A Cinematic Grand Tour of Sicily: Irony, Memory and Metamorphic Desire from Goethe to Tornatore

Gaetana Marrone
2010 California Italian Studies  
I also feel a strong urge of the memory of a Mediterranean culture, of a classical culture as the matrix of Western culture. Hence, my need to rediscover in these tall and deep roots the essence of our spirit before all of this is erased, before it all disappears. -Vincenzo Consolo 1 A palimpsest of multiple cultures -ancient Greek and Roman, Phoenician, Byzantine, Arab, Norman, Spanish, and "Italian" -Sicily is rich and poor, a crossroads of civilizations, and a provincial backwater,
more » ... l and yet, from time to time and in particular milieus, modernist. Deep and enduring class distinctions add yet another layer to the complexity of the Sicilian experience. To many who find the burdens of this culture oppressive and hard to bear, the only viable solution is to leave the island. But expatriation does not untie the tangled knots of history; memories of home haunt the exile in the midst of newfound freedoms and opportunities. For Sicilian writers and artists, the strains of modernity and tradition, emancipation and destiny, longing to escape and loyalty to family, community, and history have been a central artistic theme. The peculiar conditions of their eccentric and often backward, yet historically and culturally pivotal homeland have enabled them to express the common experience of modernity with special poignancy. Certainly Vincenzo Consolo has portrayed the people of his exasperated and tragic island in such a way that human beings around the globe can identify with their search for selfhood: in his work, Sicily becomes an image for a magnificent past and for the missed opportunities, both individual and collective, of the present. Like other major Sicilian writers (Pirandello, Brancati, Vittorini, Tomasi di Lampedusa, and Sciascia), Consolo's fiction brims with the fragments of a millennial civilization. Driven by the memory of a classical Mediterranean culture, Consolo combines political criticism with symbolic representations to recover from oblivion "the wounds and the lacerations of a history that can no longer be forgotten," wounds and lacerations that haunts the artist, producing feelings of displacement and dislocation. 2 One of my aims is to describe the shapes this anxiety assumes when it is translated to the screen as an existential metaphor for the Italian socio-political body. I view cinema as a vehicle of cultural expression, the specular art of Italian life during moments of vital self-definition. Focusing on films about Sicily, I shall explore the universal aspects of the Sicilian experience and the artistry with which it has been made meaningful to an international public. Like the privileged investigators within 1 "Colloquio con Vincenzo Consolo," in Giuseppe Traina, Vincenzo Consolo (Fiesole: Cadmo, 2001), 130. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are mine.
doi:10.5070/c311008872 fatcat:mxkq3k54avayfixb6qwirobvbi