Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Her Latest Film is Headed to Rochester, New York: A Conversation with Laura Morante

Born on August 21, 1956 in Tuscany, actress Laura Morante brings an effortless passion to her work and is known for delivering intense dramatic performances that make her characters unforgettable.  

Morante started out as a dancer and attributes her success in acting to the self-discipline and love of rehearsal she found in dancing. She began her acting career in theater before making her screen debut in Giuseppe Bertolucci's 1981 Oggetti Smarrit (Lost and Found). The film that brought her recognition outside Italy was Nanni Moretti’s 2001 La stanza del figlio (The Son's Room). Morante's character deals with the devastating loss of a child, and her sensitivity to the feelings of her character was apparent as she went through so many of the painful stages of mourning a loved one. 

Since she started out as a dancer, Morante found common ground with her character, Yolanda, in John Malkovich's The Dancer Upstairs. Although she has also worked in French cinema, The Dancer Upstairs was her first high-profile film outside Italy and made her an international star. “She had a very communicative face. I didn’t want someone with an innocent face. I wanted someone with a history,” said Malkovich of his choice to cast Morante in the part of Yolanda. She acted opposite Academy Award winner, Javier Bardem and the pair had strong chemistry and brilliantly carried scenes in a nostalgic, artistic manner.

In recent years, she’s gone beyond the boundaries of acting to find further success in directing and screenwriting. She made her directorial debut with the Italy/France coproduction Ciliegine (The Cherry on the Cake). Morante also stars in the romantic comedy of a middle-aged woman about to give up on love. 

I spoke with Laura Morante at Lincoln Center's 2016 edition of Open Roads: New Italian Cinema when she was presenting her second directorial effort, Assolo (Solo).  Although she has an exotic, intellectual air about her, I found her to be delightful and down-to-earth with a wicked sense of humor. There was so much laughter during our interview, at times it was hard to hear our voices when I was transcribing the recording.

Directors such as Nanni Moretti and John Malkovich have given a certain sensuality to the characters they created for you. However, the character you created for yourself is anything but sensual. 
I'm not sure that that’s always the case being represented as sexy. You can certainly say that about John Malkovich but I wouldn’t say that Nanni Moretti represents me as being sexy but I could be wrong. In France, they definitely tend to portray me as the lover and the sensual part whereas in Italy I usually play the part of the wife.. the betrayed wife!  When I showed the script for Solo to the first producer, a woman, she looked at me and said, What are you, some kind of a masochist? Why did you write a character like this? And I said because I thought it was a very interesting story, I thought it was very amusing. I thought to talk about a character like this, not in terms of her sex life but a character with various difficulties, who had problems.. and I wanted to narrate her journey towards self-esteem. I think that a character that has to overcome hurdles and obstacles in life has a much more interesting story to tell. If you’re talking about someone where everything is going fine with their life, then there’s not a story. There’s nothing there and it’s over before it’s begun. So there was some humor involved but there was a very complex trajectory to this character and I thought it was a story worth telling.

Marco Giallini’s character was repulsive. Where did that character come from and why did you think he’d be the actor to portray him?
He’s such a nice man. He said why did you write such a character for me? I can never really tell you where my characters come from but in the case of Marco, I think that even though he played this terrible person, he has an irresistible charm about him and I think that character in a sense is saved by him. When you see it in the theaters, the audience always laughs during his scenes. So he redeems his character, he saves his character.

I noticed the music was very strong. It was almost like a separate protagonist. There is  the Tango, the ending music and also jazzy, whimsical almost Woody Allen-esque melodies. Tell me your thoughts on music and the role you wanted it to play in this film. 
Nicola Piovani did the music like my first movie. The jazz is all mine. I love jazz. Piovani doesn’t necessarily share my taste for jazz. He actually scolds me about that. Why do you insist on jazz? One of the things that I did tell him though was that I wanted to have this sort of disconnect, this slippage between the music and the scenes. So if it’s a sad scene, I didn’t want to have sad music. If it’s a funny scene, I didn’t want to have funny music. He pretty much followed what I wanted to do but not in every single case. In terms of the Tango, he wrote the Tango for the dream sequence. But all the other Tangos are the classical Tangos. So Piovani is a great musician for cinema and a great friend. But in the end, he always does what he wants to do. 

