A cinema is going to save us

For two weeks, starting from the 17th of November, we will post four short stories – coming out respectively on Tuesday and on Thursday – taken from the collection of short stories Istantanee – Snapshots, written by Alessia Marinoni. They will be available both in their original version in Italian and in the translated version in English.

Story of a new old cinema

The first lesson of the day is always the hardest. Moreover, these eyeglasses I’m wearing need to be changed, I can’t even see the blackboard from the back of the class. I could sit closer to the front but the first rows are always packed with people and if somebody sat next to me I wouldn’t know how to start a conversation. The first days of university are always the most embarrassing ones. Usually, I’m not the shy type but finding a topic for conversation with a stranger embarrasses me, I’m always afraid of being labelled as a boring person. Like “do you have any spare pen I could borrow?” or “do you know what the professor is going to be like during the final test?”. So I sit in the back and that way I’m sure that nobody is going to disturb me. At the same time, though, I miss that feeling of carefreeness that there was with my friends from my bachelor’s degree. Up until a few months ago, I used to live in a small village of about 4000 people, deep down south in Italy. I used to commute every day to get to university, in a town nearby. All of my friends came from my area so we were just a phone call away: -I’ll be at your place in half an hour, Marco, – And, in half an hour, he would be waiting for me in front of his house.

-What do we do tonight?

-I don’t know, I was thinking that maybe we could get a beer. Or go to the cinema, there’s a few interesting films out at Arlecchino.

-Let’s go to the cinema, then, – Of course, after the film, we would stay out late talking.

The cinema was in a very old building that had been resisting for many years. As far as I can remember, it had always been there, in a road across via Mazzini, one of the main roads of the city center, next to the baker and the elementary school. Thinking about it now, it seems like a timeless place. Even its owner looked like he was stuck in a parallel time dimension: I always remember him being this pretty old, white-haired man, ever since I was a kid. Who knows, maybe it’s the power of cinema: never letting anything or anyone grow old. Or maybe it speeds up the process of growing old, it depends on the point of view.

On a Saturday night, it’s the Arlecchino that light up the city center. A few families with children are waiting for the 8 PM show while some groups of teenagers, probably out without parents for the first time, want to experiment some freedom and try temporize so that they can be excused if they can only get the ticket for the last show and get home late.

-What about September, then?

-I told you, Marco. I’m moving.

-And you’re leaving me here in this old peoples’ town, – Marco smiles but I know he’s a little sad. We’ve always had fun together, it will be hard to be so far away. We can still call each other on the phone but it’s not the same. Like the young boys from before, I want to experiment some freedom too. I like my town but, after my graduation, I started thinking that it was too small for me. So I started looking around for opportunities and there it was: my dream master’s degree, just 700 kilometers away from home. 

September has come: my suitcase was full to the brim and drenched in my mother’s tears when I jumped on the train that took me to my new home. 

It’s been a little over three weeks of me living here now. I wanted to move a little in advance, before classes began, so that I could settle in a little bit more. Mission failed. I pass my days sitting in front of the computer screen or wandering in the neighborhood. For now, my house is still empty. Actually, one of the other three rooms besides mine is already taken by a girl but she’s almost never home. She’s already been here for a few years and she has her group of friends. I would give anything to get onto the phase in which I will have my own friends here and I won’t have to wonder what I can do all day long. I have to admit I feel really lonely. I always appreciated being alone for a while but the idea of being in a city that’s completely unknown for me and with no friend to count on scares me. It’s strange, because I’d never thought about it before. 

Then, lessons begin. There are so many students that it would be hard to remember everybody’s faces. I make small talks with a guy and then, the next day, he’s gone in the crowd. So I try to start a conversation with another guy, but his destiny ends up being the same as the first one. Sometimes I feel like everybody already knows each other and I’m the only one left out.

This feeling is even heavier at night: I try to study, to get ready for the following day, to think about something else. But eating alone makes me feel sad. From time to time I phone Marco and the others. 

-We’re going to the Arlecchino tonight, they’re having a free show. Did your parents tell you? The owner decided to close it, he says he’s too old now and it costs too much. So he’s offering everyone a ticket tonight and then that’s going to be it.

I don’t know why but the news catches me unprepared. I hadn’t realized how central Arlecchino had been during my childhood and while I was growing up. I hadn’t realized how many memories linked to that place I have. I imagine that road across via Mazzini, all dark and deserted.  

-That’s a shame, I would like to be there with you. Have fun guys, – I turn off the phone and I start crying. I don’t know why but it seems so hard now being away from home. And yet, I had been thinking about all summer long, I have been making projects and dreaming about my independence. I didn’t think that my independence would feel like this. I better go out for a while to get a breath of fresh air, being home for one more night won’t help. In the last few days, I must have made the whole tour of the neighborhood for at least a hundred times, but I had never really looked at the details. There’s the dormitory, in the road right next to mine, but I’ve never seen anybody there. Maybe it’s still too early in the year, most lessons will begin in a couple of weeks. Then there’s the police department, a bar right at the corner of the street where I have breakfast sometimes and a park. I have already crossed the park a few times and I always noticed a few students who, in groups, studied for their exams while others played the guitar and sang. Sometimes, if I keep my bedroom window open, I can hear them sing. I don’t mind it but there’s often someone telling them to shut up. 

