuse, Agamben contends, it was revived in the histrionic articulations of silent cinema, in the spasmodic action seen in the films of Georges Méliès or the Lumière brothers. “Gesture rather than image,” Agamben asserts, “is the cinematic element.” Both Francesco Clerici’s Il Gesto Delle Mani (Hand Gestures) and Yuri Ancarani’s Il Capo (The Chief) can be read as, in part, evocative explorations of what Agamben termed “gestural cinema”.

Ancarani’s Il Capo starts with an image of a huge block of blindingly white marble that makes an obvious allusion to the towering black monolith in Kubrick’s 2001. A mechanical digger, hidden behind it, tears the stone to the ground with its metal teeth, revealing in the process the Apuan Alps, a sublime backdrop whose peaks are drenched in mist. The camera pans back to reveal a bronzed, bare-chested man, dwarfed by both the destructive machines and impressive lunar landscape. He is a tiny figure against the huge cliffs of Carrara marble, a million tons of which are hewn from these Tuscan mountains each year. The prized material is from the same milky seam that adorns the Pantheon and Trajan’s column, Michelangelo’s David and Marble Arch.  

The Chief, as the foreman is known, delicately and efficiently conducts the mechanical ballet using a precise, non-verbal code. The short film – one of a trilogy that explores the beautiful choreography of labour – is without words: the camera records, over the deafening noise, the mute expressiveness of his classical gestures. With his hands – one missing a digit, testament to the dangerous work – he waves, beckons and guides the diggers, closing each movement with a clenched fist. The film gives a poetic monumentality to the hard draft of the quarryman. It ends with a close-up of his craggy face and a floating shot that drifts up the mountainside, which is scuffed with greenery the colour of his eyes, the peak topped with a cross that echoes the one around his neck.

Clerici’s Il Gesto Delle Mani, also focuses on the beauty and skill of manual labour, with its economic poetry of gesture. (Schooled in art theory, Clerici is no doubt aware of Agamben’s assertion that gestural cinema belongs to the realm of ethics and politics, as much as aesthetics.) The fly-on-the-wall documentary about life in a Milan foundry, Artistica Battaglia, records skills handed down from father to son, master to apprentice, almost unchanged since the 6th Century. It follows the production process of a sculpture of a sleeping dog by the contemporary Italian artist Velasco Vitali. Each stage is intercut with rare archive footage, showing the creation of heroic gladiators and horsemen, so as to emphasise the strong continuity of tradition.

The director makes a fetish of the foundry’s patina of debris, as if to remind us how removed museum visitors are from the messy process of artistic production. We watch as, with dexterous hands, the Milanese workers skillfully build an exoskeleton around the dog (called sprueing), which allows a passage for the liquid metal. The blood-red wax form is then cocooned, with a certain dignity, in a sarcophagus of clay; there is something almost funereal about its journey into the kiln. Molten metal is poured into the resulting mould and, when cooled, the clay is pick-axed away to expose the rough casting. It lies there like a carcass in an abattoir, before being washed, buffered, blow-torched and scrubbed: the canine reborn in glazed bronze.

The feature-length film hypnotizes the viewer with the rhythms of the craftsmen’s gestures, uninterrupted – as with Il Capo – by conversation or voice-over. Clerici doesn’t make a Socialist Realist celebration of the workingman, but a patient tribute to the skills of artisanal labour. The foundry’s medieval interior frames an alchemical process by which the illusion of life is conjured, with nimble fingers, from inert materials. In an epigraph to Il Gesto Delle Mani, he quotes the Italian sculptor Giacomo Manzù:  “Sculpture is not a concept. Sculpture is the hand gesture. A gesture of love. In the gesture of the body lays the relationship with the world, the way you see it, the way you feel it, the way you own it.”