I got to see quite a few profoundly moving documentaries at this year’s version of Biografilm Festival in Bologna, but none touched me half as much as Il Principe di Ostia Bronx. Now that’s quite the statement, considering the selection of films that we were presented with. Documentaries dealing with war hostages, suicide, depression, bureaucracy, social injustice, sexual exploitation, bigotry, deadly diseases and so on. I was crying for pretty much the entirety of the festival. But then came Il Principe di Ostia Bronx.
Il Principe di Ostia Bronx is in a nutshell all that a documentary should be. Very much like Herzog and Morris, Raffaele Passerini has delivered what might well be described as the perfect documentary film. One that is so absurd and humane, so warm and absolute bonkers, that most successfully evokes real life itself. This film is honest in how crazy it is – it doesn’t try to turn anything into forced art nor pretends to be something it’s not. It’s wonderful and it reminded me of all those gems that led to my obsession with documentary cinema a few years back. It was films like this that won me over and it is still films like this that keep me defending the genre even when a few too many documentarians try to weigh it down to an unbearable extent, turning it slowly but steadily into a war genre.
I don’t consider making a grown audience sob the worthiest of goals for any documentary, but I can see that it’s progressively gaining ground among makers and viewers. Of course I do understand that at times, it comes with the story. And in times like these, the stories are not pretty. I know this, and still I’m sticking with my times and the cinema it produces – I’m following it, writing about it, appreciating it, learning from it and more often than not, celebrating it. But when I get to watch something like Il Principe di Ostia Bronx I am reminded of the fact that this is just as much a story of our times – if not more than any other that I have ever watched in Biografilm.
Read at Unsung Films:
It is the story of a man, Dario, and a woman, Mauri, – both very modern, very real, very colourful and eccentric, but just as much traditional and humble, quiet and insecure. Two beautiful people – people that I got to briefly meet at the festival and that greeted me with kindness and gratitude. Two people that have chosen to live on their terms and celebrate life, rather than fall for its bullshit. Raffaele Passerini does something that seems to have either been forgotten, or to not anymore be so widely accepted and revered in documentary film festivals, which is to tell a simple story, that of a subject, to paint a portrait, without trying through elaborate schemes to shock or wow its audience. There is a beautiful simplicity in the making of this film, which is necessary, as its two subjects are such exquisite drama queens. Their every phrase is a one-liner – until a second passes, and then you find yourself realising the great depth and multiple philosophical shades of what was just said.
A person next to me asked “is the Prince crazy or a philosopher?”. Why can’t he be both? Aren’t we all? Dario’s house is full of things. Isn’t ours too? It’s packed with posters, decorative little useless things, every little corner of the house is sinking of its own weight. But none of it is stupid or unnecessary. It all shows this man’s all-encompassing knowledge, great taste in music and film, widespread cultural education. This is not an ignorant mad man – this is a highly educated individual who has turned life into a joke, as that is what he’s concluded it deserves. People like the Prince should be teaching the rest of us how it’s done, but he goes and spends his day on the beach of Ostia instead. Maybe hangs out with Mauri, the Countess. Or dresses up as Spiderman. See how he feels. There are no rules or routines in the life he has chosen.
There are plenty of moments in the film where one laughs at the absurdity of the characters’ actions, but none of these moments is the viewer kidding himself that he doesn’t envy the freedom and romance of the Prince’s and the Countess’ lifestyle. They have refused to conform to social norms; they have kept themselves free and outside the mill; they laugh at life, social structure and expectations, and, ultimately, us. These are two of the most inspirational, revolutionary and extraordinary people to have ever featured any film, and Passerini must have well known that for years before he went about making a film out of Dario and Mauri. For when he turned that camera on, he knew very well to not even try to interfere. The Prince and The Countess had this.
Get your hands on Il Principe di Ostia Bronx if you speak or understand even a bit of Italian. Let it entertain, move and inspire you, but more than anything, let it show you an alternative – to say the least – way of living, which may not be for you or me, but which takes guts, honesty and demands our tip of the hat. The Prince, the Countess and Raffaele Passerini have my utmost respect.
Watch the trailer for Il Principe di Ostia Bronx here:
Il Principe di Ostia Bronx at IMDb
Il Principe di Ostia Bronx at kine.it
Il Principe di Ostia Bronx on Facebook
Il Principe di Ostia Bronx (awards won and nominated for) at IMDb
Raffaele Passerini at IMDb