Gennaro Righelli

Sog: Maria Jacobini, Adriano Piacitelli. Scen.: Gennaro Righelli. F.: Tullio Chiarini. Int.: Maria Jacobini (Cainà), Carlo Benetti (Pietro), Ida Carloni Talli (la madre), Eugenio Duse. Prod.: Fert Film. 35mm. L.: 1282 m (l. or.: 1295 m). 18 f/s. Bn

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

Who is Cainà? “Degenerate”, is the name her own mother gives her. “Witch”, the village elders call her. Is she someone who “asked for it”? Or is she yet another free spirit destined to find herself crushed by a society that feeds on its own stagnation?
There are two strategies for breaking the impasse: rebelling at home or running away. Cainà chooses the latter. Or perhaps, rather than a choice, it’s an urge. “Her desire belongs only to the sea and unknown lands,” explains a caption. The island is stifling her. Instead, her head is filled with the tales of sailors sitting around the fire whom she secretly listens to. Cainà, more than a daughter of Iorio from D’Annunzio’s story, perhaps more than a heroine in the style of Grazia Deledda, seems an illiterate Bovary. She stows away on a sailing ship, to make her escape. The distance isn’t so great, but even in a short stretch of sea the waves can get rough. And Righelli is a spectacular seascape director. What is Cainà looking for by escaping? A glimpse of happiness? It isn’t clear to us, and maybe not to her either.
And amid the many merits of this dense, tense, compact, desperate and sometimes incomprehensible work, there’s Sardinia. In our many years of research dedicated to the Italian landscape in the early years of the 20th century, the absence of cinematographic images of Sardinia has been notable. Cainà is the film that comes closest to those long-lost images ‘dal vero’ (‘real life’). Sardinia is portrayed in the amazingly rugged landscapes of Gallura, in the villages that seem to be at one with the surrounding rock, in the sacred nuraghi, in the folklore of the village fêtes, in the funeral laments… Gianni Olla, one of the greatest experts in Sardinian cinema, who is able to identify the film’s locations (“mainly between Aggius and Bortigiadas”), says that the interiors are also furnished “with almost ethnographic accuracy”.
On this canvas, painted with the flair of a documentary filmmaker, Maria Jacobini (for those who love a bit of gossip, she and Gennaro Righelli married in 1925) brings frantic and impulsive disarray. I can’t express it any better than the “Rivista Cinematografica” critic P. Amerio, who in the December 1923 issue gets carried away in his praise: “Maria Jacobini breathed life into the headstrong, enchanting and dreamy figure of Cainà, expressing with admirable effect her piercing and wonderful features, the eternal fatal torment of the restless wanderer.”

Andrea Meneghelli

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