Susanna Nicchiarelli • Director
A communist girl sets out to conquer space
by Michela Greco
It was the years of the Space Race. As capitalist America and communist Russia compete for ideological pre-eminence through the conquest of the heavens, in Italy 15-year-old Luciana, fascinated by the proletariat who were launching their ideas beyond Earth, grows up in the Communist Party and struggles to affirm her feminine identity.
“It is the story of an adolescence set against the backdrop of a cultural war between two alternative societies, made up of myths that have disappeared today,” says Susanna Nicchiarelli of Cosmonauta [+see also:
film profile], her directorial debut after getting a PhD in philosophy, studying at the National Film School and working with Nanni Moretti. The latter collaboration resulted in The Diary of The Caiman (the film’s backstage, included in the DVD extras) and Ca-Cri-Do-Bo, one of the “Sacher Diaries”.
Cineuropa: What kind of film is Cosmonauta? What tone did you use to tell the story of an era as eventful and important as the 1960s?
Susanna Nicchiarelli: It is a comedic coming-of-age story that also has many dramatic moments. Set between 1957-63, it narrates, through the events of the conquest of space, the political and personal affirmation of a young girl and at the same time a moment of Italian history. In those years, Italians bought the myth of Russia in space with naivety, thinking they were witnessing a great proletariat victory. So much so that even [daily paper] L’Unità’ ran the headline “Socialist technology defies the force of gravity” when Sputnik was launched. The gap between that innocent vision and today’s disenchantment creates an ironic and entertaining short circuit.
Who are the main actors in Cosmonauta and what are the film’s production qualities?
Luciana, the main character, is played by Miriana Raschillà, a teenager we found in a high school in Rome. Her brother is played by Pietro Del Giudice, who had also never acted before. Their parents are Claudia Pandolfi and Sergio Rubini. Actually [Rubini] is the stepfather, a right-wing, middle-class man from the south with whom the mother takes up after her communist husband dies. We shot in Rome for seven weeks, taking great pains to render the costumes – 50s and 60s clothing with exaggerated colours – and music of the time. The soundtrack is made up of pop songs from that era, such as “Nessuno Mi Può Giudicare”, re-arranged by Max Casacci of Subsonica.
What makes a 33-year-old director decide to debut with a film set in an era she did not experience firsthand?
I got the idea after visiting the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics in St. Petersburg. I was struck by how, at the time, half of our country was rooting for the proletariat to make it to space first. And I thought that rather than making something autobiographical, for my first film I wanted to work with a strong and ritualised collective image. I talk about a world that is very close to us time-wise but also far away because it has disappeared. Naturally, to do that, I had to do a lot of research, which can be seen in the various archive images used in the film: Gagarin, Valentina Tereskova, the emotional crowds….
The result is a portrait of an era and a world, of Italian communists in the late 50s.
A world in which a teenager pays the price of being a woman, because at the time the communists were very chauvinistic and moralistic. Thus, in the story, the main character’s relationship with her brother is also very important.
Certain elements are reminiscent of My Brother Is an Only Child [+see also:
interview: Daniele Luchetti
interview: Riccardo Tozzi
Luchetti’s film, which I liked very much, covered a dark period and focused on the story of two brothers. Here, the perspective is of a female and there are no traces of dramatic periods such as terrorism, which came later. Rather, I show the innocence lost in that era.
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