Franco Piavoli’s is a cinema of synecdoche: snippets of life — farmers fighting over a foot of land, a traveler conjuring memories of home — stand for all human experience, and massive narratives boil down to an economic symbol. In the director’s first feature, the 1981 pastoral documentary Blue Planet, water becomes shorthand for the resilient cycle of life. It carries Piavoli’s minutely ambitious film through the hours of the day and the seasons of the year, beginning and ending in a frozen riverbed. Shot over three years and brilliantly honed in editing booths and mixing studios, Blue Planet combines epic aspirations and restrained storytelling in a way subsequent micro-documentaries like Microcosmos forgo. (A Piavoli retrospective runs June 12-15 at Anthology Film Archives.) Blue Planet unfolds in tight close-ups and delicate pans filmed in and around a farmhouse. The location is virtually irrelevant: snapshots of nature and agricultural life resonate across geographies.
Still, the film’s intimate yet objective style provides a quaint charm that keeps it from lapsing into longing for a sentimentalized past. Moments after capturing the otherworldly (and rubbery-sounding) mating rituals of snails, identically paced close-ups show the film’s first humans, a couple having sex in the same field. The poetic transition from microscopic to human scale establishes a basic natural connection, but Piavoli wisely keeps moving, to more distinctly human rituals.
Despite modestly beautiful cinematography, Piavoli’s editing and sound design set his films apart. Often, watching one is like hearing a great DJ: catchy synchronous samples build, pleasurable connections are laid out for the viewer to make, and a cyclic rhythm runs through.