“No doubt the personal attachment added to the love, but that only makes No Dogs or Italians Allowed an even more beautiful and tender film about the sacrifices previous generations made to deliver us our happiness.”
Blending his own family history with that of Europe in the first half of the 20th century, French animator Alain Ughetto in his second film No Dogs or Italians Allowed creates an affecting image of worker migration within Europe one century ago, using his grandparents as the canvas on which to paint the hardships of migrants. Given the current discussion in Europe about migrant workers coming to the continent from outside, Ughetto’s playful and touching mixture of drama and comedy gains poignancy, and shows that xenophobic aversion to migrants is nothing new. First premiering at the renowned Annecy Festival for animated films, the film has picked up awards at a slew of festivals since (and was nominated for an ICS Award), before arriving in Rotterdam and narrowly missing the Audience Award there. This shows there is certainly an audience for this inventive and universal film based on a deeply personal story.
On the brink of the 20th century Luigi Ughetto, the filmmaker’s grandfather, leaves his home in the hamlet of Ughettera in Italy’s Western Alps to find work across the border in France, forced by the absence of jobs in his own Piedmont region. Italians are in high demand because they are willing to do the most gruelling jobs, but the French do not give them any thanks for it, treating them as lesser people (hence the title). During his time digging the Simplon Tunnel, Luigi falls in love with Cesira (voiced by Ariane Ascaride) the daughter of his foreman. For a while Luigi and his new love make a life for themselves in France, but when Italy decides to invade Libya in 1911 and start the Italo-Turkish War, Luigi and his two brothers are forced to join the war effort, and Cesira moves to Ughettera. What follows is a chronicle of Luigi’s travails through two World Wars, the Spanish Flu, and the rise of fascism in Italy, while intermittently working on some of the great Alpine construction works of the early 20th century. It is a tale of hardship and poverty, of a tight-knit community, of death and birth, of love and loss, and of a tough-as-bones perseverance. But on a grander scale it is about Europe, about its treatment of the poor and of migrants, and about the blood, sweat, and tears that went into building the Europe that we know today.
Ughetto tells Luigi’s story through a direct conversation with his grandmother Cesira, and this isn’t limited to dialogue. At times Ughetto’s hands enter the frame to interact with Cesira or her surroundings. All of this makes the film deeply personal, as is his own short history at the start of the film. “My only friends were clay, glue, scissors, and pencils,” Ughetto says of himself, and No Dogs or Italians Allowed shows that it has been a lifelong friendship. And his circle of friends is extended to broccoli, chestnuts, sugar cubes, and any odd object he can use to create his beautiful and intimate stop-motion world. It lays his craft out in the open and shows the love that goes into a work of art like this. No doubt the personal attachment added to the love, but that only makes No Dogs or Italians Allowed an even more beautiful and tender film about the sacrifices previous generations made to deliver us our happiness.