A note from yours truly,
In my ongoing pursuit of self-love, growth and improvement, I revisited this post because the message I found in the film “La Kryptonite Nella Borsa” by Ivan Cotroneo, strongly resonates with me. So, in a “go over your old posts” moment, I decided to make some tweaks and additions here and there.
An Introvert’s Challenge
I’m not one to socialize openly or frequently, nonetheless, I do love talking to people. The sporadic exchange of energy with random individuals is quite magical to me; I equally enjoy and often prefer to curl up in a comfy corner with a cup of tea, and a good book.
No, I wouldn’t say I’m anti-social; just selectively shy and socially awkward. I read more than I watch TV, I am more into nature, spirituality and scientific research than I am into politics, movies or celebrities. I’m an advocate for self-love and recovery from eating disorders; I’m a student of life, an aspiring polyglot, an editor, and a poet and storyteller at heart, none of which makes me good at small talk.
Every now and then, however, I challenge myself to step out of the comfort zone of my own company and engage in social gatherings. The tricky part is getting out there and being social; once I overcome that anxiety-inducing sfida, I tend to enjoy myself, and more so, what I learn from the people I meet.
This post is about one such occasion. On October 3, 2018, I had made some time to attend a movie night hosted by the Italian Club Insieme at Florida Atlantic University. I was teaching a couple of Spanish classes at the time — dio come passa il tempo — and after having spent the day grading and cleaning, I decided to attend the event I’d seen on Facebook.
The beauty of these events, at least to me, is the different tonalities of Italian I get to experience. Some are native speakers; others, like me, are developing their Italian. The leader of the club, or perhaps the bravest one, is Dr. Serra. She was one of the first professors to teach me Italian, and someone I’ve looked up to since I was 22 when I first started my love affair with this beautiful language, and the culture it racchiude.
Dr. Serra guides the speakers and encourages conversations before and after each event; that evening, she introduced the Ph.D. student who was in charge of presenting the film.
With lively mannerisms and a warm smile, the Neapolitan grad-student spoke about the film, how it represented Naples during the 1970s, and how the film focuses on family matters through the eyes of the main character.
I had the pleasure to take a few classes with her, I admire her intellectual view on different subjects, and her passion and dedication in her studies.
La Kryptonite Nella Borsa: Spoiler Alert!
The film starts with the piccolo Peppino and his occhiali for his strong myopia, which immediately sets him apart from the “norm” of the family. He is the youngest of the Sasone family, and as such, he’s scrutinized as a young child of almost 10 with many issues and weird habits. His closest relative, another “outsider” of the family who believes himself to be Superman, dies early in the film and becomes
Peppino’s guide and voice of conscience. The film continues through the eyes of Peppino as he is passed on from family member to family member when his mother Rosaria falls into a deep depression after finding out her husband is having an affair. Peppino experiences different facets of life through his relationship with his young aunt and uncles, a close family friend, and his parents. From a hippie-ish body-embracing, drug-experimenting environment with his young aunt Titina and uncle Salvatore, to seeking love and a husband with Assunta, the family friend. Dealing with baby chicks, death, and his parents, Peppino lives and learns a lot.
Strict social standards on how women should and should not behave; liberal ideas of the western world making its way into a traditional Italian household, the film by Ivan Cotroneo released in 2011, presents complex themes in a fun, innocent, and open way.
Blah, Blah, Blah, Wasn’t There a Lesson?
When the film was over, Dr. Serra initiated the conversation amongst those present. Many, shy like me I assume, kept quiet; very few chimed in with their take on the film.
We discussed the different scenery featured in the film, piazze, montagne, isole, tramonti, beautiful components of a city that encloses a unique Italianità.
We also discussed a few of the themes presented in the movie. The death of cousin Gennaro the Neapolitan Superman, for example, is first thought to be an accident. Further into the film, however, Cotroneo shows his audience that perhaps Gennaro’s death wasn’t an accident but an escape from being misunderstood and “different.” By subtly hinting toward his sexual preferences in one of the last scenes, the film leads the audience to consider suicide for the first time; homosexuality was not a welcomed difference during the 1970s.
As the story develops, it intricately weaves themes such as self-identity, homosexuality, social conditioning, bullying, depression, adultery, and the resistance by old generations to the inevitable changes that new eras bring and new generations embrace.
