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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Edoardo Winspeare: Puglia on the World's Stage

Born in Austria, director Edoardo Winspeare spent his childhood in the enchanting land of Apulia, where his Italian origins go back 300 years. That experience is strongly present in his work today. 

Winspeare's love for the southern Pugliese culture is expressed in his approach to filmmaking. Utilizing his documentary background, he is known for calling upon local musicians and casting many non-professional actors.

His 2014 film, "In grazia di Dio" (Quiet Bliss) Made its North American premiere at Lincoln Center's annual film series, Open Roads: New Italian Cinema. Shot in Salento, the film 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.

Led by the family's matriarchs, Adele and her mother, the family manages to hold on to its dignity 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 to 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.

Winspeare's wife and frequent collaborator, Celeste Casciaro, gave a brilliant performance in the role of Adele. I recently spoke with the young director Veronica Spedicati about working with Casciaro on her award-winning student film, "Our Time." She talked in depth about their collaboration and how "In grazia di Dio" inspired her to offer Casciaro a role. Click here to watch the clip on YouTube.

"In grazia di Dio"
He 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 his 2000 film, "Sangue vivo."

I had the pleasure of speaking with Winspeare in 2004 when he presented his film "Il Miracolo" at Lincoln Center's annual 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, was 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," 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 Italy 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! 

Winspeare succeeds in capturing the old country as it was during the mass immigration, and the modern, developed country that Italy has become. The availability of his films in the United States comes and goes. Currently, the soundtrack for his 2008 film "Galantuomini" and his latest film "The Ark of Disperata" are available through Amazon. Click on the images below.


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