CAT INDEX OVERVIEW
Santa Guerra | Reviewed by Anushka Dutta
Italian filmmaker Samantha Casella is known for her documentaries ‘Mediterraneo’ and ‘Self-portrait with Pope’. In the Venice Film Meeting category of the Venice Film Festival, a medium-length feature film called ‘Giro di giostra’, directed by Samantha herself was presented. Having learned film directing, and the techniques of narration and screenwriting at Scuola Immagina and Holden School in Turin, respectively, Samantha is also known by many for her acting skills in ‘The Antithesis of Love’, an experimental short film she directed in 2020, inspired by the theological work of ‘II Cantico dei Cantici’.
Samantha’s latest work, ‘Santa Guerra’, also known as ‘Holy War’ is a debut feature film — the plot centres around the inward journey of a woman, trapped in her subconscious mind. The majority of the screen time is covered in a timeless existence, dissociated from reality. Our protagonist is a woman crushed by her suppressed trauma. This non-linear odyssey through her twisted psyche helps her ultimately reach a painful awareness.
‘Santa Guerra’ both opens and closes with a white canvas. The morgue-like setting is further amplified and complemented by the pale, death-like visage of the woman. This perhaps is the only connection we have with the reality perceived by the everyman. Samantha plays with techniques like dream-reality unification, and self-entrapment while implementing existential themes, light versus darkness, and life versus death. She skillfully uses a unique narrative technique. The parallel representation of multiple perspectives highlights the layers of the woman’s subconscious while portraying her divergent coping mechanisms.
In a dream-like surreal non-place and non-time, one part of the woman’s consciousness is confined in a ghostly mansion, skillfully depicted by Emma Quartullo. Her double (Ekaterina Buscemi) wanders in search of metaphysical answers in a grim, barren forest where mysterious presences are lurking. Eugenia Costantini aptly portrays the stagnancy of her physical, emotional, and psychological state. The all-female ensemble cast of ‘Santa Guerra’ is connected by a common thread often represented by the literal red thread in which the woman is entangled.
Samantha not only plays the role of the filmmaker, co-scriptwriter, and cinematographer but also exhibits her finesse as an actor by representing Ananke (personification of need and destiny), the weight of the woman’s conscience (in the form of the daughter’s ghost) and the inescapable guilt of our protagonist.
Although the incoherent narrative keeps it open to multiple interpretations, there are several clues in the film leading to one explanation of the woman’s trauma. The nagging, eerie, head-splitting noise of a crying child, the scene with the boiling doll, and the one where we see the dolls hanging from a noose can imply either an abortion or the murder of an infant. The haunting memories that one tries to push back and safely keep locked up in one’s mind chamber has every potential to crawl right back up.
The experimental cinematography with a lingering discomfort enhances the core idea. Samantha also incorporates several references to Greek mythology and symbolism into the theme. The fishbone floor from ‘Twin Peaks’, and the key in the box from ‘Mulholland Drive’ are a tribute to David Lynch. On the other hand, the large clock without hands from ‘Wild Strawberries’, and the awakening of the woman from ‘Person’ are tributes to another one of Samantha’s favourite directors, Ingmar Bergman.
Apart from the use of ample cultural references, the filmmaker also uses notable symbols — from the ouroboros to the biblical reference of the snake and forbidden fruit, up to the mixture of blood (life and death) and milk (inescapable truth). For a film with minimal dialogue intertwined with abstract subjects, ‘Santa Guerra’ is filled with a lot of noise.
Anushka Dutta is a student of English Honours, and a part-time content writer. A writer, singer and an artist; they have worked as an ambassador for Japan Film Festival in 2020 organized in Kolkata, India. They are a professional singer and have done playback singing in movies.