Italian Advice on How to Live the Good Life: Cigarettes, Tomatoes, and Other Picturesque Small Pleasures

“I guess everybody’s got a dream and we’re all hop­ing to see it come true,” mus­es Gio­van­ni Mim­mo Man­cu­sou, a philo­soph­i­cal native of Cal­abria, the love­ly, sun-drenched region form­ing the toe of Italy’s boot, above. “A dream com­ing true is bet­ter than just a dream.”

Film­mak­ers Jan Vrhovnik and Ana Kerin were scout­ing for sub­jects to embody “the very essence of nos­tal­gia” when they chanced upon Man­cu­sou in a cor­ner shop.

A lucky encounter! Not every non-actor — or for that mat­ter, actor — is as com­fort­able on film as the laid­back Man­cu­sou.

(Vrhovnik has said that he invari­ably serves as his own cam­era oper­a­tor when work­ing with non-actors, because of the poten­tial for inti­ma­cy and intu­itive approach that such prox­im­i­ty affords.)

Man­cu­sou, an advo­cate for sim­ple plea­sures, also appears to be quite fit, which makes us won­der why the film’s descrip­tion on NOWNESS dou­bles down on adjec­tives like “aging”, “old­er” and most con­fus­ing­ly, “wis­ened.”

Mer­ri­am-Web­ster defines “wiz­ened” with a z as “dry, shrunk­en, and wrin­kled often as a result of aging or of fail­ing vital­i­ty” … and “wis­ened” not at all.

Per­haps NOWNESS meant wise?

We find our­selves crav­ing a lot more con­text.

Man­cu­sou has clear­ly cul­ti­vat­ed an abil­i­ty to savor the hell out of a ripe toma­to, his pic­turesque sur­round­ings, and his cig­gies.

“Seren­i­ty, joy, ecsta­sy” is embroi­dered across the back of his ball cap.

His man­ner of express­ing him­self does lend itself to a “poet­ic thought piece”, as the film­mak­ers note, but might that not be a symp­tom of strug­gling to com­mu­ni­cate abstract thoughts in a for­eign tongue?

We real­ly would love to know more about this charm­ing guy… his fam­i­ly sit­u­a­tion, what he does to make ends meet, his actu­al age.

Home movies accom­pa­ny his nos­tal­gic rever­ie, but did he pro­vide this footage to his new friends?

Did they hunt it down on ebay? It def­i­nite­ly fits the vibe, but is the man with the eye­brows Man­cu­sou at an ear­li­er age?

Our star pulls up to a small petrol sta­tion, declares, “All right, here we go,” and the next frame shows him wear­ing a head­lamp and mag­ni­fi­er as he peers into the work­ings of a pock­et watch:

Time out of mechan­i­cal. It’s mag­ic.

Is this a hob­by? A pro­fes­sion? Does he repair watch­es in a dark­ened gas sta­tion?

The film­mak­ers aren’t say­ing and the blurred back­ground offers no clues either. Curse you, depth of field!

We’re not even giv­en his home coor­di­nates.

The film, part of the NOWNESS series Por­trait of a Place, is titled Par­adiso, and there is indeed a vil­lage so named adja­cent to the town of Belvedere Marit­ti­mo, but accord­ing to cen­sus data we found on line, it has only 14 res­i­dents, 7 male.

If that’s where Man­cu­sou lives, he’s either 45–49, 65–69, 70–74, or one of two fel­lows over age 74…and now we’re real­ly curi­ous about his neigh­bors, too.

No shade to Sign­or Man­cu­so, but we’re glad to know we’re not the only view­ers left unsat­is­fied by this por­trait’s lack of depth.

One com­menter who chafed at the lack of speci­fici­ty (“this video is a ran­dom por­trait of basi­cal­ly any­one in the world that is hap­py with the lit­tle he has”) sug­gest­ed the omis­sions con­tribute to an Ital­ian stereo­type famil­iar from pas­ta sauce com­mer­cials:

Peo­ple in Italy actu­al­ly work and have ambi­tions you know? And often are very well-edu­cat­ed and hard-work­ing. The per­spec­tive of Italy that you have comes from the Amer­i­can media and Ital­ian post-war neo­re­al­ism. Indeed, Oscar-win­ning Ital­ian peo­ple com­plained about the fact that what the media wants is see­ing Ital­ians wear­ing tank tops doing noth­ing if not mafia or smelling the ros­es.

Watch more entries in the NOWNESS Por­trait of a Place series here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

What Are the Keys to Hap­pi­ness? Lessons from a 75-Year-Long Har­vard Study

A Guide to Hap­pi­ness: Alain de Botton’s Doc­u­men­tary Shows How Niet­zsche, Socrates & 4 Oth­er Philoso­phers Can Change Your Life

Pos­i­tive Psy­chol­o­gy: A Free Online Course from Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty

The Sci­ence of Well-Being: Take a Free Online Ver­sion of Yale University’s Most Pop­u­lar Course

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.


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  • Arantxa says:

    After read­ing the head­line, I won´t both­er in read­ing the text nor watch­ing the video… there is noth­ing good for life in includ­ing a poi­son that kills 8 mil­lion peo­ple every year worl­wide and caus­es harm to our plan­et dur­ing its cycle, from cul­ti­va­tion, pro­duc­tion, trans­porta­tion, use and waste.
    Today is World No Tobac­co Day, but you have fall­en in a trap by the Tobac­co indus­try to include their adver­tis­ing on your con­tent.

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