English Title: Cover Boy: The Last Revolution
Original Title: Cover boy: L’ultima rivoluzione
Country of Origin: Italy
Studio: Paco cinematografico
Director: Carmine Amoroso
Producer(s): Augusto Allegra
Screenplay: Carmine Amoroso, Filipo Ascione
Cinematographer: Paolo Ferrari
Art Director: Biagio Fersini
Editor: Luca Manes
Runtime: 93 minutes
Starring/Cast: Chiara Caselli, Eduard Gabia, Luca Lionello, Luciana Littizzetto
Set in the last days of Ceauşescu’s Romania, Cover boy focuses on the family of the young Ioan and particularly the very tender relationship he has with his father. His father is, however, shot and killed and the film cuts to a desolate present-day Romania where an adult Ioan decides to try his luck immigrating to Italy with a friend. His friend is stopped as they cross the border and Ioan finds himself homeless on the streets of Rome. He finally meets Michele who is working as a cleaner in the toilets at Termini station. He moves into Michele’s flat and finds a job at a scrap yard, resisting the opportunity of earning a living through gay prostitution. While Ioan’s fortunes slowly improve, Michele struggles to keep his job. After he is discovered in the street by Laura, a professional photographer, Ioan moves to Milan to start a career as a professional model. Michele meanwhile is made unemployed and is reduced to begging from tourists in St Peter’s. Ioan leaves Laura after he sees that she has superimposed his naked image onto shots of 1980s Bucharest for a fashion spread. He goes back to Rome to collect Michele with the aim of setting up a restaurant together on the Danube delta.
Over the last twenty years Italian cinema has dealt increasingly with the phenomenon of migration to Italy. Mostly, these films fall into the category of middlebrow drama and treat migration as a serious political issue. Cinema has largely been seen as a liberal counter to the more xenophobic accounts of migration to Italy found in other media. Until recently though, this body of work tended to focus on issues relating to arrival and settlement, and the very real threat of deportation was a common plot device. One of the most striking features of films such as Francesco Munzi’s Saimir (2004) is the extent to which foreign migrants and Italians lead very separate lives. Migrants are usually seen in squalid peripheral locations and contact with Italians is only ever realized on a short-term basis through a doomed heterosexual romance, or through encounters with the authorities. Cover boy: L’ultima rivoluzione is part of a growing number of recent productions that bring Italians and migrants into close proximity. These films use the figure of the migrant to reflect on the often beleaguered situation of Italians themselves.
Michele represents all those finding it difficult to survive on short-term work contracts. He struggles to pay the rent on a neglected apartment next to a railway line, and the deterioration of his living conditions contrasts with Ioan’s social mobility. In a number of the most recent films about migration, the migrant is no longer at the bottom of the pile. Indeed, it is the migrant who has the resources to leap-frog over a hapless Italian underclass. To some degree, Ioan fits the stereotype of the hard-working migrant who often appears in this type of cinema, yet unlike many, he does succeed. A curious feature of Italian films about migration is that they have tended to make the migrant body an object of spectacle. Laura obsessively photographs Ioan, yet her determination to possess his body through the camera’s lens had already been anticipated by the way in which Michele appears not to be able to keep his eyes off his friend. Point-of-view shots suggest a homoerotic interest on Michele’s part, yet Amoroso resists any clear definition of their relationship, which recalls the intense homosocial bonding that has become a staple of contemporary Italian cinema.
The lack of an explicit sense of causality characterizes this low-budget digitally shot feature. There is no real indication of the plot’s temporal span, and the flashbacks to Ioan’s childhood and the shooting of his father suggest the influence of history on the present in ways which again are never clarified. The long concluding sequence where Ioan and Michele drive off together can be inferred as the staging of a wish-fulfilment that can never take place. The inclusion of counterfactual elements links Cover boy as much to more overtly political, or historically situated films such as Romanzo criminale/Crime Novel (Michele Placido, 2005) or Il divo (Paolo Sorrentino, 2008) whose inclusion of such elements encourages the spectator to speculate on how the past might have turned out differently. In Cover boy, however, Amoroso is interested in the future as well as the past. [Spoiler alert: the following sentences reveal a major plot development] The film’s closing expression of a rosy homosocial interethnic future as Michele and Ioan drive off into the sunset belies the fact that in the previous scene the spectator is led to believe that Michele has killed himself. In addition, Ioan’s return to Romania echoes what has become a familiar plot device in films about migration where the migrant is either killed or repatriated; in either case he is expelled from the national territory. Cover boy is a particularly interesting example of Italy’s exploration of its new multicultural reality. Its complex organization of time and historical memory, and the allusive nature of Ioan’s relationships with the Italians he meets indicate a move away from the middlebrow realist aesthetic that has formed the dominant framing of migrants in Italian cinema.