Lago Film Festival Review: Belva Nera

“I am a serious person now. I like friendship. I like to shoot, very much.”

Ercolino, the old hunter, summarizes his life in the simplest terms. There is a curious display of friendship between the neighbors who live in the Italian region of Lazio. The ageing folks get together regularly, but on camera they talk dirt on each other; a strange distrust and bickery is in the air. What divides them is the folk legend of the panther which allegedly haunted the locals. There are believers and skeptics, the know-it-all expert on the side of reason and the boastful Tony Scarf, the B-movie actor who captured one many years ago. It seems little excites them in life anymore other than the black beast. 

The Italian co-directors Alessio Rigo de Righi and Matteo Zoppis, who come from the area but trained in the United States, call Bkack Beast (Belva Nera) a mockumentary Western. Mockumentary, in this case, has to do more with the blending of reality and myth and also with the attitude towards the characters. Does it mock the people about whom the film is? A bit, maybe. During interviews, the subjects were allowed to speak their minds freely. But by picking those words and gestures, the authors position the old men as grumpy and petty-minded, with a weird obsession. The bright green wall as a background for the conversations also gives a subtle comic feel. Yet, the film wasn’t made just to induce cheap laughter.

The film fools the audience for the most part. Whether this pseudo-panther exists or not turns out to be secondary. Belva Nera is more about the representatives from a long gone rural life. We learn more about Ercolino: he is not a pathetic loser, he’s happily married and just has a fondness for simple pleasures. Civilization slowly takes over, and the hunters who know the laws of nature find their enemies in the authorities and clueless environmentalist who don’t let them deal with the situation on their own.

But this contrast is never dumbed down – the irony surely helps. The deliberate usage of the western aesthetics has a role in this. The music evokes the leitmotifs of the lone ranger characters of the genre, and the naturalistic style of filming the landscape also has an old-school feel. This charming portrait makes the viewer chuckle and reflect on the confrontation of tradition and modernity at the same time; the core conflict of the western is exposed; the authors find beauty in this world and want to capture it before it disappears for good.

Review by Dóra Bartal (Hungary)

Cineuropa Shorts, in collaboration with Nisimazine and Lago Film Fest (which ran this year from July 24th - August 1st), offers you film reviews and interviews made in Lago by Nisimazine’s team of young journalists.

07 October 2015, by Cineuropa Shorts