D’amore si vive (We Live of Love)

Silvano Agosti

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Unreformable: Week #1 D’amore si vive (We Live of Love)
Silvano Agosti

93 Minutes

Artist Cinemas

Streaming till November 30

In this documentary composed of interviews and initially produced for television as a nine-hour series, director Silvano Agosti interrogates his subjects about love from behind the camera, often depicting those socially denied eroticism and sexuality, such as children. Reminiscent of Pasolini’s Comizi d’amore (Love Meetings) yet more visceral, Agosti’s film is both empathic and voyeuristic.

The film is presented alongside an interview with the filmmaker conducted by Adelita Husni Bey.

D’amore si vive is the first installment of Unreformable, an online program of films and accompanying texts convened by Adelita Husni Bey as the eighth cycle of Artist Cinemas, a long-term, online series of film programs curated by artists for e-flux Video & Film.

Unreformable runs in six weekly episodes from October 18 through November 28, 2021, streaming a new film each week accompanied by a commissioned interview or response published in text form.

Silvano Agosti in conversation with Adelita Husni Bey

Adelita Husni Bey (AHB):
The concepts that link the films I have chosen for this series, including D’amore si vive, rest on two interconnected ideas. One is the question of abolition, both in the sense of the abolition of the nuclear family, which is often a subtext in your films, and the other is resisting being reformed, perhaps via an alternative pedagogy or collective social formation that explodes the very idea of the family you critique. Connected to this is the notion of clandestinity, of being marginal—which you experienced, and often claim as your own.

Silvano Agosti (SA):
If the stars are clandestine, it is only right that I am clandestine too. By describing the stars as clandestine, I refer to their distance: It is not that they are hidden. I, too, am very far from this society. But isn’t it best to stay away from swamps, abysses, quicksand? Therefore, I am a bearer of distance but not of absence. And I am proud of this distance.

And what about pedagogy?

I would leave human beings alone. In the sense that if someone asked me how I would raise a child, I would suggest that from ages six to eighteen they should go to the park every day. Just to play. And it is through play, through cultural contamination, that they would develop. All of this happens in a particular kind of park—not in the deserted parks of this city [Rome] where every park is deserted during the week. My parks are overflowing with six-year-olds, seven-year-olds, eight-year-olds, and so on. These groups of young children, of all ages, confront each other, so that even if nothing is being taught, something profound happens; that is, the child encounters themselves in all the other children—in a way, they are meeting their own self in the future. So, in this sense, I argue that if all children were to play in the park from six to eighteen years of age, without studying in any book or, better said, in additon to books, they would know everything they need to know.

I personally derive this certainty from the fact that, until I was sixteen, I did not attend school. Not because my parents were wise, but because the Americans had destroyed all our churches and schools. And there I was, saved from having to go to school. Schools are super-calculated power tools. Not only are they designed to convince you that you do not know something, but also to convince you that it is okay not to know anything at all.

In this sense, as an alternative to institutionalised education, from a clandestine and unreformed position, can a film be pedagogical?

I am convinced that if a film were strictly pedagogical it would not be cinema. But I also believe that every masterpiece is necessarily pedagogical. So, if a work of art is so-to-speak a masterpiece, it is also intrinsically pedagogical.

Let’s discuss the systematic censorship of your films, which led you to choosing a clandestine position. When D’amore si vive was screened in Parma in 1984, it caused a scandal. How were your films received when they tackled questions such as the abolition of marriage?

Tanks showed up for the premiere of my first film [Il giardino delle delizie or Garden of Delights, 1967]. When women watch that film, I believe they would necessarily question the idea of marriage. The film works for this reason: It displays marriage for what it is, a scam and a perfect machine designed to destroy women. Because women are the only energy in the entire cosmos capable of dissolving and disintegrating any power—since power is built into their selfhood. They have the truly divine task, if one can finally give meaning to the word, which is to extend and prolong life. A hefty assignment!

It reminds me of the first scene of D’amore si vive, where a woman breastfeeds her baby and is microphoned in such a way as to foreground the intense sound of the baby suckling and breathing. That sound affirms the meaning of life, that is, of its unfolding. You told me about Garden of Delights but not about the release of D’amore si vive. What happened on that occasion?

