Saverio Costanzo • Director
The discreet charm of the sacristy
by Camillo de Marco
After his striking debut Private [+see also:
film profile], which won him the Golden Leopard at Locarno 2004, 32 year-old Italian director Saverio Costanzo has made a new film, In Memory of Myself [+see also:
film profile], produced by Offside in co-production with Medusa Film, which is releasing it on March 9 on 80 screens.
The theme is once again intense: religion and doubt, depicted through the spiritual torment of a young man (Bulgarian actor Hristo Jivkov) who has entered a monastery as a novice.
"In Private I spoke of a prison created by the Israeli-Palestinian war", says Costanzo. “In this second film I wanted to evoke a voluntary prison. I am struck by those who give up their freedom to search for another, spiritual, inner freedom. The monastery is an extraordinary metaphor, with its rhythms and silences".
With the help of his mother, a theologian who studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University, the director worked extensively on the project inspired by Furio Monicelli’s novel The Perfect Jesuit. He rewrote the screenplay several times, consulting the writings of theologian Olivier Clément and Cardinal John Henry Newman and for a week followed the spiritual practices of a Jesuit school, in absolute silence. "The spiritual practices of Sant’ Ignazio di Loyola made me realise how much cinema there was in that internal experience", he adds.
Yet the criticism that has come from the Vatican, through spokesperson Father Lombardi, regards the lack of realism in representing the lives of novices. Costanzo, however, says: "Realism was the last of our problems. A meticulous authenticity would have ultimately been limiting. This is a highly complex and structured world because each religious order has its own rules".
Some were also irritated by the homosexual kiss between the novice and his Father Superior, despite it’s being full of symbolism. "I was citing the kiss between Jesus and the Great Inquisitor in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. The Father Superior delivers a cynical and knowing speech, on a weak God, the response to which is a kiss, a warning: do not forget love. The lack of love is what we live with on a daily basis".
Depicting a closed community dominated by rules, which preaches indifference towards all things worldly, In Memory of Myself would seem like an anti-Catholic film if not for its deliberate ambiguity. "I wanted the affirmation of spirituality in its presence as in its absence,” Costanzo explains. “A spirituality that is increasingly necessary, in an era in which more than ever there is a need to believe in something. Especially in a generation such as mine, made up of perpetual adolescents who have trouble making a definitive choice".
Music plays an important role in this film that makes reference to Buñuel, Dreyer, Bergman and Bellocchio, in particular the mysticism-laden music of Arvo Pärt, as well as a unique waltz. "Without Tchaikovsky, audiences would not have survived", jokes the director. “The monks eat lunch to a waltz, the music of pleasure, playing with the contrast. It may be disorienting yet it serves to render the idea of the institution that violently enters your inner path. We filled the empty spaces with external noises, the sirens of the ships that glide by this island in the Venice lagoon. In order to fill a space out of this world with this world”.
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