Nanni Moretti is one of the most prolific, versatile and critically lauded Italian directors working today. His films have been awarded numerous international prizes, with The Son's Room being awarded the Palme d'Or in 2001. His new film, Mia Madre, starring Margherita Buy and John Turturro (on hilarious form), is released in cinemas on 25 September and he discusses some of the inspirations and experiences with us here.
When did you start thinking up the Mia Madre screenplay?
I usually allow for a great deal of time between my films. I need to leave behind the psychological and emotional investment of the previous movie. It takes time to recharge my batteries. This time, however, as soon as We Have a Pope was released, I started thinking about my next film. I started writing when the things that I recount in the film had just happened in my life. And that probably had an influence on the narrative.
How would you define your work? As an autobiography? Autofiction?
Autofiction is a term I really don’t understand. And as for autobiography… All stories are somewhat autobiographical. I was talking about myself when I spoke about the Pope in We Have a Pope, played by Michel Piccoli, who felt he was unfit and likewise when I depicted Silvio Orlando’s work and personal stories in The Caiman. More than the wish to measure how much is autobiographical, what matters is to have a personal approach in relation to every single story.
Is the character played by Margherita Buy in Mia Madre your alter ego?
I never considered playing the main role in this movie myself. I stopped doing that quite a while back, and I’m glad I did. I used to enjoy it, but today I am no longer driven by the fixed idea of wanting to compose my character film after film. I always thought this character would be a woman and a director, and that this woman would be played by Margherita Buy for a very simple reason: a film with Margherita Buy in the leading role would be much better than one with me in the leading role! She’s a much better actor than I am. Margherita carried much of the film’s workload on her shoulders. Out of seventy days of shooting, she was only away one day, and that was for a scene I ended up cutting!
Still, one has the impression that there is a lot of you in this film…
In the scene in front of the Capranichetta Cinema in Rome, during which Margherita’s brother, played by me, asks his sister to break at least one of her two hundred psychological patterns, it was as if I was talking to myself. I always thought that with time I would get used to drawing from the deepest part of me… But on the contrary, the more I move on and continue this way, the more this feeling of malaise arises. This said, the movie is not a personal confession. There are shots and frames, choices, performances - it’s not real life.
How did you come up with the different narrative modes, where dream and reality sometimes intermingle?
It’s important to tell a story in a non-academic manner, to have a narrative which doesn’t limit itself to fulfilling the basics: a narrative which, although familiar with the rules, can do without them. However, it is also important that it rings true within yourself, and also within what you are in the process of telling. You should never have a flat and ordinary relationship with the material you want to present.I liked the idea that when the audience would see a scene, they wouldn’t immediately understand whether it was a memory, a dream or reality, for they all coexist in Margherita’s character with the same immediacy: her thoughts, her memories of apprehension concerning her mother, the feeling of not being good enough. The narrative time corresponds with Margherita’s various emotional states in which everything coexists with the same urgency. I wanted to recount, from the point of view of a female character, this feeling of not being good enough in relation to her work, her mother, her daughter.
How did you choose John Turturro?
Directors who have made far fewer films than I don’t have any qualms about approaching international stars. But I’m not like that. I called on him because I liked him very much and it seemed to me that his acting style wasn’t naturalistic. But also because we were already acquainted, and he already had a connection with Italy – he has even made a beautiful documentary about Neapolitan music called Passione. John had seen some of my films, which reassured me greatly. I admit that it would have been difficult for me to explain who I am, what I want, what my cinematographic expression is like. He also speaks and understands a little Italian. And he is a film director as well. It’s nice to work with actors who are also directors; it makes it easier to understand one another.
What have you learned making this film?
I can answer this question very specifically. I feel exactly as I did during my first film shoot - the same anxiety, the same confusion, the same utter lack of confidence. I don’t think it’s this way for everybody. I believe for many people with experience, their knowledge of the profession and a certain detachment counts. I, on the other hand, have this very clear impression: it always feels as though I am making my first film. This time, it was with even more anxiety. There are people who say it is my most personal film; perhaps that is the reason why. But I just don’t know. I can say, however, that I have learned something along the way. I’m nicer to the actors, I’m more willing to stand by their side; I stick up for them. And what else have I learned…well indeed, there’s something I learned very quickly: the fact that when a film comes out, it no longer fully belongs to you. The public sees it, transforms it. There are things that have escaped you entirely that the public picks up, reveals and sheds a light upon… “I want to see the actor next to the character.” This is one of Margherita’s lines that she often repeats to her actors. It’s something I say all the time. I don’t know whether the actors understand it, but in the end, I’m able to get what I had in mind out of them.
This interview has been compiled from questions asked in various interviews given by Nanni Moretti to the Italian press in April 2015.
Mia Madre is released in cinemas and Curzon Home Cinema on Friday 25 September. Book tickets here.