Liberal art

Roberto Andò on politics, twins, Long Live Freedom and his hunger for cinema.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Toni Servillo as Senator Enrico Oliveri in Long Live Freedom
Toni Servillo as Senator Enrico Oliveri in Long Live Freedom

The morning before Roberto Andò's Long Live Freedom (Viva La Libertà), starring Toni Servillo, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Valerio Mastandrea, screened at Open Roads: New Italian Cinema in New York, I spoke with the director at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. We discussed Federico Fellini mixing religion with cinema, the genius of Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator, Wong Kar-wai's style, what moves Marco Bellocchio and the masquerade of politics.

Long Live Freedom, where leaving a message is "perfectly useless" and new lives begin in the middle of old ones, unfolds smartly as part farce, part political commentary, part soul-searching device. Cinema and politics happen to be twin worlds here. The film is based on Andò's novel Il Trono Vuoto.

Giovanni as Senator Enrico Oliveri in the map room:
Giovanni as Senator Enrico Oliveri in the map room: "The prototype I'm thinking of is also from the incomparable film of Chaplin's, The Great Dictator."

Anne-Katrin Titze: The idea of the double has tradition in literature and in cinema, as well as politics. Were there any specific doubles that inspired you for Long Live Freedom?

Roberto Andò: There is a tradition in literature and theater, not just Italian but going all the way back to Greek theatre and Aristophanes. Within the modern Italian tradition, Carlo Goldoni, the great Venetian playwright of the 18th century is sort of a prototype. The prototype I'm thinking of is also from the incomparable film of Chaplin's, The Great Dictator. It's a very risky thing he does there. He draws an equation between the figure of a victim and a torturer, which is so crazy really, and so risky that only a genius could maintain that idea.

AKT: You are referring to Chaplin in your scene in the map room?

RA: I do make a slight reference to that in the map room scene. The basic idea of my film is that each of us has inside someone that we would like to be living our life in our place. Powerful men often have this stranger inside of themselves. In some occasions, they'd like to meet that stranger as in the case of my film. At other times instead they don't want to see him.

AKT: That stranger in your case is a twin. Not all doubles are twins. You made the decision not only to use a twin, but an insane twin. At moments, Toni Servillo made me think of Olivia De Havilland in Robert Siodmak's The Dark Mirror (1946). You wonder who actually is the insane one. Can you talk a bit about the combination of twins, swapping lives and insanity?

Anne-Katrin Titze with Long Live Freedom (Viva la libertà) director Roberto Andò
Anne-Katrin Titze with Long Live Freedom (Viva la libertà) director Roberto Andò Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

RA: Stories of twins have always fascinated me, not just in the sense of doubling. This idea of people who have a relationship that's based not only on a resemblance but also a kind of sharing something in the origins. Stories of twins that both identify and see themselves in each other's eyes and those who hate each other.

The film develops in this direction and moves beyond my novel in this theme. We take two people who are identical physically but very different in character and take them to the point where they become identical not only in appearance but also in character. Each twin absorbs the other. In that sense, the film ends with a profound ambiguity, more so than my novel.

AKT: Your setting is the world of politics.

RA: I think the film really fills you with hope. It captures my idea of politics as being eternally condemned to be false. As the men of power attempt to remove the mask to show his or her true face - in the end politics always ends up being a masquerade of sorts, a fiction. That aspect of politics always prevails.

When the film came out, a colleague and someone I admire very much, the film director Marco Bellocchio, who himself was a twin, (read my interview with him about Dormant Beauty here) said that he was deeply moved by the film. His twin brother died in tragic circumstances. He was a poet. Bellocchio said that there were two things in my film that he liked very much. One was crazy people, the other was twins.

Valeria Bruni Tedeschi as Danielle:
Valeria Bruni Tedeschi as Danielle: "We all could use a continuity, we all lose pieces of our life."

In terms of twins, what he said he liked so much about the ending of the film was that it was as if the one twin carried on his shoulders the deceased twin. This is something that should happen in life and in politics. The cynical part of you should instead carry on your shoulders the noble, more idealistic part. But this is something that never happens and is always frustrated. In that sense, I think the film is much more optimistic and filled with hope.

AKT: The ending for me has something of Being There. The two brothers together are Peter Sellers' Chauncey Gardiner. At the end of your film we are at the ocean - one of the twins might as well walk away on water. I want to ask you about another character I find very interesting who connects the two brothers. The Chief of Staff, Andrea Bottini, is very quick in reacting and putting things together.

Nobody must know that nobody knows where the important but little missed man, Senator Enrico Oliveri, went to and Bottini invents a sudden illness. Oliveri's wife Anna (Michela Cesco) returns from a business trip and even she doesn't know where her husband went and informs Bottini of Enrico's twin brother, Giovanni, a philosopher who has just been released from a mental institution.

