The Mouth of the Wolf / Pietro Marcello / 2009 / 

Active Ingredients: Mix of archival footage; Exploration of memory; Texture of images
Side Effects: Reenactments and interviews; Inconsistent use of styles

Memories both personal and nation collide in Pietro Marcello’s thoughtful evocation of the ghosts of the past, The Mouth of the Wolf. Cinema shares a mysterious link with memories. For Tarkovsky, both phenomena are moored to time, the medium on which we register our experiences as memories and the dimension unique to film art. It’s not surprising then that in Marcello’s film memories manifest themselves as forgotten fragments of footage, strange pieces of archival material resurrected to fill in the space between past and present. Marcello blends these cinematic ghosts with his own footage, both documentary and narrative, depicting the decades-long love between two men from Genoa. Through lengthy stints in prisons and hard years on the streets, the pair stays together, following in the footsteps, somehow, of the city’s founders.

The film begins with a beautiful prologue, an incantation of Garibaldi and his Thousand, who, restless as the pair we are to meet, left Genoa during Italian unification. It’s this legacy of constant motion and searching that Marcello seems interested in exploring through his use of archival footage, the longing that brings waves of migrants in huge ships and leads men to build cities and to destroy them. The connections, however, are never labored and Marcello allows us to expand the ideas he suggest through artful montage. When he liberally mixes footage old and new in wispy, dreamy sequences the film is at its best, though extended reenactments and interviews with his subjects mar the film’s momentum towards the end.

Despite a few missteps, The Mouth of the Wolf is a powerfully suggestive film. Like its characters, it strains and searches, finding deeply cinematic expressions for difficult cinematic questions. There are no answers to the questions Marcello poses, but like hazy memories they linger on.

[The Mouth of the Wolf plays for free at the Disappearing Act Film Festival in New York on Sunday, April 15th.]