I Prefer the Sound of the Sea

(Mimmo Calopresti, 2000, Italy)

The view of the sea Rosario takes with him to Turin is not as spectacular as the view from other parts of Italy. It’s comparatively plain and semi-industrial, but it’s his sea. It’s also the sea that Luigi left a long time ago for land-locked Turin in Italy’s north.

Luigi is a successful businessman who married into a wealthy family and eventually became CEO of his father-in-law’s company. He has a spoiled teenage son Matteo and an attractive younger lover. During a trip to his home town in Calabria, southern Italy, Luigi learns of the plight of his young relative, Rosario – father in jail and mother dead, presumably killed by the Mafia. Luigi decides to take Rosario back to Turin, the industrial centre of Italy, with him in order to expose him to the kind of life he himself has enjoyed, but which seems to be lacking in Calabria. Rosario goes to live in a halfway house run by a friend of Luigi’s, a progressive priest. On weekends, Luigi invites Rosario home to spend some time with him and Matteo. The two boys are of the same age and in spite of their differences, develop a friendship.

Despite surface pleasantries at times, an uneasiness derived from deeply entrenched differences underlies the relationships between the three main characters. These differences are a source of psychological discomfort for Luigi for whom the south, which he tries to ignore, is a constant presence – through Rosario, through family, through memories. This conflict between north and south in Italy is at the core of the film.

This film has heart; I liked it a lot. The scene in which Rosario says: “I prefer the sound of the sea” is full of poetry; it’s a distillation of all that the film is about. Someone making a choice based purely on emotional reasons rather than rational ones. Rosario chooses to live somewhere as “dangerous” and as lacking in economic opportunities as Calabria for no other reason than that he likes the sound of the sea. This symbolises the north/south polarisation. Poetry/emotion/soul as against jobs/material comfort/rationality. The cinematography is used to good effect to underline this split by juxtaposing the coldness and closed-in feeling of Turin with the warmth, openness and Mediterranean light of Calabria.

Early on in the film, when Luigi visits Calabria, a friend asks him if he has this view (of the sea) in Turin. He doesn’t, but he made his choice a long time ago. And now, the consequences of that choice are emerging – a strained relationship with a son who’s totally disconnected from his father in every way, including his father’s heritage (Matteo considers southerners “bandits”); a broken marriage; a newer relationship that’s in the process of breaking; a career about to be ruined by the corruption of his father-in-law; a melancholy he doesn’t acknowledge and, which, discussions with the priest won’t cure.

A few minor things about this film niggled. I don’t know how real someone like Rosario is – do such honest, strong people really exist or am I too cynical to believe that they do? The actor who plays Rosario, in trying to be serious, is actually stiff at times, and the actor who plays Luigi has the same sad expression throughout the film, which I felt was a bit of overkill. And I’m still not sure, even now, what to make of the ending. I think the film would’ve have had more of an impact if it had ended earlier as the last scene was an unnecessary over-statement of the depth of Rosario’s attachment to Calabria.

It’s a shame that this film probably won’t be exhibited again, even at our art-house cinemas. There’s a large Italian community in Melbourne who I think would like to see it and for whom, parts of the film would resonate. For non-Italians, the film offers insight into the Italo-Australian experience and has something to say about the choices people make. I suspect that SBS is now the only hope for this film reaching an audience beyond MIFF.

About The Author

Vicky Tsaconas is a Melbourne-based writer.