Solidarity and commitment
by Fabien Lemercier
- The Italian director met us in Paris, while her film, I Like Working was about to be released first in France, and then in Belgium
Francesca Comencini, who came to Paris for the release of her latest film, I Like Working (Mi piace lavorare), met us and described the genesis of her fiction feature about moral harassment in the corporate world. To deal with this difficult topic, the director chose to shoot in conditions close to documentary, so as to stand as a proper witness of the phenomenon. This interview is also an opportunity for her to talk about her projects and launch an appeal to potential coproducers all over Europe.
Cineuropa: Why did you choose to deal with moral harassment in firms?
Francesca Comencini: It started out of curiosity ; I wanted to understand a mechanics I had heard of, and see for myself if it really existed and how it operated. The fact that people are made outcasts and the way their sense of identity is gradually destroyed proceed from converging factors, economic, social, and human ones. This mysterious phenomenon is very interesting, and slightly disturbing too, which makes it an excellent topic for a film. I chose an angle which allowed me to tackle several socio-economical issues in a moving cinematic way and thus avoid making just another manifest. For this particular problem affects people’s intimacy. This film is an expression of my solidarity with working women, especially mothers. I met many women who told me incredible stories I used for my film and wich I softened. In Italy, the influence of religion is so crucial that maternity and family are the building blocks of the whole society. So, to see in my country even mothers can be treated like that in a firm deeply shocked me.
What did you have in mind when you started shooting?
I used my experience in documentary. The working world has evolved since its last representations in Italian cinema. I knew I would have neither the financial possibility nor the capacity to present a totally fictional version of something the reality of which is hardly even known —that is, what happens in the corporate world. The whole film proceeds from a compromise between economic necessities and artistic choices. I decided to shoot in a real company in Rome. We were given empty offices, but around us people kept working and we infiltrated their world. The script and the dialogues were never put in writing; I hired non-professional actors through the company’s trade unions which brought their experience and taught us the language of the company. I tried to combine a documentary on a modern firm with a fiction on the emotional life and intimacy of this woman.
Anna, your main character, lives a practically autarchic life.
She is a lonely woman. The way work is organised today increases people’s solitude by fragmenting social structures, which prevents solidarity from operating and hinders social and political awareness. This is quite a big change compared to the image work and relationships at work used to have. Anna relates to an older generation of workers; her low wages and status make her a typical working-class woman, as existed in the past. Except in the past, female co-workers were friendly and they knew where they stood while in the modern world, people are very much on their own within the system. Besides, a single woman who has to raise her child, pay the rent, buy food and clothes in a city like Rome with such small wages cannot really afford to go out. So she shuts in on herself and her daughter. But every single woman who is alone with her kids get used to that too.
What did Nicoletta Braschi’s presence bring to the film?
The idea was simple : only one professional actress in an otherwise non-professional cast. Not anybody though, for this choice was risky enough. When I chose Nicoletta Braschi, my decision was purely artistic. We did not wait for more funds ; we had a 400,000 euro budget and nobody got paid, except for their participation fee. I wanted my film to be cinema, but I also wanted to stand as a witness, with the time and money restrictions which usually characterise documentary films. Initially, I had made a short documentary gathering several interviews and was about to give it away to the trade unions when, on a sudden impulsion, I decided to make the film, asking my technician friends who were available. Of course they too were indemnified for participating. I worked with quality people, such as the best picture director in Italy at the moment.
What is yout next project?
Erri de Luca and I wrote a script, an adaptation of his novel Monte di Dio, which is a very realistic fable about life in the streets of Naples. The rub is, in Italy, all producers refused our project. So I am writing another story I hope to carry further. I believe Italian cinema, and European cinema in general, have nothing to do with American cinema and should stop trying to copy it. Italian cinema was big when it was hand-shaped, original, different, when it escaped all categories. It certainly would not fit the rules of marketing. Today, however, it is a different reasoning which prevails: public funding only goes to projects which have either already been financed by TV channels or generated admissions, that is, big productions in general. There are nevertheless —and that’s the miracle of cinema— forms of resistance illustrated by magnificent films in terms of creativity. Paradoxically, recently there have been quite a few of these precious works, these rare and unique works.
Francesca Comencini, born in 1961 in Rome, is the daughter of the famous director Luigi Comencini. She started directing in 1984 with Pianoforte which won the Prize De Sica at the Venice Film Festival. Later, she works with her father as a script-writer for Un ragazzo di Calabria (1987) and La Boheme. After gettiing married with Daniel Toscan du Plantier, she settles in France where she shoots La lumière du lac (1988) and Annabelle partagée (1991). After that, she stayed away from cinema for a while in order to raise her three children. She comes back in 1997 with a documentary work, after which she makes Zeno, le parole di mio padre, selected at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival in the section ‘Un Certain Regard’. This film is followed by two socially and politically committed documentaries, one on the G8 summit in Genova, a team work entitled Un altro mondo è possibile, andCarlo Giuliani, ragazzo, about the young demonstrator who was killed by a policeman. She finds a new expression of her social concerns with the fiction feature Mi Piace lavorare (2004).
2004, Mi Piace lavorare
2003, Firenze, il nostro domani, documentary
2003, Carlo Giuliani, ragazzo , documentary
2001, Un altro mondo è possibile, documentary, team work
2001, Zeno, le parole di mio padre
1997, Shakespeare a Palermo, documentary
1997, Elsa Morante, documentary
1991, Annabelle partagée
1988, La lumière du lac