A note from the margin

by Michael Guarneri

André Bazin's “What is Cinema?” is probably the most influential collection of film-related writings ever published. I have always been fascinated by the bold simplicity of its title: which inherent, specific feature allows us to distinguish cinema from everything else?

Michael Guarneri

As for answering such a question, though, I must confess, that I lack Bazin's and other film theorists' certainty and self-confidence. Personally, I tend to agree with those who trade off ontology and its attempts at universal definitions for a more relaxed approach that simply sees cinema as a flexible tool of expression to be used in many different ways and for many different purposes. Long story short, I think that cinema is what you want it to be: “the embalming of Time”, “a girl and a gun”, “pure fiction”, “a profitable business”, “an evening's entertainment”...

As a film buff, film scholar and film critic (in more or less chronological order), I am chiefly interested in filmmakers who approach the medium with an open mind and a sort of naivety; people who play by their own rules and pursue their vision no matter what. There are quite a few of these filmmakers around, and not enough space for me to name names. I'd just like to stress that my deepest respect and admiration go to those who make movies with next to nothing – just passion and borderline-insane dedication; those who, alone or with a close-knit group of friends, bring to the screen “disquieting objects” (Jean Rouch) from all corners of reality and imagination. These are the people I try to meet and talk to, with the aim of understanding their work and supporting it by making it more known.

After La Grande Bellezza won some of the awards handed out by the American film industry in 2014, the cinema of my country made a comeback and drew international attention again after more than a decade's hiatus. Thus, there are big hopes and expectations for Italian cinema in 2015, and a fresh flow of national and foreign investments, too. However, I'd rather leave it to other, more informed colleagues of mine to comment on the big-time cinema scene: I think of my work as the solitary, often unpaid, but always intellectually rewarding business of sitting in front of a white page, struggling to engage people in obscure, unusual, unclassifiable film-objects.

I mainly write for English-language online film journals, and since the Internet is such a huge “place” with “space” for everybody, I wouldn't be able to exactly situate myself in today's world of film criticism. I suppose that I can be found somewhere in the “long tail”, and this is something I really like: in fact, as Roberto Rossellini said, being marginal grants you the privilege of being free, of being yourself.