The Poetry of Addiction: Review of ‘Wherever you are-Ovunque Proteggemi’, Directed by Bonifacio Angius, Italy 2018

Showing in ‘Cinema made in Italy 2019’ London Saturday 2nd March,

Written by Professor Robert Abrams, Weill Cornell Medicine

‘Wherever You Are’ is a new Italian film that portrays addiction along with its usual weight of bleak antecedents and consequences, including dependency, conflict, depression and the collateral suffering of family members. But this alternately arresting and moving film also offers a fuller, wiser portrait of those afflicted.

Bonifacio Angius- film director

As the film opens, the focus is on Alessandro (Alessandro Gazale), an aging singer on a downward spiral. Alessandro is out of date and out of touch. He has been inspired by the music of his father, who loved his son, if that feeling could only be conveyed indirectly; his father had patiently taught the young Alessandro about music, how to express himself without embarrassment or self-consciousness, in effect giving him a voice, now his only way of communicating with the world constructively. But Alessandro’s songs have recently been performed to dwindling, mostly gray-haired audiences; the songs are beautiful but traditional, folkish, and definitely not current.

Meanwhile, Gavino (Gavino Ruda), his stoic accompanist, has finally lost patience with Alessandro after enduring years of drinking and loutish behavior and informs him that he’s calling it quits, using as an excuse the need to take care of his ailing wife; Alessandro in turn mocks Gavino, telling him that his wife’s ailments are only psychological. But we soon understand that Alessandro’s alcoholism is at least partly fueled by conflict, even torment, at being gay, and that he is also in the grips of a hostile-dependent relationship with his long-suffering elderly mother.

Detoxing in a psychiatric ward after a drunken rampage at his mother’s house, Alessandro meets Francesca (Francesca Niedda), a drug-addicted woman now separated from her son by child welfare authorities. Unlike the swaggering, confrontational man he is when drunk, the sober Alessandro is halting, awkward and diffident. He is filled with self-loathing for his homosexuality, especially when he appreciates Francesca’s beauty and potential for love. He can only try to promise Francesca that which holds little appeal for her and will clearly not be possible for him to provide, namely, the trappings of a conventional life that would survive the scrutiny of social workers and allow a child to remain in a home: a fully stocked refrigerator, a comfortable sofa, and television.

For much of the remainder of the film Alessandro watches the psychological conflicts of his own life unfold again as he appreciates the depth of Francesca’s love for her son Antonio (Antonio Angius) and Antonio’s need for a kind, fatherly presence. He relives his loving but also anger-ridden attachment to his mother and the bittersweet memories of a father who had left a gift of music to a lonely little boy. At one point he makes a touching effort at parenting by handing down some of his father’s wisdom about performing to Antonio. The implication is that addicts can attain insight into their demons even if they are unable to resolve them.

Despite its tragic subtext, this film is a great pleasure to watch. It progresses at a quiet, thoughtful pace and almost joyfully celebrates the complexity of human emotional life. Without question, the two principal characters are desperate failures as adults; they were raised in toxic or deficient families and throughout the film they remain overpowered by addictions, alcohol for Alessandro and cocaine or heroin for Francesca. There is no hint or pretense that their problems will ever be overcome, and the director’s understanding of addiction is clear-eyed and firmly rooted in a real world. The future is especially uncertain for young Antonio, a child who will be compelled at times to function as a parent to his mother. What is different and remarkable about “Wherever you are” is that the film does not succumb to hopelessness, as it could easily do. Instead, viewers are shown how emotional life is multi-axial, that people with intractable addictions and enduring psychological damage can still experience love, at times deeply and unselfishly, and they may even be capable of sacrifice and heroism.

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