I’d like to talk about the last scene and your character’s connection with the driver.
That scene with the cab driver is actually based on something that happened to me. Many years ago, I was in Paris. I was trying to escape from a really horrible evening. I took a taxi. There were few times back then that I took a taxi because I didn’t have any money. I was very very sad. As I was sitting in my taxi, another taxi pulled up alongside us. I looked in and there was another young girl like myself who looked just as sad as me. I looked at her. She looked at me. She smiled, I smiled. We sort of gave each other a little wave and it’s been a moment that I’ve never really forgotten. It’s as if we were saying, look at us. We’re both in the same situation. And there was this sudden moment of empathy. There was this kind of spontaneous emotion. And I think in that last scene, this is something the film has been leading us up to. Flavia looks over and she sees this very sad woman in the cab next to her. She herself doesn’t realize she’s being observed. Then the radio comes on and we don’t know if the concert is real or imagined but it’s everything we have hoped for since the beginning of the film: that Flavia would finally complete this journey toward self-acceptance. It goes back to a dream that she has. She is part of a chorus and she suddenly realizes that none of the others are going to sing and that she has to sing by herself and she’s not able to do that. The whole narrative arc of the film leads us to this moment to this final scene where the musicians are prepared to go on and Flavia is running the courage to perform to sing that solo and there is an exchange of glances between her and the cab driver is a way of saying, yes I can, yes we can.

Having worked four decades in cinema, knowing what you know today, what advice would you give your younger self?
Well my daughter is an actress. She’s in my film. She plays the part of the son’s girlfriend. And it took her a while to admit to herself that she wanted to be an actress. And the one thing that I said to her was that in my opinion, it’s a mistake to take the world of cinema too seriously but not to take the craft serious enough. And it’s a mistake that we all admit to. There’s too much focus on the career and not enough focus on the craft of acting. I think the mistake that I made at the start was of a different sort. My mistake was that it took me too long to love what I was doing. I didn’t initially like being an actress, and I only learned to love it later. My initial dreams were to do something else. I loved to dance, I loved writing and I sort of saw acting as, okay this is something that I can do. But the time had passed for me to become a dancer. I didn’t think I had enough talent to do that. There were too many writers in my family, so I didn’t have that ambition. So the one thing that I regret is that I didn’t love acting enough in the beginning. So as a result, it’s something that I only learned to really enjoy later. 

So you must have enjoyed your role in The Dancer Upstairs then..
I don’t really dance in the movie but it was really interesting because I first met John Malkovich at a celebration of Bertolucci to which we were both invited, both of us having worked with him on films. Then I ran into him again when we were both part of a film jury and at the time, I did not know that he was working on a screenplay for The Dancer Upstairs. Then we were talking and I told him that I was a ballerina and that I had been to dance school, and that I had come from a very political family. This sort of gave him the inspiration. He handed me a script and said, 'Read this.' However, it wasn’t all that easy. The Spanish producer did not want me in the film. I’m really grateful to John because he insisted on having me for this. It was two years before John could have the cast that he wanted Bardem, Botto and me. I love his perseverance and I love his loyalty. 

Do you enjoy acting in English? It seems effortless for you.
In fact, I acted in English many times. In the beginning, it was easier for me to act in English or French because I was shy, so I didn’t really like to hear myself speaking in Italian because I understood my own words too well. And also because my family is a very literary family and so I have a kind of respect for words and writing and in Italian. So my judgement is very severe! When I speak English or French, I don’t understand. So it’s much easier. 

What inspired you to make the transition from acting to directing and what is it like directing yourself? 
I wanted to take responsibility for my own choices, for my own behavior. I didn’t want to direct the first time. I wrote the script with Daniele Costantini and we sold the screenplay to a French producer. He said, 'Now you write the screenplay' because it was only a treatment.. 'but it has to take place in France because it’s a French movie.' Because the treatment took place in Rome, we changed everything and at the end when he approved the screenplay, he said, 'So now let’s look for a French director' but we couldn’t find one. Some were working. Some wouldn’t do a movie that they hadn’t written. So it was very complicated. At one point, he said to me, 'Don’t you want to try to do it yourself?' I said, 'Well it’s not my work. I don’t know how to do it.' He said, 'Let’s try.' And so I accepted. Since I enjoy it, the second time was easier for me to say 'ok, I’ll be the director.'

