In Normal’s brief but valuable cinematic experience, Adele Tulli paints a tapestry of Italian society, investigating the gendered constructs of everyday life from birth, through to childhood, through to adulthood and marriage. The breadth of settings capture scenes of conscious indoctrination, in seminars concerning the correct behaviour of men and women, and the subconscious influencing of individuals through the assignment of hobbies and interests, the over-sexualisation of women, and the suppression of female independence.
Tulli avoids over-stating her point: Normal rests entirely on the power of its images, and the truth of the environments depicted on screen. Many scenarios ring scarily true, with the normalcy of each subject forming a striking declaration in itself; these are not extraordinarily misogynist circumstances which Tulli has sought out, rather, the collection of such institutionalised trends when arranged together under the heading of ‘Normal’ naturally invites the consideration of absurdity.
A particularly powerful image comes early on in the film, as a young girl has her ears pierced for the purpose of making her “prettier”. This tradition is common in cultures across the world, and is generally seen as harmless, but as the child looks forward into the camera with a blank expression on her face, the pointlessness of the act arises. She appears to have little interest in the piercing, smiling only when her mother comments that she now looks “pretty”. The assignment of beauty standards on a child not much older than a toddler is damning yet unequivocally normalised: no viewer can blame the parent, when societal norms are so deeply embedded.
As if to push the point home further, Tulli then follows this up with a scene demonstrating young masculinity, as fathers encourage their sons to race faster and faster around a minibike course. The sport, which has been noted as dangerous and unsuitable for young children in the UK and Canada, is an obvious cause of great pride for these men. Shouts of ‘that’s my son/boy” evidence this specifically gendered delight, and as some scream instructions from the sidelines, Tulli once again invites gentle criticism from her audience. Within this short vignette, not once does a child speak or express enthusiasm: silent, they are bundled into their protective clothing and pushed onto the competitive circuit.
To delve into further segments of this enlightening documentary would spoil individual interpretation – the response of the viewer to each carefully observed norm will no doubt vary greatly, and it is this effect that makes Normal truly special. Within a gendered society, very few viewers can claim themselves innocent, and this insight into Western cultural norms reflects our own issues back at us. Illuminative rather than accusatory, Normal invites its audience to question their own environment, and perhaps reconsider the gendered choices they make on a day to day basis.
‘Normal’ will be showing at Fragments Festival at Genesis Cinema, London on Friday 14th June. Book your tickets here.