A Brief Review and Commentary on
Matteo Troncone’s documentary,
“Arrangiarsi – Pizza and the Art of Living”
by John Bennison, Mountain Shadow Director
But then I began to feel so low,
Didn’t have no money, no place to go.
It’s mighty clear, without a doubt,
Nobody knows you when you’re down and out.
Blues song by Jimmie Cox,1923
Anything you can do or dream, you can begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. – Goethe
Everybody knows the maxims: You can’t fall off the floor. Or, sometimes there’s nowhere to go but up. And, when life gives you lemons, …. etc. The Italians have ‘arrangiarsi,’ meaning ‘barely making it,’ or ‘making do with whatever you’ve got’ (literally, the ‘art of arranging oneself’).
One of life’s greatest ironies is that when you’ve got very little, you’re fortunate you’ve got little to lose. It can be an unwelcome gift; using what little you’ve got to put something back together again and resurrect one’s life. But with a little creativity, it can indeed even be elevated to an art form; as in the case of Matteo Troncone’s first such attempt at great filmmaking with his creation, “Arrangiarsi – Pizza … and the Art of Living.”
The filmmaker’s journey towards self discovery and a life worth living begins where it often does; in a state of dis-possession. “I wasn’t homeless,” Matteo realizes at one point, “I was home free.” With fresh eyes to see it, his old, muddy brown VW camper that served as his rickety home on wheels for five years became a mythic bison, symbolizing longevity and abundance. Now, about the film:
Whether it opens with the familiar disclaimer or not, every good film is based on a true story; meaning it is authentic, credible and deeply human. As such, good documentary films are essentially nothing but true stories. And, in this sense, Troncone spins an honest and revealing tale that is unabashedly self-revelatory; along with a travelogue sure to make any real foodies salivate, and a deeper message that’s far more entertaining than any philosophical treatise.
As shown in the film that Mountain Shadow screened last Spring about “Jeremiah Tower: the Last Magniicent,” great food can be a true art form, using the simplest ingredients. In the case of tonight’s film, ‘cucina povera’ (which translates as ‘poor cooking’) is often used to describe Southern Italian food. And there’s no better expression of the ‘l’arte di arrangiarsi’ than Neapolitan pizza.
Just as authentic champagne can only come from a French province by the same name, true Neapolitan pizza can only come from Napoli. We learn that in Italy, governmental regulations actually dictate the way it is made to safeguard strict guidelines. The result: “You have never eaten pizza before in your entire life,” claims the filmmaker, “until you’ve eaten it in Naples.”
As a travelogue, this film captures the color and volcanic energy of Naples, it’s lively inhabitants and the surrounding countryside. But there’s more. Looking for direction, an exasperated taxi driver provides more than the autobiographical filmmaker requested. “Get a life,” she yells, “get a life!”
But not just any kind of life will do. It must be one that can grasp both the vitality and frivolity with which his ancient homeland seems to continually and spontaneously erupt in the shadow of a sleeping Vesuvius.
Historically speaking, following Garibaldi’s reunification of the country in 1861, southern Italy experienced the typical economic forces that sound all too familiar: the loss of industrial capacity, resulting in crumbling infrastructure, followed by the emergence of immigration, marginalization and poverty. Out of necessity arose a certain kind of arrangiarsi; void of any bitterness, but like it’s pizza, full of the best and freshest ingredients for life.
Without giving it away, Troncone concludes his film with an arrivederci you’ll see and hear that’s both a eulogy and the simplest recipe for what ultimately endures and lasts forever.
“Naples is a song,” says one of it’s citizens, “and the song is beautiful.”
“And when I see eyes full of melancholy on the street,
there’s someone who says, “what can we do for this?”
So what does Naples give you?
You learn the art of arranging (arrangiari).
Clap your hands together.”