Ahhh Italy. So architecturally magnificent. So historically significant. So romantic. You can imagine how excited I was when the opportunity arose last summer to film my music video Madly amid such splendor.
The exquisite setting in which I was fortunate to play is the Annunziata, a 13th century Romanesque architectural gem perched high above the Mediterranean. Its world famous domes make it one of the Amalfi’ coast’s more iconic buildings, home to the yearly Ravello Music Festival.
It now seems like another time. Who among us could have predicted the global scourge that was about to descend – hitting Italy with a vengeance, the oldest country on the oldest continent in the world with the second oldest population in the world, felled by a relentless virus. Europe’s worst outbreak. Europe’s longest and strictest shutdown. A tsunami of infection and death. The biggest crisis Italians suffered since the second world war. Now a war against an invisible enemy.
I decided that Madly would be my tribute to the resilience of the remarkable Italian people.
I love how Italians are gregarious, demonstrative and so very social. They hug and kiss and speak to each other in close proximity. Young people live with parents and grandparents in densely populated cities. Sadly this very exuberance set the stage for the virus to spread like wildfire. When the outbreak hit the small town of Codogno in Lombardy it quickly spread to the industrial town of Milan, an international business hub.
At first officials downplayed the outbreak. Then as the magnitude became apparent people in the north fled to the south, spreading the virus nationwide. The country responded with an unprecedented lockdown – more than 60 million people – an entire country under virtual house arrest. Schools, restaurants, bars, businesses, parks, churches – all closed.
But then an amazing thing happened. Rather than rail at the strict unprecedented measures, Italians came together. Distanti ma uniti. Distant but united. Unity, a rarity among individualistic Italians became the new national motto. The nation burst into song. At first it was the national anthem belted from balconies across the nation. Then violin solos and resonating piano chords rang out above empty streets. Church bells pealed. Soon people were singing their hearts out, serenading their neighbors from windows, balconies and rooftops. And at precisely 6 p.m. each evening, they waved lights and clanged pots and plans applauding front line workers returning home exhausted at the end of their shifts. A raucous, life-affirming balcony flash mob cacophony of camaraderie and hope amid a dreadful situation; a tribute to the resilience of a nation during a national emergency not seen since WWII. Locked in their homes, Italians still found a way to put on a show. United in grief. United in spirit. United in music.
Italians took their country from the verge of collapse to full acceptance of the restrictions, from the worst hit country in March to the least by mid September.
How remarkable! How inspiring! So it’s with heartfelt admiration I dedicate this piece and this video to their indomitable spirit.
The video opens in the spectacular Umberto Galleria in Naples, one of the finest examples of 19th century architecture. The glass and iron arcade with its soaring 184 foot dome and mosaic floors is often described as the “grandest interior in southern Italy.”
The camera gently zooms in on two women, gazing upwards, absorbed in taking photos of the soaring dome. So engrossed are they as they take in the cathedral like space, that stepping back, they bump into each other. They lock eyes. And thus starts the dance drama illustrating the push/pull of relationships.
I now also see it as the push/pull the nation went through in reaction to an unimaginable crises.
Push/pull is a difficult but very common dynamic between people who crave love and intimacy yet at the same time are terrified of it. Terrified of being hurt and abandoned on the one hand, fear of being suffocated on the other.
Push/pull is a toxic dynamic that makes relationships run hot and cold as the cycle repeats itself. The spinning topsy turvy camera reflects the dizzying giddiness of the initial attraction and the tumultuous emotions as the women’s hands tentatively reach, push away then reconnect, arms embracing, reaching, intertwining, pushing and pulling, bodies tumbling, lifting, falling and circling, illuminating the struggle of human existence.
The dancers move through this emotional landscape, giving form to the narrative of inner life ambivalence, of distance versus intimacy, pusher and puller, merging and meshing and pulling away.
Capturing these emotions, my composition Madly, starts very tenderly, the notes gently caressing the piano, reflecting the early days of happiness and excitement. But soon anxious, mournful chords take over, mirroring mounting differences in the relationship.
Now, as I look back, I also see it as a portent of what was to come – the push/pull of a gregarious people resisting, felled by an invisible enemy, pushing against unprecedented restrictions at first, then quickly rallying and pulling together as one through music. A pulling together that saved a nation. Distanti ma uniti.
Composer: Arash Behzadi
Filmmaker / Cinematographer: Cosmic 33 Productions (Instagram: @afreelancehuman)
Filmed in Napoli & Ravello – Italy
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