Trieste is so beautiful, when the person speaking actually knows the city
A film documentary by Elisabetta Sgarbi explores this oft-forgotten city on Italy's eastern border. Packed with art and culture
When she was asked to choose a border city to narrate, Elisabetta Sgarbi immediately thought of St. Petersburg because it is seeped in literature, art and beauty?"all her passions. But not for long. Trieste confidently took over pride of place. Alexander Pushkin lost out to Scipio Slataper and the elephantine Hermitage was beaten out by the comparatively mouse-sized Revoltella Museum. But this was only natural because if there was ever a "woman at the crossroads" on the cultural scene, it is she, editor-in-chief at Bompiani (part of the Rizzoli books group), the brains and soul behind Milanesiana (the summertime cultural event that hosts a range of forms of art and culture), writer and, last but not least, film director.
And Trieste is a crossroads city par excellence, as those interviewed in Trieste la contesa (Trieste the Fought-Over City) like to repeat. This film documentary is the work of the second born of the Sgarbi clan, produced by RaiCinema and her own production company, Betty Wrong (an ironic play on Elisabetta Sgarbi's name).
"Trieste is a port city that opens onto different worlds and cultures. There is a chemistry about Trieste, a real sort of alchemy," says the film's director who was involved in a completely different kind of alchemy while studying pharmacology at college. She first became acquainted with the city of Italo Svevo years ago. As a girl, she saw the paintings by Trieste artists hanging on the walls of her family's home in Ferrara. Her favorite artist has always been Bruno Croatto. "Every morning, his Bambina terribile (Terrible Little Girl) looks down at me as I leave my home in Milan."
A terrible little girl, now all grown up, Elisabetta Sgarbi gathered so much footage on Trieste that she was able to make two films. The first is Il viaggio della signorina Vila (The Voyage of Miss Vila) which is more narrative with a plot. It was presented at the last Rome Film Festival and will be broadcast on Italian television on February 10th at 11 pm on the Rai Storia channel. It is a film documentary composed of images and interviews with a number of professors as well as the "man-on-the-street". Among the would-be professors, one heavy-set man sums up the sense of the entire documentary: "Boundaries are traced on maps; they don't exist in nature." The words of someone who lives in an unpretentious home in a tiny village near Trieste, where the inhabitants can be counted on the fingers of your two hands: 8 in total.
Other protagonists for Trieste la contesa: those who disappeared to the four winds in the only Italian concentration camp crematorium, the Risiera di San Sabba, during the nightmare years of the Holocaust; the numerous victims of ethnic cleansing in the mass graves, and those who lie in the city's cemetery, among them Giorgio Strehler and Umberto Saba. "Man has lost his own image because he has lost these places ... all these immense spaces," says one of the people interviewed as he looks around him.
Walking around with the movie camera and gathering interviews, Sgarbi says "I began to lose myself in this border city, so full of fascination" with its sea and bora winds that dictate the rules of everyday life. Losing oneself?"or perhaps finding oneself again?