I screened D’amore si vive at Teatro Regio in Parma, which is the shrine of official culture. And when I left the theater I was met by the DIGOS [the General Investigations and Special Operations Division of the Italian police]. A gentleman from the police force told me, “Mr. Agosti, your film is under arrest.” I offered him a DVD of the film and I told him, “Well, if it has to be kidnapped, kidnap it.” “We are not allowed. You must hand it over to us.”

Curiously and fortunately, the judge had seen the film twice in theaters and considered it to be an important film. I always operate from within a kind of catalyst that some people, in bad faith, refer to as “provocation,” but that I prefer to define as “stimulation.”

I’ve been thinking of the bourgeoisie’s rise and its de-eroticizing function. One of the most powerful parts of D’amore si vive is, for me, Frank’s interview. A child speaks disarmingly and candidly about experiencing orgasms, masturbation, and the centrality of love as an act. We, as spectators, have been robbed of the tools to digest Frank’s words.

Somebody said that if I were to make this movie today, I would be arrested. Because moralism always regains traction. Never before has this fake sacredness of the child been so central, despite the fact that we are very willing to violate a child by removing them from the park and sticking them behind a school desk six hours a day so that they may unlearn their ways.

In relation to this point, there is also something else you’ve mentioned in other interviews that has struck me, about how “roles are coffins within which life is enclosed.”

People are buried inside the roles that define them. We could be kinder and call these roles prisons, tiny spaces in which human beings are locked up. “Hello, I am a doctor,” “My pleasure, I am an engineer”—an infamous degradation that goes unnoticed, because the degraded man is a man well accepted by the degrading power. Those who have done their job well, working eight hours a day when they only live once in all eternity… And they are even grateful and say “Thank you for stealing eight or ten hours of my life each day to give me a chance to eat and dress. Thank you!”

This is what you have called the blackmail of work—you have often claimed to work at most three hours a day.

I said three hours so as not to be lambasted, but really I work one hour a day. Three hours is an eternity! A happy and free person produces much more than a normal worker.

How do you push against what you describe, if I understand correctly, as a system based on constant scarcity and negation?

We first spoke of the stars, de sidere [in Latin], that is, “from the stars” which also translates as “desire.” If you lose your desire, you have lost everything. I live by the immense wealth of knowing that permanent serenity has no cost. A bizarre idea, I know. Early in life, I immediately theorized that money has nothing to do with movies and love. I even wrote a manual, How to produce and direct any film regardless of how much money you have, or rather, without spending a single euro, and this pamphlet made the industry furious. [Come fare un film: Come produrre e realizzare qualsiasi film indipendentemente dal denaro o, per capirci meglio, senza spendere neppure un solo Euro, 2005]

I would like to address the issue of abolition again beyond the attack on the nuclear family portrayed in D’amore si vive. I have in mind your film Matti da slegare (Fit to Be Untied, 1976) and its contribution to the outlawing of asylums in Italy, as well as your work with Franco Basaglia [the author of the legislative proposal in 1978 which became known as the Basaglia Law] and the abolition of these exploitative pseudo-prisons for the mentally ill.

I was a very good friend of Basaglia’s, he used to come here [to my home] to have lunch. In order to punish him, the hospital administration would always pay his salary late. Basaglia had been theorizing the elimination of asylums for some time, but his biggest obstacle remained that entire villages, neighborhoods, cities, made their living from these asylums! There were those who worked in the canteens and those who worked as guards, and eliminating the asylums meant that all these people no longer had ways to support themselves.

I heard him [Basaglia] telling some doctors: “Take off your coats, people must understand who the doctors are from how they behave, not from their uniform.” This is his true greatness, beyond having theorized the outlawing of these places of torture, asylums, as demonstrated in my film Matti da slegare. It wasn’t “antipsychiatry” per se. He used to say, “People necessarily become what is called crazy,” in the sense that people who have nothing, who are surplus, are forced either to commodify themselves or become “insane.”

There is another extraordinary character from that period that I am currently portraying in a film, Mario Tommasini, the commissioner of Parma. Tommasini began to transfer all the inhabitants of the Colorno asylum into normal apartments, two or three people per apartment, and by doing so all the asylum doors finally shut. He met Basaglia and thus the Basaglia Law was born, making Italy the only country in the world where asylums are outlawed. It is true that nowadays private clinics sometimes sell this kind of torture for a fee, but it is one thing to buy it, and one thing to suffer under its subjection your entire life.

