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BERLINALE 2024 Forum

Costanza Quatriglio • Director of The Secret Drawer

“I cannot distinguish life from film; they are communicating vessels”


- BERLINALE 2024: The Italian helmer unpicks her personal and intense documentary inspired by her father

Costanza Quatriglio • Director of The Secret Drawer
(© Azzurra Primavera)

In the Forum section of this year's Berlinale, Italian director Costanza Quatriglio presented her newest documentary, The Secret Drawer [+see also:
film review
interview: Costanza Quatriglio
film profile
. Quatriglio's film is an homage to her father, but also an important reminder of the political challenges of our shared past. We talked to the director about her approach to the archive material and the cinematic confrontation with her dad.

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Cineuropa: What was the initial impetus that made you want to make this film?
Costanza Quatriglio:
Today, I can say that I started making this film when I decided to film my father in 2010. At that time, he was approaching 90, and I filmed him even though I had not yet decided to make a movie about him. Looking at that footage 12 years later, I realised that the camera had played an important role in the meeting between us. In fact, at first, he did not want to be filmed, and then he gradually got into the game, to the point where he chose to be my guide around the places he loved. At that time, this was enough for me.

The desire to make the film came many years later, when, following the decision to donate my father's books and archives to the Sicilian Regional Library, I found myself at home in the company of librarians and archivists, perfect strangers, sifting through all the bookshelves. I felt the narrative power of that situation and did what seemed the most natural thing for me to do: film and organise all of this material into a story containing many different tales.

Did the image you had of your father change through your work with the film?
The image I had of my father did not change, but I certainly saw many aspects of him and my home through different eyes. So maybe I changed. For example, through the photographs and the archive, I realised how much he loved human beings and their stories, and how fascinated he was even by seemingly ordinary stories. The funny thing is that I cannot distinguish life from film; they are communicating vessels. Of course, filming my house before emptying it made the house itself become like a geographical map, a treasure map, a symbolic place and many other things.

What was most important in the researching and choice of archive material, outside your dad’s archive?
All of the found footage is taken from my father's archive. The key to the choice was, above all, the ability of the images to tell us something about us as a collective, to propose a journey into the collective imagination, both in the representation of historical events and in the evocative power of the images. In this way, the film is also a journey into social customs and fashions. Then, there are – and this is the power of cinema – surprises that move us, such as finding a photo of Winston Churchill at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. In short, it is history that calls us to our duties as citizens, and we cannot escape it. In the choice of the private archive, however, I have tried to interweave the many little stories about the growth of a little girl, who is me, rediscovering that child's gaze on all things.

The editing of the film was paramount. What were the most important aspects and the greatest difficulties of this stage?
The first challenge of editing was to choose the narrative structure. As is often the case when making a documentary, the narrative structure comes from an intuition. It is an alchemic, magical combination that often comes to you before you even enter the editing room. Letizia Caudullo and I shared a passion for narrative structures – we have made many films together – so when I proposed the structure of the film to her, she immediately understood its strength. From there, we started to make the editing choices.

The biggest difficulty was to accept that, at a certain point, the story would become intimate, and to find the measure of my presence in the film. Letizia's gaze was fundamental. I relied on her because I felt it was important to get out of myself, a bit like I did during the filming in the house – at a certain point, I dealt with my presence in the house by separating the narrator from her daughter, thanks to the fact that DoP Sabrina Varani had joined the shoot. Unfortunately, Letizia Caudullo died before the premiere of the film. For me, this is a great sorrow, and it is to her that I would like to dedicate the joy of being at the Berlinale.

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