Caught in the riddle

Daniele Cipri in conversation about It Was The Son.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Daniele Cipri's It Was The Son
Daniele Cipri's It Was The Son

At the end of the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema luncheon at Barbetta in midtown Manhattan, following espresso and dessert, Daniele Cipri, director of It Was the Son (È stato il figlio) enlightened me about ambiguity and Vertigo, objects of desire, a mastermind grandma, and the celebration of nothing. Cipri's presence at this year's gathering is of double importance as he is also the cinematographer for Marco Bellocchio's exquisite Dormant Beauty.

Cipri's incongruous tale is framed by waiting. In a room, where numbers flash to announce an open window, we meet a character, down on his luck, who talks to the strangers next to him. "They found a 90-year-old with a hole in his neck," is followed by a flashback of the lightning bolt that did it. "Someone killed his father for a scratch on a car," turns out not just to be another snippet of curiosa, but the centre of Cipri's film.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Let's start with the title of your film. Your title is a lie.

Daniele Cipri: Because, in cinema, we are liars. There's the ambiguity about the father. The audience is guessing. But it was affirmative because he actually served prison for 30 years. It is based on a true story.

AKT: One of the most fascinating characters I have seen in a movie this year so far is the grandmother [Nonna Rosa as played by Aurora Quattrocchi] in your most recent film.

DC: The only moment of truth in the film is this grandmother and I left her for the end. I wanted her to be in the end, as that monster, to give her that impact and to show what a horrible person she was.

AKT: I didn't see her as a horrible person. I see her as the one who shows what the whole movie is about.

DC: The reason behind this matriarch, the one who really called the shots was what convinced me to make this film. She is the one who's playing with everyone - the mastermind.

AKT: Then there is also the gender divide. She knows the importance of having someone to provide for the family.

Daniele Cipri
Daniele Cipri Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

DC: The head of the family is the grandmother. It wasn't like this in the novel by Roberto Alaimo, that she is the one who decides everything. And then you have Ciraulo (Toni Servillo), who even though his daughter died buys a car to replace her. In the book it wasn't that way. Ciraulo and the son have the same character. Ciraulo loses out in the end. It's a question of survival so in the end she becomes the boss of everyone. Unlike the novel, here we elaborate everything with the character of Tancredi [Fabrizio Falco], who is like a living corpse.

AKT: Another almost living corpse is the rusty ship in the harbour they scavenge.

DC: It's true. I had not done a funeral for [the daughter] Serenalla [Alessia Zammitti]. I wanted to show that Ciraulo did not really have an actual job. He picks up metal scraps. To render homage to the daughter's passing, we did it with the dead naval ship. We wanted to celebrate the idea of nothing. They don't consider love when they use it for economic survival, like old metal.

AKT: The other metal object is the car, the literally blessed car that is all important in your film.

DC: The object of desire. Ciraulo buys the car, this toy and he travels through an imaginary Palermo. And let's not forget, he is the god of Palermo.

AKT: Did you use music from Vertigo?

DC: When Serenella is looking through the glass of the car, Carlo Crivelli, who did the music, had her listen to an homage to Vertigo. And yes, this is a visionary quotation of a young girl, of the last thing she was going to see. A visionary statement, in fact, to celebrate her ending. The last things she was going to see were these factories and the vertigo.

AKT: Tell me about Pino, the money-lender, his pal and the two birds! They escaped from the Theatre of the Absurd?

DC: Money lenders have always been part of cinema. I like to display this in a place where they wouldn't have existed, that's why I used the set-up with the birds. But the two people are ambiguous, brothers, lovers, to keep people guessing.

AKT: You also keep your audience guessing about the film's genre, switching seamlessly and shockingly from tragedy to comedy to realism in the end?

DC: I am not showing an imaginary character, but in fact an every-day person. I would call my film a tragicomedy.

It Was the Son surreptitiously invites us into a Palermo family, poor, proud, delusional, and pragmatic, where nothing is like it seems, with all the clues on the table.

Open Roads: New Italian Cinema concludes its run tonight June 12, 2013 and has been organised by The Film Society of Lincoln Center together with Istituto Luce-Cinecittà - Filmitalia and the support of Ministero per i Beni e le Attivitá Culturali (Direzione Generale per il Cinema) in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute of New York.

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