The bonfire

Why does a bunch of kids of the Spanish Quarters go around Naples, after New Year’s, searching for Christmas trees to drag them into a hiding place? And why do these trees have to be guarded from the incursions of other gangs coming from the near quarters? [synopsis]

A group of kids, from six to eight years old, walk around the streets of Naples. Whenever they can, or when they’ve been kindly allowed to, they grab the abandoned Christmas trees and drag them around the streets, arousing people’s curiosity, and being threatened by other gangs’ kids that want those trees for themselves. The destination of this tiring peregrination is an old dismantled building situated in the Spanish Quarters, where the trees – some still leafy, others wrecked – are then gathered and monitored with care and concern by the boys.

This is how Il segreto (the secret) starts, a documentary presented by cyop&kaf – who have been working in the Spanish Quarters for years, turning it into an open-air gallery – in the competion Italiana doc of the thirty-first edition of the Torino Film Festival, with a conspicuous presence of the young characters in the theatre. Cyop&kaf  made an appropriate decision choosing not to reveal the motivations behind the actions of the kids, leaving the audience unaware of a phenomenon that assumes a ritual appearance, leading the whole narrative structure in a dreamy, hypnotic dimension. The reiteration of the gestures – most part of the film shows the search for new trees and the fights for their protection – becomes, in cyop&kaf’s hands, an essential picklock that unhinges the edges of space and time of the classic documentary.

Even at the end, when the actions – related to the bonfire “cippo” of Saint Anthony (on the 17th of January several bonfires take place using the Christmas trees for the wood, then for other two months the kids of the quarters continue the search for wood) – become clear, the matter doesn’t change at all. Because Il segreto is not, as it may seem, the anthropological analysis of a tradition that is carried on beyond its meaning, but it is the freeze-frame of  the desire of re-possession of the physical space, which is inevitably also a political space. The act of using an old demolished building as a hiding place to protect their own trees/treasures, includes the need of these gangs to live actively their quarters, to take part in the city’s dynamics, but never in a subordinated way.

In order to shoot it all, it was necessary to focus the eye on a microcosm entirely composed by kids – adults are present in the film just as an element of contrast with them, never as a part of their universe – and this increases the value of the film, that inevitably entails strong aesthetic choices: the empathy between Checco Lecco’s gang and cyop&kaf is so strong that the video camera seems to operate as a part of the gang, as it’s shown by some scenes shooted on a scooter.

Choices that may rise some doubts about the aesthetics or the ethics of these scenes, but at the same time that highlight the participant spirit of a realistic shot that never aspires to look from on high, judging, but that moves around the tentacular streets of the city with its characters, and that’s an other fact that suddenly becomes political. A role played with awareness, as the archive footage shows during the credits, that idealistically extends to infinity the space-time dimension of a documentary that is little, but precious, and that doesn’t necessarily build any imaginary thought, but neither bends to the decayed side of reality. (raffaele meale)