Nunzia De Stefano • Director of Nevia
“It wasn’t easy to talk about myself”
- Neapolitan director Nunzia De Stefano tells Cineuropa all about her autobiographically inspired film, Nevia
Selected for the Orizzonti section of the Venice International Film Festival, Nevia [+see also:
interview: Nunzia De Stefano
film profile] is the first work by Nunzia De Stefano, a director who has worked on a fair few of Matteo Garrone’s films and whose current offering sees the latter slipping into the role of producer. The film tells the tale of Nevia, a 17-year-old girl who is forced, by circumstances, to live in the Ponticelli container park on the outskirts of Naples.
Cineuropa: The judges’ reasoning for the film being awarded the Lizzani Prize in Venice states that “Nevia is a film about women, written, directed and acted by women”. Is it difficult to tell stories about women in the world of film?
Nunzia De Stefano: Almodovar knows how to do it. He’s the first to spring to mind. No-one has managed to portray the world of women better than him. Men too can do it, even if few directors are really able to get inside women’s heads. He does it brilliantly.
We might look at the film in a different light on learning that you yourself spent ten years living in a container after the Naples earthquake in 1980.
I lived in a container for ten years. Forty years later, these parks still exist. There was no set-designing in Ponticelli, the location where I filmed; what you see is how it actually looks. They’re called bi-storeys: two containers stacked one on top of the other and all of them interconnected. The conditions people live in are still dire, while they wait for social housing that never materialises. I hope the film will help them. I feel a strong connection to that place, to its inhabitants. Through the young protagonist Virginia Apicella, we got to know the people who live there. They demonstrate a level of humanity and dignity that really takes you aback.
Is it easier to write a film based on personal memories?
No, it wasn’t easy to talk about myself, to portray my own childhood. Memories that we’d normally prefer not to remember all bubbled up to the surface. It’s a form of self-analysis and it’s really painful. On set, after a few takes, I’d crack, I’d cry. From an emotional perspective, it was a very powerful experience. This film comes from the heart, I wanted to share this story, to get it all out.
There are a lot of films being shot in Naples lately...
My city is something of an Aladdin’s lamp, it has a little bit of everything in it. But it’s not often explored in real depth …
In some cases, the deterioration that you see is almost oleographic
There have been a few peripheral areas which have been used as backdrops, but in terms of authors working in Naples, capturing any aspect of it is a good thing. I wanted to portray a very different side of Naples, but respectfully, without passing judgement on those places and without insisting upon the abject poverty they live in: during the visits we made to the site before we started filming, I saw containers without light switches and with very little water to wash with.
It’s a situation we find all over the world. The film could be set in a Brazilian slum...
Of course, it’s one of the many places in the world which people don’t even realise exist. Even Virginia didn’t know about this place, despite being Neapolitan herself and living in the Spanish district.
The film has another level to it, beyond the social; there’s a more intimate story of this young girl who’s had to grow up before having the chance to be a child. She’s come out of it all unscathed, she doesn’t want to be part of all that misery, she wants to leave. And she sees a possibility for a new, different life in a passing circus.
The circus in the film is a passageway, which gives hope to the protagonist. She absolutely loves animals; she sleeps with a piglet and an iguana, she feels a close connection with nature and she can see a part of herself in the circus world. Even though they get her shovelling dung, she’s incredibly happy. Whatsmore, she finds herself part of a genuine family unit which she’s never experienced until now and which she’s enthralled by. She’s experiencing a new and unknown reality: honesty, exhaustion from a good day’s work, a sense of unity...
How did you choose Virginia for the part of Nevia?
I met 300 young girls, but I couldn’t find my idea of the protgaonist because I was very attached to how I was back then. Then, as if by magic, it happened, and there was an immediate synergy between us.
The film hasn’t found a distributer yet...
On the Italian side, we might now have one, the producer is taking care of it (n.d.r.: Matteo Garrone).
(Translated from Italian)
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