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TORONTO 2023 Discovery

Sara Summa • Director of Arthur & Diana

“I always begin a project with an image that engraves itself on my mind”


- For her second feature, the French-Italian director has crafted a multilayered brother-and-sister story, containing certain autobiographical elements

Sara Summa • Director of Arthur & Diana
(© Petra Stankova)

French-Italian director Sara Summa has presented her second feature, Arthur & Diana [+see also:
film review
interview: Sara Summa
film profile
, made at the Berlin-based DFFB film school, in the Discovery section of this year's Toronto Film Festival. We talked to her about the autobiographical elements of this road movie, her aesthetic approach and her two-year-old son's acting debut.

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Cineuropa: Let's begin with one of the film's characters. Can you tell us more about the car?
Sara Summa:
It is indeed one of the protagonists. It means a lot of things: it embodies the core of the film in that it connects the past, the future and the present. It's this sort of old, rundown relic from the past that belongs to childhood, like a toy. There are two adults who are playing with it. Then, of course, it's a car – something that moves you forward. It goes towards the future. We discover, through the film, that it’s the protagonists’ father’s car. So of course, for the protagonists, it’s not just an object. We knew how important this character was, and it wasn't easy finding the right car, which would also be able to actually take us on this road trip for real.

Why did you choose the form of a road trip to tell the story?
Because of the notion of movement and moving forward. I work in a very visual way, and I always begin a project with an image that engraves itself on my mind. And then I look into this image and try to understand what is behind it or what is all around it, why this image is sticking in my head, and how it can become a film. There wasn't a car in that initial image that I had, but there were definitely these two characters: my brother and me. It wasn't us, personally; it was something bigger than us. And there was movement. There was almost a blurriness to this image because it was already moving, and there was something very dynamic about it. Somehow, that inspired movement, and of course, a road trip definitely fits in with that.

Talking about things that impose themselves on you, is the topic of family one of them?
Yes, certainly. I'm always interested in looking into the relationships between people, and family relationships are part of those connections that fascinate me. Family dynamics, as well as romantic dynamics, friendships, and anything that brings people together or moves them apart from each other – that’s what I'm interested in looking into. That's what has a lot of weight in life; it's a big part of it, and that's what I like to look into with my films.

So, concentrating on family dynamics became obvious since we had this duo of my brother and myself, and soon enough, also my son, who was obviously going to play a big part in this project because this is also what was happening in my life at that point. When you have such a small child, it's difficult to ignore that, especially as a filmmaker. And the movie has a lot to do with childhood. So of course, this character of the child made a lot of sense, and it also really belonged to the type of aesthetic that we were immediately developing for this film, which had something very spontaneous to it.

Could you elaborate a little more on your idea for the film’s aesthetics?
It's the pseudo-documentary look that we wanted, but really, everything was very carefully staged. Of course, inside this frame, there is a lot of spontaneity because of my son, Lupo. But there was a very precise script. And based on that script, we then sort of went into shooting. We wanted to give ourselves a certain amount of freedom when shooting, so we didn't want to have very heavy technical stuff. We needed to be mobile on the road; it was a small team, and it was a very familiar environment for the child in order for him to feel at ease with the whole situation. The DoP came up with the idea quite early on that we should try to experiment with video cameras from the 1990s. We mixed these cameras with a [celluloid] film camera and shot on 16 mm. It was complicated to shoot everything on film with a two-year-old in tow and within the very limited parameters and budget that we had. But we printed the entire film on 16 mm after shooting, so it was a very complicated technical process. But fundamentally, we wanted to have this freedom while we shot, and these video cameras allowed for that type of freedom. Moreover, they remind you of home movies, with this very recognisable look that brings to mind our own childhood.

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