2017 Hot Docs ‘Secondo Me’

Secondo Me, directed by Pavel Cuzuioc, is an intriguing film where high culture meets beauty in the mundane examined through the lives of three cloakroom attendants.  They are Ronald Zwanziger who works at the Vienna State Opera, Flavio Fornasa who works at Teatro All Scala Milan, and Nadezhda Sohotskaya who works at the Odessa State Opera. 

Without compromising their dignity, Cuzuioc, has not only created larger-than-life intimate portraits of the three cloakroom attendants but has challenged preconceptions people may hold about the people who do these jobs.  Zwanziger, Fornasa and Sohotskaya are more than their jobs, as the documentary reveals, and their personal lives take front and center of the documentary.  While Cuzuioc films them getting ready for work and performing their duties which includes taking coats, bags and other belongings from the people who visit the Opera houses, tagging, storing, and keeping them safe until they are retrieved, their jobs are relegated to a secondary role as are the Opera houses.  Whispers of the operatic performances are heard as dins of background sound never intruding on the footage.

Cuzuioc doesn’t offer first person interviews of his subjects, and they never address the camera but on occasion they slip up and acknowledge the camera’s presence. Cuzuioc films them living their lives, doing their chores, shopping, cooking, engaged in conversations with colleagues, and friends, relaxing and spending time with family and/or friends.  By the film’s end, you see them for the people who they are and not for the jobs they do.  Sohotskaya, a widow, is a devoted loving grandmother and her grandson, Stasik, is the apple of her eye.  Fornasa is an intellectual and loving father and husband.  Zwanziger’s daytime occupation is a librarian moonlighting as a cloakroom attendant.

The film is beautifully edited and transitions smoothly between each of the characters set against the cities they live in.  I loved the homage to the famous Soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein with Cuzuioc’s lingering shot of the famous Odessa steps. 

I offer up a big thank you to Zwanziger, Fornasa and Sohotskaya for allowing us to glimpse their lives and showing us that we are more than our jobs.  Kudos to Cuzuioc for breaking down psychological barriers and revealing that just because someone does a service related job does not make them servile and/or lowly.  He has, through his film, subtly confronted hierarchical structures using the context of the Opera house and indirectly, society which loves nothing more than to divide, and organize people, and assign worth based on their skills and status.  I highly recommend Secondo Me

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