Before it had a name: In the name of love
by Boyd van Hoeij
This morning the official presentation of the final entry in Venice Days; the American-Italian co-production Before it had a name. Written by real life couple Giada Colagrande and Willem Dafoe, they also star as lovers in the film that marks Colagrande’s second outing as a director. Austere in style but thick with meaning and mystery, the film opposes the rational and the irrational and is rich in details that are rarely seen on film.
Dafoe is Leslie, the caretaker of a secluded and mysterious villa on the edge of the woods, covered in an immaculate blanket of snow. After the death of the owner, his widow, the Italian Eleonora (Colagrande) arrives to take possession of the house but somehow allows the caretaker take possession of her. “Take care of me too,” she says, “I am part of this house now”.
“We wrote the screenplay together based on an idea I have had for some time,” says Willem Dafoe. “It was the first time I initiated a project,” the actor says, though “of course I have been writing for some time”. For the director “It was the first time I wrote in English, so Willem of course helped me with that. As a writer, but also as a director and actress, I worked hard to always remain faithful to Willem’s original idea”.
Before it had a name was Colagrande’s first American film. “I never realised there was such a big difference between the European and American ways of filmmaking”, says the director, “People keep telling me that the film has a European sensibility, even though it is set in the United States and was made with a partially American crew”. With its narrow focus on two people in a passionate relationship and its abundant use of metaphors, the film certainly has more in common with the intimate auteur dramas of the old continent than with new American cinema. When asked how she thinks the American audience would react to her film, Colagrande says “I don’t know, I find it hard to evaluate. The American audience often surprises me with their support for a film, or lack of it”. Whatever the reaction of American audiences will be, Before it had a name is certainly amongst the most pleasing –and decidedly auteur -surprises of the Venice Days.