In questo mondo (In this World, 2018),
directed by Anna Kauber
Review by Laura Di Bianco
"In this World: Anna Kauber’s Ecocinema"
A rocky mountain landscape emerges from the mist rolling over it. A herd of sheep and goats grazes peacefully, seemingly oblivious, like rocks, to the changing conditions. The camera moves almost imperceptibly, framing in a long take a high-altitude pasture. Colors are tenuous, shapes are blurred, animals and stones, grass against soil.
A non-human soundscape fills the frames: bells jingling, wind blowing, insects buzzing. A few inquisitive goats acknowledge, for a moment, the presence of the camera, then climb gracefully on rocks, the sound of their hooves clattering. As the fog thins, a human figure appears, walking slowly with a stick, followed by dogs panting: the shepherd. She looks around and, talking to herself, or to the camera intimately close to her, says: “I might still find it.” The shepherd has lost a lamb. She sits on rock and observes the surroundings. She recounts the harshness of the environment upon which her flock grazes – hard grass brings on fever, feet become tender, and the animals lose their vigor. She nurses them with medicine, and they are restored to health.
This is the mesmerizing beginning of Anna Kauber’s In questo mondo (In This World, 2018), a riveting documentary film on the life of women shepherds in Italy. It is an example of what I call ecocinema ars et praxis, which places the relationship between humans, nonhumans, and the environment at the center of film narration. It shows a modus vivendi outside the logic of profit and consumption, and coherently with the world it presents, it employs an environmentally conscious filmmaking practice. As Kauber passionately recounts, during two years of filming, she traveled with a methane-powered car, but also walked tirelessly, lugging around with her minimal digital equipment, and eschewing, as much as possible, the waste and energy consumption that image-making inevitably entails. She is a one-woman-crew, who despite the budget constraints of a self-production, travels and films at a slow pace, eager to contemplate, listen, and share.
Accordingly, In questo mondo asks us to patiently observe and listen, while taking in the wonders and beauty that a rural journey through Italy brings into view. Enclosing the narrative in a circular structure, the film also ends with the above-described dream-like scenario: a woman shepherd leading a flock.
A traditionally male job in a patriarchal rural world, pastoralism is embraced by the women portrayed in this film as a life of freedom and emancipation from the constraints of domestic and urban life. “My home is everywhere I go, from here to Trentino Alto Adige!” says a cheerful young shepherd who plays the violin for her flock while practicing transhumance. And despite the physical challenges, the meagre financial rewards, and the difficult social relationships that their nomadic life style entails (not to mention the stench), many others – women of different ages, social backgrounds, and education – share the joy in the care of non-human animals and symbiosis with nature.
Kauber vividly communicates that happiness throughout the film, while accompanying the numerous protagonists in their daily lives, regulated by the animals’ needs, often harsh natural environments, and the change of seasons. A non-obtrusive, off-screen presence, she and her camera incessantly follow the wandering shepherds and their flocks throughout the high pastures and the valleys, taking us out to pasture, letting us witness the milking, the birth of a lamb, and even the bloody slaughter of a sheep. Sometimes she pauses to observe non-human animals, who powerfully return the gaze. We are taken, through a choral tale, via the fine editing of Esmeralda Calabria, from region to region, with all Italy’s stunning landscapes and peculiar dialects.
Laura Di Bianco, Johns Hopkins University
To quote this review, please use the reference: Di Bianco, Laura (2020): "Review of In questo mondo (2018)" in Gynocine Project, Barbara Zecchi, ed. https://www.gynocine.com/in-this-world