The Mirror [Full Frame 2010]

David Christensen’s The Mirror has a quiet charm, offering what The Columbia Missourian describes as a “modern fairy tale” about a small Italian village, Viganella, nestled deeply in the Alps.  In fact, the village is so deeply nestled, a nearby mountain blocks the sun for 83 days every winter.  Most of the people in the village seem to welcome this seclusion and the simplicity that life in this remote community provides.  In fact, the Italy from Videocracy, another film I caught at Full Frame, seems to exist on another planet compared to the farmers who spend their spare time playing games in the local pub, attending mass, or quietly meditating at home.  Many of them, like Thomas, a forty-something farmer, seem content to have found a place to escape from the noise of the rest of the world.

But the village’s mayor, Piefranco Midali, develops an inspired idea: install a giant mirror in one of the nearby mountains that could reflect sunlight into Viganella during the winter.  Midali comes across as a cross between a showman and a dreamer.  We meet him during his full-time occupation as a coach driver, which he compares to his job as a mayor: you’re out among the public, meeting people and helping them.  And Midali’s main purpose for building the mirror initially seems to be to make it easier for people to socialize.  More light in the city square will make stopping and chatting in the winter afternoons a little more inviting.

And so Midali commissions a local contractor to build and install the giant mirror, a task that takes on almost mock epic qualities, especially when they learn that the mirror must be dropped into place by a helicopter, the mirror itself hanging precariously from a cable dangling below.  At first, Midali and the crew did not factor in the force of the wind created by the helicopter’s blades, and the mirror is badly dented.  Meanwhile, as the story builds, Midali and the village of Viganela become an international news story, with Midali cheerfully giving interviews over his cell phone or to the news crews who arrive to watch what happens.

As the Missourian review points out, The Mirror revels in the play of light and darkness, and the sheer excitement of watching the village of Viganella suddenly illuminated for the first time by the winter sun (even if it’s a reflected sunlight) is pretty contagious.  It’s difficult not to be charmed by Midali and the town’s inhabitants, and Chistensen’s camerawork helps you to become conscious of the play of light and shadows in our daily lives.

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