Arianna: The woman who was born three times
by Vittoria Scarpa
- VENICE 2015: Young actress Ondina Quadri plays a 19-year-old girl who finds out that she was born half man, half woman, in the feature debut by Carlo Lavagna, in competition in the Venice Days
“I was born twice – three times, actually. A boy the first time, and a few years later I was born again as a girl. The third time, I was born.” We see Arianna, with her sky-blue eyes, emerge from the water – just like in the Greek myth of Hermaphroditus – in the opening scene of the film by Carlo Lavagna that shares her name. Arianna [+see also:
interview: Carlo Lavagna
film profile], presented in the Venice Days at the 72nd Venice Film Festival, is her story, the story of a girl who, over one summer, spends time in her old childhood home by the shores of the lake, and discovers her true identity, her family's past and a secret that had been kept from her in order to protect her, forever denying her the chance to make her own decision.
Arianna (Ondina Quadri) is 19 years old but has still not had her first period. She inspects her somewhat immature breasts, which she would like to see grow like her cousin's, and she takes the hormones that have been prescribed for her by the gynaecologist she has been seeing all her life, a friend of her father's (Massimo Popolizio), believing she has a straightforward dysfunction. Her mother (Valentina Carnelutti) is evasive whenever the girl asks questions about her childhood, which she spent in the aforementioned farmhouse on Lake Bolsena until she reached the age of three. This was the very age when Arianna, who had been born a hermaphrodite, was castrated, because her parents believed that with that “abnormality”, she would have been made fun of in the showers. But when she begins to have her first sexual relations, and she does not feel any pleasure, she convinces herself that something is wrong and surreptitiously changes gynaecologists. And it won't take long for the truth to come out.
Arianna was originally intended to be a documentary: “When I lived in the United States, I became interested in the first intersexual associations, a situation that didn't exist in Italy, and I gathered so many stories,” recalls Lavagna, the brain behind adverts for Valentino, Bulgari and Gucci, and who has made his feature debut with this film. “The challenge for me was to be free to make the movie I wanted to make and at the same time carry on being respectful of these people.” Both he and his lead actress, Ondina Quadri, are first-timers: “Even she was a bit of a gamble. Our inexperience has led us to work together quite a few times. Having started off being rather stiff and nervous, Ondina gradually began to blossom and transform, as if her character's longing for femininity were taking possession of her.”
Accept that you're a mistake, or think of yourself as an exception and rewrite the rules? This is the only decision left for Arianna in her third life. In her previous one, her parents made the decision for her, and the film neither absolves nor condemns them for that. From afar, Arianna watches them dance – these smiling soulmates who are just a little shallow – and her anger fades away, giving way to forgiveness: the only possible basis from which to begin her new life.
Arianna is produced by Ring Film together with Rai Cinema, in cooperation with Ang Film, Asmara Films and Essentia, and with the support of Mibact (the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism). Istituto Luce-Cinecittà will distribute it in Italy from 24 September, while international sales are entrusted to Rai Com.
(Translated from Italian)