Parks always scared me at night, I’d rather not get in there. The darkness, though, gives me the opportunity to notice the buildings that surround it in a different perspective. There’s a neon light spelling: Nuovo Cinema Nosadella (which means it should be a new cinema called Nosadella). A cinema? It doesn’t look like it from the outside. I convince myself to get closer in order to better investigate. The two buildings at the sides of the park are identical. The left one, though, looks like it’s full of offices. The right one, instead, should be a cinema. 

The light is on inside, but I don’t see anyone. I go around the back of the building and I get to a back entrance, right on the parallel road from the one I was coming from. Still, I can see a light inside and a few posters but with these eyeglasses I can’t read anything. I am about to turn the corner and I find myself being face to face with a hooded figure. That scared me to death. I knew it, I shouldn’t have entered the park, my mother had told me that parks are dangerous at night and now I’m going to pay for it. While I’m lost in my catastrophic thoughts, I notice that, actually, what looked to me like a sketchy organ trafficker, in the light coming from inside the cinema, looks more like a boy like me, and a little scared too. We look at each other and we burst out laughing, to dissolve the tension. 

-Sorry, I didn’t think that there would be anybody else around here, – I say. 

-Actually, me neither. I just moved here and I was having a look around and noticed a cinema here. 

-Me too! But I can’t see anybody.  

In that moment the door opens. A dozen of people come out and disappear in the darkness of the park. Right after them, a man in his sixties starts turning all the lights off and locking the door. Seeing we were stuck there he asks if we were looking for someone.

-No, we were around here and…has this cinema always been there? I’ve been in this area quite a few times but I had never noticed it. 

My new friend surely is more blatant than I am. 

The man smiles. -Yes, I mean it hasn’t always been here but let’s say that I’ve been opening and closing this door every day for a few years now. 

-I thought there were only houses and offices here. Sorry to ask, but from the outside it doesn’t look like a cinema. 

-Because didn’t use to be one. My brother and I used to have a bit of a smaller cinema in Via Nosadella but the municipality decided to take that space back and the only other space left was this one. A former slaughterhouse. We renovated it but, you know, we weren’t able to do much. Money doesn’t come easy and we can pay the rent only thanks to a collaboration with the university. 

-By which you mean? – at this point, I’m getting curious.

-I mean that, during the day, the university rents this space, so that professors have two big rooms in which they can give their lectures. I open up early in the morning and I close late at night. During the day I schedule events and I chose the films that I want to project. 

He sees us looking at the posters and he says “I don’t really decide for every film on show. I mean, I have to insert in the program a few of those films that get the public’s attention, otherwise we wouldn’t make it with the fees. And if we close, this area is going to die just like via Nosadella died when we had to close the old cinema. In spite of our efforts, the cinema is almost never full. I always told my brother: a small cinema is better because it looks fuller than a big one. People don’t want to sit in the middle of an empty room. But we didn’t really have any choice.

-What events would you like to organize, instead?

-Sometimes I try to call a few minor directors, someone who has a smaller audience so that we can create a debate around the film with the participation of the public. There was a meeting tonight as well, one of the men you saw coming out of the cinema was the director of the film we saw tonight. It’s true, I cry a little inside every time I see the that the cinema is almost empty, but this is what has always fascinated me about this profession. It’s hard sometimes. If we only chose to project blockbusters maybe we would be able to make something more out of it, moneywise. But both my brother and I refuse to do so. We have nothing against blockbusters but we want to keep this small pleasure to ourselves. This is what pushed us to open up our old cinema when we were young boys. You came here at the wrong time, unfortunately. There’s a lot more people when we schedule premieres of those American movies everybody likes. 

He looks at his watch in shock. -It’s really late! I must get going, the students will have class tomorrow morning at 8 and I don’t want to hear the criminal law professor’s complaints if I don’t open up on time. I hope I’ll see you guys soon, at the right time!

Before we could say goodbye, he had already vanished on top of his bike. We look at each other.

-Anyways, I’m Federico, nice to meet you. 

It was a lucky night, in one shot I found all I needed: a friend and a cinema. 

My name is Alessia, I was born on a summer morning twenty-five years ago in a little town near Milan and I’m a linguistic mediation student. A few years ago, the city of Bologna became my second home because that’s where I’ve been studying. Living away from home gave me the opportunity to make new experiences such as sharing a house with five other students my age and dedicating myself to the activities I love: writing and translating. I like to listen to what other people want to share and I like pondering all the different little details of words which change according to the context in which they’re used, even on a cultural level. That’s why, in the near future, I would like to mix my listening skills with my translation and writing skills as much as possible in order to make it my job.

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