O'Mast : My Tailor is a Hero

O'Mast : My Tailor is a Hero


This article was written to correct an injustice.

The beautiful movie dedicated to Neapolitans master tailors « O'Mast » released at the end of 2011 never made its way into a proper article on this website until now. A mistake indeed, for its gifted director Gianluca Migliarotti – a children of Naples himself – is worthy of our utmost consideration and praises. Very few have ever filmed his hometown and its heroes quite like him.

Considering that the movie is already well-known, and that it is very easy to come by a copy these days, I'll try to subject myself to the highly specific exercise of the critique en retard, or late review. An interesting formula coined by Charles Baudelaire in one of his aptly called Critiques dedicated to Flaubert's Madame Bovary. Since I couldn't find any official translations to the original french text, here are some self-translated chosen-pieces  :

When it comes to the act of reviewing, the writer who arrives late to the party is in a desirable position…arriving late grants advantages that the early writer, who prophesied the success of the book, and who made it happen with bold and authoritative claims out of devotion, didn't get to enjoy.

Mr. Gustave Flaubert doesn't need devotion anymore, and it could be said that he never needed devotion at all – many an artist, amongst which the finest and the most decorated of our time, have showered his excellent book with praises.

To the critics who arrive late, the task that remains consists simply of shedding light onto point of views that might have been forgotten by the previous critics, and to put additional emphasis on some other points that, in my opinion, were not praised and commented upon nearly enough. It could be said-- and this is what I was trying to convey, that the late writer, being at a healthy distance from public opinion, is embued with a paradoxical charm ~ freer indeed, since he is lonely, as only slackers can be. He is the one who sums up the debates, and who imperiously carves a new way, without any other compass than the love of Beauty and Justice .

So I'm going to try, for the love of Beauty and Justice, to carve myself a different niche amongst the existing critics, who extensively praised the merits of this movie many times over in the past. However, I do believe that O'mast deserves a subtler approach than the classic avalanche of superlatives that always seem to come crashing when nice directors decide to film nice artisans doing nice gestures...

O'mast is unquestionably a beautiful movie that would make any connoisseur shiver with pleasure. Yet, it is also compelling enough for the non-initiate to enjoy. The characters – master tailors, passionate customers, important figures of the trade – are staged in such a staggeringly theatrical way, literally dripping with nonchalance and sincerity in front of Migliarotti's 16mm-type camera, that they look like the last of modern days heroes.

The casting is one of the strongest point of the movie ; a carnival of stunning faces carved with a chisel, with deep voices that would make your walls tremble.And what could be said about that incredible neapolitan cockiness, straight out of an old-school gangster movie, that hasn't been said before ? Antonio Panico owns the screen, looking like a mob boss with his ever-present cigarette loosely hanging out of his lips and his coercingly deep voice, while Renato Ciardi and his two sons Enzo and Roberto look as if they came straight out of an Al Pacino / De Niro flick.

O'mast touches on the gestures of tailors, workshops and fittings, jackets, shears and fabrics, as well as captures a mood of cigarette smoke, landline phones, cardboard  and neon lights. And then there is Naples, with perennial charm, gripping to the extreme, relishing in its chaos…all of which Migliarotti captures with ease and sprezzatura, as a true child of the bay would.

O'Mast is built as a succession of interviews with no voice-over. No questions are asked -- the characters are so colorful as they talk about their life story steeped-in neapolitan craftmanship, that their passion and humour is enough to fill the screen. A bold narrative decision for sure, but it works. Memories, anecdotes, and vibrant pleas in defense of tradition, are all edited with a flair that can only cause one to marvel.

The result is a touching movie, surprising at first, captivating most of the time, full of a certain sense of poetry and charm that is typically Italian.

The movie is not completely void of drawbacks, however. One could argue that the second half of the movie loses its wind a bit. The accumulation of anecdotes while charming at first, tends to become redundant as the movie progresses. This is the risk of the not having a voice-over narrative, though it might actually be the director's intention to pay his personal tribute through the movie's structure to the local style, which is loosely structured and nonchalant.

The music is all original. And while flirting with the sublime at times, it tends to be a bit repetitive, as is to be expected when one uses strictly jazz for the entire length of the movie.

Ultimately, O'Mast delivers something different than a simple documentary on Neapolitan tailoring would. And although you won't learn much about the craft itself, the experience of watching O'Mast is enticing and poetic enough to be worth your time. A town like Naples, as one of the cornerstones of bespoke tailoring, deserves to be honored as a place where craftmanship reigns with an effervescent smack of old world charm and a continuous steeped-in-heritage tone.

Hats off to Gianluca

Cheers, HUGO

To see the trailer and order the DVD : O'Mast, The Movie

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