The Grande Raccordo Anulare (RGA) encircles Rome like the rings around Saturn. Or to put it another way, it’s an Italian M25, a big motorway spinning traffic around the capital’s hub. Gianfranco Rosi has used it as a conceit to make a film, although Nicolo Bassetti is credited with the original idea. Their film Sacro RGA was filmed over two years and is in competition at this year’s Venice Film Festival.
The first scenes start with with blurred car lights at night. For those who have kept up with the films premiering at Venice this year it could have been Locke the documentary. However Rosi soon leaves the actual road behind, digging into the lives of the people who live or work nearby.
As you’d expect the characters are all eccentrics. There is no one who works a normal day at the office, then comes home and watches TV. So is the way with this type of film. The individuals that we meet include a man who listens to the insides of palm trees, a cape-wearing count and a man who could represent Italy if there was an International Beard of the Year Cup. The one subject that tends towards the normal works on an ambulance, and you know that the filmmaker included him for the guaranteed drama that his job provides.
There is no voice over, no explanation. We are given no names or introductions which keep us at a distance from the people involved. The road is soon forgotten. There is little reference to it and it plays no part in most of the lives, the ambulance driver and prostitutes excepted. There is no attempt to link the people to the GRA, a map isn’t shown once. Though the lives that are shown are unusual the link with the road seems tenuous.
Rome is a city that everyone thinks they already know. We have all seen films of the historic remains that haven’t changed for centuries. Sacro GRA is an attempt to put modern faces to a place still connected in many people’s minds with Caesar, Nero and their contemporaries. It also is a reminder that if you point a microscope at most people’s lives there will be parts that seem peculiar. It is reassuring that so many people think it is normal to do something slightly crazy. Maybe writing illegible notes in a dark cinema isn’t so mad after all.