Il Gesto delle Mani, or Hand Gestures is a masterful documentary film from Franscesco Clerici that focuses on the creation of bronze sculpture. At the historic Fonderia Artistica Battaglia bronze foundry, we follow a Velasco Vitali sculpture through each step of the process.
The understated documentary has no background music or voiceovers explaining the process; it simply watches with the audience in the ambient sounds of the workshop. There are no distractions as we become engrossed in the work, picking up on the wider process as well as the smaller human details such as the motions and hand gestures of the artisans.
Interspersed between the process are pieces of archive footage, the making of another bronze sculpture decades ago, thoughtfully placed to demonstrate the unchanged process today as well as interesting similarities in things such as hand gestures. Despite this process dating back to the Bronze Era of 3000-700 BC and not being formally taught other than being passed down to apprentices, it is remarkable at how even these smaller features not integral to the creation have gone unchanged. Director Clerici tells us that simple gestures such as having one’s hand behind their back have been recorded decades before today, and he has learnt through screenings of the film across Europe that this gesture is used across cultures, seemingly unknowingly.
Every decision of the Hand Gestures’ filming and editing is thoughtful. From the Q+A with director Clerici held by Chapter Arts Centre and led by Stephen Phillips, we learn that the duration of each scene in the 77 minute runtime of the documentary has reason. Each stage of the bronze casting process is given screen time relative to how long it takes in reality. In this way, the editing provides a sense of scale for the audience. It makes us appreciate the amount of artistry and effort that goes into the creation, lose ourselves in the detailing of the initial wax form, and become excited in anticipation as the form is prepared for firing. The composition of each shot itself feels as curious as the audience, artistically framing the subjects and work in progress whilst lingering on them until the very end of each motion of the hand. Despite condensing the film down to just over an hour, there is a real sense of, and satisfaction at, having seen the entirety of the process.
What is most captivating about this film is its devotional quality. It shows such respect and sanctity towards its subject by creating an atmosphere for meditation. We have here 77 minutes of uninterrupted focus and appreciation for an ancient art, truly artisan in that it is not formally taught but passed down, hand gestures and all; however it is for this same reason that it is unfortunately in danger of being lost. In this sense, it is even more valuable that we have Hand Gestures documenting the process.