Toby King, Marketing Manager at Picturehouse Central, previews this week’s presentation.
Hand Gestures (12A)
Director: Francesco Clerici. Italy 2015. Italian with English subtitles.
Hand Gestures follows the creative process behind making bronze sculptures using the lost-wax casting technique. Filmed at the Fonderia Artistica Battaglia in Milan, which was founded in 1913, the film follows artist/sculptor Velasco Vitali and his fellow artisans through the different stages of creating their works using techniques that date back to the fifth century BCE.
The foundry itself is rustic and well worn – the vintage posters on the wall conjure up some stories of their own. The tools the men use are basic but precise, the techniques at a glance seem casual, almost dangerous, but beneath it all is a deep-rooted tradition and skill. There is a story here that dates back centuries. This is how beautiful things are made: through fire, heat, mud, air, brute force, fine precision and, most importantly, a human touch.
First-time director Francesco Clerici has opted for a restrained observational approach to the film (similar in style to the 2013 trawler-fishing documentary Leviathan) – it benefits from this. There are no talking heads and there is no voiceover narration, no verbal explanation of what we are seeing. There is some off-camera candid dialogue, but this film lets the imagery and actions do the talking. This is raw filmmaking that is much like the process we are watching. The audience must piece the story together while we watch the works of art come together. The use of footage from the foundry’s archive demonstrates how little the process has changed, but also encourages the viewer to contemplate what they are seeing: it helps channel the ideas of time and method. The long static shots showing the men working allow the viewer to not only observe them, but to consider the ideas central to their art.
When it comes to art, there is much to discuss. We like to discuss what the finished product – be it a painting, a sculpture, a film, a building – means, and what is says about us as humans at a certain point in time and history. Or we talk about what emotion it evokes in us. What is not talked about as much is how the hell we made the thing – there is a story and meaning in the nitty-gritty of how humans create art. To look at us actually create is a marvel in itself.
Hand Gestures is a reminder to us that humans make stunning things, and that beautiful things come from a raw, rough place and process. If we can explore the reasons why humans feel the need to go through these processes to create something of importance, instead of simply questioning the finished product itself, a more insightful answer to the question of ‘what it means’ may become apparent.
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