Enrico Maria Artale • Director of El Paraíso
“One of the reasons why I wanted to make this film was to portray a strong bond that can easily turn into something oppressive”
- VENICE 2023: The Italian director gives us more details on his late-bloomer coming-of-age story about a complicated mother-son relationship
In the late-bloomer coming-of-age story El Paraíso [+see also:
interview: Enrico Maria Artale
film profile], a man in his forties (Julio Cesar, played by Edoardo Pesce) tries to make sense of the complex relationship with his mother (Margarita Rosa De Francisco), with whom he’s lived all his life. Italian director Enrico Maria Artale breaks down his feature, which has screened in Orizzonti at Venice.
Cineuropa: What's it like to be in Orizzonti again, ten years after your debut, The After Match [+see also:
film profile], which was also a fiction film?
Enrico Maria Artale: It's a complex feeling because of the history in between; I was really young when I was here with my first movie. I remember telling myself at the time, “Okay, I want my next movie to be just mine,” and that turned out to be the personal documentary about meeting my father, Saro [+see also:
So where does El Paraíso sit, between the commissioned first project and your very personal second film?
El Paraíso is also completely personal. That doesn't mean it is autobiographical, but it draws inspiration from the relationship I had with my mother. In a way, some say this is my second film, while others say it’s my third.
And how do you feel about it?
A bit in between. Because for me, a documentary is a feature film, so that makes El Paraíso my third one. But at the same time, I have always seen myself more as a fiction director, so it also feels a bit like the second one.
Julio Cesar’s mother is Colombian, but he’s never left Rome. Italians have this word for motherland [patria], and I keep thinking about the gender disparity in relation to your film.
Yes, patria refers to the father, and you use it when you talk about your country, in a, let's say, patriotic way, which immediately harks back to the military, nationalism and the patriarchy. When you say motherland, or madrepatria, it is a bizarre word meaning “mother-father”. I’ve always felt like somebody who had been displaced, even though I was born in Rome, but all my family come from Sicily. So for me, this complicated relationship with the motherland has always been at least a source of questions. And that’s another thing that makes me feel close to Julius's character, because he's Colombian, even though he is born in Italy and has never been to Colombia. He was displaced before he was born.
But because of his mother, speaking Spanish and cooking Colombian food, it seems like Colombia is never too far away from him?
I think that’s something I understood later on – one of the reasons why I wanted to make this film was to portray a strong bond that can easily turn into something oppressive. If you want to keep this bond as idealised as possible, you have to do it in your own world; you have to build your own world. And so I imagined that this mother had instinctually built a house and a world around the house, in order to live in a bubble that could somehow protect this quiet, strange relationship. I didn’t want it to be an obvious prison, but it is a gilded cage.
The shift between the two languages in the film feels very natural.
I knew the movie had to have a language of its own, so I had this image, or this sound, in mind – the image of the Roman dialect, which has some interesting similarities with Colombian Spanish; there are even some words that are the same. But the challenge was that none of the four main actors spoke each other’s language, at least not before we started shooting. When our production was delayed because of COVID-19, Margarita studied Italian for one year, but the Roman dialect is a challenge.
What about the practicalities of shooting like that?
At first, I wanted to do a lot of improvisation; I'm interested in movements, not words. But then I realised that for them, and for her in particular, the words were all she had to hold onto. So she didn't want to change a word. And at first, I thought, “Well, this is going to make the film much more rigid.” Then I realised that I could use improvisation to bring in the nuances, emotionally. And so we created a lot of freedom in that way, even though we were pretty much following the script in terms of the words. After the first couple of weeks of rehearsals, and then the first few days of shooting, she got a lot braver, and at the end, she was even able to improvise and mix the two languages very freely – one word in Spanish, a couple of words in Italian.
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