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Our responseto his «I love you»

· A conversation with Pupi Avati ·

“When Cardinal Ravasi invited me to participate in the tribute to the Pope on the occasion of his 60th anniversary of priesthood, I asked him which other film directors would be involved. “Just you” he answered. A response which flattered and embarrassed me at the same time. For if other artists might not have much difficulty with the undertaking, it was decidedly arduous for someone like me who uses film as his means of communication”.

This is how Pupi Avati recalls the genesis of his short film, Guardando oltre ( Looking Beyond ), his marvelous and poetic gift to Benedict XVI. Or rather, thanks to him, a gift of the entire 20th-century Italian cinema. “What I wanted to do”, says the director from Bologna, “was to find a way to involve all of our cinema in homage to the Pontiff. So I chose fragments from the works of major 20th-century directors and allowed them to speak”.

Accompanied by the music of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the track is opened by Alessandro Blasetti and closed by Avati himself in a delicate poem which begins in black and white and then becomes colour (with Ettore Scola). The entire work lasts only a few minutes yet such is the density of the story that it seems much longer. Images, atmosphere, frames, and scenes that have marked the history of Italian cinema combine to offer their congratulations to the Pope in a brilliant ensemble tribute. The film closes with a surprise image: the face of young Joseph Ratzinger in Freising on 29 June 1951.

“The gathering of artists in the Sistine Chapel on 21 November, 2009”, Avati remembers, “had a great effect. I was struck to see certain colleagues next to me whom I knew were distant from the Church but who had nonetheless welcomed the Pope’s invitation and his beautiful declaration of closeness to us”. It was the beginning of a relationship, of a dialogue of love. “When you make a declaration of love”, continued Avati, “there is always someone who first says ‘I love you’ and the other must respond in some way, demonstrating his participation. Otherwise the love story ends there. Well, it seems to me that the Pope’s declaration of affection to us artists on that occasion, has been responded to today”. The hope, however, is that it is only the beginning. “My wish is that this story will progress in the future, in an even more pragmatic way. These two events, in fact, are still on a symbolic level. I hope that this reciprocal curiosity will develop into something concrete, as well. Everything begins with curiosity: curiosity is vital. And in this encounter there is certainly much curiosity”! Indeed, this is the meaning of Benedict XVI’s phrase with which Avati chose to open his film: “Authentic beauty, however, unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond.

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St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 19, 2019

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