RA: The character played by Valerio Mastandrea, the aide, takes on the perspective of the viewer. He is very surprised by his encounter with the mad man. He starts off very cynically. He just has a problem to solve. The senator fled and he needs to find a solution, even a temporary solution. It starts off as a strategic maneuver in a very Machiavellian framework. He himself is most surprised instead by what comes about and the hope that it fills him with.

Toni Servillo as Giovanni with Michela Cescon as Anna:
Toni Servillo as Giovanni with Michela Cescon as Anna: "…each of us has inside someone that we would like to be living our life in our place."

More than being about politics, the film is about the relationship between life and politics - which is really very far apart today. Every now and then we find a politician who through his language brings together those two things. When that happens we are all captivated. These politicians too often prove to be like a meteor that disappears right away. I think for example of the figure of Obama. Someone who could unite those two worlds - the madness of hope and the cynicalness of getting things done. The aide is the one that changes the most.

AKT: Then there's the character of the ex-girlfriend Danielle, played by Valeria Bruni Tedeschi. She is another anchor who connected the brothers in the past. What role does she play in the structure for you?

While Enrico spends time in Paris with his former girlfriend, her famous film director husband Mung (Eric Nguyen) and their daughter Hélène (Stella Kent), the twin, Giovanni, slyly takes over Italian politics.

RA: All the characters go through big changes, including Valeria Bruni Tedeschi. Much in the manner of A Midsummer Night's Dream by Shakespeare where each character undergoes a very deep change. Starting with the madman entering on the scene as a sort of catalyst. Each character is trying to discover the meaning of life as if it's a kind of secret. Valeria's character plays a very precious role, giving her actual job philosophical meaning. She is a script supervisor, what Americans call continuity. We all could use a continuity, we all lose pieces of our life.

AKT: Her job is to catch what others might miss. I didn't fully grasp the philosophical implications in the choice of her profession. I could have used her help. Cinema and politics are intertwined in Long Live Freedom. We find out that Danielle's daughter likes to watch movies, at least four a week. You have her talk about the last four: ET, Great Expectations, Avatar and Last Tango In Paris. Please explain! She is around twelve?

Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Eric Nguyen and Stella Kent as the Mung family:
Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Eric Nguyen and Stella Kent as the Mung family: "Especially in France, at Cannes, a type of director who is often celebrated is then a few years later cut down to size."

RA: Thirteen! You know, what's happening now, I see that the new generation, they are completely free. They can see everything, everything. It's impossible to know. To ever check. This is something very new. In the beginning I had a moralistic attitude. But in some way they can absorb that. It's like a tale, the Last Tango. There are worse things they can see. I must confess, I too, when I was very young, was hungry for cinema. At that moment in life you want to see everything and it is the moment you have to see everything. Then, after that you have to read everything. That was the key idea, to sort of fix that moment in a humorous vein.

AKT: What did you see at thirteen that impacted you profoundly?

In Long Live Freedom, there is an interview clip with Fellini.

RA: I think films you see at that moment in your life can have the impact of a great novel. Dumas for example, or Remembrance Of Things Past by Proust. Those heroes that you are introduced to will remain with you for your entire life. The ones in novels and the ones in cinema, whether auteur cinema or broad commercial cinema. The characters will follow you for your entire life. Like politics, these things will mix with your life in a very profound way.

Which is why at that moment in my film, I mixed in those images of Fellini, a director who was often considered, incorrectly, to be cynical and not politically engaged. Instead, I show a passion and a furor that he had at the idea that film could be interrupted at this moment when Berlusconi is entering the political scene in Italy. A battle he fought alone. He was the only one who refused to allow Berlusconi to cut up his films - a battle that he did lose in court. Fellini said something very interesting. When the Pope allows the mass to be interrupted by commercials, then I will allow my films to be interrupted by commercials.

AKT: The famous film director's name is Mung in your film. Did you have anyone particular in mind?

RA: It's a comic allusion to certain cineastes who have this kind of oracular status. Especially in France, at Cannes, a type of director who is often celebrated is then a few years later cut down to size. Wong Kar-wai is lasting with his dark glasses and worthy of the admiration. I was having fun with that.

AKT: Mung Kar-wai, I see (read my interview with Wong Kar-wai pictured in dark glasses here). It's funny, when we see the poster for the first time we don't know if Mung is the name of a movie or a person, only that it's a favorite of Toni Servillo's character.

2014 Open Roads: New Italian Cinema runs from June 5 - 12, organized by The Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York, in partnership with Istituto Luce-Cinecittà, and with the support of the Italian Cultural Institute of New York, the Italian Trade Commission, Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò at NYU and ACP Group.

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