Whether the languid caress of the siesta or the ancient rustling of the tree man, the peaks tempered by God or a glass of red wine raised to the poet’s health, there are magnificent rituals waiting to be discovered in the borghi of Southern Italy. Villages dug out of the mountains, thoroughfare of migration speaking languages thousands of years old, some abandoned and rendered ghostlike (in which case to be consulted like a Spoon River Anthology). In setting off on this journey, we learn that cinema offers a trade when it comes to awaken sleepy borghi: bartering light for unique rarity. This itinerary crosses a flexible line between the regions of Calabria, Basilicata and Apulia, stretching from the Aspromonte range to the Daunian Mountains. Or vice-versa if you prefer.Print itinerary
Let’s start with the Rocca del Drago and Caldaie del Latte: figures sculpted in the stone by some multiform mountain spirit. Let’s add a cross floating in deep water and a procession carrying the Madonna. We are watching Heavenly Body, Alice Rohrwacher’s directorial debut, which focuses on the story of young Marta, grafted into a wave of catechising ejaculatory prayers and, simultaneously, we are in Roghudi Vecchio, a Greek-speaking village in the Aspromonte region, deserted by its population after a flood. The prayers continue, albeit in an arboreal Mass and a contained mystery, in Michelangelo Frammartino’s Le Quattro Volte. In Alessandria del Carretto, the highest village in the Parco del Pollino and setting for the Festa della Pita which features a silver fir adventurously lowered down from the higher slopes, Caulonia and Serra San Bruno, Calabria is once again taciturn and impenetrable. The charcoal burners’ hut, a shepherd’s death, the birth of a goat, the falling of a tree: a cycle that feeds off the silences of these places, whose eternal existence is recorded unwaveringly by the camera. In Francesco Munzi’s Black Souls, death grows like a cyst in the heart of an ‘ndrangheta family straight from a tragedy by Euripides. The village is Africo Vecchio, in the foothills of the Aspromonte range, an absence that speaks, like a nativity scene pregnant with unpronounceable words and stones.
The winning film in terms of cinema tourism in recent years must be Basilicata coast to coast, directorial debut from actor Rocco Papaleo and his declaration of love, and also belief, in a region, his region, that he would say exists “a little like the concept of God, you either believe in it or you don’t”. The nomadic itinerary of his caravan of musicians offers the invitation to discover it on foot, so as to catch every ounce of beauty. The backdrop to their slow passage, seen through a lens of carefree levity, is a Basilicata of valleys, mountains, borghi and ghost towns (Craco being the most famous), water courses, reservoirs, stories still unopened. Maratea, Lauria, Moliterno, Tramutola, Grumento Nova, Aliano (setting for the exile of Carlo Levi whose badlands rival those in Turkey), Viggiano, Tursi, Policoro and Scanzano Jonico: the map is completed.
There is, of course, another way to explore: by air. The two villages of Pietrapertosa and Castelmezzano are joined by the Volo dell’Angelo, a 1,000m steel cable zipline which reaches close to the sky, displays the Lucanian Dolomites and dissolves all fears. Director Massimo Gaudioso links these two borghi to produce Pietramezzana, or An almost perfect town, from the beehive of his imagination. To bid our farewells to Basilicata, we head to another territory, that of memory, as the Carducci-like title, Of Lost Love, suggests. In Irsina and Ferrandina, Michele Placido shot the story of Liliana Rossi, a young Communist activist fighting for female emancipation who died at just 24 in the director’s home town: Ascoli Satriano in Apulia. He chose Basilicata because: “Irsina represents the state of grace that the populations of Lucania somehow conserve”. And may that grace be with you.
To obtain the blinding outpouring of white in the sleepy village at the heart of her first film, The Lizards, Lina Wertmüller enjoyed recreating the roots of her hometown Palazzo San Gervaso in Lucania, with Minervino Murge and Spinazzola in Apulia. More than fifty years have passed since then but the extraordinary brine of the summer siesta can still be found, exactly the same, in the offbeat alleyways of these borghi. Gabriele Salvatores also remained close to the border between Basilicata and Apulia for I’m Not Scared: to create the borgo of Acqua Traverse as imagined by Niccolò Ammaniti, who wrote the novel on which the film was based, he shot in Melfi and Rapolla in Lucania and Candela in the Valle dell’Ofanto, in Apulia, here are the wheat-fields drenched in gold and combed by the favonio (a local wind). We have now reached a little-known area, where one can still savour aspects of the 19th century: the Daunian Mountains, where Mario Martone shot part of We Believed in two of the territory’s most beautiful borghi, Bovino and Deliceto, and, in particular, inside their castles. Walking on, deeper into the area, one comes across Apricena and San Marco in Lamis and here, perhaps, recognises the station from Sergio Rubini’s first film as director The Station. Or then raise a grateful thought to Massimo Troisi who set the fictional Acquasalubre of Le vie del Signore sono finite, almost entirely in Frederick’s Lucera. It is good to raise a glass to him, the poet in the heavens, in piazza Duomo, before setting off again.