Res Creata is both a paean and a plea, an articulate essay designed to instruct and to persuade, a film that explores the relationship (rarely fair, seldom equitable) between humans and animals.
Co-written with Silvia della Sala, whom director Alessandro Cattaneo claims has lived a life ‘of companionship with animals’, the film introduces us to academics who rail against mankind’s cruelty and obstinacy, but also to those rare folk whose lives are defined by their love of, and engagement with, birds and beasts.
As a species, our prevailing attitude is anthropocentric, the film suggests, meaning that animals are classified within a pyramid construction with humans at the top. The opposing philosophy that Cattaneo proposes in the film is that of animism, denoting a system free of hierarchy and polarities, such as top/bottom, better/worse, good/bad.
“Life is participating at life,” comments one academic of the change of human mindset needed to embrace this alternative approach. “Becoming animal means to participate in the life of the earth without believing that we occupy a privileged place.”
A zoo-musicologist speaks passionately about the communication mechanisms that animals possess, talking of the ‘jazz improvisations’ within whale song exchange. “Understanding non-human language has an ethical value,” he says. “The more we know and understand, the more we can respect animals, comprehend their complexity and behave accordingly.” Failure on our part to do so, he underlines, will continue to render them ‘inferior, insignificant, simple and banal’ in our eyes.
Thankfully, the film also presents an ensemble of dedicated animal lovers. A shepherd speaks lovingly of his flock. The sheep have been a passion for him since he was a kid and he cannot live without them, although the solitude that such a lifestyle brings makes the idea of a romance with him less enticing, he observes (and regrets).
Elsewhere a beatific beekeeper attends to her hives, while live snakes are handled and lauded during a religious ceremony in Italy’s Abruzzo region. A falconer justifies his passion for the craft by equating the lack of freedom experienced by his hawks (birds that he clearly loves dearly) with the captivity that man is born into.
“We wanted to have a broad view on the topic, to mix these the [academic] characters with other protagonists who live a more day-to-day concrete life with animals,” says Cattaneo.
A key participant in the film is Giovanni Ferretti, a founder member of the influential “philo-Sovietic punk band” CCCP that played in Italy from the early 80s to the mid-90s. These days, he lives once more in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy where he was brought up. Ferretti has intense wizardly eyes and speaks with a passion for the animals he has loved since childhood. His forebears were all shepherds, he says, but his father died when he “was in the womb” and the farming connection was therefore lost. But then again, children have to do something different from their fathers, he continues, hence his ascension into agit ‘pop’ fame and status.
“But at a certain point he decided to quit his musical career,” says director Cattaneo. “He said he had been living in somebody else’s house for a while in his life, and that his real roots were back in his Apennine village.”
Now Ferretti lives a very private and reserved life, the director explains, but still he is continually pursued by journalists and photographers and therefore avoids media contact. But he was fascinated by the animal project and eventually extended his involvement so that the production could shoot with him within the winter and spring season.
The film is intriguingly book-ended by the tale and ultimate fate of a 17-ton white whale that is washed up onto a Sardinian beach. Such was the vastness of the carcass, the local authorities had no idea how to remove it. But the response of the public to it was instructive, Cattaneo explains of what he observed during their two day-shoot on the island, two months after the whale had first appeared.
“What we found was that there was this very respectful procession of people going to the whale, as a kind of tribute… a kind of mourning procession to the beach which was similar to a funeral for a man,” he says.
But the next day, something extraordinary happened, and the sea itself decided to reclaim the carcass, with no need for human intervention. “Yes, it worked on a symbolic level and on a filmic level,” concludes Cattaneo. “It seemed like a parable.”