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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Interview: Marco Bellocchio

The cinematic world of Italian maestro Marco Bellocchio is one that encompasses a multitude of layers. His films speak about complex topics, including political movements, Italian history and family relations. They do so in a way that combines the artistry of filmmaking with music and dialogue rendering his films iconic works that document the history and generations of his country. He communicates the messages of his films in a universal style that translates clearly to international audiences.

The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York recently payed homage to the distinguished career of Marco Bellocchio in a retrospective that included 18 of the director's films. The works spanned from the very beginning of his career right up until today, demonstrating his ability to evolve with the changing times, while maintaining his signature elements of rebellion, psychoanalysis, mystery and fascination. On the occasion of the retrospective, a press conference was held at the Italian Cultural Institute of New York, where a book dedicated to his career was presented. Written by Sergio Toffi, long time friend and colleague of Bellocchio, Morality and Beauty recounts the director's distinguished career through images, sketches, personal testimony and essays. "Morality and Beauty" takes an in depth look at the creativity and drive of this unique artist. 

Since Bellocchio is known for involving his family in the making of his films, several family members accompanied the director to New York City where he presented his book and films during the opening days of the retrospective. His son, Pier Giorgio Bellocchio, who has appeared in several of his films though the years, including his latest, Bella addormentata, commented on what it means to make cinema a family affair, explaining, "it means dealing with topics that are family matters. It means also involving your own family members in the filmmaking process but it also means developing family relations and this is where it's been the most powerful influence in my life over the years. It's been a way to deepen our relationship, to get to know each other, to improve our relationship. In making movies together, we have had very important experiences on the set getting to know each other better, fighting with each other, making up with each other, loving each other. This is something that still happens today."

I sat down with the maestro, Marco Bellocchio at the Italian Cultural Institute in New York. We talked with him about his influences,  how he evolves with the changing technology of filmmaking and the historical elements of his work, specifically, Buongiorno Notte, (Good Morning, Goodnight) the story of the 1978 kidnapping and murder of Italian Prime Minister, Aldo Moro.  

Photo op after our interview  
There is so much artistry in your work and so many elements that contribute to the poetry of your films, especially music, which has always played a leading role. Tell us about your creative process and how you bring all these elements together to make such power films. When you begin a project, do you visualize the film as a complete work, or do you build the elements as you go along?
I do not have the whole film in my head when I start off. The film is born from sort of a dominant image, which is a starting point of a very long process through which this image develops. Then you start to create a much more detailed idea. You write down your ideas. And one of the nice things about cinema is that sooner rather than later, you're going to have to be dealing with a lot of different collaborators, script writers, the production design, the costume design and the actors. The creative process is something that involves all of them and they progressively enrich the film. And then the whole other stage of course is the shooting. And then the editing of the film is a whole other stage as well.

You're an artist that others look to as an example, and you have influenced generations of filmmakers. Has there been anyone along the way that has influenced your work? 
Yes, I have been influenced by the great masters of Italian cinema; Antonioni, Fellini, De Sica, Rossellini but also very much by Italian history. I would add to that my films are very personal, almost autobiographical, even though my life story is transfigured in my films. It's transformed. It's unrecognizable. Someone that knows me wouldn't really recognize the various characters from my life in my films. But, having said that, these films are about my life and experiences in Italian society over the years, and anyone who sees my films in the United States, however, can really understand a lot about what has happened in Italy over the last 50 years.

With son, Pier Giorgio Bellocchio and Actress Maya Sansa
Regarding Buongiorno notte, what was the autobiographical aspect? What did you connect with in that story?
It's something that I experienced as a citizen and as an Italian. It's an experience I live with very great emotion, the emotion of the time. I read many books about the case. I read the newspaper articles and I participated as a citizen in these events. After the tragedy, many years after, I was asked to do this film. When I was asked to do the film, then I remembred my very strong emotions toward these events and that's what became the film. So this is an example of how my biography and how my autobiography is not directly involved in the events but definitely colors my emotions toward them.

