Authentic and free

Valerio Mastandrea on an actor becoming a director for Laughing

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Laughing (Ride) director Valerio Mastandrea photographs Piranhas director Claudio Giovannesi during the Film at Lincoln Center and Istituto Luce Cinecittà Open Roads: New Italian Cinema
Laughing (Ride) director Valerio Mastandrea photographs Piranhas director Claudio Giovannesi during the Film at Lincoln Center and Istituto Luce Cinecittà Open Roads: New Italian Cinema Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

At the centre of Laughing (Ride) is Carolina (Chiara Martegiani), whose husband died in a work-related accident. While everybody else around her is wailing and sobbing, she cannot shed a single tear. Her 12-year-old son Bruno (Arturo Marchetti) even attacks her for this perceived coldness and she herself wonders what could be wrong with her for not going through the emotions and motions of the grieving widow.

Valerio Mastandrea on Chiara Martegiani's Carolina in Laughing (Ride): "It's not her fault that she can't respond to a cultural code that says women have to cry and be desperate."
Valerio Mastandrea on Chiara Martegiani's Carolina in Laughing (Ride): "It's not her fault that she can't respond to a cultural code that says women have to cry and be desperate." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Valerio Mastandrea had a duel role in the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema programme of films in New York. The director/screenwriter of Laughing also stars with Riccardo Scamarcio, Jasmine Trinca and Isabella Ferrari in Valeria Golino's Euphoria (Euforia), which had its premiere in 2018 at the Cannes Film Festival.

Before walking over for the lunch at The Leopard at des Artistes, for the Italian delegation, and after my conversation with Claudio Giovannesi, the director of the opening night film, Piranhas, I spoke with Valerio on his directorial debut.

Anne-Katrin Titze: The title of your film is Laughing and it is about a death.

Valerio Mastandrea: The title is the tone of the movie. You have to allow yourself to be light.

AKT: A lightness in tragedy?

VM: To endure suffering, you have to be light sometimes.

AKT: And allow yourself to be that.

Valerio Mastandrea on Carolina (Chiara Martegiani): "Authentic and free. Carolina in the movie says 'I have the right to feel pain'."
Valerio Mastandrea on Carolina (Chiara Martegiani): "Authentic and free. Carolina in the movie says 'I have the right to feel pain'."

VM: Without feeling guilty. She [Carolina] feels guilty because she can't cry about what happened. It's not her fault that she can't respond to a cultural code that says women have to cry and be desperate.

AKT: The idea of what happens when we don't fulfil the demands of certain cultural codes is very interesting. How are we supposed to interact and what if we don't do it this way?

VM: Another topic of the movie is how much are we free to feel emotions in an age like this, when everything comes with suggestions; How to be happy, how to feel pain. Let's talk about social networks - you see people happy and if you are in a moment of your life in which you can't be happy, you feel guilty not to be happy like them.

So you try to be happy not in a personal way, but you imitate something. And not only it's absurd and difficult to feel joy today, to be happy, but even to feel pain. It's really hard.

AKT: To feel authentic?

VM: Authentic and free. Carolina in the movie says "I have the right to feel pain."

Valerio Mastandrea with Anne-Katrin Titze: "I prefer actors that express an original point of view on what they are doing. I'm an actor like this."
Valerio Mastandrea with Anne-Katrin Titze: "I prefer actors that express an original point of view on what they are doing. I'm an actor like this." Photo: Lilia Blouin

AKT: We live in a world of facades where the persona on the little screen has very little to do with the feelings.

VM: I think it's going to invert. I think we are going to go back. We are going to talk again, in the square, in the street. I think. I hope.

AKT: I hope so too. Making your film, with all your acting experience, were there things that surprised you? Things that you didn't expect to be as difficult as they turned out to be?

VM: Yes! I thought being an actor I could have an easy way to direct the actors. That was not true. I prefer actors that express an original point of view on what they are doing. I'm an actor like this. I do not do what they tell me to do. I talk with them, not because I want for something of my vision of life.

Let's talk the third way: yours, mine, the third one. And during my movie, I didn't allow my actors to find the third way. Because I was so sure, so focused on my way to tell the story that I was really absurd in my behaviour.

Luce Cinecittà at the Walter Reade Theater Film at Lincoln Center
Luce Cinecittà at the Walter Reade Theater Film at Lincoln Center Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: In other words, you did the opposite of what you want in a director?

VM: Exactly. I think because I was in a psychodrama. It's to see myself from another point of view. When I saw the actors in my movie I saw myself doing the acting. So I was really confused. But for me the story was the most important thing.

AKT: And practical things? Costumes, for instance?

VM: I was worried about that. Instead I found a simple way. I was really scared about the costumes, the cinematography. Instead that was the easy part. While the other aspect, the one I was less worried about, especially over the actors …

AKT: The aspect you thought you had in your bag turns out to be the most difficult one - that's life, isn't it?

VM: Exactly. When you think you can do something in an easy way, you find the obstacles there, yeah. This means you shouldn't underestimate things.

Read what Valerio Mastandrea and Chiara Martegiani had to say on crying on cue in Laughing (Ride).

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