Christine Cristina, A (proto)feminist against the powers that be
“Sooner or later, every actor dreams of being on the other side of the camera”, explains Stefania Sandrelli, one of the icons of Italian cinema.
After (almost) fifty years in film – her debut as a teenager in 1962 in Divorce – Italian Style led to stints with Mario Monicelli, Antonio Pietrangeli, Ettore Scola, Bernardo Bertolucci and Bigas Luna – the star of We All Loved Each Other So Much and I Knew Her Well (to name only two masterpieces from her lengthy filmography) Sandrelli now takes her bow as a director with Christine Cristina [+see also:
film profile], screened out of competition at the Rome Film Festival.
And if her debut, for which she waited long and pursued tenaciously, is more of a sincere effort than a real success, the director’s ambition is admirable (and that directing credit is split with her longtime partner Giovanni Soldati), who joined her to bring the largely unknown story of the real-life poetess Cristina Da Pizzano (played by Sandrelli’s daughter Amanda Sandrelli), to the screen.
Cristina was a tenacious lady herself. She came to Paris as a child, when her father was appointed court astronomer to Charles V, and, at the tail end of the 1300s, blossomed into one of the rare women poets to come out of the late Middle Ages. She was also one of the first women to raise her children while practicing a trade of her own in the "dark" ages, just before the dawn of Humanism.
The historical-political context, though, stays in the background (France torn between the Burgundians and Armagnacs, and even the death of Cristina’s husband). The script – co-written by Sandrelli, Giacomo Scarpelli and Marco Tiberi, and overseen by Furio Scarpelli – throws the figure of Cristina into sharp relief, making her the emblem of a (proto)feminism, a woman who, far from fearing power, openly defies it.
She castigates the notables and the prophets of her day verse by verse, be they rhyming couplets or near rhyme, direct hits or mere allusions, and the targets of her wit are quick to respond, striking out at ‘third parties’ to punish the poetess: stringing up her troubadour pal Charlton (Alessandro Haber), “a courageous and good man, who thought he was a blackbird when he really was a swan”.
All references to the present are purely intentional (“When she claims that power and goodness have nothing in common, Cristina is saying the same things as Roberto Saviano”, Sandrelli observes), especially in the character of the scholar Sartorius, sophist and man of letters, played by Roberto Herlitzka in a remarkably nuanced performance. Elsewhere, however, the film slips into the costume drama genre – in the anachronistic relationship between Christine and her children, or her bond with the handsome theologian, Gerson (Alessio Boni).
Better, then, to overlook these missteps of the first-timer and give praise where praise is due: production designer Marco Dentici has managed to take a recycled set at the Cinecittà studios on the outskirts of Rome and turn it into a more credible Middle Ages than any recreated by Italy’s most recent blockbuster productions with ten times the €2.5m budget for Christine Cristina.
(Translated from Italian)
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