Still from Il Capo

The Short Films of Yuri Ancarani

The following is an excerpt from curator Ali Subotnick's essay on Hammer Projects: Yuri Ancarani. Read the full essay here.

In the Italian filmmaker Yuri Ancarani’s trilogy of short films titled La malattia del ferro (The disease of iron; 2010–12), viewers are ushered into the hidden worlds of three very distinct and extremely specialized occupations: marble miners, scuba divers, and surgeons. The title refers to a syndrome something like cabin fever, in which workers who have spent a lot of time at sea have trouble adjusting to life on dry land. The laborers in each of these films appear to be completely removed from ordinary life. They are everyday heroes, alone together, just the workers and the machines that they rely on to do their work. Each of the films in the trilogy demonstrates the interdependent relationship between man and machine in a subtle yet compelling manner. Il Capo (2010) captures miners working with industrial digging machines or excavators under the supervision of the foreman (il capo) in a spectacular marble quarry in Carrara, Italy. In Piattaforma Luna (2011), we voyeuristically observe the private routines of six scuba divers inside a submersible whose job extracting natural gas involves a lot of question and answer, command and response, between the divers on board and those manning the controls. Da Vinci (2012) delves deep inside the body during several laparoscopic oncological procedures, which are performed by surgeons operating the Da Vinci surgical robot. Each of the exquisitely directed, shot, and composed films exposes a largely unfamiliar type of labor. The films are focused, methodical, and quite simple in terms of action, but the strange beauty entrances, regardless of our interest in the subjects. 

Still from Il Capo
Yuri Ancarani, 
Still from Il Capo, 
2010

We are first introduced to the machine in each film through audio. Il Capo opens with a loud noise, like a garbage truck compacting trash followed by a jackhammer. We are confronted with a massive white marble wall and a gigantic excavator claw slowly stretching over the peak and latching onto the top to extract half the wall under the direction of the foreman, who moves back (seen in slow motion) as a chunk of the wall gently falls away and marble dust fills the air, meeting the dense fog. Piattaforma Luna begins with muffled machinery noises, which gradually build to a hum. Da Vinci opens with a view inside a patient’s body; there are slow, subtle movements and stifled noises, as if it were being recorded underwater, and we see an organ slowly lifting and expanding. The sound track of each film guides the action, leading us into the quarry with the hulking excavator machines, under the sea in the submersible, and inside the human body.

Each film focuses on one or two figures and their precise, at times almost tedious, actions and movements. In Il Capo, the tanned, shirtless foreman directs his crew wordlessly, using a series of lyrical hand gestures similar to those of an air traffic controller or a symphony conductor. A series of close-ups reveal his hairy chest, a gold crucifix around his neck, and his deeply wrinkled face. Slowed down, his motions become almost balletic. Following the chain of command from the foreman to the crew members operating hulking machines amid grand scenery, we are reminded of how small we are.

Continue reading this essay here.

Still from Da Vinci
Yuri Ancarani, 
Still from Da Vinci, 
2012
Still from Piattaforma Luna
Yuri Ancarani, 
Still from Piattaforma Luna, 
2011

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Tags: Hammer Projects, Yuri Ancarani, Ali Subotnick