Mammaliturchi! (The Turks are coming!)

This is a screenplay for a comedy feature film I wrote several years ago. It was awarded a “honourable mention” at Premio Solinas, the most important Italian contest for screenplays. Besides that, a 35-page treatment was selected for the European Cinema and Audiovisual Days in Turin, 2005 and was published on the renowned Plot magazine. By the way, you can read the whole issue on-line on Issuu.com. You can also watch a promo video (in Italian and dialect) on my YouTube channel

“Mammaliturchi!” has not gone into production yet, despite the efforts made by an excellent producer and the appraisal of a few celebrated directors. One of the problems is, it deals with a very sensible issue in today’s Italy, and suffers therefore from the unfavourable political situation. Maybe the near future holds nice surprises, who knows…

Following “Plot”‘s cover, the two drawings above were made by “Plot”‘s editor Marianna Zanetta.
Below you find a story outline in English. I hope you enjoy it.

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MAMMALITURCHI!
(The Turks are coming!)

Story Outline
by Gianfranco Martana

The tranquillity of Roccafredda, an imaginary town on the Cilento coast (south of Naples), is about to be shattered by news that the Church of Saint Cyrus, located in an out-lying neighbourhood, is going to be given to the town’s thriving North African immigrant community, who plan to turn it into a mosque. The Saint Cyrus parish is lead by father Don Antonio, but by now is almost bereft of faithful. Older inhabitants have either left or moved to more central neighbourhoods, leaving the way free to the Arabs, who have found work in the area, on fishing boats or in the fields.

Reactions in town to the news are decidedly lively, even among those who, until then, had paid no interest in the church’s decline. The bellicose members of the confraternity of Saint Salvatore believe legal action will suffice to rid them of the problem, and instruct one of their brothers, lawyer Gaspare Peluso, to oppose the joint decision of the bishop and parish priest.

In short, the town is plunged into chaos, bringing the strangest of characters to the surface, such as Tommaso Di Luccio, a one-time emigrant to Switzerland and now connoisseur of local history and tireless organiser of events. His latest brainwave is to stage a costume performance of the historic and legendary Saracen raid that ended with a miraculous appearance of the town’s patron saint, Sophia, and the rout of the invaders. Tommaso starts preparing it in order to be ready for the summer.

Then there’s Gabriele Peluso, Gaspare’s 30-year-old son, another well-known character in the town, thanks mostly to his work as a mannerist painter of Roccafredda landscapes. While he manages to get by on earnings from this work during the summer, in the other months of the year he grudgingly makes do as a substitute art teacher at the local primary  school, work he obtains thanks to his father’s influence.

Besides the question of the church, town life is animated by the arrival of Giuliana De Pascale, a young and attractive art restorer sent by the bishop to restore the statue of Saint Cyrus to its ancient splendour and move it to the more central church of Saint Sophia. The bishop sees this as one way of partially reimbursing the townsfolk, who are about to lose an ancient place of worship. What nobody knows is that Giuliana is the bishop’s niece, who has sent her to the town so that she can also keep him up to date on feelings among the townsfolk. Giuliana’s arrival assumes special significance for Gabriele when he falls in love with her, partly because he sees her as someone capable of dragging him out of the apathetic routine of his life.

Meanwhile, Gaspare begins his battle, finding an unexpected legal pretext in the elderly Capo ladies, a mother and her daughter, the only people in the place who still live near to the church, slap in front of it. The mother has serious difficulty walking, and Gaspare has the brilliant idea of sending a memorandum to the Curia pointing out that the woman would not be able to attend the distant church of Saint Sophia, and will thus suffer “serious and irreparable damage to the health of her soul”.

At the same time, the sudden appearance of an image of a face on a wall stirs cries of a miracle. It’s seen as Jesus, who has shown himself to the people of Roccafredda to express his indignation and sorrow at the sacrilege that is about to be committed. An impressive popular following immediately flourishes around the image, accompanied by flower sellers, photo stands, market stalls and an endless line of faithful. While Gaspare begins riding high on this emotional wave of faith, Giuliana is contacted by the North African community, decidedly concerned by events. They ask her to give an expert opinion on the image in a bid to dismantle the miracle theory. Overcoming a certain reluctance, Giuliana accepts, and discovers that the strange stain is actually part of an old mural that has begun to show through.

