A complete cinematic view from one half of the Taviani brothers

They make political films yet reject the title of political filmmakers. Their images are poetic, but they do not see themselves as poets. They have made some of the Italian cinema’s finest films (Allonsanfan, La Notte di San Lorenzo, Kaos, among others) and are a reference point for European cinema. In Athens recently to attend Eleftherotypia’s 14th Panorama of European Cinema, which included a tribute in honor of himself and his brother, Paolo, Vittorio Taviani spoke to Kathimerini. How do you and your brother, Paolo, divide your roles? Paolo and I meet every morning and we go to a little park near our house. Of course, we have different houses and different wives. When we meet we walk and talk about everything. About what we’ve read, how we’ve enjoyed ourselves, everything that has to do with our lives. From the totality of our conversation, what accumulates are our nightmares. Those questions, those contradictions between our personalities and our existential characters in relation to a total view of things. These are the questions that you need to externalize; otherwise they will suffocate you. A point in a novel, a moment in daily life, a personal recollection, a meeting – we talk about these and then say this can be our next film. This is basically how it is, but if we don’t find a good narrative plot then this meeting never happened. We discuss this idea, write a hundred pages and then lock them away in a drawer. We walk in the park again and one or two months later we open the drawer. The time that has passed and the written page are a testimony. If we say, No, this isn’t the film, the pages go back in the drawer. After some time we return again and if things go better then we proceed with directing the film. What procedures do you follow when making a film? We are two directors who both imagine history visually and record the images that we see. We always choose the actors and the musicians together; we do autopsies. The strange thing is when we start to shoot. We wake up much earlier than the rest of the crew, assemble the footage already shot and then something like a round of ping-pong begins. I start with the operator and the actors, for example, and Paolo goes to the video without saying anything, because the actors have to have one point of reference. Even then there is a kind of telepathy between us. If I see him tapping his foot or scratching his head, then I know something is not going well. He tells me something, I go back, we film and swap places. Things are good when we have 10 shots and we share them. If, however, we have 11, then who’s going to do the 11th? How can a filmmaker approach or make the most of his fears? A creator does not operate with a rationalistic program. He is someone who believes that he has understood something of man’s great adventure and aspires to express this to others. If you live in an era that is dark, it is unavoidable that your work will be about loss. We cannot program, but a creator must attempt to do a little something which will drag life out of the chaos. Do you believe that there are still creators who advance culture, or does only the spectacle dominate? I believe that the search for truth and the rhythm of spectacle must go together. The teacher of all teachers of spectacle was Shakespeare, who united great thoughts with not-so-great thoughts. You can be a philosopher, a politician, a sociologist, a technocrat. All have their uses, but art is a tale, a narrative of the human adventure done in such a way that the viewer recognizes himself in what he sees and, in doing so, understands more of himself. In order to reach the viewer, the tale must have the rhythm of spectacle. The narrative has energy, a heart that beats, lungs that breathe. Imagination and spectacle go together. There is a view that cinema has given all it can as an art and that it has regressed. What might its future be? I remember when, 30 years ago, some critics were saying that cinema had died and another responded to them by saying that instead of being film critics they should become gravediggers. Music has died a thousand times, theater the same, cinema has died; but this need, the right to spectacle, to sit and watch, will remain forever. The forms change, but Sophocles’ Oedipus is the spectacle which has been presented to the public the most. You can rest assured, then. You react against characterizations such as political or poetic cinema. Can such terms entrap a creator? These characterizations are made in good faith, but all generalizations are a little dangerous and a little moot. The totality of an artist’s creations cannot be reduced to a few types. This is why we made a cinema of our own, one that speaks about people. Cinema is not political – people are political beings. What’s important is the lone individual among others. Do you have, with your experience, a specific idea about what you seek when making a film? When I begin to imagine a new film, I have the impression that I am reaching an unknown land and this creates a great sense of anticipation within me. If this surprise didn’t exist then it would not be worth thinking about the next film. Politics and lyricism: The work of Paolo and Vittorio Taviani The work of the Taviani brothers is conventionally divided into two periods, with politics dominating the first period, up until 1974. Their directing debut, Un Uomo da Bruciare, in 1962, was the Tavianis’ tribute to neorealism, while their second film (Sovversivi, 1967), again with a neorealist backdrop, commented on the political situation in Italy, such as the crisis of the left after the death in 1964 of Palmiro Togliatti. Two years later, in 1969, they made their most stylized film, Sotto il Segno dello Scorpione, a film without dialogue or action, divided into brief but drawn-out scenes. Then came San Michele in 1971, followed by Allonsanfan with Marcello Mastroianni three years later, an entire film built upon melodrama with clear influences from two operas, Lucia di Lammermoor and Macbeth. Padre Padrone (1977) marks the passage to the second phase of the Taviani brothers’ work, where the poetical element is far more profound. As with Padre Padrone, in Il Prato (1979) the Tavianis gave prominence to the score, written by Ennio Morricone. La Notte di San Lorenzo is one of their most popular films, while in Kaos they adapted Pirandello’s Short Stories for a Year to the big screen, with the assistance of Tonino Guerra. In the most recent phase of their work (Good Morning Babilonia, 1987; Il Sole Anche di Notte, 1990; Fiorile, 1993) the fantastical element appears to supersede the realistic. The Tavianis duo raise the great existential questions, making cinema out of their own tales.DIMITRIS RIGOPOULOS

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