Valeria Bruni Tedeschi • Director of The Summer House
“Irony helps us to live”
by Marta Bałaga
- VENICE 2018: We chatted to actress-director Valeria Bruni Tedeschi about her new film, The Summer House, in which she also plays the lead role, surrounded by her real-life family and friends
Starring alongside Valeria Golino and Riccardo Scamarcio, not to mention veteran filmmaker Frederick Wiseman in a surprise cameo role, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi uses The Summer House [+see also:
interview: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi
film profile] to tell the tale of a family attempting to deal with past trauma during a summer vacation on the French Riviera, drawing on her own experiences. We chatted with her during the Venice Film Festival.
Cineuropa: Your character, Anna, is a director struggling with a sudden breakdown of her marriage. What did you decide not to hide any of her weaknesses?
Valeria Bruni Tedeschi: In my movie, nobody is cool. But I do like my characters - if I didn’t, it would mean I’d failed at my job. Anna is hurting, but when I talk about her as a director I can be a little ironic. Irony helps us to live.
She’s not the only one who’s in pain. All these people have come away together in this gorgeous place, it’s the summer, and yet there’s so much hurt going on.
Life is full of pain. Nobody is sheltered from pain, loneliness, sickness and death. No house or any amount of money could protect us from these. I’m talking about certain people in a certain place but, ultimately, I’m talking about all of us. What I’m trying to say is that we’re all in the same boat - it may be leaking, it may be full of holes and we will all end up dying, but laughter, irony and understanding that our condition is ridiculous do really help us. Chekhov used to say that the fundamental condition of any human being is to be ridiculous. It’s good to remember that.
This is a discussion I’ve been having with a number of directors over the course of the festival, but is it difficult mixing fiction with reality?
Yes, but when it comes to cinema, everything is difficult, even when you’re adapting a book. My film is an adaptation of life, which you then need to change. I talked to my family and discovered that their limits aren’t always the same as my own. So yes, there are conflicts. But I come from a family of artists and my mother, when given the opportunity to play a beautiful character, will always want to do it. We’re not afraid of art – it has always had a strong presence in our home. I play with the truth, but when my daughter, my mother or my friends appear in the movie, they’re playing fictional characters. The only real difference is that I already have a past with them, so this isn’t something I need to create.
There is an idea expressed in the film that as an artist, you have the right to “steal”. Do you agree with this?
I wouldn’t call it stealing. The human condition is so difficult and it’s important to try to see a little bit of light in it all. Do I really have to feel guilty for that? I think I simply observe things and then try to show what I’ve seen. I’m not pretending I know how to solve our problems, which is a shame! I’d love to work and for it to be a therapeutic process, both at the same time. Just think about it: making money while helping yourself - so efficient! The thing is, as it’s said in the movie, I really need to work. It’s like breathing for me and, quite simply, it makes me function better. I work to meet people and perhaps to fall in love, but not because it makes things any less painful.
You decided to talk about sexual harassment – what convinced you to do this?
It’s taken 50 years for me to say something about this - that’s a long time. I have a daughter now and when you have children, you realise that they are very aware of this issue. They’re very sensitive and they hear so much about it that everything begins to feel threatening to them. It’s the same for adults. We’re all sat in our offices, too afraid to look at each other in case we do something that will get us in trouble. Every relationship we build, be it at work or in our social life, is a little mistrustful. We’re getting a little paranoid. It’s the same with the question of representation here at the festival – I wouldn’t want to be showing my film in the main competition just because I’m a woman. I’d want to show it because someone thought it was good enough. I believe in pushing for balanced gender representation, but not when it comes to art.
The movie is haunted by the constant presence of a dead brother. Was is difficult choosing to incorporate this element of the film, given that you went through a similar experience yourself?
These were some of the most difficult scenes. They could easily have ended up not ringing true, but I wanted to have my brother next to me again [the director’s real brother, Virginio Bruni Tedeschi, died in 2006]. It’s like seeing an old friend again and crying out: “How are you? I haven’t seen you for such a long time!” Cinema has this power to invoke the dead; it allows you to live with them by your side for a little while longer. That’s what makes it so magical.
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