Hand Gestures: Review

This piece was originally published in the University Observer in November 2015, both online and in print.

Director: Francesco Clerici

Release Date: 2015, with an exclusive release in the IFI from the 24th November.

History is important, and no one understands that more than director Francesco Clerici. His debut feature Hand Gestures is an ode to the manual labour and history associated with craftwork. He films a group of sculptors in the Fonderia Artistica Battaglia in Milan, Italy, as they work on one of artist Velasco Vitali’s famous ‘Off Leash’ bronze Dog Scultpures. In doing so he captures each stage of the process of lost-wax casting in great detail, from early to final design, eschewing narration and music in the process.

The film begins by telling viewers that the lost-wax casting method was developed in the 4th century BC and that, despite advancements in modern technology, the process of production has remained completely unchanged since this time. The film cuts intermittently to archive footage of people using this method to create statues, and the chosen images from decades past match each stage of production in the Fonderia Artistica Battaglia in 2014. Sound effects from the contemporary footage carry over into archive footage as the craftspeople work, making for an engaging way to emphasise the importance of history and intergenerational teaching. The method of lost-wax casting is handed down by generation, so history is important to these craftspeople.

This feature also acts as an ode to craftsmanship and manual labour. Multiple close-ups of workers’ hands are shown, to highlight the grit and grime of their work, and the stages of production of the bronze statue are depicted in meticulous detail. Without narration or music to break the silence, viewers are made concentrate entirely on the techniques, sounds, and procedures associated with this unique field of work. This never feels like a chore to watch, however, as there is something inherently appealing in watching the project come together. Each stage of production is enjoyable to witness, and when the bronze statue is finally completed there is strange satisfaction in seeing it take its place amongst Vitali’s other pieces.

Without the signifiers of traditional documentary filmmaking (narration et cetera), there is an overbearing sense that we, the audience, are there with the craftspeople as they work. It feels like we have been let in on a secret, like we are bearing witness to a centuries old craft that few know. For this reason, Hand Gestures is an unusually engaging film.

In A Nutshell: Hand Gestures is an ode to manual labour, history, and intergenerational teaching. By eschewing narration, dialogue, and music, Francesco Clerici invites us into this world in a captivating way. This is one not to be missed.

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