“An important step in a person’s life”
by Vittoria Scarpa
- Nanni Moretti answered questions from journalists after the premiere of his new film, Mia madre
In defiance of his usual reluctance to comment on his films and add words that “instead of making things clearer, could lead to confusion”, Nanni Moretti answered questions from journalists yesterday, at the Nuovo Sacher cinema, after the premiere of his new film, Mia madre [+see also:
interview: Nanni Moretti
film profile] (lit. ‘My Mother’), which will be released in theatres on 16 April. The film stars Margherita Buy, who shines in her role as a director facing up to her mother’s illness together with her brother, played by Moretti. The cast also includes John Turturro.
What was your motivation for this film and why did you choose a female alter ego?
Right from when I started working on the story with Gaia Manzini, Valia Santella and Chiara Valerio, the protagonist of the film was a woman, I never considered putting myself in the starring role. It’s been a while now since I last played the lead in a film, and I’m happy with that. I thought it would be interesting to transfer certain masculine traits to a female character. The role of the brother suited me down to the ground, although I must say that I can relate more to certain traits and the feeling of inadequacy Margherita’s character experiences. The death of a person’s mother is an important part of life, as many people know. It happened to me while I was editing Habemus papam [+see also:
interview: Nanni Moretti
film profile]. In a non-sadistic way, I wanted to portray this stage in a person’s life.
How was it working with Margherita Buy?
This is the third film we’ve done together, the previous two being The Caiman [+see also:
interview: Jean Labadie
interview: Nanni Moretti
film profile] and Habemus papam. She took the weight of the film onto her shoulders. Throughout the 70 days of filming, she was always on set. She would often say to me “I really like being a director, it’s fun yelling at actors!”. Everything in Margherita’s character is bubbling up at the same time and with the same sense of urgency. There’s the way she’s never in the room, her feeling of inadequacy towards her mother, the concerns she has for her daughter, work-related problems, and thoughts and dreams. I like how in some scenes the viewer doesn’t immediately know if what they were seeing was real or imaginary.
The Son’s Room [+see also:
film profile], Caos calmo which you starred in, and now Mia madre have a common thread, the subject of loss. What is it that you find so fascinating about this?
I find it hard to theorise about my work, when you explain things you risk generating confusion, instead of making them clearer. At any rate, when I was twenty years-old it would never have occurred to me to direct films like these, as time goes on you start thinking more about death. The Son’s Room was about fears and ghosts, whilst Mia Madre deals with an experience that many have been through.
How much of an influence did your mother have on your career?
My mother and father had very little to do with my choice to go into film. When I finished school at the age of 19 and decided to try my hand at this obscure thing called film they limited themselves to supporting me lovingly and unobtrusively, which meant a lot. I get embarrassed talking about my real mother, but there were generations of her former students that kept going back to her and talking to her about everything, which I only found out after her death. I never had any teachers as points of reference.
In the film Margherita has a sort of catchphrase that she says to her actors again and again, without them even understanding what she means: an actor has to get into their character but also stand beside it. Do you share this conviction?
It’s something that I, too, tell my actors, it’s not just to make a mockery of Brecht. I don’t think that actors should be one-dimensional. For example, when she gets mad, Margherita is not just shouting, she’s also in pain, there’s always something else going on.
Margherita is your alter ego, but in the film we see her directing a film which has very little of the classic style of your films: it’s an average production with strikes and factory scenes, of which there are many.
I wanted there to be a clear point of separation between Margherita’s private life, which is unstable and delicate, and a very structured film. Her mind’s always elsewhere (at work she thinks about her mother, and then about her daughter…) whilst the film she’s shooting is very solid. But no, it’s not my usual style of film. I didn’t want it to be.
Do you share Margherita’s feeling of inadequacy?
I’ve been in this business for decades, but it hasn’t left me detached and confident. The day before filming starts I still have the same nightmares as when I was a young man (of arriving unprepared on set, of there something being broken or missing…). The feeling of inadequacy is something I am well acquainted with, and not only in a public setting. I used to think that with time I would grow a thick skin, and yet I now realise that time has the opposite effect; the more it passes the more you feel out of your element. As for theme, I think that when you make a film, you make it and that’s it, even if the theme is very strong as is the case here. When a director is focusing on the script, the cast, the direction, the performance and the editing, they can’t invest as much time and energy into the theme they’re dealing with… having said that, perhaps I don’t entirely agree.
On Thursday the programme for this year’s Cannes Film Festival will be announced. Would you agree to your film being shown even out of competition?
I will agree to anything that Cannes puts to me.
(Translated from Italian)