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VENICE 2022 Competition

Emanuele Crialese • Director of L’immensità

“I told the story that was in my heart”


- VENICE 2022: We chatted with the Italian director about his film based on his own adolescence, before transitioning

Emanuele Crialese • Director of L’immensità

Multi-award-winning Italian director Emanuele Crialese presented his latest film L'Immensità [+see also:
film review
interview: Emanuele Crialese
film profile
at the 79th Venice Film Festival, where it’s in the running for the Golden Lion, revealing the fact that he was born a woman to the international press. L'Immensità homes in on an Italian family living in Rome in the 1970s, whose older daughter identifies as male and wants to protect his mother, played by Penelope Cruz, from his violent and unfaithful father. We discussed the movie with the director.

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Cineuropa: You say that the film is inspired by your childhood and your own personal story.
Emanuele Crialese:
I didn’t open up myself to my world, maybe I opened up by telling the story that I had in my heart. Forget about “coming out”. Everybody knows in Italy. I told a story which isn’t about being transgender. Would you say this film is about transgender issues? That’s my story, with the same mother, brother and sister, but I want to avoid focusing too much on an issue that I haven’t chosen to express in the film in that way. It’s an issue explored in relation to other issues: uneasiness, the somatic response to a lack of love that all the other kids in the family are experiencing. What happens to these kids when there's no love? How do these kids shape their identities? Of course, the main focus is Adriana/Andrea but it’s not only Adri’s story. It’s the story about the relationship Adri has with her brothers, mother and father.

So the mother's love isn’t enough?
When the father is involved, the mother's love is always enough. But if your father is kicked the shit out of you, your mother can love you as much as she wants, but it’s still not going to be easy. Why does mom let this man kick the shit out of me? In Italy, in the seventies, it wasn’t easy for battered women to leave their husbands. There were plenty of courageous women, but it wasn’t very well perceived, even by their own mothers. You had to pretend that everything was fine.

That was me. That was my transition. The film stops when the kid, who’s still a girl, sings in a male voice. It’s a little hint of what the girl’s future could be. It was hard at that time to accept all the violence, and one poetic reading I can give is that this girl, this tomboy, probably couldn’t stand all the conflict, at a time when she was unifying male and female bodies. I don’t give answers because I like films that raise questions.

This character is similar to the mother in Respiro [+see also:
film profile
. Did you feel that you hadn't explored the subject enough and that you still had something to say about it?
The woman in Respiro was much loved by her husband. And the husband was sad, sending her to Milan to be cured. It’s a different situation in this film. There’s a woman who is completely alone with her kids. Her man doesn’t show any sensitivity or compassion.

They both have psychological problems.
Are we sure that the mother here has psychological problems? Or maybe society is her problem? The surroundings she lives in? Not allowing a woman to get divorced? These are the questions the film raises. Society tends to be scared of any appearances which differ from the norm. You’re either a man or a woman. You cannot be anything else. You must be sick if you think you’re anything else. But maybe I don’t care about being a man or a woman. I'm just a human being. And nobody should feel threatened by my presence in the world. That’s what I want to bring it back to, with my story.

Did you use TV, music and dancing as a way out of real life, or was it something that helped you to hope you’d break free?
When life is really frustrating, we go to the movies. A different representation of life. It’s relieving. That’s what I did when I was a kid and I still do it now. I look at another reality. Patty Pravo and Raffaella Carrà are my mother. My mother is singing and dancing. My mother is happy. She is in a place where she feels comfortable. My mother never went to a mental asylum. That’s what I feared. The real “coming out” is escaping my fears and portraying my desire as a child: to see my mother in Raffaella Carrà’s place in a TV show.

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(Translated from Italian)

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