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The Saint and the Blasphemer

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Marco Bellocchio

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- With his latest film, controversial Italian film director Marco Bellocchio uses a blasphemous expression to represent an extreme act of religious faith.

Marco Bellocchio

In competition at the next Cannes film festival, Hour of Religion is a complex and extraordinary film: a layman´s look at a mainstream Catholic country, but also an analysis of the importance of the family in contemporary society like Italy.
«The 14-or-over rating shows that the censor was stopped in his tracks by one detail: a blasphemy. I priest I know who saw the film told me this blasphemy is Christ´s cry of desperation from the Cross.»

Does that mean that the lay world has no intention of contrasting Catholic society?
There was never any intention to offend. This is a story of a family that begins to fall apart... Those who concentrate on the details are bigots.

The film contains a veiled attack on the Italian educational system´s adoption of the Catholic religion.
It was never my intention to examine the merits of religious education: people are free to decide whether they want to attend. What I do find unfair is putting a crucifix on the classroom wall.

What is your personal position about religion?
Although this is not an autobiographical film, those of us who were children in the fifties and sixties had our religious faith organised, rationalised and made realistic. When we reached adulthood, this elaborate construction began to fall apart. It is resonant of the 19th century to say «I am an atheist». I prefer the term «lay person» and believe in human relationships. I really enjoy talking to priests about the absurdity of some of the tenets of their faith.

Let's look for a moment at the political meaning of this film. Would you agree that the abstract and dreamlike way you portray the relationship between Italy's ruling class and its ecclesiastical powers is reminiscent of Elio Petri's Todo Modo...
The publisher's party is my way of showing just how absurd nuns and priests can sometimes be. I decided not to portray the reality of the contemporary political climate in Italy because it is something that has nothing in common with me, and chose to use my imagination instead. Petri's take on this is interesting for precisely those reasons.

The film also contains a strong attack against ugliness of Piazza Venezia and a desire to destroy it.
I think the Piazza Venezia monument is ugly but I respect it as a symbol of this country. An artist should not feel the need to destroy, using one's imagination to transform it is quite sufficient. Ugliness is also one of Italian cinema's biggest problems. Quite often a director is intimidated by the ugliness of the average film only to find that he has made one that is even worse. We are continuously listening to things like «I had a tiny budget and just three weeks to make the film «. I believe you must first win the freedom to make a film on your own terms.

Are there any young Italian filmmakers whose work you respect?
Of course, there are many interesting young people out there. I will give two examples, without being detrimental to anyone else: Edoardo Winspeare and Vincenzo Marra. They express themselves in a new way. Authentic filmmaking is akin to what Lynch or the Coen's do: experimenting something that is alive and not just going through the motions.

Were you thinking about your mother when you subtitled the film «My Mother´s Smile»?
I was struck by the attempts of a middle-class married couple to sanctify themselves. I though of my mother and of her spirit of total sacrifice... A Russian poem written by Tarkovskij´s father that is read in the film says, «That is not enough». A persistent state of dissatisfaction should encourage us to fight. This is film is not about resignation and is not depressing.

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