In the swim

Sara Serraiocco on making waves in Chlorine

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Sara Serraiocco's star shines in Lamberto Sanfelice's Chlorine and Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza's Salvo
Sara Serraiocco's star shines in Lamberto Sanfelice's Chlorine and Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza's Salvo Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Attending the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema lunch at Barbetta were filmmakers Francesca Archibugi - An Italian Name (Il Nome Del figlio); Duccio Chiarini - Short Skin; Eleonora Danco - N-Capace / N-Able; Cristina Comencini - Latin Lover; Ivano de Matteo - The Dinner (I Nostri Ragazzi); Masbedo (Nicolò Massazza and Iacopo Bedogni) - The Lack and actors Claudio Santamaria in Ermanno Olmi's Greenery Will Bloom Again (Torneranno I Prati); Adriano Giannini in Claudio Noce's The Ice Forest (La Foresta Di Ghiaccio) and Lamberto Sanfelice's Chlorine (Cloro) star, Sara Serraiocco.

Jenny with Flavia (Chiara Romano): "I spent a lot of time with the girls who do synchronized swimming."
Jenny with Flavia (Chiara Romano): "I spent a lot of time with the girls who do synchronized swimming."

The Italian cinema delegation in town was joined by Antonio Monda, the newly appointed Artistic Director of the Rome International Film Festival (now named Festa del Cinema), Consul General of Italy in New York, Natalia Quintavalle, and the Mayor of Naples, Luigi de Magistris, who called his city "both heaven and hell on earth," a comment that echos Bertolt Brecht's poem describing Hollywood. The Mayor urged the filmmakers to come and shoot in Naples, which is experiencing a "great cultural renaissance" right now.

Chlorine, a highlight of this year's program, is the story of Jenny (Sara Serraiocco), a teenager, whose life changes drastically after the death of her mother. Her father, Alfio (Andrea Vergoni), experiences a mental breakdown, and she has to take care of her little brother, Fabrizio (Anatol Sassi) and the mostly catatonic parent on her own. The family moves from Ostia, a seaside town near Rome, to the mountains in the middle of Abruzzi, where an uncle, Tondino (Giorgio Colangeli), gives them shelter in a shack without a functioning shower, and Jenny, now head of the household, has to work in a ski hotel as a maid.

Jenny (Sara Serraiocco) in Chlorine: "She wants to become a normal girl."
Jenny (Sara Serraiocco) in Chlorine: "She wants to become a normal girl."

Back on the coast, when her life was carefree, she had trained to compete in a synchronised swimming championship. Not willing to have her dreams turn to ice, she struggles valiantly to hold it all together. Ivan (Ivan Franek from Paolo Sorrentino's Oscar-winning The Great Beauty), the man who operates the ski-lift at the resort, catches her attention, while her 9-year-old brother fears complete abandonment.

Serraiocco's strong, committed performance recalls Léa Seydoux's conflict with devotion in Ursula Meier's film Sister, another instance where the snowy surroundings reflect the lonely circumstances the heroines have to bravely overcome. In 2014, at New Directors/New Films in New York, Serraiocco impressed audiences in Salvo, directed by Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza. Salvo's cinematographer, Daniele Ciprì, two years earlier, in the exact same place, at the Barbetta Open Roads lunch also organized by Sally Fischer and her team, spoke with me about the film he directed, It Was The Son (È Stato Il Figlio).

After espresso, Sara and I found a quiet corner in the "oldest restaurant in New York that is still owned by its founding family" to discuss her role in Chlorine.

Mayor of Naples Luigi de Magistris on the left, toasting the Italian delegation
Mayor of Naples Luigi de Magistris on the left, toasting the Italian delegation Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Anne-Katrin Titze: How did you get involved in Chlorine?

Sara Serraiocco: I did an audition for this role. A lot of auditions. In the end, I spoke with the director and we worked on the script. And then we shot the movie. I worked a lot with the director. It was a great experience.

AKT: Did you have any connection to swimming before? You didn't do the synchronised swimming yourself, did you?

SS: No, never. I was a dancer. I studied classical and modern dance as well as artistic gymnastics. Later on I started to work with synchronised swimming.

AKT: Did you do some of it in the movie?

SS: Yeah. I had a double, but I did some of it. I studied synchronised swimming for some months for this role. I spent a lot of time with the girls who do synchronised swimming. That was helpful for the character.

AKT: Did you watch Esther Williams movies?

SS: No. Everybody told me about her and these kinds of movies. But I've never seen one.

Barbetta owner Laura Maioglio with Anne-Katrin Titze celebrates New Italian Cinema
Barbetta owner Laura Maioglio with Anne-Katrin Titze celebrates New Italian Cinema Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: The relationship your character, Jenny, has with her father and her brother is quite complicated. Tell me a bit how you worked on the family dynamics.

SS: There was a great energy on the set between me and the other actors. About the character - Jenny wants to go back home because her brother is a rebel and her father is depressed, her mother died. In the movie she is very upset.

AKT: Understandably so! She wants to become someone.

SS: Yeah. She wants to become a normal girl. She wants to spend a lot of time with other girls, a boyfriend, go back to school and that's it.

AKT: It is one of the great strengths of the movie that it shows how hard it is to "become normal," to get these things that are considered normal. Was that something you were discussing with the director?

SS: Yes, of course. We were working on that step by step, writing the script, describing the emotions of the character. And her feelings towards the other characters.

AKT: How would you describe Jenny after playing her? What is she like?

SS: I think she is very strong and determined. The director was able to draw out my very strength and my determination. I am a dancer, but she is very determined.

Sara Serraiocco in the Barbetta garden
Sara Serraiocco in the Barbetta garden Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: She needs to be under these circumstances. It's about her survival. You give her so much heart in your performance. We are all rooting for her. She is a good character.

SS: She is strong but also at the end of the film very nice with her brother. She realises that the brother needs love. He needs someone to love him.

AKT: How can a child survive without? Ultimately, it's about love.

SS: Yes, it's about love. Yes.

Chlorine (Cloro) screens on Sunday, June 7, 6:15pm; Tuesday, June 9, 4:15pm.

Open Roads: New Italian Cinema was programmed by Isa Cucinotta and Dennis Lim, Film Society of Lincoln Center, with Istituto Luce Cinecittà in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute of New York and support from Antonio Monda; Kim R. Brizzolara; The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation; Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò and the Italian Trade Commission.

The festival runs through June 11 at the Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center.

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