Acclaimed Italian stage actor and director Pippo Delbono has been playing with form and content now for a while in his unclassifiable essay films, and does so again, with increasing personal relevance, in Sangue. It's an uncomfortable viewing experience, a disturbing meditation on the Italian combustible character mix of politics, faith and family, juxtaposing intellectual meditation and personal catharsis. What begins as an intriguing dialogue between Mr. Delbono - an avowedly Buddhist artist - and Giovanni Senzani, a former political activist only recently released from a lengthy terrorism jail sentence, eventually moves into a full-throttled dive into catharsis as the filmmaker's response to his mother's upcoming death from a terminal illness.

     The "blood" of the title is the same blood that unites Mr. Delbono to his family and Mr. Senzani to the bloody history of contemporary Italy, as well as the "blood of Christ" central to the Catholic faith which the director's mother so devoutly espouses. No wonder his trip to the former Communist bastion of Tirana, Albania, to look for the folk medicine known as "the poison of the blue scorpion" in the hope of giving her relief from pain or something to hold on to, gives an added irony to this melting-pot of religion, politics and history. And it's all held together by Mr. Delbono's occasional leaps of faith, and his insistent, borderline sick compulsion to keep the camera rolling all the time, even at his mother's deathbed, blurring further the fine line between exploitation and catharsis. Alternating between consumer cameras and smartphone footage, Sangue also evokes a sense of penance or release, a letting go of family issues or a coming to terms with one's past and personality.

     Whether this is a twisted, disturbing memento of self-exposure by a narcissist filmmaker or a brutally honest piece of essay filmmaking is really up to the viewer's tolerance for Mr. Delbono's approach. But there's no denying the bravura nature of this unusual, demanding film.

Director: Pippo Delbono
Screenwriter: Mr. Delbono, from an idea by Mr. Delbono and Giuseppe Senzani
Camera: Mr. Delbono, Fabrice Aragno  (colour)
Editor: Mr. Aragno
Producers: Mr. Delbono, Mr. Aragno, Frédéric Maire (Compagnia Pippo Delbono, Casa Azul Films, Swiss Cinemathèque, RSI and Vivo Film in collaboration with Rai Cinema)
Italy/Switzerland, 2013, 92 minutes

Screened: DocLisboa 2013 official competition advance screener, Lisbon, October 25th 2013


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