Claudio was born in Greece, raised in Venice, got married in Taranto, and was murdered in New York after having chased the American dream for twenty years. Giacomo Abbruzzese retraces his grand-father's story, plunging the spectator into 1960s New York and the atmosphere of gangster films, set to the music of Billy Joel. Drawing on the testimony and memories of those who were close to Claudio on both sides of the Atlantic, the film unveils a mysterious, complex character, constantly on the run. A portrait of a man no-one ever really knew.
DIRECTOR BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE:
One summer morning, a few years ago, my grandmother told me that my grandfather had not died as a result of a car accident in New York, as I had always believed. My grandfather had been killed. I decided to go to the United States, to find out about Claudio, the maternal grandfather I had never met.
I chose to use a mobile phone as a personal journal, taking visual and sound-based notes. I had already shot a documentary on this device (This is the way, 2013), I knew the advantages and limitations of this kind of choice. I wanted to shoot alone, given the intimate nature of the story, and I wanted a light, almost invisible device that I could use at any time.
I combined my footage with the 8mm of my grandfather shot in the 50s and 60s, and family images taken by other people over the years, in other formats. From the iPhone to 8mm, via VHS, this film embraces a Lo-Fi aesthetic that is consistent with traditional amateur family movies. It is with this formal idea in mind that I recorded the skype calls I had with my family while I was researching in New York.
America is edited as a fluid memory, with layers of times past re-emerging onto the surface. Although there is a narrative direction, from my grandmother’s revelation to meeting Tony, my American uncle, the film is constantly interrupted by images from the past. As though this past never stops returning, to exist in the story’s characters.
In America, I wanted the voices to be free to emerge, liberated from the bodies. My voice, which tells the story of this search, but also the voices of my grandmother, my grandfather’s partner Esther, and Tony, all the way to the crystallized skype images, where the usual power relationship between image and sound is reversed, and it is mainly the spoken word that is in the foreground, in a fog of pixelated images.
The only absent voice is my grandfather's: I was never able to hear it or find it again. But in filming the same places and the same people, decades later, it is as though our gazes actually crossed.