Film Review: La città nel cielo (The City in the Sky)

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Pie in the sky…………….

[La città nel cielo (The City in the Sky), Giacomo Gimini, 2009, Italy, 26 mins.]

Last week I wrote of how watching short films is often akin to ‘panning for gold’; where, if you put the effort in, and ‘sift through the sludge and dirt’, you very occasionally find something wonderful.

This week I want to look at the aforementioned ‘sludge and dirt’ of the genre.

Enter The City in the Sky – a film overwhelming only in the sense that it manages to have no interesting or remarkable qualities whatsoever.

I remember when the final instalment of The Matrix was released (The Matrix Revolutions, 2003) where one reviewer wrote they came out of the cinema as though they “had just come out of an exam for which [they] hadn’t revised.”

I don’t consider myself unintelligent, but I found I was able (albeit whilst steering through some of the pretentious biblical allegories and slightly warped philosophy) to make good sense out of the plot and the final resolution of the film.

I didn’t understand any of The City in the Sky.

Not a single minute.

There is a good reason for this however; this film typifies the ‘style over substance’ moniker as one iTunes reviewer put it.

This film thinks it is a sermon on the impact of greed and industrialisation.

It isn’t.

Again referring back to last weeks review I stated ‘Short films are special because they are not restricted to the conventional ‘purpose’ of a feature film, i.e. telling some sort of story. Short films can be short-stories, but more often they are ‘snapshots’, a question without an answer, a brief glimpse through the looking glass.’

Ok – let’s take a look then:

1)      Does this film tell a story? – No – Ok, that’s fine.

2)      Could it be called a ‘snapshot’ – Well, yes in the sense that it captures a picture of a particular environment and some characters – but nothing more; Marrying God could be considered a ‘snapshot’ of Catholicism, the difficulties of adolescence, the bond of sisterly-love. The City in the Sky is a ‘snapshot’ of ‘a setting’ and ‘some characters’ – there is no depth, no theme with which a viewer could classify the film as ‘a snapshot of x.’

3)      Is it a question without an answer – Yes and no; it offers many, many questions (principally ‘how the hell did they ever get the funding to make this?’) but almost defies the viewer to deduce an answer.

‘Well,’ you might say, ‘Luis Bunuel made some resounding cinematic material based on the very principle of stringing together some imagery,’ by challenging the viewer – “Ha! Make sense of that if you can!!” True. But this is not intellectual surrealism – this is not ‘pushing-the-boundaries neo-surrealism.’ It is someone trying to make a profound statement, which through saturation of arty imagery and mock-epic dialogue becomes merely a pretentious puddle of hollow atmosphere and vainglorious substance.

It’s just…boring.

Ok – synopsis – (as taken from; – If you want to you can view scenes from the film here.

At the end of the 21st century, cities have fallen into ruin, the air is toxic and the sun is obscured by pollution. Quinto is on the run from his malevolent master and seeking sanctuary in the fabled City in the Sky. Ai, a malfunctioning sex-worker android, awaits deactivation locked in a squalid hotel managed by Dora, a sadistic and abusive transsexual and Nino, her drug-addled son. Through an error at check-in at the hotel, Quinto meets Ai and they forge a relationship that unfolds in an unexpected way.

Sound intriguing? I agree. Unfortunately what I watched bore no resemblance to the above synopsis – Let me give a quick summary of the film which actually plays out before your eyes;

“A man with a bandage over one eye has taken a huge bag filled with money (we’re not told why). He tells a man in a gas-mask via a screen that he’ll get it back to him before the screen has a bullet blasted through it and the gas-mask man sends some white butterflies to ‘find him’ (that’s right – butterflies.) The horrific world in which this film is set is so polluted that everyone has to wear a gas mask – but miraculously there are still dozens of beautiful white butterflies to add some nice visual contrast; pure white butterfly/thick, dark smog – textbook metaphor. Its remarkably convenient really that the although the atmosphere is choked with the most toxic of gases, these fragile and dainty holometabolous little insects are able to quite merrily flutter their way around.

Man-with-bandage then makes his way to a brothel run by a bearded lady (or a man in a wig – couldn’t work out which) where the prostitute is actually a robot.

Man-with-wig is happy that the man-with-bandage has lots of money and so leaves him alone with the robo-hooker.

Unfortunately gas-mask-man finds man-with-wig’s son (who is surrounded with items which Tom Baker deemed ‘too ridiculous and out-of-date’ to be used on the set of Dr Who in the late 70’s). Gas-mask man then kills druggie son and appears to kill man-with-wig as well.

Meanwhile, man-with-bandage and robo-slut engage in a series of gut-wrenchingly faux-prophetic conversations about ‘the city in the sky’ (where you just know everything will be just fine. [sighs]) Man-with-bandage wants to get away so he can be happy – ‘what is happy?’ asks the whoredroid – (you see – she doesn’t know because she is a merely a ‘product’; a machine of this dystopian future that the director is trying to warn us we are all inevitably heading towards with our technological innovation, systematic destruction of nature and evil love-affair with capitalism and all things devout of feeling and emotion.) The subtitle ‘THIS IS WHERE WE’RE HEADED YOU HEARTLESS, CORPORATE-BRAINWASHED i-BASTARDS’ doesn’t actually appear but the inference is there.

And then – man-with-gas-mask finds man-with-bandage and shoots him, only to unmask himself and reveal that he also is man-with-bandage, just erm, without a bandage. (HE’S JUST A CLONE! A HEARTLESS CLONE!!!)

In a breath-inducing finale, man-with-wig turns out not to be fatally injured, and kills man-now-without-mask, before dying.

The film ends with the slut-atron laying man-with-bandage in a bath full of the stolen money (because ‘money = happiness in this cruel post-apocalyptic world, you see.) Clever, eh?

So we are left with the realisation, the epiphany that………um…well, butterflies are hardier than clones and men with wigs?

And so we come to the biggest problem of all with this film; it is trying desperately to make a profound message which falls wonderfully flat on its face through its own deluded sense of grandeur and cultural resonance.

The ideas are there – and are themselves quite interesting; we may well be headed for a dystopian future as a result of our meddling with such things as cloning and other technology. However, director Crimini has become so enticed and in love with what has been written that he has turned preacher. You almost expect the film to come with a free leaflet on how to produce less carbon emissions and a brochure for a Toyota Prius.

The film makes the fatal error of falling in love with itself and taking itself far more seriously than it should ever be.

Funnily enough, I think it could have been righted beautifully with a simple  guest appearance by Terry Gilliam on the movie’s poster;

Underneath the tagline ‘Only at dawn can you find hope,’ Gilliam could interject “It’s only a movie…..”

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