The same mechanism you described for the former Italian asylums is being implemented today in the United States. The US is famously the country with the highest number of incarcerated people per capita in the world. In her book Golden Gulag (2007), American theorist Ruth Wilson Gilmore describes a similar process namely the establishment of private prisons in economically depressed states and villages, whereby the prison sucks up the surplus of unemployed workers adjacent to it. So you may find an inmate guarded by a family member, or fed by a cousin who serves prison slop in exchange for a salary. All this creates a system of economic dependence on these kinds of mega prisons, that allow for depressed cities to function, and are therefore accepted and defended despite the pro-abolitionist movements that have grown dramatically in recent years.

Let’s move to the Azzurro Scipioni, the cinema you have created and managed here in Rome for forty years. The pandemic has forced multiple cinemas in the city to close and even your cinema was threatened with closure—so much so that you organized a ceremony and a secular funeral in its honor.

I myself have risked elimination my whole life, as has the Azzurro Scipioni. The Azzuro Scipioni’s fatal flaw is that it is exemplary: It hosts only masterpieces, and offers spectators an escape from the scam of industrial cinema that dominates theaters. But not going to commercial theaters is actually a form of privilege, as only the ruins of cinema can be found there. That rubble contains a kind of visual drugs, two or three tablespoons to distract people from their mutual curses. There is no cinema in those theaters. As Vladimir Mayakovsky said: “Cinema is an athlete. Cinema is the bearer of ideas. Cinema modernizes literature but cinema is sick. The industry threw a handful of gold coins in its eyes, skilled entrepreneurs with tearful or violent stories deceive people.” And this has been going on since 1895. Yes, nowadays commercial theaters deceive people shamelessly.

To conclude, the last question is the same question you pose to the interviewees in D’amore si vive: What can you tell me about tenderness?

As I’ve written, tenderness cannot be examined in itself but only in relation to something else. Tenderness without sensuality and love produces hypocrisy. Sensuality without tenderness and love produces pornography. And love without sensuality and tenderness produces mysticism, or a wrong use of religion. Together they form a kind of trinity: Instead of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you have Tenderness, Sensuality, and Eros/Love.

Silvano Agosti (Brescia, 1938) is a human being, film author, and writer. He graduated from the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome, where he would later teach editing. In Moscow, he became specialized in the work of Eisenstein. After working with Marco Bellocchio in I pugni in tasca (1967), he released the feature film Il giardino della delizie (1971). His filmography, little-known and censored in Italy, represents the cinema of the 1970s, which arises from a political commitment that extends to all aspects of film production. For more than three decades, he has managed the Azurro Scipioni cinema in Rome, a reference for independent and auteur cinema (currently undergoing restructuring after temporary closure during the pandemic). Among his films are N.P. il segreto (1972), Matti da slegare (1976), Quartiere (1991), L’uomo proiettile (2000), and La seconda ombra (2002). During the 1980s, he began to dabble in literature, with novels such as L’uomo proiettile, Uova de garofono, La ragione pura, Lettere dalla Kisghisia, and Il ballo degli invisibili, among others. He lives, plays, and works in Rome.

Adelita Husni Bey is an artist and pedagogue invested in anarcho-collectivism, theater, and critical legal studies. She organizes workshops and produces publications, broadcasts, and exhibition work using non-competitive pedagogical models through the framework of contemporary art. Involving activists, architects, jurists, schoolchildren, spoken-word poets, actors, urbanists, physical therapists, students, and teachers, her work consists of making sites in which to practice collectively. Her work was part of the Italian pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale, Venice, 2017, and her most recent solo exhibition was Maktspill, Kunsthall Bergen, 2020. She has participated in Trainings for the Not Yet, BAK, Utrecht, 2020, Being: New Photography 2018, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2018; Dreamlands, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2016; The Eighth Climate, 11th Gwangju Biennale, 2015; Really Useful Knowledge, Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid, 2014. She is a 2020-2022 Vera List Center Fellow with a project centered on the radical changes in social relations brought about by responses to past and current pandemics.

For more information, contact program [​at​] e-flux.com.

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