Il Mio Corpo: scraping by in Sicily

Michele Pennetta’s documentary, set on a parched landscape, shows the remarkable resilience of those in tough corners

Friday, 11th December 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Il Mio Corpo

Oscar, one of the young subjects of Il Mio Corpo

Directed by Michele Pennetta
Certificate: 12a

ALLOWING the subjects the space to tell the story through their actions, and without having to embellish or explain, is the key to documentary-maker Michele Pennetta’s talent.

He observes, and uses a natural filter to permit the story to emerge gracefully and on its own merit. He has done this with resounding success in these fascinating twin stories of scratching a living in Sicily.

Young teen Oscar lives with his father and brother on an outback mountainside, boasting the type of view that travel writer Norman Lewis described so well in his books about the island.

Oscar’s father puts his children to work. We are given a flavour of what their days are like in an opening scene.

The exhausted children are sent down a steep embankment to sift through fly-tipped, rusting junk. Among the debris – the boilers and fridges – is a statue of Mary. It too joins the lorry load of scrap, and the father wonders if it will become a symbol of good luck. Fortune, however, does not favour the subjects we have just been introduced to.

We then meet Stanley, from Nigeria, who has travelled across the sea to forge a new life. Living in a tiny flat and sweeping out a church in return for a box of food, Stanley remembers his family by cooking Nigerian meals and sharing them with his friend, Blessed. Stanley has a visa, but Blessed does not – causing fears about what their futures hold.

Pennetta builds a picture of Oscar and Stanley’s days. Their paths only cross late on, but both stories dovetail as they show the reality people face to rise a fraction above absolute poverty.

Poor Oscar is bullied by his father. At every turn, as he finds metal to salvage, or takes to pieces old bits of machinery, the sulking presence of his dad lingers.

Pennetta has created a beautiful film to look at: the parched landscape, worn clothes, rattle trap trucks wheezing along barely formed roads, derelict, half-finished houses – they form the main stage for the boys’ stories, while lingering in the shadows is a world of wealth – the glorious interior of the church Stanley sweeps, and Mercedes cars that drive past his open window. This is coupled with shots of Stanley swimming and Oscar freewheeling his bicycle. It builds up an image of the remarkable resilience of people in tough corners.

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