The script for Buongiorno notte was very detailed and intimate in the dialogue between Aldo Moro and his captors. What was your source of research?
Many books have been written on the case. But my one main source in particular was Il prigioniero (The Prisoner) by a woman named Laura Braghetti, who was a terrorist and was in the house where Aldo Moro was imprisoned and thus saw the whole series of episodes which took place over the 50-day period of captivity. There are other episodes that I invented but the starting point of the story was this book by a woman who is played in the film by Maya Sansa, and who unlike the other kidnappers and terrorists was both at the house where he was being held and would go to work.

How do you feel about the evolution of filmmaking from the days of I pugni in tasca to the technical resources of today? Has the new technology changed your process of filmmaking?
When I started off of course, the technology that we used was a lot heavier. The camera was heavier. The dollies were heavier. Everything was made of iron and now everything is lighter, simpler and smaller. So there's been a huge difference on the technical side. But on the other hand, I'm just adapting my imagination to this lighter technology. In terms of images and story telling, there has not been this huge change. 

Italian Cultural Institute, NYC
During the press conference at the Italian Cultural Institute, Richard Peña, who has served as the program director for several film institutions including the New York Film Festival and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, reflected on the director, describing Bellocchio's early work as "a kind of political cinema that asked questions. It didn't really have that many answers. It seemed always to be in dialogue with the audience as opposed to lecturing us." He went on to describe Bellocchio's work in the 90's "at a time when so often people spoke about European cinema as having lost its way, as flailing, as looking for new things to try on or new fads or new modes. He was this director who seemed so assured, who had such a clear vision, whose works in a way were old fashioned in the best sense of the term, in that they still had that sort of clarity, that moral clarity but also a kind of esthetic clarity of what in a sense the best films could do in terms of posing problems that really push down into our everyday lives finding the dramatic meaning to make them accessible to all of us.  

The films of Marco Bellocchio are important because aside from being remarkable works of art, they also serve as history lessons, and I believe that for Italian Americans in particular, this is one of the greatest reasons to see his films. Due to their international success and popularity, many are easily available stateside, including Buongiorno notte.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Gianni Amelio: An Iconic Filmmaker Inspired by Humble Beginnings

The films of this year’s edition of Open Roads: New Italian Cinema, the annual film series hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York, reflect a country in crisis. Italians are facing unprecedented economic challenges right now with the loss of jobs and a political infrastructure lacking the stability needed to get the country back on track.

Each director featured in the Open Roads festival communicates that crisis in a uniquely different way; some with comedy, some with anger and resentment, and others with humble characters who will do just about anything to put food on the table. This brings me to veteran director, Gianni Amelio, and what a class act. I had the pleasure of talking with Amelio while he was in New York promoting two films included in this year’s edition of Open Roads- a documentary titled, "Happy to be Different," which explores gay life in Italy after the fall of fascism through the early '80s and "L’intrepido," the story of an everyday man just trying to make ends meet during Italy’s unemployment crisis.

Born in Calabria in 1945, Amelio’s career spans five decades with a body of work that speaks strongly to the cultural diversity of southern Italy and the relations between different generations of immigrants and natives living side by side. Amelio’s 1994 film, "L’America" was a huge international hit and had a successful run in the United States. "L'America" is a symbolic story, which takes place in poverty stricken Albania after the fall of its communist government. Enrico Lo Verso stars in the film alongside Michele Placido as Italian swindlers trying to make money from rebuilding the infrastructure of a collapsed country. Harsh circumstances and the tough reality of poverty lead to a spiritual transformation for the corrupt pair as they experience the sadness and desperation of a culture trying desperately to recover. The film is presented in the style of a documentary, and the symbolism for the title of "America" is revealed at the end of the film as we watch a ship full of immigrants leave the shores of Albania and head across the Adriatic Sea to the "Promised Land". The heartfelt performances by Lo Verso and Placido reveal the talent and unique vision of Gianni Amelio.

Before meeting Amelio, I imagined that he would be an intellectual character of few words. However, he is not like that at all. He was friendly and humble as he talked with me about his films with the enthusiasm and pride of a man who simply loves what he does and is grateful for the chance to live his dream. He genuinely loves talking about his work and sharing his inspiration with others.

