He teaches on the cinema critique course organized by the European Institute of Design with Cinema Anteo in Milan, through the Officine project, and we met him after one of his splendid lessons there.
This should have been an interview on Italian cinema. It became a lecture on the independence of ideas.
Our desire with Pizza is to understand the current state of Italian cinema. Many people think it is going through a period of identity crisis or rebirth. Is this true?
I would say that the identity is completely missing. If we look at French cinema, which has a system strongly rooted in identity because it is based on the actors and directors more than the screenplay, we could ask ourselves the same question. The same goes for American cinema, which is most certainly dead calm right now. The problem of the lack of identity is not just an Italian one; it is worldwide.
As far as Italy goes, I would say that there is an underlying cultural problem and apart from some directors who are searching for a new freedom of expression, such as Michelangelo Frammartino with “Le quattro volte” or Pietro Marcello with “La bocca del lupo”, the rest seem to me to be locked in stereotype.
Italian cinema had moments of identity that were very strong only when, like the country, it had to reckon with the reconstruction (Neorealism) or the boom years (Fellini, Antonioni). During the Years of Lead, all we invented were B-movies with Edwige Fenech.
As long as the problem for Italian cinema (and cinema in general) is earnings and profit, then it will always be hard to work on the identity. And it takes more than a couple of averagely successful comedies to rebuild it.
Obviously Garrone’s cinema is trying to bring back the neorealist lessons, while Sorrentino follows the ironic and surreal path, but the trends are not to be found in the great auteurs; rather in the production media.
Nobody follows the path of working on a genre, and everybody thinks they’re an auteur. A genre like melodrama, for example, should have a lot to say right now but for the past fifteen years, if you’re not already an auteur at birth, you’re nobody. Yet Hitchcock took forty years to be recognised as an auteur. A movie has fundamental rules that should be followed in the writing, in the work with the actors, and in the filming techniques.
What happened to our French cousins’ cinema that didn’t happen to ours?
The French managed to reflect profoundly on their cinema, even if it was with obvious nationalistic references. Their geopolitical situation is simpler, because what happens in Paris is without doubt a model of authority in the rest of the world, and this pre-eminent position has always been taken advantage of, through the adoption of legislations that favour national cinema. Within the laws of the free market, the French have always maintained that culture is an exception. Having a film as an obligatory subject for high-school graduation exams means forcing the new generations to get to grips with cinema, and it also means, in the same size of population, selling almost twice as many tickets as in Italy. When they talk about economic aid for cinema in France, nobody objects, nobody queries the necessity of the operation or the seriousness of the references that are considered a national patrimony. In Italy, this aspect is again politicised and hostile.
One emblematic example is our policy on new cinema licences: until the nineties it was practically impossible to get a licence, then with the Veltroni reform the multiplexes were born, and it was thought that there would be more space for the projection of quality films. That didn’t happen. Basically because there were no guidelines given for programming, and obviously not for production. Art films and niche market films dropped out of circulation, as these big commercial venues were not suitable for their screening. Cultured cinema was assassinated.
Was it an attempt to imitate the American distribution system?
Exactly. In the US, the average quality of the films in distribution is very poor, and quality films can only be seen on the university circuit or in the few art film movie houses. Everybody knows that Allen and Eastwood earn more in Europe than in America. Also, television has degraded the cinematographic language, making certain films practically incomprehensible to the average spectator. The goal is to make people feeble-minded.
Yet American cinema has, historically, always been able to create great and profound popular stories?
The ability to make spectacle out of the stories is still there, and there are still great popular auteurs like Spielberg, but the system around them no longer has the production capacity, and so there is no longer that tension pulling to tell great stories. ‘Avatar’ is almost void of content, even if the effort required to produce it was extraordinary. American cinema has changed because the financing no longer comes from enlightened producers, but from the pension funds. It’s no coincidence that the most recent films of Scorsese and De Palma are less interesting. They haven’t been able to enjoy that freedom of production that was there till the end of the eighties. And this is what is happening in America; you can imagine what could happen in our country.
So what would be your advice to a modern Francesco Rosi who wants to make “Il caso Mattei”?
To approach Current TV or Milena Gabbanelli. Rosi, movie after movie, had shown that there was a public ready to follow him; the same public that we have now definitively lost. Or actually, we killed that public. With the endorsement of the institutions.
In conclusion, can you name a couple of your favourite films, the ones you have a carnal relationship of physical pleasure with?
At this point Paolo Mereghetti begins to imitate the characters of Fellini’s “Amarcord” in a way that cannot be transcribed, but which conveys even more directly the love and passion for cinema that we have felt throughout the interview.
Artwork: Giovanni Dionisi