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Q&A with Alice Rohrwacher

interview

The visionary Italian director Alice Rohrwacher has developed a wildly playful and inventive style of filmmaking over the course of the last decade. Her critically acclaimed features—The Wonders (Grand Prix at Cannes in 2014), Happy as Lazarro (Best Screenplay at Cannes in 2018)—and wondrous shorts—Violettina (2016), Le Pupille (Best Live Action Short Film Nominee in 2022)—set her apart as one of contemporary cinema’s genuine poets whose films exhibit a preternatural mastery of craft and narrative. Her newest film, La Chimera, is a genre-bending exploration of grief and Etruscan art starring Josh O’Connor.

 

La Chimera opens in U.S. theaters tomorrow.

Q. Much like in Happy as Lazarro (2018), your latest film directly engages with myth. Is there a reason you find yourself attracted to ancient myths and magic in storytelling?

A.  These are two movies that definitely connect to the tradition of fables. There is a mythological storytelling tradition whereby one doesn’t ask the viewer to enter a story or feel as though they are the protagonist. These are stories in which the spectator is on the outside and can only watch the unfolding of destiny.

This is something that belongs to fairytales and fables, in which you don’t identify with the character, but you follow the thread of destiny. On the one hand, you have the destiny of a good man—Lazarro—and on the other hand, you have the story of a grief-stricken man—Arthur—in a contemporary world. Both movies take a step back and ask the viewer to be in a different position. It’s like one is watching Giotto’s frescoes—it’s something that needs to be looked at from the outside. I think it’s important to develop a storytelling style that allows the viewer to feel emotion, not because they feel like they are the protagonist in the story, but because they can feel compassion for the protagonist without necessarily needing to be the protagonist themselves.

Q. Why did you choose to emphasize Etruscan culture in the film and how did you approach filming it?

A.  I made a movie that has archaeology at its core because I was thinking about the relationship we have with the past. I live in a region of Italy where the Etruscans left a huge quantity of hidden treasures. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, Etruscan treasures became central to the international trafficking of archaeological artifacts.

I chose to tell a story of this time because I was always very surprised that after 2,500 years in which nobody touched any of these items… they were always there and always present. Nobody would touch them because to some extent, these objects had an invisible part. It would be considered bad luck to touch them, it would be considered dangerous because they belong to the Etruscan souls. But all of a sudden, a generation came about that does not believe in anything anymore and they felt free to take anything, and to sell all these items.

It was a very specific story that could seem limited to this particular circumstance, but it became universal because it refers to a time and history in which humankind stops believing in anything—they feel free to grab anything that the past has left behind and sell it because there are no more invisible values.

Q. The film is very playful in its use of different film stocks. When you and cinematographer Hélène Louvart were developing the look and feel of La Chimera, what were some of the first things that came to mind?

A.  The idea of the different film stock came from an enigma. We needed to decide whether we were shooting 16mm, Super 16mm, or 35mm film. Each time we read the script we would say, “This scene would be perfect as a 35mm film scene, and this other one would definitely be Super 16, and oh no, this other one…” We really couldn’t make a decision because these formats have an intrinsic storytelling value and they’re very different from one another. It’s a movie that has archaeology at its core and the different kinds of film stocks are about the archaeology of cinema. We decided to play with this and shoot each scene with the film stock that we thought would be most appropriate.

We also had a small camera and we were able to use the tail-ends of each film strip—we didn’t want to throw them out. We decided—as a joke at first—to film flying birds with those parts. According to the Etruscans, the study of the way birds fly is a future-telling method and it can tell you about destiny. We understood that combining all of these different film stocks would give a specific tone to the movie suitable to what we wanted to do in our storytelling because it was connected to the material evolution of the history of the cinema.

Q. Where have you found inspiration that people might not necessarily expect?

A.  The edges of things, the borders, the territories that are in between. And in the garbage, in all the things that we generally throw away.

Q. What qualities do you value most in a character?

A.  Pessimism of reason, optimism of will.

Q. What was the last film you watched and loved?

A.  Fallen Leaves.

Q. What’s a project you’d like to make someday, however impossible it might seem now?

A.  A “real movie,” as my neighbours say.

Q. What image would you like to end this interview with?