Tuesday 25 June 2024

Raindance 2024: Sting Like a Bee

It is now almost twenty years since Leone Balduzzi—better known by the mononym Leone—made his short film Splendida Giornata, and in the intervening years he's directed several other shorts including French Toast and Tram Stories.  The sometimes large gaps between his films can be accounted for by both Leone's prolific work as a photographer and his role as the publisher of C41 magazine.  With Sting Like a Bee, Balduzzi steps behind the camera for his first feature as director; this assured debut, which was filmed in Leone's native Italy, is one of the selections for this year's Raindance Film Festival, where it has been nominated for the Best Documentary Feature award.  

Sting Like a Bee unfolds in and around Leone's hometown of San Salvo, a southern Italian resort on the Adriatic coast.  The film's opening stretch focuses on the Piaggio Ape, that distinctive three-wheeled light commercial vehicle favoured by many Italian youths; in Italy, you only need a moped licence—available to those aged 14 and over—to drive one.  The Ape ("bee") is basically a scooter with a cab, and it's the slightly younger sibling of Piaggio's ever-popular Vespa ("wasp"), with both models having remained in continuous production since the mid-late 1940s—a period when, with the economy having tanked on account of WW2, Italians were in need of cheap transport options.  

Apes aren't so cheap nowadays, and the youths featured in Sting Like a Bee spend much time and money on all kinds of after-market modifications for their prized vehicles.  As Leone goes about interviewing a selection of San Salvo's Ape enthusiasts, Sting Like a Bee feels very much like a garden variety documentary—albeit a highly engaging one.  But once the film has settled down into familiar territory, a very different picture emerges, one in which the director sets about casting some of these Ape-mad teens in a film centring on first love.  Thus, Sting Like a Bee morphs into a hybrid work where these young adults attempt to navigate the choppy, uncharted waters of dating and romance.  

In a sense, the film's slippery blend of reality and fiction recalls Ben Petrie's The Heirloom—another Raindance 2024 title—in that there are times when it isn't clear if what we are watching is scripted or simply documented.  Parallels can also be drawn between Leone's film and Gaspar Noé's Lux Æterna: each work was commissioned as a piece of branded content—Piaggio sponsored Sting Like a Bee, while Noé received funding from Yves Saint Laurent—before it veered off into very different territory from what its financer had expected.  This charming, engrossing film plays on Thursday, when it is showing at the Genesis cinema; the screening will be followed by a Q&A session with Leone.

Darren Arnold