The topographical starting point of the film The Empirical Effect is the area around Mount Vesuvius in Southern Italy. The protagonists of the film, which was shot in the summer of 2009, are all survivors of the last active eruption of the volcano in 1944, and live in the so-called “Red Zone” in the immediate danger zone of the volcano. The recordings were made in a disused observatory near to the crater, and also include the staging of a trial evacuation. The Empirical Effect is an example of the blurring of fact and fiction that is typical in Barba’s film work. “The volcano Vesuvius has been always a protagonist I wanted to work with. To me it’s like a metaphor for the complex relationships between society and politics in Italy. It’s unpredictable, powerful, destructive and based in the middle of a densely populated area alongside the Mediterranean coast. No one is able to control this immense force of nature and yet it connects the inhabitants and their environments with an invisible tie.”
The Empirical Effect charts the stories of a society whose lives are infused with an incredible tension, yet are paralyzed and docile. At the foot of the sleeping monster, the mafia runs its empire, filtering untold numbers of illegal chinese migrants into a secretive parallel society. They remain visible only in their social impact; meanwhile all official attention is focused on the volcano, where nature is dramatized as a media spectacle – a powerful structure beyond comprehension. It is perhaps similar in this sense to the ways in which the obscure social situation at its foot is mystically narrated. Even history acts ironically here; the last eruption, in 1944, coincided with the bombing of the region by the US Army.