Gabriele, who secretly watched Giuliana do her analysis, explains what she’s found. He painted it himself ten years ago. The face is actually that of… Che Guevara! Right. Because the young Gabriele, as well as being a promising artist, had also been an aspiring revolutionary. He is now obliged to confess the whole truth, even though he knows it will enrage his father Gaspare…

However, the lawyer has scored well in his own favour. His request for a postponement on account of Mrs Capo’s difficulties has been granted by the Curia, who didn’t welcome the idea of challenging a devout elderly lady’s right to pray daily in her church.

Some of the Confraternity’s bellicose members, frustrated by the legal delays, decide to speed up the process by contaminating the perimeter of the Church by letting pigs graze along it (such measure has been really proposed by one Italian ministry from the Lega party). Their expedition takes place at night, but is foiled by the sharp wits of a young North African, who warns his countrymen and Don Antonio in time. The group of wreckers encounter a human wall in front of the Church and, with the addition of the priest’s stinging rhetoric, are obliged to beat a humiliating retreat.

Hoping to harness the people’s sense of identity, Gaspare then comes up with the idea of a photographic exhibition of the church’s history, controversially entitled “Yesterday, today, tomorrow”. But he fails to reverse the situation. Rummaging through the town’s photo archive, all he manages to uncover is a file of photos of his marriage to the woman he loved and lost years earlier.

In the midst of this flurry of events, Tommaso goes ahead with organising his costume play. But he too is subjected to a reaction on the part of the North Africans. The Arab architect commissioned to design the mosque presents him with “incontrovertible” documents proving the prior existence of a mosque on the site where the Saint Cyrus church now stands. If the Confraternity, of which Tommaso is an authoritative member, persists in opposing the transfer of the church, he will reveal this fact, thus ridiculing a thesis laid out by Tommaso in an article on local history of which he is particularly proud. Rather than lose the prestige he has worked so hard to acquire, Tommaso thus feels obliged to urge his co-brothers to give in. On the other hand, the battle has already been compromised by the death of the elderly Mrs. Capo, struck down by a heart attack just as she was crossing the road to go to church…

Thanks to Giuliana’s mediation, a moderately peaceful summit meeting is finally held between the two communities, who put mutual resentment aside and reach an agreement which reconfirms plans to turn the church into a mosque.

Don Antonio, who the bishop had planned to transfer to some God forsaken village in order to appease the ire of the Roccafredda inhabitants, is miraculously summoned to work in the Curia, just as he had long dreamed of doing. This “miracle”, however, is entirely due to Giuliana, who has heart-breakingly begged her uncle to grant the poor priest’s wishes…

A month has gone by and the day of the great show has arrived, staged for the town’s few tourists. Half the town is involved, including our protagonists. In his role as a Saracen attacker, Gabriele sets his sights on Giuliana and, emboldened by his part, finally succeeds in kissing her.

At the end of the day, after an apparition (by laser light) of Saint Sophia has put the cruel attackers to flight, a superb fireworks display begins. The surviving Mrs. Capo watches from a distance, sitting on the veranda of her house. At a certain point she notices a number of North Africans unloading carpets from a van and taking them into what is now the former church of Saint Cyrus. It’s lights are turned on, back-lighting silhouettes of the new tenants of the church/mosque, while giving us glimpses of the typical architectural elements and furnishings of a mosque, the mihrab, the minbar, shown in all their splendour by the almost unreal light.

Petrified by the scene, the woman watches until she’s unable to bear the pain any longer. Getting to her feet, she carefully folds her blanket and goes back into her house, silently closing the door behind her. The outline of the bell tower stands out gloomily against a shimmering crescent moon.

At dawn, Gaspare is asleep, lying obliquely across his bed, still wrapped in his fake medieval gown, surrounded by family photos strewn over the bed almost as if to keep him company in his sleep. Gabriele and Giuliana are naked in bed, sleeping blissfully, their bodies dimly lit by the first light of day.

In another part of the town, the sing-song voice of a muezzin spreads out from the bell tower/minaret across the surrounding land, intriguing a few hens, disturbing a bird into flight from a tree, while a number of Moslem faithful, alone or in small groups, head towards the holy place.

THE END

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