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“A journey through theatre, cinema, literature and Russia”

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Tommaso Mottola, Gørild Mauseth • Director and actress-producer

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- Italian director Tommaso Mottola and Norwegian actress-producer Gørild Mauseth have presented the international premiere of their docu-fiction Karenina & I at the Biografilm Festival

Tommaso Mottola, Gørild Mauseth  • Director and actress-producer
(© Gianluca Iarlori / Biografilm)

“A five-year journey through the obsession of a woman and actress. A journey through theatre, cinema, literature and Russia, but also a film about family.” These were the words that Italian director Tommaso Mottola used to present his fascinating docu-fiction Karenina & I [+see also:
trailer
interview: Tommaso Mottola, Gørild Mau…
film profile
]
 to the audience of the 13th Biografilm Festival in Bologna (9-19 June 2017). In the film, he follows his wife, Norwegian actress Gørild Mauseth (who also produced the movie), on her journey across Russia on the trail of Anna Karenina, in order to prepare for a monumental challenge: playing Tolstoy’s heroine in Vladivostok, and in Russian, a language that she had absolutely no knowledge of. We talked to them about the movie as it had its international premiere in Bologna.

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Cineuropa: How did the idea of this long trip across Russia come about?
Tommaso Mottola: In 2012, Gørild performed Anna Karenina in 52 Norwegian cities. The theatre director had told her: you have a son, and you cannot leave him at home; I don’t want any other Karenina than the one up on stage. And so I followed her with our son, and I played Karenin; I kept the family going. But it was also very useful for me: I saw the show 30-40 times in a mysterious language, I experienced it almost physically, and I saw and absorbed all of the stage movements and those of the actors. Some time later, I went to Russia for work, and Gørild came with me. After a few days, she was asked to bring Karenina there, in Russian. She was crazy about it: she wanted to really go for it, to learn the language. So I thought we should seize the opportunity and go on a train journey together: 11,000 km across Russia, a month of travelling, ending up in Vladivostok. I wanted her to visit the places that Tolstoy knew, and we came into contact with as many people as possible to enable her to get to know the country.
Gørild Mauseth: One of the challenges was leaving behind Norway, my language, my culture, leaving behind Europe and immersing myself in Russia and being open to it. We funded the film bit by bit, thanks to crowdfunding – we had 42 days to raise €62,000.

The fact that Liam Neeson subsequently got on board the project must have helped. How did you get him involved?
TM: We had almost finished the film, but Gørild had hung onto a huge amount of material and phrases she had worked on, and so we thought that we needed the voice of Tolstoy. So she called Liam, but initially it was because she thought he could help us by providing money to finish the movie.
GM: He told me: “I can’t put any money into it, but I can provide the voice.” The funny thing is that he started to sell himself to me, in my role as a producer (“I’m good at voice-overs, you know,” “Think about it”). I went home, picked up the book, and the phrases that I had imagined read out with my voice were actually his. That meant that we could take the film to another level, using a universal language – English. So I told him: “I want you to play Tolstoy,” and he accepted very enthusiastically; he understood that it was a film that talks about our noble profession, which involves so many sacrifices and so much hard work. Since we weren’t able to pay him the amount he deserved, I suggested he invest in my movie, and he therefore became an associate producer. Naturally, once Neeson was on board, the film garnered a great deal of interest (and it then secured financing from the North Norwegian Film CenterFilm Fund NordNorwegian Film Institute, SNN1, Grieg Foundation and Lazio Region, editor’s note).

In the film, it is obvious that a lot of work went into the editing. How did you go about that?
TM: At the start, I wanted to make a road movie, which would have been easier: an actress who travels from one place to another with an endeavour that is tricky to bring to fruition. I made myself available for whatever came up, and Gørild was wearing a microphone for 18 hours a day. But then I had the opportunity to also film in the theatre, during the two months of rehearsals in Vladivostok. We had a really great editor, Michal Leszczylowski, who did Fucking Amal and some other very powerful films; he has worked with Tarkovsky, Liv Ullmann and Bergman, as well as in the world of theatre. We edited it and re-edited it so that we would end up with an encounter between the two women. My aim was also to allow the audience to understand the story of Anna Karenina if they hadn’t read it, to give them the chance to follow the play. And then the whole circular nature, beginning and ending in the snow, has an impact on the viewer. You are watching a documentary, but you don’t know if it truly is one; it was difficult to combine reality and fiction, but I had to do so because Tolstoy is fiction and the actor’s work is fiction, and so I wasn’t afraid.

Karenina & I has already come out in Norway. Where will it go next after Biografilm?
GM: It came out two months ago in 60 cinemas in Norway. We repeated the model from the tour; we travelled around with the movie in order to have a debate with the audience and talk about the topicality of the story: there are currently 150 Anna Karenina plays taking place all around the world.
TM: Now we have a tour in Russia, and England is also very interested in it. I hope to bring it to Italy at the end of the year.

(Translated from Italian)

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