"Great things can be born out of a crisis"
by Camillo de Marco
02/12/2011 - Alice Rohrwacher, 30 years old, film studies in Lisbon and a few documentaries under her belt, received enthusiastic approval in Cannes 2011 for her first fiction feature film Corpo celeste [trailer, film focus], screened at the Directors’ Fortnight. The film will take part out-of-competition in the next edition of the Sundance Film Festival (January 19-29, 2012). Corpo celeste, a portrait of a young girl who has come back to live in Calabria, among catechism and consumerism, takes its title from a novel by Anna Maria Ortese. "More than an out-and-out inspiration", Alice Rohrwacher tells us, "Ortese’s novel provided me with an important starting point for Marta’s journey. The search for a ‘world above’, of a space over and beyond reality".
Cineuropa: Following various experiences in documentary-making, how did you come to write and direct a fiction film?
Alice Rohrwacher: During my various collaborations in the documentary field I also worked at Checosamanca, and I got to know Carlo Cresto Dina, the producer. A year later, Carlo set up his production company, Tempesta, and called me to work with him on a project. I thought he only wanted me to write a screenplay, but in the end he told me he couldn’t imagine my script being directed by anyone else.
Why were you attracted by the world of the Catholic church?
My intention and that of the producer was to capture the present, a reality of our times in the South, the great periphery of Italy. I didn’t have a religious education, but I had a great curiosity and interest in discovering how the world of the parishes worked and I thought it important to find a new subject for my first film. In order to gather information I frequented parishes, catechists, reunions, the youth day and... my imagination would never have stretched as far.
You specifically chose Reggio Calabria as a location.
Reggio Calabria seemed to me more a place of the soul than a physical-geographical place. I chose Reggio Calabria because I believed and still believe in this city. Calabria is one of the most sorrowful regions, perhaps a mirror of what is happening in Italy, with very sharp contrasts. In Reggio there is an archaic world hidden behind a crust of cement and sprawling buildings. It is a city which is made very alive by this contradiction.
Did you encounter any difficulties in making the film?
The film’s subject is very delicate, that was probably the hardest thing, together with the need to put together all the various 'parts' of the film to be able to finish it. I was lucky to be working with wonderful people. When shooting started I discovered a real pleasure in meeting the actors and the collaborators. At the beginning of this adventure for everyone it was about working ‘on a film’, in the end however everyone felt like they were working ‘for a film’. I hope the difference is clear.
What are you working on following Corpo celeste?
On two new projects which are connected to one another, an archive-based documentary and a screenplay about Italy’s agrarian landscape. I see both works of fiction and reality in my future: I find that documentary has taught me a lot about asking oneself questions and taking a stance. It’s very risky and you have to be brave to do it, but I don’t think it’s about reassuring the viewer, there are already many films that do that, and there are many others that want to give answers! I want to create questions. I have lots of ideas for the future. I think that great things can be born out of a crisis.