Laura Samani • Director of Small Body
“Now the film is not mine any more; it belongs to others, and I am curious to know what the viewer feels while watching it”
by Teresa Vena
- CANNES 2021: The Italian director presents her first feature, a drama about a woman whose baby daughter is stillborn, in the Critics’ Week
In this year's edition of the Critics’ Week at Cannes, Italian director Laura Samani presents Small Body [+see also:
interview: Laura Samani
film profile], a drama about a woman whose baby daughter dies during childbirth. Religious doctrine at the beginning of the 20th century claimed that the soul of unbaptised children would perish for eternity in limbo. And so the mother searches for a miracle to save the child. We talked to the director about her approach to the historical setting and the shooting conditions.
Cineuropa: Why was it important for you to set the story in this specific time period?
Laura Samani: These kinds of miracles started appearing around the time of the Counter-Reformation, in the second half of the 16th century. But I wanted to move the story closer to us. It was important for me to set it at the beginning of the 20th century and before World War I because this was a time when magic could still prevail over science. Afterwards, it wasn’t possible any more, at least not to this extent. It is also a time in which you had to deal with such an emotional burden, basically by yourself. The only support mechanism was religion. And in this case, it actually refuses to help.
Why was it important to use a handheld camera?
This time it was necessary. I wanted to recreate the journey that the main protagonist, Agata, undertakes in the film. I wanted the camera to move with her and to sense, as she does, nature, the woods and the snow, as she experiences it all for the first time. The story and the location dictated this form. It's not an aesthetic I absolutely want to follow as a doctrine. Of course, we were also more agile and flexible with this kind of camera.
It's a time with a lot of superstition in the air and beliefs in the power of nature. What is your position on that?
I have my little rituals, and I believe that if you have a fervent wish, sometimes you can make it come true. I believe in recovering one’s energy because, for example, if I, as a director, appear on set angry or tired, it has an impact on everyone else.
You depict a society that has a very pragmatic character and approach, leaving little room for emotion.
Today, too, we are very pragmatic. We have jam-packed schedules and know how to succeed in our careers. Maybe there is more space for emotionalism, but I think our emotions cannot be expressed in a relaxed or authentic way. I liked the fact that the film’s two protagonists have no emotional education and therefore don't know how to cope with what they feel inside. I think this is very similar to how we are. We are not taught how to speak about our emotions or how to give them a name. As for the pair in the film, I think it's important to try to create a space where it is possible to recognise and acknowledge others who feel a similar way. So, actually, I think there are many similarities between the time the story is set in and our own society.
What were the shooting conditions like in the field?
We shot in a chronological way and therefore made the same journey as the protagonists do. Nearly everything takes place outside, which made us dependent on the weather. When it rains or snows in the film, it really did. With the heavy snow, it was complicated to reach the mountain, but we were very lucky with the conditions overall. We shot mostly in Friuli, starting from the coast and then moving towards the mountain.
How did you find your two main actors?
We saw nearly 100 girls, and when Celeste Cescutti appeared, I knew immediately that she was the one. Actually, she made me rethink the character I had in mind, since at first I imagined Agata as rather fragile, small and nervous, but Celeste is tall, shy and strong. Those qualities were more suited to the role in the end. For the role of Lynx, I met Ondina Quadri through a friend and knew she would be perfect.
The sound design is very interesting. We hear nature through the sea and the wind; there are no other sounds that distract us.
We wanted it all to be very naturalistic and true to the time period. This is why you hear the church bells and a lot of birds singing. The sounds of nature had to be very rich, since Agata realises for the first time that they are there, and finally, after always having had the noise of the waves covering everything up, she can hear a more diverse range of sounds.
What is the most important message of the film for you?
That one person cannot attain freedom alone. The others need to be free as well. And freedom is a journey, a process. First and foremost, I wanted the movie to be a space where the viewer and I could share our doubts. It is a pretext to speak about certain things, such as solitude or fear. Now the film is not mine any more; it belongs to others, and I am curious to know what the viewer feels while watching it.
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