By Noémie Attia
When: Wednesday April 10, 7:30PM
Vancouver premiere (19+)
Tickets: $20, viff.org
“Bella Ciao” is a song of resistance: its melody ignites hearts, and its lyrics touch rebellious souls. It appeared in the 1940s, on Italian rice fields where women laboured during long, hot summers. They would sing about their dreadful work conditions – the long hours, the heavy-handed bosses, and the insect bites. The Partisans made it famous during the Second World War and, since then, it has become an international rallying cry of all kinds of resistance causes..
Carolyn Combs gave the same title to her film for a good reason. Bella Ciao! takes place on Commercial Drive, in the heart of Vancouver’s Little Italy. “I liked that about the song: it seemed fitting for the film,” says Combs. “The Italians and the Latin Americans and the Indigenous cultures come together and resist.”
Bella Ciao! is etched with an endearing realism, portraying a place that is home for the director: East Van. Combs envisions her environment as a research topic that she has to explore. “For me, that’s what making a film is: une recherche. I wanted to find out where I lived and who else lived there. I really like the neighbourhood, there seems to be cultural resistance there.”
People Combs met and interviewed inspire all of her characters. The most notable one is Costanza (Carmen Aguirre), a Chilean woman who escaped the coup in 1973 and tries to pass on to her daughter, Soledad, her culture of resistance as she confronts her own mortality.
“Some of the first people I interviewed to find out where it is that I live were members of my co-op,” says Combs, who lives in the Paloma Housing Co-operative, just off the Drive. The co-op was founded by Chilean refugees, recognized as such by Canada, when the States didn’t allow their immigration. “There was a man named Bob Everett, who was Carmen’s stepfather. He was in Chile during the coup and managed to get out. He petitioned to the Trudeau government to allow Chileans to come in as refugees.”
Combs even includes some shots from The Battle of Chile, a film by Patricio Guzmán documenting Chilean activism against the Pinochet government. Despite these very tangible elements, Bella Ciao! has a deeply lyrical, magical feeling.
“That’s one thing I wanted to capture, to play with: those seemingly unreal moments that are actually quite real,” she says. “The surrealism or the magic is within our reality. It’s in our day-to-day experience, when you look for it.”
This is no surprise coming from Combs, who cites The Ballad of Narayama among her inspirations for shooting the beautiful metaphor of Carmen’s final “journey up the mountain.” Moreover, as they filmed on Cypress Mountain, purple flowers blossomed in front of them. perfectly illustrating a lyric in “Bella Ciao” that says “bury me in the shade of a flower on the mountain.”
Oneiric and dramatic, fictional and realistic, Bella Ciao! tells stories about a community, first and foremost. It includes marginalized people and depicts generous acts and incongruous situations; all exist in daily life, but are “not part of the stories we tell,” in Combs’ words.
“I think it’s important that we share those stories about ourselves, and that we’re capable of caring for each other and that communities are capable of coming together and creating change,” she concludes. “I want to keep that possibility alive.”