See Laura Morante in Solo at the Little Theatre in Rochester on October 25 as part of the Rochester Italian Film Series. Click here for more information and follow the series on FacebookThe Dancer Upstairs and The Son's Room are both available through Amazon.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Interview: Director Andrea Pallaoro on presenting his new film at the Chicago Film Festival

Director Andrea Pallaoro’s second feature film has been described as “the intimate portrait of a woman going through an identity crisis.” Hannah, starring British actress Charlotte Rampling, premiered in September at the 74th Venice Film Festival, earning a Best Actress prize for Rampling, and is now headed to the Chicago Film Festival.

Pallaoro made his cinematic debut in the Orizzonti section of the 2013 Venice Film Festival with Medeas, an emotionally heavy drama, which follows members of a family with deep-rooted problems struggling to coexist together under the same roof. It’s a deeply personal film for the spectator because it deals with issues of discontentment, fear, loss of love, disappointment, savoring fleeting moments of joy and living with severe emotional desperation- emotions and situations that we could easily find ourselves in during the course of our lives.. but how we handle these emotions and how the characters handle them are where the film becomes personal. The characters are not judged by their creators and are not presented as bad guys because we see their sides of the story and in some respect, can therefore empathize with their tortured souls. So it’s easy for us to cast judgement while watching them. There are a couple unexpected twists at the beginning of the film and then the ending is a devastating shock. It’s not a joyful, lighthearted film. Instead it’s thought-provoking and sadly reflective of society.

A scene from Medeas
I spoke with Andrea Pallaoro over the phone. I had a lot of questions about his motivation and process of creating his complicated, layered characters. He was articulate and generous with his answers, also revealing that Hannah is the first film of a trilogy he is making. We talked a bit about the second installment, another character driven story in which a female character takes the lead, of course with an interesting twist, which seems to be Pallaoro’s signature style.

In the two works you’ve made, I’ve noticed a parallel in the deep introspections of the female characters. Can you speak to creating these two powerful characters?
I’ve always been very interested in female characters. I find their complexities very interesting. That being said, I’m also very interested in characters that are often misunderstood, characters that are going through a complex, internal struggle with themselves. In the case of Hannah, Hannah is a woman trapped by her own sense of loyalty and devotion towards her husband. She is paralyzed by her insecurities and dependencies. She’s a woman who is struggling to understand who she is, to understand her identity. It’s a film that really explores the inner torment of the denial of this woman.

Where did the inspiration behind Hannah come from?
Almost always, the inspiration comes from things I see or observe or even things I’m exposed to through the media, and this happened in the same way. But what really started my own inspiration and my own journey with this character, was a single question: What happens after 40 or 50 years, after a life with someone, when you find out information about this person that changes everything? That is a question that both scares me and fascinates me. And that is the situation that Hannah has found herself in.

Charlotte Rampling as Hannah
During the Venice Film Festival, I learned that Charlotte Rampling is very beloved in Italy. She was awarded Best Actress for her portrayal of Hannah. Did you have her in mind when writing this character?
Yes, absolutely. I wrote the film for Charlotte, from the very first word. It has always been a dream of mine to collaborate with Charlotte. I fell in love with her when I was maybe 14 or 15-years-old when I first saw her in The Damned by Luchino Visconti. And since then, I’ve followed her through her performances and interpretations of different characters and fell more and more in love with her. So when we found out she wanted to be part of this film, I was absolutely thrilled. I went to meet her in Paris. That meeting marked the beginning of a very important, significant and powerful friendship for me and a great collaboration of course. It was wonderful to have Charlotte there and to share this experience with her, to have her there so that we could release this film into the world for the first time together. And that is something that I will treasure forever.

Let’s talk about Medeas. My first question is about the period or year in which the film is set. That’s something I couldn’t quite figure out.
Yeah, that’s a very good question actually because it is meant to be in a temporal kind of situation, a timeless situation. In my explorations of California- the California desert, I found communities that felt very much outside of time.

Why did you want to tell this story?
I read about an actual story that happened in 2012 and that news clip really resonated with me and pushed me to start a larger research on these actions. For me, it was very important not to vilify or judge these characters but to try to understand their desperation and motivation even in horrific acts like this one. So it was my own need and desire to do that without judging them personally that led me to develop this story and this character study.

The film has an unexpected, strong ending. What were the reactions to the ending when you presented the film around the world?
The audience reaction was different from screening to screening, even person to person. But I also felt grateful for the general response that I got, that they were able to penetrate the internal worlds of these characters, to understand them and to even recognize themselves in the characters. And I feel that is the thing I aspire to the most in cinema- giving the spectator the ability to understand themselves through just observing these characters.

Can you talk to me about your process of writing? Where do you begin to create such a diverse cast of characters? You’re creating men, women and children. How do you get into the heads of these characters and make them so authentic?
For Medeas and for Hannah, I collaborated with my friend and writing partner Orlando Tirado. What we do is once we identify a subject and a character we want to follow, we start accumulating and gathering images that we both want to see realized cinematically and that are meaningful to us. And once we have a certain amount of these images, of the observations of these characters, we start assembling them together and in the process of placing one next to the other, we discover other images and so forth. For me, what is important in the writing process is that the story, the narrative is never suffocating the characters themselves. And by that, I mean that I want the characters, the exploration of the characters, to lead the narrative and not the other way around where it’s the narrative that leads me to the characters. Because in that way, I feel like that characters are in prison, they’re trapped by the story

Do you have any future projects in the wings?
Yes, I do. I have a project that I can’t wait to start making. It’s called Monica and it is part of a trilogy that started with “Hannah.” It’s a trilogy that focuses on female characters. In Monica, we follow a transgender woman as she returns home after being absent for over 35 years to take care of her dying mother who has Alzheimer’s. And it was actually her mother who threw her out of the house when she was a 17-year-old boy. It’s going to be a film that explores themes of abandonment and the consequences of abandonment.

Andrea Pallaoro will present his film Hannah at the Chicago Film Festival. Please find below the complete schedule of Italian screenings for the Chicago Film Festival. Medeas is available through Amazon.

The complete Lineup of Italian Films at the 2017 Chicago Film Festival

Dir. Andrea Pallaoro
When her husband is imprisoned, Hannah (Charlotte Rampling) is left alone with her thoughts as she tries to make sense of his crimes and cope with her newfound loneliness. Saddled with grief, she watches as the life she knew slowly slips from her grasp. Anchored by a quietly ferocious performance from the always captivating Rampling, Hannah is an intimate exploration of character and alienation in the face of family tragedy.
TUE 10/17 6:15 PM
WED 10/18 8:30 PM
THUR 10/19 2:30 PM
Italy | U.S. | France | Germany
Young Romani Pio lived at the margins of Carpignano’s acclaimed refugee drama Mediterranea—he’s now the focal point of the director’s powerful coming-of-age drama set in the slums of an Italian coastal town. Determined to live up to the outlaw reputation of the older brother he idolizes, the 14-year-old seeks to prove himself a full-grown hustler. An empathetic portrait of a boy, on the cusp of adulthood, who must decide what kind of man he wants to be. Italian with subtitles. 120 min.
SUN 10/15 5:15 PM
MON 10/16 8:45 PM
On the outskirts of Rome, a hairdresser with dreams of opening her own salon strikes
up an ill-advised affair with her daughter’s therapist. Jasmine Trinca won the acting prize in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section for her winning portrayal of a working-class single mother determined to live life on her own terms and who is unafraid to make mistakes. Italian with subtitles. 103 min
FRI 10/13 5:45 PM
SUN 10/15 2:45 PM
MON 10/16 1:00 PM
In a small Sicilian village on the edge of the forest, Giuseppe, a boy of 13, vanishes. Luna, a classmate who loves him, refuses to accept his disappearance. Rebelling against the code of silence and collusion that surrounds them, Luna plunges into the criminal underworld that has swallowed him up. Only their indestructible love can save them both. With its heady fusion of gothic fantasy and Mafia thriller, Sicilian Ghost Story is a unique, atmospheric fable of innocence lost. Italian with subtitles. 120 min.
SUN 10/15 7:30 PM
MON 10/16 5:30 PM
THUR 10/19 3:00 PM
More than 50 years after it became an international sensation, Italian master Antonioni’s English-language debut remains an enthralling mystery. David Hemmings
stars as a high-fashion photographer in ’60s London whose camera might have captured a murder during a shoot with an enigmatic beauty (Vanessa Redgrave). From its intoxicating color palette to its dazzling cinematography, Blow-Up remains an art cinema landmark and a sublime time capsule of its countercultural moment. With Vanessa Redgrave in person. 111 min.
TUE 10/17 5:30 PM
Italy | France | Brazil | U.S.
The new film by Guadagnino (I Am Love) is a sensual and transcendent tale of first love. It’s the summer of 1983 in the north of Italy, and Elio (Timothée Chalamet), a precocious 17-year-old, spends his days in his family’s 17th century villa, flirting with his friend Marzia (Esther Garrel). After Oliver (Armie Hammer), a charming American scholar arrives, Elio and Oliver discover the heady beauty of awakening desire. English, Italian, French with subtitles. 130 min.
WED 10/25 8:00 PM

Monday, October 2, 2017

A Conversation with Italian-American Filmmaker and Artist Burt Young

One of America’s most beloved character actors, he is best known for his role as Paulie Pennino in the Rocky films, an unforgettable portrayal that spanned four decades of cinema.

Actor Burt Young was born Gerald Tommaso DeLouise on April 30, 1940. The son of Pugliese immigrants originating from Bari, he grew up in the tough Italian-German neighborhood of Corona in Queens, New York. “I grew up with honesty and loyalty. They were very decent, family-oriented people,” Young shared at the Italian Contemporary Film Festival in Canada, where he presented his latest film, “The Neighborhood” alongside Danny Aiello and Giancarlo Gianni.

Burt Young gets emotional when talking about his beloved parents.. 

Young originally had no intentions of becoming an actor. Prophetically, he started out as a boxer but then fate stepped in. “I met this girl and I wanted to be close to her. She wanted to study acting with Lee Strasberg. I didn’t know who Lee Strasberg was, but I figured that I could get into anyplace. So, I got a hold of him and I auditioned with her. She folded because we had Paul Newman and Elia Kazan for judges. When I got nominated for an Academy Award, I received two telegrams. One was from her and she wrote, ‘Remember, you owe everything to me.’”

Before the life-changing role of Paulie, Young was building his career with the likes of Roman Polanski, Jack Nicolson, Faye Dunaway, James Caan and Sam Peckinpah. “I learned more working with Peckinpah because all the actors and producers were scared because he was a crazy man. But I enjoyed him a lot. He gave me my freedom. He was wonderful.” Those early roles in Polanski’s Chinatown and Peckinpah’s The Killer Elite established Young as a no-nonsense tough guy and he went on to solidify that image. However, as the Rocky films progressed until his last reprisal in Rocky Balboa in 2006, Paulie matured into a devoted and caring brother-in-law and friend. When I asked him how he managed the evolution and growth of Paulie over the years, he commented on the fact the Paulie was becoming too complicated a person. "I had to pull him back because he was getting too educated. I had to bring him back to infancy, emotional infancy."

Burt Young as Paulie in Rocky
Young didn’t realize what a breakout success Rocky would be, “but I knew it was very good writing. It was clear, clean and informative. I loved it very much,” he recalls. “William Morris was my agent and they wouldn’t pay attention to the producers. They said, ‘What are we talking about, a million dollar movie?’ I said, ‘No, we’re talking about the best thing that’s probably ever going to walk by me.’”

Young feels the film’s worldwide success was due in part to its storyline “about all working people that were underneath the gun with no place for a future. Rocky was a freedom call, so to speak.”

In addition to cinema, Young also works in theater and has enjoyed quite a run in television as well. He's made appearances in shows ranging from the Rockford Files and Baretta to MashMiami Vice and Law & Order. He also acted in an Italian-American-themed commercial for Dr. Pepper that is sure to awaken a sense of 1970s nostalgia and reminiscence.

Take a step back in time with the commercial...

Although Paulie is Young’s most recognized character, the film closest to his heart is one he actually wrote. “I wrote a movie quite a while ago, Uncle Joe Shannon. I was a trumpet player. (In the film) Maynard Fergusson does the trumpet. He plays in the high c’s and I worked with him. We had duets together. I said I’m not good like this guy but I could get up there with him. I had a youngster that worked with me on two or three movies that I wrote, Doug McKeon. He was a wonderful boy, and now he’s got four children of his own. I had a great time with Maynard and the boy.”

Check out this concert scene from Uncle Joe Shannon...

Young attributes his ability to balance humor and drama to relaxation and concentration. “You have to have buttons for when you’re in that state. You get there and then you go into the role. I’m pretty good at that.” He enjoys working with younger actors and finds it flattering when they look to him for wisdom. “I like any attention that is well-meaning. Actors are a wonderful breed of people. They’re all trying: trying to better their lives, trying to get clarity with their lives and others around them. How could you not enjoy that?”

Last year, Young was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Long Beach Film Festival. Sylvester Stallone recorded a touching tribute. Watch it here...

In addition to acting, Young is an accomplished painter. He’s had numerous exhibitions, with his next one coming up at the end of October at the Bilotta Gallery in Fort Lauderdale. 

Burt Young currently has four films in development and all of his aforementioned films are available through Amazon.