A homeless thief. A mother dying of cancer. An artist committed to making an example of himself to recapture lost love. These stories (and several others) make up Bella Ciao!, the new film by director Carolyn Coms (Acts of Imagination). The Latin American, First Nations and Italian communities intersect in the urban mix of East Vancouver. Ciao!, then, speaks to the struggles of a population divided by social status and racial tensions. This is the same population looking for solidarity.
Appropriately, the film gets its title from the Bella Ciao. It’s an Italian folk tune that originated in the 19th Century. It was a protest song for women in the field fighting against harsh working conditions. Known as a hymn of freedom and resistance, people have repurposed Bella Ciao over the years. It became as an anthem against fascism and people worldwide have used it to demand social change. While the song appears within the film, its significance is primarily thematic as Bella Ciao! seeks to highlight the gap between social classes. Unspooling multiple stories, Bella Ciao! points to the lives of those who go often ignored by the wealthy. Some of these groups include the ill, the elderly and the homeless.
By setting up dichotomies between races and social classes, Ciao! recognizes the value of people that society ignores. Each narrative strand points to a society obsessing itself with social status. A society silencing the voices of characters experiencing their own hardships. It highlights the social stereotypes burdening its characters. There is one particularly interesting scene. An HR rep asks homeless job applicant whether or not he has low self-esteem. Taken aback by the question, he explains to his evaluator that he is confident in himself. That’s regardless of his situation and despite the ignorant assumptions of others. Through moments like these, Ciao! wants the viewer to experience and understand more clearly the stories of the oppressed. There are those who complain about the speed of the service at the local coffee shop. Meanwhile, others are outside suffering from mental illness or lack of food.
In Ciao!, everyone’s story matters and they all require some form of justice.
Unfortunately, this ambitious desire to highlight everyone also serves as the film’s downfall. The sheer number of stories it tells seems to keep any of them from fully fleshing out. Engaging performances by Carmen Aguiree and Tony Nardi provide impressive weight to the film. Yet it becomes muted by size of the cast that that Combs has assembled. It begins as an significant exploration of what it means to break down cultural barriers. But the film’s ambitiousness muddles it, regrettably becoming an disjointed piece of film.
Despite its shortcomings, Bella Ciao! does have something worth saying. At a time when our culture is fighting to hear the voices of those who have been systemically silenced, Ciao! is an important reminder for us to listen to the broken. However, despite the power of its message, the film’s lack of focus inadvertently silences its own voice.
- Rated: NR
- Genre: Drama
- Directed by: Carolyn Combs
- Starring: Alexandra Lainfiesta, Carmen Aguirre, Taran Kootenhayoo, Tony Nardi
- Produced by: Carla Jones, Michael Springate, Robert Murphy, Victor Martinez Aja
- Written by: Michael Springate
- Studio: Bella Ciao Digital
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