"The First Man"
How has growing up in the south of Italy influenced you as a filmmaker; the stories you tell and the way in which you tell them?
There are two aspects. First, when you grow up in a small town, a small province, you are always looking for an escape whether it’s through music, movies, literature or through culture in general; all the things that come from outside. The first influence is something you never forget and for me, the top influence, even if you don’t really see it in my work, is American movies from the 1950s and '60s. To capture the second aspect, I would like to quote a line from one of my last films, "The First Man," where the son asks the mother, “Mom, who are the poor people?” and the mother answers, “We are.” I lived during a historic period in a region where everyone was poor, and this was my great school of life, and is the basis for what I did. It gave me the push to be here doing the work that I do and to realize this dream that might have seemed impossible.

L’America was very successful in the United States. What inspired you to tell that particular story of immigration and compare it to immigrants arriving in America?
The inspiration was my life, my family, my father, what happened to my father’s father. I come from a family of immigrants. My grandfather, my uncles and also my father immigrated to Argentina. My father stayed there for 15 or 16 years, and when, about 20 years ago, the Albanians came to Italy, I saw or I imagined that I saw the Italians immigrating to the Americas. The last scene of the film, where the elderly actor is on the boat with the other immigrants and says to them, “I’m tired but wake me up when we get to New York” because the ship that is filled with Albanians, he believes is traveling to the United States. I’d like to add a personal note. When I was location scouting, I met this Albanian family and I adopted a boy. I adopted him as my son. Since then, he is now married and has given my three grandchildren, and in a certain sense, the circle is closed.

So the making of this movie brought you a son, and brought this boy a family. Tell me about this boy and how his life turned out after you adopted him.
Yes, this experience was born directly from this film. His name is Luan Amelio. He’s now 38 years old. He’s gone on to a career in cinema as a cameraman, and he’s well known. He’s got a good career and he has made important films. For example, he’s worked on La grande bellezza and also on five other Sorrentino’s films, and is actually working with him now on his new project.

Antonio Albanese in a scene from "L'intrepido"
Most of the films in this edition of Open Roads reflect the current economic crisis facing Italians. Your film, "L’intrepido," is the story of a humble man, played by Antonio Albanese, who lives a tough life going from job to job as a temp, and is always in search of more work. Why did you choose to reflect Italy’s economic crisis with this story?
I think the crisis in this particular moment in history is so deep and so grave that it can only be addressed through sarcasm and through an attitude of rejection. It’s like when someone doesn’t believe in reality because you don’t want it to be true. So, I try to stylize these things that I show, and I was inspired by silent movies like, "The Little Tramp" by Charlie Chaplin. I was also inspired by Buster Keaton, who usually portrayed losers. But every time those characters fall down, they get up, dust themselves off and they’re ready to go at it again tomorrow. I think that every time I shot a piece of reality, I also wanted that piece of reality to seem like a dream, as something that wasn’t completely true or something for which there was never a solution, even an imaginary solution. It’s something that I, as a human being more than as a director, wanted to happen. So, I allow it to happen despite all the obstacles.

Gianni Amelio explores the space between reality and imagination. The lives of his characters are tough and their roads are challenging and full of obstacles, so dreaming is often a method of survival. Several of Amelio’s films are available stateside through Amazon, including "L’America."

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Edoardo Winspeare: Puglia on the World's Stage

Born in Austria, director Edoardo Winspeare spent his childhood in the magical land of Apulia, where his Italian origins go back 300 years. That experience is vividly present in his work today. Winspeare's love for the Southern Pugliese culture is expressed in his mystical approach to filmmaking. Utilizing his documentary background, Winspeare is known for calling upon local musicians and casting many non-professional actors.

His latest film, In grazia di Dio (Quiet Bliss) was recently shown at Lincoln Center's annual film series, Open Roads: New Italian Cinema. The film, shot in Salento with nearly a complete cast of non-professional actors, reflects the current economic crisis facing Italians. Members of a family are forced to downsize their lives, selling their childhood home and taking on the laborious tasks of farmhouse peasants. Lead by the family's matriarchs, Adele and her mother, the family manages to hold on to their dignity and pride while making a living during the hardest of times. In a poignant scene, Adele has a weak moment and takes desperate measures in order to buy a new dress and enjoy a nice dinner with a glass of wine. She wants to feel human again, and to enjoy something nice after spending her days working from dawn until dusk sowing the land, growing crops and taking care of the animals on the farm. It's a beautiful scene that really gives sensitivity and humanity to this seemingly hard character.

