Raffaello Fusaro, Un ponte del nostro tempo (A bridge of our times)

Raffaello Fusaro has made a documentary film dedicated to one of Italy’s greatest tragedies and the rebuilding of the San Giorgio bridge in Genoa

by Francesca Portoghese – photo by Francesca Zaccaria

THE EYES BEHIND THE CINEMA CAMERA WATCH, SEE AND FIND, LISTEN AND HEAR, imagine and anticipate: the film is imbued with life and the story, whichever it is, manages the emotions and introduces them in a parallel world that opens up a common access point, without vetoes or restrictions.

This is what happens with Raffaello Fusaro, a young author and film director from Puglia who, compelled by necessity, offers his audience a sensibility that corresponds with what he wants or can describe, seeing himself authorised and driven to talk about the world and to subject it to a magnifying glass that doesn’t miss any aspects and focuses its attention even on the smallest details.

I interviewed him on a sunny day that was perhaps at odds with our subject matter: UN PONTE DEL NOSTRO TEMPO (A Bridge of Our Time), a film about one of the greatest tragedies in Italian history. Nevertheless what Fusaro has to say of the choice to tell the story of what happened in Genoa that 14th August of 2018 doesn’t leave you lost in a feeling of the bitterness, albeit unavoidable, that surrounds an unfortunate reality and a warning about an anachronistic occurrence for which there can be no justification, and which leaves no space for questions that could be even vaguely plausible. Both words pride and grief, in the phrase coined by Renzo Piano, the world-famous architect who decided to lend his talent to one of the most significant reconstruction projects ever undertaken in modern Italy, are combined in the film and express the vision of a director and author, and imbue the screenplay and the entire work that has involved names like Fincantieri and Salini Impregilo, as well as over a thousand workers who felt themselves to be Genovese even before being Italian. A bit like all of us, helpless onlookers of the unacceptable collapse not just of a bridge, which – as Renzo Piano said – doesn’t have the right to fall, but also of the uneasy certainty of protection which we should always be confident in having.

Synopsis

Come rain or shine, at night and throughout the pandemic, work didn’t stop to produce a bridge in Genoa that will take its place in history. With a mixture of grief and pride, in twelve months over a thousand people, from north and south, worked with their hands and minds. A cinematographic story of a surprising human building site, the feelings and the span of construction are more of an idea than a building. The bridge brings you together and challenges the gravity that brings you down. A great white ship takes shape from the vision of Renzo Piano in the steel forged in the Fincantieri facilities. It was a project done by people. Not one person, but many, have contributed to putting up the bridge and the dream of launching it between the wind and the sky.

Fusaro talks with the friendly smile of someone with a vision that becomes the knowing guardian of enormous responsibility, that of telling the truth, without pretending it to be an official call for justice, with the full respect for grief that is collective but also extremely private and that, as such, should be protected. Listening to him narrating the film, together with the score from the musician Danilo Rea, we realise the extent to which Un Ponte del Nostro Tempo is a respectful tribute to the forty-three victims and together with that the strong statement of how their stories cannot dustily end up in a crate of common amnesia and that the lights of the Italian flag, which in the evening light up the elliptical supports of the new bridge, should be the symbol of an Italy which has understood that it can no longer tear itself apart.

The new bridge has been built with great attention to environmental issues. Its impact is reduced by the photovoltaic panels that considerably reduce its energy consumption.

Looking to the future

The whole world was surprised and marveled at the fact that in Italy something which normally takes years and years was achieved in such a short time. At our sites, we have workers and technicians from all over the world who do important, and sometimes risky work, together and in peace. That brings the bridge still closer to the idea of a ship, and that is why when each of the pieces of the steel deck (made and transported to and from our facilities at Valeggio sul Mincio, Castellammare di Stabia and Sestri Ponente) were lifted into the bridge site we talked about a “launch”. And then comes the ability to mobilise so many resources, both in house and externally: Renzo Piano, who is an internationally-renowned architect, and then we added Fincantieri, who is known around the world, and then naturally Salini Impregilo… we got the very best Italian companies to work on every part that needed doing. How we suffered when, alone, we felt we had to restructure the company in the past because there wasn’t enough work but we kept all of the worksites going and all of the skill sets and today we haven’t just brought those people back, but we have almost doubled the numbers! All that has led to this sense of belonging that I have gradually become aware of. I have also taken action with everybody in the firm to explain that I want to hear the company bubbling over like a saucepan, with everybody having to do their part, and that they should complain if they see that things weren’t going right. So here too we are having a kind of cultural revolution.
Giuseppe Bono

Giuseppe Bono

You are a very young writer, screenwriter, and actor. How do you feel being behind a film camera?
I try to interpret the world that I see: it is the thing that most fascinates me and each time, according to the stage of life I am at, I manage to state my feelings in ways that are always different. Getting behind a film camera was the evolution of rational reasoning, which appeared in my life after trials and experimentation. An author is somebody who tries to give the world something that grows, the sender of something that seeks to arrive in the world. Interpret, understand and transfer my emotions to others, that’s what I want to do.

You did nearly all of the narration. What are the reasons behind your decision?
A lot of authors and documentary producers do that, especially foreigners, and Italian film-making has always given us the unequaled off-camera voice of the films of Nanni Moretti who, with his broken timbre, is characterized by his typical hoarseness, and is far from unpleasant. I believe that was what influenced me. Because when the voice feels an attachment to what you are describing and what you feel, it can never deceive. As the Argentine poet Ernesto Sabato says, life is something that we write in a draft copy. That is a truth that I like.

