The Grande Raccordo Anulare, the ring road that encircles Rome, is the largest highway of its kind in Italy, carrying thousands of passengers everyday. You would think that proximity to migration on such a grand scale would lead to some kind of unification of the nearby residents, but, as we find out in Gianfranco Rosi’s 5th documentary Sacro GRA, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The film is built from a series of vignettes featuring a range of disparate subjects all living close to the GRA, interspersed with out of focus shots of the constant traffic from the road. There’s little by way of introduction, other than a short sentence or two providing minimal information on the road itself, and when the documentary begins in earnest, there’s no sense of guidance or narration.
The lack of directorial presence, combined with the fly on the wall style, gives Sacro GRA a voyeuristic element that doesn’t quite fit with the largely empathetic subjects. A few scenes in particular show a range of quirky characters inside their undersized apartments, but rather than feeling welcomed into their homes, shots are composed from outside the large, outward facing windows giving the generally sober style a strange and eerie element.
It’s in these shots too that the importance of proximity is brought to light as the booming Latin music we’ve heard coming from one room becomes a faint murmur when we move to another. The oppressive hum of the highway is a constant in every scene, a vital uniting factor in a documentary whose subjects are otherwise unable to make much of a lasting impression when taken together.
In reality, the only other linking factor is the sympathetic nature of their situations, but otherwise their plights are their own. An elderly father chats happily to his young daughter about the musky smell of a raw vegetable, a scientist speaks with fury and respect about the insects destroying a native species of palm and a paramedic chats with female friends online the night before he goes to visit his aging mother. The short segments are sometimes funny, often heartwarming and usually interesting; it’s evident that these individuals have been chosen with the utmost of care.
Rosi’s exploration into the characters of those living near the Grande Raccordo Anulare is interesting for the very reason that it struggles to be groundbreaking. The eccentric and disparate personas that make up the film provide many small revelations, but without a linking factor between them, you can’t help but wonder: what am I missing?
Joe Manners Lewis
Sacro GRA is released nationwide on 7th November 2014.
Watch the trailer for Sacro GRA here: