Laura Bispuri and Alba Rohrwacher

Italian filmmaker Laura Bispuri and Alba Rohrwacher, the A-list star of Daughter of Mine sit down with the Pavlovic Today to discuss womanhood and sexuality in an exclusive interview.

On Sunday morning, I met with director Laura Bispuri and her star, Alba Rohrwacher, the recipient of the Volpi Cup at the Venice Film Festival (Hungry Hearts), in the labyrinthine back rooms of Tribeca’s Roxy Hotel, in downtown Manhattan. Two days after the North American premiere of their film, Daughter of Mine, they seemed confident in the audience’s response.

Bispuri’s previous, transgression-themed feature, Sworn Virgin, had played in competition at Tribeca in 2015 and had earned her the Nora Ephron award for directing. This year, it’s their third festival spent promoting Daughter of Mine, which was met with strong reviews both in Berlin and Hong Kong. Italian actress Alba Rohrwacher[/caption] Navigating through the press lounge, I found Bispuri bright and alert, with a tenacity and wit reminiscent of the refined Italian film star Giulietta Masina – she wore spectacles and a freshly pressed shirt, hair chopped short.

She speaks conversational English, but I was given a translator with the note that her thoughts would be too complex to deliver without fluency. Alba Rohrwacher, who looks at certain angles, not unlike a young Meryl Streep, sat laconically to the right, playing with the hem of her dress. Her hair is long, in the manner of her character Angelica in Daughter of Mine, and she had on a tiny necklace of an evil eye on a silver chain.

The Pavlovic Today: How’s your festival going so far? Is Tribeca different for you the second time around?

Laura Bispuri: I’m very happy to be here. I think it’s very important for Italian films to be represented in the Tribeca festival. Both Sworn Virgin (2015) and this current film have been very warmly received in the United States, judging by reviews we’ve received in various publications. I’d say there’s an even greater appreciation of my current film, which already started back in Berlin and we could see the United States was very interested, and I very much appreciated what was happening. Unlike the last time we were here, in competition, this time we’re not, and that does explain a certain difference in the experience because there’s a different level of adrenaline when you’re in competition. And I have to admit that I’m very competitive. I like that feeling.

The Pavlovic Today: I wanted to talk specifically about the style of this film, which is made up of very long shots with abrupt cuts.

Laura Bispuri: [In English] Did you like it?

The Pavlovic Today: I did, I thought that it was a fantastic way to work within the scene. How were you thinking about the style as it related to your content, a story about motherhood and coming of age?

Laura Bispuri: Well, the starting point of this is a couple of things: I like to shoot in this manner, I like very long shots, but in this particular film they were much more detailed and complex. When I showed this footage to the editor, she said that it was very complex because within each sequence within, within each scene, there was a whole lot of editing that happened. The main decision, to shoot the film from three different points of view, the points of view of each of the three main protagonists, was very risky and very complex. And it determined the approach that I took because the gaze of the viewers would constantly have to shift between the foreground and the background. One example of this, for example, this is a scene where a Vittoria has just had breakfast with Angelica, and immediately after she wants to call her mother. It’s a very particular scene not only because we see the camera going from inside the house to outside, but also because of the shifting punch of you that we get, we get the point of view of Angelica and we get the point of view of a little girl, and then we get Angelica responding to what she is hearing of the telephone call. I think that this is a kind of approach that affects the entire film. This shifting between the background or the foreground that enabled me to give a very, a wide and broad point of view.

The Pavlovic Today: How would you say cinema has captured or failed to capture the essence of womanhood or of motherhood, and what did you want to do with Daughter of Mine to say something different?

Laura Bispuri: I think from the very start of writing the story, I wanted to look at the cinematic precedents were for a story of mother and daughter, and I was really dismayed to discover there weren’t so many stories of mother and daughter. There are many mother and son stories – like Mamma Roma (1962), for example, like Mommy (2014), of Xavier Dolan, but there were not so many mother-daughter stories. You think of Autumn Sonata (1978), Bellissima (1951). But it’s a huge theme, but it hasn’t been discussed or hasn’t been narrated a lot in films. So I want to really dig my hands into that. And that is the reason, or one of the reasons for the three points of view that I have, in order to give a very broad gaze on the theme of maternity and to have two mothers and a daughter to really sort of a dig my hands into this really strong bond.

