An extraordinary docudrama work that mixes film and animation (by Simone Massi), the film presented by Stefano Savona at the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs,Samouni Road, is the story of the massacre of twenty-nine civilians, members of a family of farmers, during the operation ‘Cast Lead’ carried out by the Israeli military force in 2009. This is not the first time the documentary maker, also an archeologist and anthropologist, deals with the Gaza War: in 2009 he infiltrated the Strip for making a video-diary, published daily on his blog, with the aim to ‘overcome the embargo of images and film the war from within, day after day, also as a provocative message to those portraying it only from the outside’. That project went on to become his first film, Cast Lead, portraying life under the rubble and the perspective of those living in the Strip. Once the war was over, sais Savona, he went to Gaza City with the intention of going straight home, but there he met the Samouni family, a farmer community who had remained at home, in the rural periphery of Gaza, during the fighting, with the belief of remaining unharmed. They were instead brutally exterminated, perhaps by mistake or maybe on purpose, during a devastating air strike by the Israeli military that destroyed everything: homes, people, fields. “I met those people, who recounted the events they had survived with an extraordinary gentleness and strength. I wanted to share with the public the emotion one feels meeting people who are similar to us, a family who did not expect to become a family of martyrs, because of bad fate or excess of hope. Theirs was an imposed resistance, as well as a chosen one, like the resistance of the Italian farmers who were trapped in a war they had not chosen personally to fight”.
The director defines the film a “black tale”. It is told through the eyes of Amal, a young girl believed to be dead but who instead has survived. To give justice to her story, Savona did not limit the work to recounting the tragedy but created a family portrait that includes the time before and after the tragic events. “This story doesn’t stem from my love of the genre but from their manner of recounting their life, always tracing the story back to what they used to be, probably as a way to deal with the drama and overcome the shock. Samouni Road, however, is not a film that idolizes memory or that looks back to the past as an ideal moment. Instead it reaches back to the past in order to understand the future. If the past is cancelled anyone can rewrite anything, but cinema has the duty to explore and recount the truth that lies beneath. Cinema is a means to counter the ruins and the signs of time, and when it becomes compliant to destruction it participates to it, even with the best intentions”.
The past is traced in the family memories of what appears to be an old farmer’s community, it is like the tall tree that once stood, that Amal and her brothers used to climb, or the coffee that the little girl used to take to her father in the orchard before the war. The images return to life on screen thanks to the animations by Simone Massi, who followed Savona’s style and narration, and who collaborated with a team of about twenty illustrators, mostly women, for the first time, training them in order to achieve a homogeneous style: “I showed them how I work by subtraction, staring from a blank, completely black page, scraping it to make the light emerge from a dirty and suffered chiaroscuro”. “Massi’s animations have an earth-like quality – sais the director – he looks for the memory in a field and his work is almost like that of farmers laboriously digging the earth. There is a certain synchronicity between Simone’s work and the stories of the farmers portrayed”.
The film is a Italian and French coproduction. It underwent a long preparatory phase that began in 2012, and was produced by Picofilms, Dugong Films with Rai Cinema, Alter Ego Production, in coproduction with ARTE France Cinéma, ARTE France Unité Société et Culture.