OF GIOVANNI BOGANI
"Do you know what happened?" Francesca says on the phone yesterday morning. And you immediately understand that it is not a normal thing, and not even a news of some disaster happened in China or in the United States. It's something that concerns you too. Even we who work with films, who we meet from one festival to another, in this race that never stops.
You, Pietro, have stopped. Suddenly, nobody expected it. You who never went down from that carousel: Venice, Berlin, Cannes, Los Angeles, Ischia, Capri, Cairo. What beautiful places, of course. And yet, how much effort, how much cursed effort.
Pietro, you were a photographer. Everyone knows it, in the cinema. Everyone knew you: you knew everyone. For a few years, we have been like brothers. Planes, taxis, minibuses taken together. Your voice, your irony. Your bitterness. Because you were full of bitterness, even if you never said it. For all the photos you took and sent without hearing a thank you, for the absurd times you were there to do, one day after another. And you complained angrily sometimes. But we were all so busy running and working that we didn't listen to you.
You were full of bitterness for those you saw become famous without deserving it, for those who saw little work and receive so much from life: for those you saw yourself having fun, at festivals. It is difficult to explain what a festival is for those who work there, as you did, up to the last drop of energy.
Your photographs always had to be there. And you were always ready to get up and go, shoot. "There is an actress down there, Pietro", "there is the presentation of the film in ten minutes", there is the red carpet, the photo call, the actor who has just descended from the helicopter, by the motorboat. And you there, always in the front row. With a body that is difficult to manage.
Being a photographer like you did means moving with many pounds on him, with two or three sling cameras, with telephoto lenses that weigh like pieces of artillery. And do it in evening dresses: with a white shirt and a black jacket, even in summer. Do you know how beastly it can be, how hard it can be?
You never sat at lunches and dinners. You leaned for a moment, or rather leaned the duffel bag with the objectives and the cameras, at a table of colleagues, and grabbed with heat, but almost secretly, a piece of bread. Or grab a bottle of carbonated water. And then off to make a new shot.
I wonder what all this is for, now that they found you, at 56, without life, the same age I have. When I was a kid I thought that 56 years were already an important age. Now I know that one still feels like a boy.
What was all this for? It was your life. And I don't know if you would have known another one. Feeling yourself in this circus was your way of being in the world.
You did it generously. To those who asked you, you never refused a photo. "Pietro, would you please take a picture of me?" Click. Click. The famous actress asked you too, the director asked you, everyone asked you. And you sent her those photos at night, after a stressful day. From firstname.lastname@example.org. How many of us have sent some jpgs in the mail, and we wear evening dresses, which we smile at a film festival, like in the Shining finale.
You complained about the times, you complained of fatigue, but you continued to work without ever stopping. Why? Not for the money, sure. None of us is rich, none of us who slams to write an article or take a picture. You weren't one of those who go to Cannes to eat in fancy restaurants. You were always there with your computer and cameras.
Many years ago, I advised you to carry less weight, a few pounds less of all that gear. "What do you care, Pietro: instead of three cameras, bring only one. Instead of six goals, take two at the most. And no bag, carry a trolley, so the effort makes the wheels ". You looked at me badly, and told me that advice with sarcasm for many years. As if I wanted to diminish your work. It was just painful to see you carry all that stuff, like a cross to drag.
The actresses, the aspiring actresses, the stars, the interns: you knew them all, you photographed them all. And you could talk to them as if they were classmates, confidently. You spoke the same way to Asia Argento and to the last volunteer of a festival, to Carolina Crescentini and to Helen Mirren. And they all knew you, they all laughed with you: Laura Morante, Maria Grazia Cucinotta – I heard her yesterday, she was really sorry for you – or Madalina Ghenea. "Peter, Peter, Peter" was their mantra. And they loved you.
You took many pictures of them, because you were certainly in love with beauty. But you've never done or said anything disrespectful. You have always been pure, and all in all a shy person.
You were alone. I've never seen you in a festival with a girl, a girlfriend, a friend or an accomplice in twenty years. The party is over, the press conference is over, the festival is over, everyone is home. And of what you were, of how you lived, probably few knew something. Perhaps no one has been able to penetrate that solitude, beyond the chatter, beyond your sonorous voice, always a little declaimed.
That voice with which you occasionally imitated the Tuscan, when you were with me. "You bring her a kiss to Florence", or you mentioned the mayors we had: "Gabbugiani" – you said it with only one g – or La Pira, Bargellini … We don't remember them almost even in Florence, but you remembered them. And you mentioned the songwriters of the 1970s, Claudio Lolli, or to return to Tuscany, you spoke of Boccaccio and quoted Dante, always with a bit of irony.
"Don't you know Giovanni? It is an intellectual end ”, you said to the actresses who had made the debut film, and who looked at you disoriented and indifferent. "Giovanni has written books on Peter Greenaway and various novels …", and here their attention was definitively extinguished. Then you told them that I was making a film with various actresses who were reading a page of my novel, and that they could be there too, and sometimes you saw some lightning flash in their eyes. You did assists, you gave them. "An intellectual like you, Giovanni, a decent person, treated like that in his work …", you said. And besides me, you also talked about yourself.
You always found the funny side of things, though. How many jokes, in the buses that took us – directors, actors, journalists – to the dinner after the film. You spoke so much with your sung voice, Roman but not Roman. I wonder if there is a recording of the voice somewhere.
We were in the same room in Los Angeles. Arrived together from Berlin, an interoceanic tear-up. It was night, you sent photos to Italy. "See Giovanni, these photos must be sent now, and I can't stop, I can't …". Zzzzzzzz, start snoring. Twenty minutes later, out of nowhere, you smeared on the bed and recovered from the exact syllable in which you stopped, as if someone had pressed the pause button: "… I know not to send them now, they must publish them in a few hours, but they are trop …". Zzzzzz. And twenty minutes later: "… pe, really too many."
I want to think that one of these blackout moments was longer than the others. Or that you wake up somewhere else, picking up where you left off.
The edge of the shirt always came out of your pants. Your white shirts. One day in Cannes, so many years ago, you said to me: "My suitcase? Cannes lasts thirteen days. So thirteen white shirts, and a black jacket. Here's how I do it ". It seemed like a perfect rule, and since then I did the same.
That flap of your shirt, you didn't have anyone to tell you "put it right". Or that he cleaned your glasses, and returned them to you with a smile. I think if you had had it, everything would have been different.
"Master Favino, turn this way"; "Professor Bellocchio, look here", "Dr. Morante, also here on the left": you called them all professors, teachers, doctors. With irony, yes, but also as if we were all in school, and we were all doing something about Beauty, knowledge, and not the market, business, money.
I didn't know you were the son of a famous Latinist, and that your mother was a student of Ungaretti. I didn't know about the twenty thousand books you breathed in your house. But I felt it, culture, in every word you said. How I hear it in every word Carlo Verdone says, even if he never exhibits anything.
Take plane tickets months in advance. Now, in June, surely you had already made the ticket to Berlin, for the festival in February. And you would have said "Giovanni, did you get the ticket to Berlin? Now it costs only nineteen euros ", and I, always," Pietro, I don't know what I do tomorrow, figured in February 2020! ". You won't use that ticket. And who knows what will happen to your black machines, heavy, worn out, and all those photos that will remain buried in your sd cards and in your hard drives. A piece of the history of Italian cinema, a piece of history of this bustling circus that includes actors, directors, screenwriters, distributors, Raicinema executives and even journalists.
In February there will be an empty seat on a plane from Rome to Berlin. And many other empty places, everywhere, in all the festivals that will take place, in all the next rounds of this tournament.
For Pietro Coccia.