100+ YEARS OF THE GREAT ITALIAN MOVIEMAKERS
If you’re a real aficionado of international cinema like me, then chances are you have seen the films of Marco Tullio Giordana. His work is not for the faint of heart. It is dramatic, in your face and often reflects the brutality of society and the prices one must pay to hold on to his or her values.
Giordana’s most successful films outside Italy are One Hundred Steps (I cento passi) and The Best of Youth (La meglio gioventù). One Hundred Steps is the true story of Peppino Impastato, a Sicilian activist who spoke out against the mafia. He paid the ultimate price for his activism and to this day, is regarded as a beloved hero among Sicilians. The Best of Youth was originally a television mini-series but was so well-received, it was edited down to six hours for a theatrical release. Not many films could hold an audience for six hours, but I saw the film in a regular theater in upstate New York, not at a film festival, and people were laughing, crying and enjoying the emotional rollercoaster of the characters and compelling story.
Tullio Giordana recently presented his latest film in New York at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Open Roads: New Italian Cinema. You could say that his new film Nome di donna is a film for the times as it deals with sexual harassment in the workplace. But when he began to work on the screenplay, the Me Too movement hadn’t yet begun.
When I first sat down with him and we began talking while I was getting my camera ready to record our interview, I found that we had a lot in common in terms of our tastes in cinema. It was such an honor and a thrill to talk with this director whose films I’ve been watching for nearly 20 years. Please note that I edited very little of our interview. It’s not every day that we talk with a living icon of cinema, so I didn’t want to cut anything he said.
As we were just chatting here, you told me about your admiration for the silent film actress Louise Brooks. How did that begin?
When I started to see lots of historical films from the heritage of all the classic movies, I watched Pabst’s Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl; and Augusto Genina’s Prix de Beaute, with this extraordinary American actress. I fell madly in love with her because she was so electric and so different from other actresses of her time. I love her unique look with the way her hair is cut and the female characters she portrays. There was a famous Italian designer of comix, Guido Crepax, who took Louise Brooks as his model for his most famous creation called Valentina.
(Click here to check out my interview with the president of Louise Brooks' fan club about her presence in Italian culture.)
Which other actresses do you admire from classic movies?
I would say that the actresses who impressed me most in the history of cinema, that I love are Katherine Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich. But for me, Louise Brooks has something special and extraordinary. What's special moreover, is one of the rare interviews of Louise Brooks for Italian television. In the interview, she proved to be very radical, very smart with severe judgments of the industry but also very understanding, very human. I always admired her very much.
You’ve made these epic films that document important moments in Italian history such as the story of Peppino Impastato in One Hundred Steps and the tumultuous decades of political unrest in The Best of Youth. What is it about these periods in time that inspire you to make films about them?
In the case of One Hundred Steps and Best of Youth, they are films set in the past because they center on a story that took place in the 60s and 70s. The Best of Youth also begins in the 60s and ends in 2000. They are films about memory in the sense that they revisit key figures of our history that risk being forgotten if they are not revived. For those films. For Nome di donna, it’s different. Even if inspired by an event that happened many years ago, it touches a problem that today we talk a lot about. But when we started to write the screenplay, no one spoke willingly of harassment in the business world and so it is a very serious problem. I’ve always felt that this behavior was detestable, those who take advantage of power. Here is the double aim- to preserve the memory and to fight an injustice. I would say maybe these two things are the common ground for these films. I am not a militant of any party or any association. For me, the most interesting thing is the human part, the part where people are hurt by a socially incorrect behavior because they feel alone. It does not seem to me that a film can repair the loneliness but maybe things can change because it widens the awareness of a problem and they may no longer feel alone thanks to the presence of the characters at the cinema.
One of my favorite, most memorable characters in all of cinema is Jasmine Trinca’s character Giorgia from The Best of Youth. Tell me about the development of that character and your collaboration with Trinca.
Giorgia is a character who appears relatively little in the film because in the first episode or the first part, the two brothers separate- one starting to go on to continue his initiation journey in northern Europe and the other decides to become a military officer. At the beginning of his contract, he meets this disturbed girl, Giorgia, taken away from a psychiatric hospital, and then returned. It was a time when in Italy, they held these people as if they were criminals. She then reappears in the film after her recovery. I was very much impressed with due to the interpreter Jasmine Trinca, who at the time had made a film with Nanni Moretti (The Son’s Room) but did not want to continue her career as an actress. She wanted to continue her studies but I was very impressed by her performance in Nanni Moretti’s film and insisted that she did this character.
Tell me more about Giorgia.
She is very deep, very communicative. There is something in the character of Giorgia that very attractive to the viewers. Jasmine Trinca interpreted this character that has reached the point where you can either go crazy or you can begin the road to recovery. That is something that each of us has gone through because we all have been in a moment at some time in our life and maybe even more than one time when we were at the point of saying, ‘I am suffering too much. I cannot do this anymore.’ But despite all this, Jasmine Trinca made the character fascinating, seductive and beautiful. After Giorgia resurfaces, she is present in some fundamental turning points of the story. It is she who convinces Nicola, when he discovered the photograph, to say 'I'm going to look for the photographer.' And then Nicola goes looking for him and discovers that his brother had a child, and so on, and so on. So she began as a character without hope but in reality offered hope. So she is a very strong character. I am very fond of this figure.
When I interviewed Jasmine Trinca years ago, I asked her about this character and working with Tullio Giordana on this epic film.
“It really was a great experience for me. The character that I played, Giorgia, is always in my heart. I started acting in 2001 with Nanni Morretti's film, The Son’s Room. I really thought that I was totally out of the business after that film. I just didn't want to be an actress. It was a beautiful experience, but I wanted to leave it at that. I didn't want to make a career out of acting. I still wanted to study archeology. So I stopped acting and went to college. Then the director of The Best of Youth, Marco Tullio Giordana, contacted me about playing the character, Giorgia. He told me about her, and I thought that she was really remarkable. I felt that it wouldn't be right to say no, so I accepted the role. Marco and I worked closely to build this character, and in doing so, I realized that acting is in my fabric. It's a part of me.”
Going beyond Giorgia, the women in your films, who most times are in supporting roles, are strong, multi-dimensional characters. Such is the case in your first film that I saw here at Open Roads in 2001, One Hundred Steps. The mother of Peppino Impastato, (played by Lucia Sardo) made a lasting impression on me.
As the saying goes, behind every man there is a woman. More often, it may be the figure of the mother or it may be a love. But it is very difficult for me to think of the man alone because it seems to me that something is missing. The most interesting thing is that this figure completes him as if he were missing a part of light in a photograph. So even when in a film, when the main character is a man, I don’t want the women there as the side dish. They are not the fries. I want them to be important- the main dish.
And speaking in general to the supporting characters…One aspect of your work that I have always appreciated is their presence and significance. They have a lot of influence on the main protagonist.
I thank you for telling me this. It is a huge pleasure to hear because I spend a lot of time on casting and looking for supporting actors because I think the supporting actors can destroy a scene if they are bad or make it work if they are good. I have never understood good actors who are afraid of the best actors. I have always appreciated the actors who love the challenges because you are better. But the important thing is that they are good for me. There is no difference between the protagonist and the supporting actors. I'll tell you that even the extras are important. The faces must be right. I really like to find these actors in the theater or maybe in the street as a bit in the tradition of Italian cinema, in the tradition of the neorealist cinema, but above all in theater because in theater, the actors have a formation, an awareness, a beautiful voice that for me is very important.