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BLACK NIGHTS 2023 Competition

Emma Dante • Director of Misericordia

“This story came about in the darkness and obscurity of the theatre, on a very stripped-back stage”


- The Sicilian theatre and film director chatted to us about the origins of her latest project, based on the 2020 play of the same name

Emma Dante  • Director of Misericordia
(© Rosamont)

We chatted on the phone with Emma Dante, following the international premiere of her latest feature film Misericordia [+see also:
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, which was selected in the main competition of this year’s Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. We discussed the film’s production with the Palermo-born director, specifically homing in on her technical and artistic choices.

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, Misericordia is a film adaptation of one of your plays. What made you want to explore this story once again, through film?
Emma Dante:
That’s right, this story came about in the darkness and obscurity of the theatre, on a very stripped-back stage, with only four characters: Arturo and his three mothers. I wanted to find out what his spatiotemporal context might be. I wanted to get to know the faces of the other characters who were only mentioned in the play, like his father who kills his mother at the beginning of the story, and the rest of the community who are finally given physical form, as women, children, animals… I wanted to know more about them. That’s why I turned the story into a film.

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In terms of the link between writing for theatre and for cinema, what obstacles were you faced with when depicting this extreme yet realistic world, which also has a little magical realism to it too, in my opinion.
I have to say I was helped by two co-screenwriters who are also writers: Elena Stancanelli and Giorgio Vasta. They helped me to distance myself from the theatre and to take a more filmic approach to writing. We worked on the contrast between the truth of these bodies and these wounded and commodified women, and Arturo’s magic and dream. Ultimately, the film is the world as seen through is eyes. It’s as if a child were watching these events unfold, because, in reality, Arturo never grew up. I kind of started out with the idea of a fairy tale. There are some really dream-like elements in the story, atmospheres which break with the realism of this town made up of huts and mud.

Moving on to casting, what kinds of qualities were you looking for in Arturo, Betta, Nuccia and Anna’s characters?
The cast is the work of my casting director, but I want to stress that the film is as it is because of all the authors who contributed to it. For example, it’s important to mention the work carried out by director of photography Clarissa Cappellani. The light and the landscapes are all thanks to her. Emidia Frigato, meanwhile, reconstructed the town from scratch in a nature reserve in the Trapani region. Maurilio Mangano was responsible for seeking out faces for our actors. Arturo is played by a dancer, who appeared in my play. Simone Zambelli is the link between these two stories, told through different languages. He’s fundamental because he carries Arturo’s blood.

The three mothers aren’t the same actresses as those in the play and the three of them are very different actresses, because, in some sense, they cover all the roles in this non-traditional family. This diversity was important to emphasise how complete the family is. I needed this family to be “settled” and made up of different people. For example, Anna joins them last and she’s the young mother, who’s most friendly with Arturo, and between them a relationship akin to a friendship between two friends and specifically two men, develops. She’s a bit of a Lucignolo, but she’s also a fairy. She’s a mother who manages to play a more youthful role. The other two are more “structured”, not least because they’ve been raising Arturo since the early days of his life. Either way, they’re a non-traditional family in which there aren’t any blood ties but there’s a huge dose of love and solidarity.

Could you tell us how you worked with composer Gianluca Porcu?
The music came to us before the film, because, at a certain point, Porcu sent me a CD which he’d just recorded. It contained a bit of music which he then reworked and adapted for Misericordia. The music was reminiscent of a tune in the Pinocchio soundtrack by Fiorenzo Carpi [Ed. who composed the 1972 TV series Le avventure di Pinocchio, directed by Luigi Comencini]… I thought it was perfect for my story. Ultimately, I think Arturo starts out a bit like a wooden puppet, a little “defective””. […]

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(Translated from Italian)

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