Bona & Scalisi: Bath People

… or better, Gente dei Bagni, Italian documentary photographed, directed and edited by Stefania Bona and Francesca Scalisi, both graduated from Zelig Film School in Bolzano as did their producer Luigi Pepe (company Jump Cut). The film has already been awarded a couple of times at Italian festivals in Rome and Trento, and it would be wrong if it will not get praised outside Italy.

When I (who know the three of them from teaching at Zelig) was asked to comment on their project years back, I told them that there was nothing wrong in making a short film about people who come to a public bath. I was not convinced that the film could sustain one hour. I was wrong, it can, I was not bored one single moment even if there is not a story in modern-documentary-terms and no bigger conflict and not one or two main characters but many.

Observational documentary, fragments of situations, of conversations, glimpses of life and of people’s lives as they tell about it to each other, old people, young people, Romas who come from the camps often with their kids to get hot water and a bath, looong hair being combed and dried, arguments, xenophobic comments, homeless people but also people who have no shower at home, some come to have a coffee and a brioche as well, to kill loneliness, Muslim women with scarfs, members of the staff who disagree on letting customers come in if they have forgotten the ticket or if this is not stamped by the authorities – otherwise (if i got it right) it costs 3,5€ for two for a bath, and you get 30 minutes in the cabin. The bath is public, the city is Turin.

The success of the film stems from the positive, respectful and warm approach that you sense from the very beginning. The camera loves its protagonists and brings out beauty. The filmmakers have  taken the right choice to stay inside for the whole film. And first of all the excellent editing (the filmmakers were joined by Marzia Mete as editor, teacher at Zelig) that creates a strict rythmic balance between sequences with talk and silent ”pauses” with shots of the interior, accompanied by an original music score – a final song is a hymn written to Gente dei Bagni! When you have a film with so many characters and no linear narrative, you have to bring ”order to chaos”, to give the audience ”the feeling of being there” to quote once again the master of direct cinema Richard Leacock and through the editing offer them a film as was it a musical composition.

Of course the film is a social document, a mirror of a part of the society but I am happy that the filmmakers have refrained from making ”a message film” but let us be free to take what we wanr from Life.

Italy, 2015, 59 mins.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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