The Pavlovic Today: Absolutely, that makes a lot of sense. And it’s interesting that you bring up Bergman with Autumn Sonata because I saw a lot of resemblance between Daughter of Mine and The Silence. The starting point is the same situation with these two women almost competing as mothers, but with a son instead of a daughter.

Laura Bispuri: Well, just the name Bergman is kind of overwhelming. [Laughs]

The Pavlovic Today: Turning to Alba Rohrwacher, I thought you were wonderful in this movie, and it seems like the bond you two have as director and actor seems to be very powerful. I was wondering how working on this film was different than Sworn Virgin, especially in regards to the matter of sexuality.

Alba Rohrwacher: The difference in sexuality between this and Sworn Virgin [laughs], it’s a very long journey!  

I think between Laura and me there’s a very special alchemy, and it’s very rare to find that between a director and an actor. There’s a great mutual trust between us. I trust her gaze, which gives me the strength, or the courage, I guess, to face the kind of a dangerous challenge that she’s asking of me, which also made me discover aspects of myself that I didn’t know so well. I like talking about how these two experiences together because there are so diametrically opposed to each other. On the one hand, in Sworn Virgin, we have this character who denies the sexuality here for the sake of a kind of hypothetical freedom she thinks she finds, only to realize that in denying herself or denying her sexuality she’s also denying herself the freedom of being fully human. On the other hand, and this new film where I’m playing a character whose sexuality is a completely out there. There she is through this kind of exaggerated sexuality trying to fill a void in her life. She’s trying to use sexuality to fill that void, that need for love that she feels, without realizing that it’s not a void that she’s going to be able to fill in this way. [Laughs] What we need to find is a healthy sexuality.

The Pavlovic Today: The matter of the void is such a big part of this film, and at – least in subtitles – the hole in the necropolis which Vittoria eventually climbs into is referred to exclusively as a void. It’s a very powerful visual metaphor, and I’d like to know if you see it in this story as a place of death or of rebirth?

Laura Bispuri: I think the question of the void is something I feel very deeply. It’s very attached to me, it’s kind of an autobiographical fact. The sense of the physical void, the fear of emptiness, this is a recurrent theme in my work. In the necropolis, what we see is a kind of re-experiencing of birth for Vittoria, there is a kind of physical experience of feeling this rebirth by going through that hole, and it’s very tied to this lead-up near the end of the film where all three of the main characters in a certain sense have to descend, go through some descent, in order to be reborn. We see this with Angelica, of course, in a certain physical way. We see this in Tina, with a sort of descent of her mood, you know, what she’s sort of going through. All three of them descend to this very dark place in order to be reborn. For Vittoria, this is a descent that is symbolic, that’s metaphysical, but it’s also physical. She gets reborn in a sense through all the dangers that Angelica makes her face, the fears that she makes her overcome. She teaches her to overcome these fears by taking, are these very large places – overlooking this valley, going through the wind, through the dust. And thanks to her encounter, the lessons of Angelica, she emerges in a certain sense there’s a kind of superhero.

Alba Rohrwacher: I think you could compare the film in this sense to a Greek tragedy, where we’re dealing with archetypes. What each of these three characters experience is a sort of catharsis. They descend, as you suggest, into a hell, into this place of death in order to be reborn, and this is the life cycle that is enabled through the body of the woman.

Laura Bispuri: I think you could say, of these three characters – Tina, Angelica, and Vittoria – Vittoria is the one who has a physical catharsis, a very concrete experience, which she must undergo in order to be truly free, to be emancipated from these very overwhelming maternal figures surrounding her.    

Nolan Kelly

Nolan Kelly writes on film He currently lives in Brooklyn