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Review: Life As a B-Movie: Piero Vivarelli


- Directed by Fabrizio Laurenti and Niccolò Vivarelli, this documentary delves into the turbulent life of a versatile artist and eclectic showman

Review: Life As a B-Movie: Piero Vivarelli

Piero Vivarelli was an Italian showbusiness personality who is undeniably difficult to pin down and describe. The Sienese artist was an eclectic character who, in-between highs and lows, distinguished himself in a variety of entertainment fields: he was a film director, a wordsmith, a journalist, a screenwriter, an actor and much, much more. The only documentary to feature in this year’s London-based Cinema Made in Italy event (unspooling online this year, from 16 to 29 April, via MUBI), Life As a B-Movie: Piero Vivarelli [+see also:
film profile
is travelling to the gathering following its presentation in the 2019 Venice Film Festival’s Venice Classics line-up, and its selection in a number of festivals over the course of the past two years.

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Directed by filmmaker Fabrizio Laurenti and journalist Niccolò Vivarelli (who is also Piero’s grandson), the film adopts a somewhat traditional register which isn’t entirely new to the biographical documentary genre, alternating numerous stock images with interviews out of the archives or shot ad hoc. But in spite of the film’s somewhat unoriginal form, its portrait of the man in question emerges with sheer force and successfully sidesteps hagiography.

Generally speaking, Vivarelli’s charisma and follies lend the film a pleasant and intriguing character. In vague, chronological order, we learn about his unruly lifestyle, his excessive passion for the fairer sex, and his strange and diverse back-catalogue, which ranged from musicarello (Io bacio... tu baci), to comedy (Rita, la figlia americana), from serious drama (East Zone, West Zone) to improbable sci-fi (Satanik), and from controversial erotic-exotic films (Il dio serpente, The Black Decameron) to the self-parody we see in Nella misura in cui.

The documentary is enhanced by numerous testimonials from journalists, artists and filmmakers who either knew Vivarelli or worked with him. Among them, we find Franco Nero, Pupi Avati, Steve della Casa, Giona A. Nazzaro, Vincenzo Mollica, David Zard and even Emir Kusturica, who was entranced by Adriano Celentano’s evergreen song “24.000 Baci”, which Dino in Do You Remember Dolly Bell? was also a huge fan of, and which was originally penned by Vivarelli himself.

These contributors make no bones of the more controversial aspects of Vivarelli’s character, whether in the professional or private setting. The sequence relating to his difficult relationship with his son Alessandro, a young actor who died as a result of a heroin addiction, which is mostly narrated by the director Gabriele Salvatores who chose Alessandro for his film Mediterraneo, is especially hard-hitting. Another segment of the documentary, meanwhile, reveals several details on the political leanings of the protagonist, who, in his youth, was a member of the Decima Flottiglia MAS (10th Assault Vehicle Flotilla) before becoming a militant communist and the sole Italian member of the Cuban Communist Party (though still anarchist at heart).

The 82-minute running time flows by smoothly and, ultimately, the tale of this “B movie” life comes across as well-balanced and injected with the perfect amount of irony. On the technical side, the film is bolstered by pleasing editing coming courtesy of Laurenti and an excellent soundtrack bursting with tracks either written by Vivarelli himself or featuring in his films. The “Rai Teche” effect does haunt the entire film, but this is eclipsed, in part, by the forceful presence of a wholly unconventional protagonist and the doc’s decidedly stronger and more involving narrative construction.

Life as a B-Movie: Piero Vivarelli is produced by Tea Time Film and the Istituto Luce Cinecittà, with international sales in the hands of Summerside Media.

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(Translated from Italian)

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