In grazia di Dio
In all of his feature films; Pizzicata, Sangue Vivo, Il Miracolo, Galantuomini and his latest, In grazia di Dio, Winspeare looks to his passion for the regional music and poetry of Southern Puglia to tell stories of family, the strength of love and the loss of culture. Contemporary Italy exists with tradition, resulting in a modern fable.
Click here for the traditional music of Sangue vivo.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Edoardo Winspeare at Lincoln Center's annual Italian film series, Open Roads: New Italian Cinema. He shed light on his unique style on filmmaking and his passion for the Italian culture.

Pizzicata, the story of an Italian-American fighter pilot shot down during WWII, is your first fictional film. Were you hesitant about your first film being a period piece?
I knew that I would have difficulties making a period drama. However, this choice had more charm and more fascination because 1943 is, for me, the year that ended a kind of civilization. In 1943, the Americans came while we were under fascism with the German Nazis. With the end of the peasant culture, we had this economical wonder when Italy became an industrial power. I needed a period where everything was clear with all of the contradiction.  Women stayed with women, the rich with the rich. It was not good, but it was clear.

Sangue vivo
There’s always a natural intensity to your characters. Is this a conscious effort?
This is my aim. For me, it’s actually very simple; it’s life, death, and passion. For example (my second film) Sangue Vivo (Live Blood) was about brotherhood, which is very important to me. Two brothers; one represents the old traditions while the other reacts passively to the pain of the loss of this culture, and he takes drugs. One is strong. The other is weak.

What is your reason for shooting all of your films in Puglia, and in particular, your film, Il miracolo, which you made a few years ago in Taranto?
I want to show the elements; water, light and fire. Taranto, in particular has all of this. It has the fire from the industry, the water from the sea and the light is very important because it is not only physical. Luce interiore (internal light)-  the boy gives the internal light to the girl and to his father and grandfather.
Il miracolo

Describe Southern Puglia to me.
It’s a place that I like because it is obvious that people have lived there for 7,000 years. The interesting aspect of Southern Puglia is that we don’t have big Roman ruins or cathedrals. It’s the work of poor people. You can see it in the rural landscapes and stone walls. Also, we have the oldest olive trees in the world!

What are your favorite things about Italy in comparison to other cultures?
I know it sounds banal, but one thing is the food. People still cook and eat for an hour and a half, especially in Southern Italy. From 1:30 – 4:30, everybody is in their houses.  It is a country of people, not a country of nation. We are all different…Venetian, Florentine, Pugliese. I like this very much. In the dialects, you can hear Greek, Etruscan, Roman, Venetian; and then the beauty, the beautiful women, the beauty of the landscape. If you notice, the word ‘beauty’ or ‘bella’, although not always politically correct is used very much. Che bella donna, che bel passaggio, che bello; we use it very much. We call everything beautiful! 

Edoardo Winspeare succeeds in capturing the old country as it was during the mass immigration, and the modern, developed country that Italy has become. All of his past films are available through Amazon Films of Edoardo Winspeare. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Gianfranco Rosi’s New Film Underway

I want to tell the story of the island of Lampedusa and its inhabitants beyond the tragic arrival of migrants, whose presence will however be felt, like an echo.” Gianfranco Rosi, 2013 Golden Lion winner in Venice for "Sacro Gra"- recently talked about his new film to be produced by RAI Cinema, Cinecittà Luce and Avventurosa, in co-production with the French company, Les Films d'Ici. "In the beginning, I thought of doing a short, but after two surveys, I thought it would be impossible to condense into ten minutes- stories that were going to tell the story of an island.” 

Rosi plans to move to the island of Lampedusa in September. “I need to immerse myself in what I want to tell before I start shooting, and only then slowly, slowly find my narrative process. It is a very complex challenge. I hope to be up to the challenge.”  The possible title for the film is Aria Rossa, “because it's about a part of the island where things happen I want to show in the film,” Rosi said, at a presentation at the RAI headquarters in Rome called LampedusaCinema 2014.


In Conversation with Director Cecilia Pignocchi

Filmmakers Arthur Couvat and  Cecilia Pignocchi It’s unusual for a first-time filmmaker to be recognized by a high-profile, international fi...