Ermanno Olmi - director
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by Federico Greco and Chiara Nano
Ermanno Olmi’s latest film, Cantando dietro i paraventi (Singing behind the screens), is a return to the issue of “men and weapons”. The production wrapped at Roma Studios after nearly 10 weeks on location in Montenegro. The Italian director recounts how difficult it was to tell the story of the Widow Ching, a notorious woman pirate who lived at the end of the 19th century and refused the Chinese Emperor’s peace proposals in favour of a life of piracy on the high seas.
Is this an Eastern fairy tale?
“No. The story of the Widow Ching is true and is recorded in the historical archives in Beijing. This story still means something to us today but like everything that is entered the realm of legend, it is also something of a fairy tale.”
What inspired you to make this film?
“I happened to read a story and became very curious about Chinese pirates in the 17th and 18th centuries when piracy was a practice of gentlemen like the Abbott Caracciolo who founded his very own city of justice and equality on a small island. The crews were a little like today’s football teams; they hired the ablest pirates and even set up a book of rules and regulations for on-site accidents.”
Why did you choose this title?
“As a Chinese poet once wrote, women like the Widow Ching, returned to singing behind screens once they ended their careers as pirates. It’s the perfect image and evokes peace and reminds me of the countrywomen who would go to do the weekly wash singing. Those voices contain life itself, our deepest feelings and love.”
Who is the star?
“Jun Ichikawa is a Rome-based architecture student. I usually hold about 250 auditions when casting a film but this young woman convinced me from the get-go. She plays the wife of Admiral Ching and takes his place after he is murdered. She becomes the most famous pirate of the Imperial Fleet. But her day of reckoning comes when she must decide whether to continue fighting to the death, or try negotiating instead. An unexpected event makes her realise that true victory lies in returning to her natural role of a woman.”
To what degree did the presence of an American producer influence your work?
Are there any battle scenes?
“The spectator must always be respected but my intention was not to portray war at its crudest but rather to approach that moment and remind the viewer that we are always in time to stop. I am not interested in making conflict entertaining. That is already done every day by TV.”