Italian photographer and documentary film director Cecilia Mangini died on January 21. What follows is a modest tribute to an artisan-artist for whom the making of images was always an act of engagement with her subjects and her audience.
Originally published by Autonomies.
From Cecilia Mangini, Agitateur Culturel
Cecilia Mangini’s cinema is a resistant cinema. A cinema that resists authority, power, a certain pernicious Empire of images. This is why it is also a cinema that resists the spectator: far from giving itself as a neutral objective, it proposes, exposes, exposes itself, provokes. It looks at us, as the ragazzi of La Canta delle Marane look at us and challenge us. Far from being an object of easy consumption, quickly digested and forgotten, it persists, sows doubt. “You have to doubt everything”, recalls Cecilia Mangini, quoting Karl Marx, because doubt is the condition of the possibility of freedom, of resistance to conditioning, to manipulation. It is a cinema of resistance, because its objects resist: Cecilia Mangini films bodies whose very existence is a resistance to uncontrolled “progress”. It is a cinema of bodies, a carnal, physical cinema, not materialist, precisely, but indeed material, in the sense that it comes to be confronted with the matter of things, with their “physicality”, that is to say, to their reality. To bring to light through a close-up the traces of an intimate story that emerge on a face, to bring out and resonate secular songs in dialect: if film is a skin, the cinema of Cecilia Mangini puts the viewer in intimate contact, tactile, with concrete and resistant materials. Entering upon resistance is on the part of the documentary filmmaker, a gesture that engages the whole of her body: to confront the other, otherness, but to draw from it what grounds one’s own own identity, and what binds us to others. Returning to the south of Italy, where she was born, but this time to immerse herself there with the camera: that is to say in a mixture of proximity, intimacy (the camera as a “penetration”), and from a critical distance (that permitted by the protection of the “lens”) necessary for the documentary enterprise. To go even further, in 1965, to Vietnam, to “seize the most hidden souls of this people”.
From A pasionaria of the image on earth as it is in heaven
Few religious words survive from my Catholic childhood as this sentence does, both for its poetry and fascinating mystery: on earth as in heaven …
Large, dark, crushing signs loomed over Cecilia’s childhood. When she was little she stood up, like her classmates, under the coercion of fascism, to salute a flag symbolising mad and violent National Socialism.
Later her camera will be, like that of her companions, this third eye which reveals and allows the complexity of lives in touch with their history and their heritage to be revealed. She will contribute to the birth of a cinema that gives Italy back to Italians.
In one of her photographs, where the choice of the moment of the shot, the choice of the frame, determine the relationships between the different layers inside the image, the factory lost in the mist takes on the almost ghostly aspect of a ship that would depart leaving on the quay a castaway, someone forgotten by modernity. She speaks of the people, the exploited, the workers.
When I discovered Cecilia Mangini’s films, some rooted in popular religious rituals, others involved in the gestures of the work of workers, or women, others still inspired by the ardor of childhood or the wounds of poverty, I understood that the image held me , as humanity has always been, between heaven and earth, between fascination and reality.
What captures her cinema, her photos, is first of all the relationship with bodies and the vital energy of human beings: the characters that Cecilia celebrates with her camera are our brothers and sisters, our sages, our landmarks. They teach us fervour, rebellion, integrity, brilliance, admiration through the intensity of their presence. They are revolutionary eccentrics.
The discovery of her recently rediscovered film (Divino Amore, 1963) proves to me that Cecilia always knew how to differentiate the gesture of love from the gesture inflicted by religious dogma.
It gives back to each woman, to each man, to each child their first humanity and brings together “those who believed in heaven, those who did not believe”, as the phrase of Aragon so aptly put it.
Cecilia Mangini’s films are not readily available with English subtitles, except in the eventual film festival. We share below her film Essere donne (1965), a collection of shorts carried on Italian television, and a documentary dedicated to her work.