In 1972, Franco Berardi, aka ‘Bifo’, moved with couple of friends into a flat at the number 19 of Via Marsili, in Bologna’s medieval city centre. In January 1991, a young man from Iran, one from Zaire and the 41 year-old Bifo were evicted from that same flat by the landlord. In between those two dates, not only 19 years had passed through those walls, but also an incalculable amount of people, stories, political movements, zines, free radios, police raids, and all sorts of poetic and existential experiments.
Leaving such an extraordinary place was surely not going to be an easy thing to do. A friend of Bifo, a psychoanalyst, Felix Guattari, made a precise diagnosis of what would have been the impact of this ‘moving out’ (in Italian, ‘trasloco’) on those involved. ‘I am afraid, you will be depressed for at least six months’, he said. It was almost shyly that Bifo dared to question his friend’s prediction. In bumping into another friend of his, the film maker Renato de Maria, at the Termini train station in Rome, Bifo desperately sighed ‘But I don’t want to be depressed!’. Renato, who had lived in the flat in Via Marsili for some months as well, didn’t lose his calm. ‘No need to be depressed,’ he said, ‘let’s take this into our hands and turn it upside down. Let’s make a documentary!’ Bifo took one second to think about it, then did what he had always done any time he had encountered an idea that resonated with him. ‘Absolutely! Let’s do it,’ he replied. Less than twelve months later, on Christmas night 1991, the third channel of Italian State Television, Rai Tre, broadcasted a 75 minutes documentary titled ‘Il Trasloco’ (‘Moving Out’).
There is an unmissable, melancholic element in the film. One that is in a way also hopeful and lively, as if it was the double-faced feeling of that kind of death that is necessary in order to be born again. We can only wonder how this desperate and joyful feeling would have hit us if we had been in front of Rai Tre on the night of December 25th, 1991, when ‘Il Trasloco’ was broadcast a few minutes after the news had shown the red flag going down forever on top of the Kremlin. On that day, the Soviet Union disappeared, the First Gulf War reached its 145th bloody day and the world entered a new age which, maybe, is only starting to end today.
Watching ‘Il Trasloco’ in 2010 is indeed like looking into another universe. It is not a matter of distance in terms of chronological time, but of the unbridgeable distance between two different registers of time. The flat in via Marsili wasn’t just a space in which a number of politically utopian and radical people had lived and worked, rather, it was an entrance to a time in which utopia was already happening. In other words, it wasn’t an else-where, it was an else-when. It is this connection to what Walter Benjamin calls Jetztzeit, the messianic and revolutionary ‘now-time’ that breaks with chronology, what made Via Marsili one of the most vibrant places of life experimentation throughout the wildfire of the 1960s and ‘70s, as well as during the spiritual desert of the 1980s.
While the rooms of the flat are slowly being emptied of all furniture, some of the people that had lived there appear and disappear from the documentary, creating a uniquely disjointed texture of narrative, memory and performance. The famous history of the Italian Autonomia movement seems to fade into the background, outshone by the simple charm with which friends seem to be talking to each other through a camera, rather than to an unknown audience watching them on screen.
Yet, the experience of Autonomia in the 1970s is an important key to understand a place, like Via Marsili, that today almost seems impossible. Those were the years when the Italian communist party was the strongest of its kind in the whole of Western Europe, when graffiti used to say ‘A thousand flowers have blossomed / they are a thousand armed groups’, while the Metropolitan Indian movement were shouting ‘It is the time today / to work only one hour a day!’ and the Italian government was sending the tanks to fight against rioting students. Although entirely set inside the flat, ‘Il Trasloco’ is traversed by a myriad of images and echos of those happenings, as if that place had been, throughout the years, more a ship deck than a house. The street constantly invades the rooms, turning what could have been a small community of flatmates into an endless stream of lives that flow together for some time, disband, then perhaps meet again.
It must have been difficult, at the time, to try and represent this type of living. Maybe, the decision of opening a pirate radio station worked both as a poetic and therapeutic strategy, as well as a political statement. Bologna’s legendary Radio Alice still represents one of the brightest examples of how ‘counter-information’ has the potential of becoming a means to create new worlds, rather than to describe the existing one. It is not just by chance that Renato de Maria decided to cover the screen with a violently scratched, funereal background, when ‘Il Trasloco’ plays the recorded live broadcast of the police raid that closed Radio Alice forever on 12 March 1977. In fact, the struggle that the inhabitants of Via Marsili and the thousands of Autonomia people undertook during those years was political in the purest sense of the word. It wasn’t an attempt of taking power, or of pushing social change. It was the ultimate expression of an exaggerated desire for freedom, of what Autonomia theorist Toni Negri calls ‘the creative power of the multitude’ (puissance), as opposed to the domination of the capital (pouvoir). Truly, a matter of life or death.
Watching ‘Il Trasloco’ in 2010 is, for us, as necessary as it was for Bifo shooting it in 1991.
We should try not to be seduced by the ability with which Renato de Maria waves an intricate visual flow and Bifo arranges together splinters of narratives with its storytelling. Despite the wit and fun that run throughout the film, ‘Il Trasloco’ talks to us about something difficult, almost uncomfortable. Even if, at first, the people on screen seem to be playfully mourning the loss of an utopia, in fact, at a closer listen, their words hide the hypnotic power of a calling. It matters little that this calling does not come from the realm of today’s life. Perhaps, the place that contains most existential potential is not supposed to share the same register of time of our current lifestyles. This is why the strange feeling that we might experience, that of watching images that come from the future rather than from the past, is actually deceitful. The time of ‘Il Trasloco’ is not the past, not the present nor the future. Its space is not limited by the walls of a flat in Bologna. As it happens with the best cinema or literature, the stage where the action takes place is nowhere outside of ourselves. Differently from most films or books, though, with ‘Il Trasloco’ the curtain only opens once the screening has ended. This is because it is not even a film. ‘Il Trasloco’ is a map. The challenge is for us to use it to travel further.