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VENICE 2020 Out of Competition

Salvatore Mereu • Director of Assandira

“When you choose a book to adapt, you do it almost on an unconscious level”

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- VENICE 2020: We talked to Salvatore Mereu, the director of Assandira, based on the novel by Giulio Angioni

Salvatore Mereu • Director of Assandira
(© La Biennale di Venezia/Foto ASAC/Giorgio Zucchiatti)

Shown in the Out of Competition section of the Venice Film Festival, Salvatore Mereu’s Assandira [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Salvatore Mereu
film profile
]
opens with a man who has seemingly lost everything in a fire. But Constantino (Gavino Ledda) goes back to the past, explaining to the authorities, and to himself, what happened after his son Mario (Marco Zucca) and his German partner decided to return to Sardinia. We found out more from Mereu.

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Cineuropa: Your film is loosely adapted from a novel, but what made you want to show that the past can be “recreated”? Also for money and the tourism industry?
Salvatore Mereu: Talking about the transformation of Sardinia was one of the things that interested me the most. This conflict between the past and the present can be found in my previous work, and now it’s also the reason behind the clash between a father and a son. But it was just one of the reasons why I chose this story. When you choose a book to adapt, you do it almost on an unconscious level. I recognised myself in the point of view of the narrator, in the way he sees how certain traditions or people are deprived of their dignity in the name of profit. But later on, I understood what I liked even more: the story of this family, the conflict between two generations and two worlds that can’t communicate with each other. Constantino’s world is based on values that his son has lost. I think I developed this aspect even more for the film, as well as this love triangle. When they arrive, Constantino may as well be dead – he doesn’t expect anything from life. Grete awakens the man he used to be, opens a window to the life he already considered concluded. That’s why I don’t see her as a negative character.

This sexual tension between them is quite obvious, but Constantino certainly struggles with it a lot.
He loves his son unconditionally, but he is asked to renounce his values, which are very strict – it’s almost as if he belonged to a monastic order. For him, respecting nature is sacrosanct, as is the work of a shepherd. It can’t just turn into someone’s source of entertainment, not even when it serves to make money. So when he gives in [to their idea of starting an agritourism business], it’s probably because there is this hidden feeling for his daughter-in-law.

You said you didn’t want her to seem like a negative character, but she reminded me of film noir’s femmes fatales, same as this constant voice-over and an investigation going on.
When you think about it, the beginning is similar to that of Sunset Boulevard: there is a dead body, and we are trying to understand what has happened. There is a clear reference to classical American noirs in the film’s narrative structure, and Grete can be seen as this “dark lady”. But we come to understand that she is her husband’s victim as well, and their relationship is odd, maybe even a bit “sick”, although I am not making any moral judgements. There is a scene when it becomes clear that she is not in command all the time.

It’s a story that, because of the language [the Sardinian dialect] and the place, and the use of non-professional actors, could be seen as less accessible. But this crime-related plot brings the viewers closer and captivates them even more – even the ones who usually go to the cinema to see some famous actor.

Constantino says, “It’s better to be exploited by your own son.” But how did you want to approach this strange decision of having him father their child?
It was already in the novel – the only modification was that it was taking place in Denmark, not in Germany like in the film. I was worried about treading on dangerous ground, also because I have never heard of any similar experience. And in cinema, there is this understanding that when you recount something, you should know it yourself, otherwise you risk coming off as unauthentic. It’s almost as if through all of that, this hidden passion comes to light. You can see that when he is asked to donate semen in the hospital, and asks: “And Grete?” As if he is hoping that, far away from his son’s eyes, there is a chance for an encounter.

When you show how Mario and Grete “adapt” their surroundings for tourists, some details are just absurd – like dressing up a horse for a mating ritual.
In the book, there isn’t a direct reference to that, but in the film, the horse has become a proper character. We witness its story, and in a way, it’s also the story of this child. Sometimes, you only have a brief mention, one line, and you have to use your imagination. It’s an interesting process, and that’s when you get to understand the real reason why you chose this book. At the very beginning, you just feel this attraction, concentrating on the external elements. Later, as if during a session with a psychoanalyst, I found other reasons as well. Your relationship with a book, or with a film, reveals itself day by day.

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