An old man stubbornly continues to peddle his trade.
Dir. Alex Healey, 2008, 4 min, Viewed via MUBI
In a flashy modern world, where is the room for the old knife-sharpener? For sixty years, Michele Muzio has biked through the streets of Rome, shouting out “arrotino!” to announce his service. An arrotino uses a pedal-powered grindstone to return a keen edge to worn blades. There’s nothing that can sharpen Michele himself, though. He’s near the end of his days, and most people don’t require his help anymore. His father was an arrotino, as was his father before him, but none of Michele’s children or grandchildren will be taking up the job. The end is nigh, but Michele continues to steadfastly ply his trade.
Is this a happy thing? A sad thing? Michele doesn’t seem to think too much about it either way. He just keeps doing what he’s always done. Does he even particularly like sharpening knives all day? Who knows. There are a lot of Michele’s in the world, although there aren’t nearly as many as there once were, and there are fewer by the day. Don Draper once said that change isn’t good or bad, it just is. Which is kind of bull, because I could think of a thousand changes that were most definitely bad off the top of my head, but this is one of those kinds of “just is” changes. It’s inevitable, intrinsic to the nature of progress, and it tweaks the sentimentality, but it’s also wrapped up with a bunch of positive changes. Life has gotten easier, so we don’t need the Michele’s of the world.
Arrotino doesn’t say all this. It doesn’t really have time to, being just four minutes long. But that’s what’s buried in its core, the unsaid story that lurks beneath this very simple man and the job that he performs. This little documentary packs quite a melancholic and intellectual punch. It speaks in the shing of metal against the grindstone, in the metal clickety-clack of Michele’s bicycle, in his still-strong cry of “arrotiiiiinoooooo.” There’s a lifetime of experience there, all of which means little or nothing in the face of the new world. Arrotino is short but evocative and lasting.