Why did you choose to tell the story of one of Italy’s greatest tragedies?
There are two strands to my work: one that is an official denunciation and the other is one followed by people who are trying to promote something. I have decided to follow the latter one and to announce something, and this time I have done it with a film that is not based on tragedy, but which starts from that and which shows a real chance of rising up from it. It is a story that Italians deserve to hear about. Between the tears and the energy for starting again, between disenchantment and the joy of seeing something growing, I have sought to tell the story of what could be considered a miracle. The miracle of a reconstruction that was very quick and didn’t have any accidents, which was challenged by a pandemic, and had to deal with a flood. Courage, strength, and redemption are the feelings that have been put into motion. And I immediately think of the earthquakes at L’Aquila or Amatrice and I hope that the San Giorgio Bridge in Genoa becomes a concrete example for the reconstruction that is also needed in central Italy so that we don’t find ourselves with a first division country and a second division one.

Renzo Piano

Renzo Piano says that building a bridge is an act of peace. Why did you want to make this documentary?
I was struck by the building of such a large bridge. What I had in my eyes was the enthusiasm of a child who sees a lot of giant pieces of Lego that are put together. I have seen nearly all of the stages of the construction process: the pieces were put together in various Italian facilities and were then taken by land and sea across Italy. While we were exhausted by the weakness of an unexpected lockdown, a construction site with a thousand people was working to overcome that gigantic tragedy.

Which feeling, more than any other, has accompanied you during the shooting?
A feeling of great privilege. The symbolism of a bridge reflects the possibility of getting to the other part of the shore, which in this case is that of the immense pain, something that deserves all of our respect. The bridge is a very complex metaphor: nowadays it is easier to put up walls than join together seas. I felt as if I was an instrument to tell the story, with my amazement, of what I had seen.

The bridge in numbers

1,067 meters long
19 spans: three of 100 meters, one of 40.9 meters, one of 26.27 meters, and fourteen of 50 meters
9,000 tonnes of steel for reinforcement
17,000 tonnes of steel used for structural steelwork
88 steel segments
50 outsized special deliveries
3 Fincantieri facilities involved in creating the steel parts: Castellammare di Stabia, Sestri Ponente, and Valeggio sul Mincio. 

Your story is accompanied by a consuming romanticism. How is that possible?
The music was fundamental, and Danilo Rea – to whom I am enormously grateful – accepted the challenge with great courage. Rea played the piano in the Radura della Memoria (memorial area), the place which is dedicated to the victims of the collapse which was designed by Stefano Boeri Architetti, Petra Blaisse, and Luca Vitone’s Inside Outside, and with the participation of Studio Laura Gatti. He recorded live, and indeed every so often there are interruptions from the sound of the construction and site workers. Through the impressions we managed to share, he went through every stage of this story in music: from the tragedy to the pain, from the days of non-stop rain to the effort of the workers, from the solitude of deserted Genoa and the site work that never stopped. He is definitely the key to understand what moves inside all of us.

Renzo Piano says that the one in Genoa was the most beautiful construction site he has ever worked on. What was the set like for you?
On this site, I had the confirmation that Italian ingenuity, with a unanimity that is all its own, is unique in the world. Everybody worked on rebuilding the bridge, starting from the great Italian shipbuilding industry, which can forge pieces that took their inspiration from ships but which had to become a bridge. Renzo Piano, a great architect with a renaissance feel but with his eyes on the future, created the project with enormous respect for his city: it is a work that will last forever. I have seen people who arrived from every part of the country to work in the shipyards at Castellammare di Stabia, Sestri, and Valeggio sul Mincio, and who worked because of a tragedy that was far distant from their own homes. This collective spirit made me really emotional.

And what about your meeting with Renzo Piano?
Once again, a feeling of privilege. Renzo Piano is a man with a huge spirit and immense generosity. Every day I work hard to be fortunate enough to meet great people. In him, I found a very natural ability to communicate and to make himself understood, especially by young people. In the film, I also interviewed Giuseppe Bono, the CEO of Fincantieri, and Marcello Sorrentino, the CEO of Fincantieri Infrastructure, as well as a lot of workers. All of them have played a role in creating the “white ship that crosses the valley’.

The roadway is 45 meters high. The bridge is supported by eighteen piers at a constant gap of fifty meters, except for the three central piers which, since they cross the Polcevera stream and the railway, are 100 meters apart.

You believe that beauty is a constant that can be found in completely different forms. How do you look for it, and how do you find it?
I look for it with enthusiasm for what I do. Mine is a creative job, but it is also a titanic enterprise, especially when I come up against a sloppiness that a lot of people, often without meaning to, reserve for culture. But you shouldn’t let yourself get too down because of the risk of falling into a desert-like situation. It is important to detach yourself from the constant chatter of social media that nowadays bashes out content at a timeless speed that distances itself, in a country like Italy, from a thought that could have flown high. The widespread conviction of being able to express yourself without restriction upon everything has to restrict enthusiasm to become the sword and shield with which to protect oneself to get close to beauty, distancing oneself from a world that has lost a feeling of taste and reconquering the capacity to savour existence, with the discernment that means you understand that not everything is allowed.

(Raffaello Fusaro, Un ponte del nostro tempo (A bridge of our times – Barchemagazine.com – September 2021)