In an abandoned theater, French actress Marina Vlady recites from Borges’ classic short story “The Immortal” … Japanese research scientist Shin Kubota sings praise to Turritopsis dorhnii, the jelly sh capable of incessantly rejuvenating itself … the workers of the 600-year-old association to maintain Milan’s Duomo subject the cathedral’s exquisite statues to perpetual regeneration … Swiss musician/inventors Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer persistently re ne the Hang, their pitch-perfect steel percussion instrument … Native American community leaders Leola One Feather and Moses Brings Plenty preserve the centuries-old spiritual resistance of their Oglala Sioux tribe…
Award-winning documentary lmmakers Massimo D’Anolfi and Martina Parenti present a mesmerizing tribute to humankind’s aspirations for immortality by showing us a portrait of our efforts to overcome (or accept) our own limits. They share their fascinating discoveries in a visual symphony to the power and harmony of nature’s elements: water, earth, air and fire. From Milan to Wounded Knee, USA, from Bern to Shirahama, Japan, the traces of the lmmakers’ travels spiral wonderfully into a symbol of perfection and infinity: SPIRA MIRABILIS.
COMMENTS FROM MASSIMO D’ANOLFI & MARTINA PARENTI
The title of our film refers to the logarithmic spiral rst mentioned by Descartes and later investigated by Jacob Bernoulli, who gave the specific curve its name: Spira mirabilis, “the marvelous spiral”. It’s a symbol of perfection and infinity because of its unique mathematical properties – the size of the spiral increases but its shape remains unaltered with each successive curve. It has evolved in nature, appearing in certain growing forms such as nautilus shells. We borrowed this symbol to represent the greatest challenge of every human being: to live beyond his or her own mortality. The spiral design is also similar to the map of our geographic travels from Milan to Bern to Wounded Knee, USA, to Shirahama, Japan.
Our lm’s narrative is elastic, unafraid of detours or sudden breaks. Like the spiral, it is able to stretch and contract fluidly in size, from the general to the particular, from the comic to the tragic, from the individual to the community and vice versa. From this tension springs a similar “marvelous spiral”: our attempt to simultaneously accept and try to overcome human limitations. We wanted to make a lm that ed from the dynamics of this con ict, whether social or personal. We focused on the best of human beings to comment on their great aspirations and dreams. This lm was a very ambitious project, and it was not very cinematographic on paper. Many people advised us to abandon the idea, but we persevered with our initial intuition. After three and a half years of work, our film found its form in SPIRA MIRABILIS.
THE BEST SIDE OF HUMANKIND
Those who began the construction of Milan’s Duomo cathedral must have been awa- re from the beginning that one lifetime would not be enough to see the work accom- plished. Shin Kubota proves to us that his tiny immortal jelly sh can live, die and be reborn a dozen times. The invention and continuing research of a new musical instrument will likely go beyond the life of its inventors. The Lakota tribe are the expression of the human spirit’s need to resist and defend their own culture in the face of other prevailing civilizations. Every movement of our film has to do with the awareness of the limits and the desire to overcome them. In these struggles, in these unique stories, we wanted to show the best side of humankind.
STRUGGLING WITH IMMORTALITY
When we heard about Japanese research scientist Shin Kubota and his studies on the “immortal jellyfish”, we quickly realized that this was going to be the starting point for our film: a man fascinated by the idea of immortality. We were seduced by this extraordinary person, but we did not want to limit the space, time and sense of the lm in only this story. We looked for situations that re ected a desire for immortality in a similar manner, less obvious, but certainly just as deep. We looked inside ourselves to those stories that have long intrigued us: the statues of Milan’s Duomo cathedral, the persistent musical instrument research of Felix and Sabina, and the perseverance of the Lakota Native American community. We suddenly found a way for us to tell these stories in a complex design. Perhaps, above all, this is really a lm about aspirations, ours as well as the people in SPIRA MIRABILIS.
BORGES’ “THE IMMORTAL“
If our four stories represent nature’s four elements, then the magical ether that holds them together is French actress Marina Vlady. Her recitation of text from Borges’ “The Immortal“ in the old cine- ma creates an experience. Once we had de ned the four main storylines of SPIRA MIRABILIS, we realized that we needed a guide for our trip. Marina Vlady became that guide. The Borges short story came to mind as a remembrance of texts from our training. “The Immortal“ is the story of a labyrinthine journey without end. We find ourselves changed from the starting point. What better way to echo Bernouilli’s “eadem mutata resurgo“ with cinema, which also revives itself continuously.
THE IMMORTAL JELLYFISH
In Shirahama, Japan, a small resort overlooking the Pacific Ocean, within the premi- ses of the University of Kyoto’s Department of Marine Biology, Shin Kubota spends seven days a week, from dawn to night, completely dedicated to Turritopsis, known as the immortal jellyfish. He is the only scientist who manages to raise and “revive“ the Turritopsis in captivity. For him, this tiny creature is the most miraculous species of the animal kingdom. He is convinced that studying it will solve the mystery of human mortality. The Turritopsis are composed of 98 percent water. Their liquid bodies include a stomach and heart, but no brain. They resemble little bells and move as if they are dancing. Imitating the dance of Turritopsis, we moved uidly between sandy bottoms, scientific laboratories, and microscopic images. We dove into Shin’s watery world and scientific research where we discovered images of extraordinary beauty. Microscopic lenses enabled us to see the invisible and reveal what is normally hidden. The small can instantly become great.
Thanks to the visual power of the images we re ect on the beauty and transience of life, and the duties of man toward nature. As Shin Kubota says: “Nature is so beautiful, if humans disappeared, then there would be peace.“
THE SINGING SCIENTIST
Every night before going to bed, Japanese scientist Shin Kubota sings. He dedicates his songs to what he loves: the Turritopsis. “Miagete goran yoru no hoshi wo“ is a Japanese song from the 60s and it’s a karaoke favorite throughout the country. “Dream of Immortality“, was actually written by Shin Kubota for and about the Turritopsis. Shin Kubota isn’t really interested in achieving fame in the world of entertainment through music and song. He is simply allowing a part of his body constantly overlooked in the lab to express itself.
We are rst and foremost filmmakers, two craftsmen of cinema. We write, we shoot, we assemble our movies ourselves. We have worked together for the past 10 years, and our only external collaborator has been Massimo Mariani, a musician and sound editor. We chose to work this way; it’s not out of nancial burden. It’s how we like it and it suits our deepest nature.
DOCUMENTARY AND FICTION
We do not have any singular reference in regards to the various schools of docu- mentary lmmaking. We simply love good movies, whether documentary, ction, experimental. We love all lms, those by great directors, as well as those by unknown lmmakers or ignored auteurs. We do not really believe in distinctions of gender and category. A powerful film, fiction or documentary, must and deserves to be seen everywhere. Whether documentary or narrative, lms are made out of necessity. There are a lot of good ideas, but not all of them can be developed into films. Filmmakers must be honest with themselves about this, but it’s only when our lms are completed that they become alive in the eyes of the audience. We make documentaries because that is the structure that ts our storytelling and our way of working. If and when we have the need to make a fiction film, we will have to first find our own personal method for that to happen.