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February 4, 2023

Homo ridens (I)

Although religions have looked at laughter rather with suspicion or at least with condescendence, if many moralists did not consider placing humour in the select circle of virtues, if jokes were more easily associated with superficiality or even vulgarity, if the comedy genre was seen as a rather minor one, what would man be without laughter? A respectable sociologist like Peter Berger even devoted a book to ‘Homo ridens’, where he analyses the various considerations of the comical – redemption, consolation, intellectual game or satiric weapon. And, against a certain theological tradition, he even described it as ‘a sleep of transcendence’, as the very melancholic prophet of anxiety, Kierkegaard, had related to it. This is why, if we want to make a tour of the horizon to know contemporary world, we also have the opinion of a reportage on the new comic types. Since there are not exactly many comedy film festivals around, one can even take the opportunity of the perspective offered by ‘Comedy Cluj`, to which we could, nonetheless, reproach an almost exclusively Western selection this year.

Not many languages could be heard in Cluj cinemas these last few days. They have been European, in their majority, with Italian competing this time as frequency even with English. The big winner was ‘Jacky in Woman’s Kingdom’, a combination of an Orwellian ‘1984’ and a masculine Cinderella in a matriarchal world. Whilst the aesthetics of the film is not very pretentious, reminding more of a certain comics stylistics (actually the comic strips are the principal field of expertise of director Riad Sattouf), the plot and the inventiveness of the story permitted a surprisingly well targeted satire (at several levels). The combination of dystopia with an ambiguous anti-feminist parable, anti-traditionalist and anti-totalitarianism touches in a ludic key, as well as the persiflation of the new Western ideological models (including vegetarianism or the democratic revolution) suggests a form of committed humour based on more culturally sophisticated analogies, calling for a sharper viewer critical organ. In such a reversed world, men become exploited servants and sexual objects, with the only tolerated ambition being the one of being the drone of the queen of the beehive. And the only genuine fissure of the system remains, even if women lead the sex trade. A satire (with quite enough references, also iconographic, to the Arab world, to which the film director is partly connected), just good to undermine some of the common places of the dominant rhetoric of today.
The more classic Italian style comedy, also a social satire and a comedy of manners, has also rejuvenated itself. ‘I can quit whenever I want’, directed by Sydney Sibilia, comes to an implacable conclusion: What if all young top researchers, currently unemployed because of the crisis, had put their brains together to develop a not so legal ‘alternative’ project? After all, one of the keys to a relative social stability has been the effective absorption of intellectual energies. What would happen is it became coagulated outside the establishment?
‘Song e Napule` by the Manetti brothers, on the other hand, is not just a response to the much too depressing ‘Gomorra’, proposing brighter shades for a city so dominated by the underworld as Naples, but also a game with stereotypical moral perceptions.

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