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VENICE 2020 Competition

Gianfranco Rosi • Director of Notturno

“This film is more extreme because you don’t know where you are”

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- VENICE 2020: We talked to seemingly indefatigable documentary auteur Gianfranco Rosi about his competition entry Notturno

Gianfranco Rosi • Director of Notturno
(© La Biennale di Venezia/Foto ASAC/Andrea Avezzù)

For his latest accomplishment, Gianfranco Rosi spent three years in the war-ridden Middle East, looking for life beyond the front line. The result, Notturno [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Gianfranco Rosi
film profile
]
, is now in competition at the Venice International Film Festival, where we met up with the seemingly indefatigable documentary auteur.

Cineuropa: When setting out to make a film devoid of almost any commentary, how does it feel to then talk about it in interviews?
Gianfranco Rosi
: It’s the absolute hardest part for me. Here I am after three years of making a film, having to sit down and explain it. But there are also good things about it because talking about the film will force me to elaborate and, ultimately, to understand it better myself. I finished the editing two weeks ago, and I haven’t had the time to distance myself. The things I say over the course of the two or three coming days I would never have been able to say to myself thus far, because the necessity wasn’t there. I did the first interview four days ago. In the morning, I felt my mind was completely blank and thought I wouldn’t be able to say anything. The interview was set for 20 minutes; it turned into one hour and 15 minutes. So there really is a necessity, I realised.

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I don’t have any secrets in the films that I wish to keep untouched. It’s all there in my 90 hours of unedited material. If someone wishes to go through it all, theyare welcome to do so.

So how does one go about editing 90 hours into 100 minutes?
I work for a long time with my camera. I wait, for the right light, or for the right relationships to be built. I find one person in Iraq, one in Kurdistan, one in southern Iraq, one in Lebanon, one in Syria. Then I start filming. I work with each of these people, one at a time, then go back again to each of them later – like a slow cycle, getting to understand the story. When I lift the camera, it’s initially very present. After a while, the person doesn’t care any more, about the camera, about my presence; instead, they embrace the fact that I’m part of life. It comes with a very strong relationship of trust. This takes time and also many hours of shooting. I never tell them what to do; instead, I have to know what they do. And then I have to capture the essence, like a good photographer does in a single frame – a frame where I also get to know what happened before, and where it’s going. If I don’t, it’s a bad picture. I get it by subtracting and subtracting, like a Giacometti sculpture, making it thinner, thinner, thinner… Just before it breaks. In every film I make, I try to give as little information as possible. Here, I don’t give any information. This movie is more extreme because you don’t know where you are.

We never know where we are, no. Rather than a specific state, it’s a state of mind.
Yes. The place you see is psycho-geographical, not physical. It’s about daily life on these borders; they’re the space and the edge of the story. Just on the other side, there’s abuse, destruction, violence – pure hell. This is what I wanted the film to be. I went to many places to find one common ground for the story, and then transform it into a mental state. And all of these borders are fake anyhow, drawn up by colonial powers. Which is, of course, also the reason for much of this conflict.

How did you move from Fire at Sea [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Gianfranco Rosi
film profile
]
to Notturno, and when did you come up with the title?
It was a natural step for me, to cross the water and see where the tragedy was coming from. The title came up at the start. It may not be perfect, but all of the international distributors like it and will keep it. It does feel in line with the mood of the film.

When will you start your next project?
This one may well be my last. I am really giving everything up, and I haven’t got the energy any more. I say this every time, but I’m getting older. Right now, I want to love and to be loved. But maybe I’ll fall in love with a new project.

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