Young girls and boys form the schools
The ‘rite of passage’ from childhood to adolescence of Costanza and Marvel, two girls aged 11-12. They go to school in the Vucciria district of Palermo (Sicily) – a district boasting the architectural magnificence of Sicilian Baroque, while being also the frontier zone between Europe and the immigration flow from the rest of the Mediterranean basin.
Marvel, the beautiful African girl, already treated as an outsider by some of the other kids, sits on her own at a desk at the back of the classroom, with Costanza jeering at her more than anyone else.
Marvel is defiant, reacting at times in a violent manner. One day their teacher, Ms Montello, having reached the end of her tether, and in the hope of putting a stop to this constant conflict, asks the Headteacher, Ms Cardone, to suspend both Costanza and Marvel from school. Incensed, the Headteacher replies that no one ever gets suspended from her school, and takes a drastic decision: Costanza and Marvel will share a desk until they make friends with each other. And they eventually will. Many other characters take shape around this central story: Ms Montello, the left-leaning intellectual teacher, suffering an inner conflict while searching for an impossible synthesis between the ideal school and the harsh reality surrounding her; the Headteacher, Ms Cardone who, to the annoyance of her elderly husband, hardly ever returns home for lunch before 3 in the afternoon. This is because every day, once the bell marking the start of the school day has rung, she intercepts all latecomers and makes them stay on with her past the end of the school day at lunchtime, for a length of time matching their lateness. It’s an ‘instructive punishment’ to which she devotes her lunchtimes. The decision whether to progress to High School or leave and find work represents a true ‘rite of passage’, one of the most significant moments in one’s life.
In that ‘anomalous’ space of time, we come across stories of love, jealousy and friendship, within a context of cultural poverty and immigration. All this in one of the most deprived districts in the whole of Italy – a frontier zone between Europe and the rest of the Mediterranean basin.
We shall also be using black and white images from the historic film archive of the Luce Institute: a series of short film sequences on the ‘standardised’ education of the fascist era, as counterpoint to today’s school environment, chaotic and undisciplined – on the surface so different from that of 70 years ago, yet in its own way just as ‘standardised’ by the power of the media.