At the end of the movie, Peppino reaches a certain level of maturity — the audience along with him — and a profound conclusion on how to go about life.
It’s up to you if your life is to be easy or difficult; if you don’t care what people think, even if they think you are weird and don’t belong, you will be better off.
This simple, yet insightful realization comes to him through his depicted Superman-cousin, the family member he related to the most. Peppino’s epiphany is a beautiful message for the audience, or so I thought. But there are many levels to Cotroneo’s film.
After the brief discussion, sleepy club members made their way out of the building, en route to their homes. As I walked to my car, I kept thinking about the film, the short Italian exchange I was able to make, and all the themes that we discussed before leaving.
The title of the movie, however, didn’t seem to fit with the movie, and it was left out of the discussion.
“La Kryptonite Nella Borsa,” which roughly translates to “The Kryptonite in the Bag,” had nothing to do with the film we’ve watched. Yes, the film showed a Superman, and we can argue he was Peppino’s superhero, but there was no kryptonite in a bag or in a corner, or near Superman, per se; yet, he still dies.
Even after I got home, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. What or where was this “Kryptonite Nella Borsa” that killed poor Superman-cousin Gennaro?
I doubt there is a particular answer to such a question; perhaps only the writers and Ivan Cotroneo know what the answer is. After pondering on it for a while, I realized a part of me already knew a plausible answer: Secrecy.
It was secrecy that killed cousin Gennaro. The secret he kept from his family, his sexuality, his self-doubt as he starts to discover himself, feeling out of place and misunderstood, all of it eventually takes a toll on him; and, well, his character dies within the first 15 minutes of the film.
There’s a crucial scene halfway into the movie that sparked this view.
Leaning against the stone wall of the steps, while Peppino sits on the stairs, Salvatore shares something with his youngest cousin that no one knows.
The night before his death, cousin Genaro went to speak with Salvatore. Peppino learns his Superman-cousin had taken his clothes off and asked Salvatore to do the same, to see if they were built alike, to see if he was the same as everybody else.
In the blur of such an unusual encounter mixed with confusion and fear — I’d go even further and say Salvatore was facing his own conditioning regarding such behavior — he sends Genaro away.
“Io mi sono messo paura e l’ho cacciato via.” Salvatore says to Peppino that he’d gotten scared and sent Genaro away.
Cotroneo focuses on Salvatore’s pained and confused expression as he remembers the last moment he shared with his cousin, the night before he died. In retrospect, he realizes that cousin Genaro was trying to understand himself.
“E invece forse Genaro voleva vedere se era uguale a me, se era uguale a tutti.” Salvatore thinks out loud as he remembers his cousin’s behavior, trusting Peppino as his confidant, and perhaps hoping to understand himself without further judgment.
Through this scene, Cotroneo shows his audience a different perspective. Cultural conditioning consumed cousin Genaro and the rejection he felt from Salvatore, the one person he’d trusted and opened up to, confirmed the rejection he felt toward himself because he didn’t fit into society’s constructed concept of how men should be.
Secrecy is what kept my eating disorder alive for so many years, over a decade ago — quando sono cresciuta?! — and it nearly did take my life.
What hides behind la borsa consumes your very essence; it becomes an obsession, and soon develops a life of its own. Your kryptonite will swirl you along dark paths of depression, anxiety, self-hatred and a whirlpool of negativity.
By keeping your secret in the bag, an eating disorder, sexual harassment, an affair, gambling or substance abuse, an “oops” pregnancy, whatever the secret, it becomes stronger in hidden quarters.
Regardless of how many times and the different ways you accommodate that kryptonite, as long as it is kept in secret, safely away in the bag, it will continue to grow and get stronger, rosicchiando at your inner peace, shattering you from the inside out.
This is why reaching out is so important, and why being open-minded is even more so. The first step to end secrecy is the most difficult one; having a good support system is one of the many factors that make the difference in someone facing their struggle — as we see in the film with Superman-cousin Genaro.
Unveiling the kryptonite is how one takes control back. The exposure of that secret allows you to create space for healing, self-acceptance, and self-love. It is so important to speak up, take the kryptonite out of the bag and expose it to the light of love, understanding, compassion, and forgiveness. It’s a long process that starts from within; it’s challenging, confusing, and frustrating at times, but the journey is worth it.
An incurable passion for writing; a poet and storyteller at heart. I am a writer on the road.