Inside the story

Valerio Mastandrea on working with Abel Ferrara, Valeria Golino, Silvio Soldini and Marco Bellocchio

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Valerio Mastandrea on Abel Ferrara: "An American frame by Abel is different from any other one. Because he moves people to feel cinema inside, you know."
Valerio Mastandrea on Abel Ferrara: "An American frame by Abel is different from any other one. Because he moves people to feel cinema inside, you know." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

At Open Roads: New Italian Cinema in New York, first-time director Valerio Mastandrea of Laughing (Ride), starring Chiara Martegiani, told me how he was influenced by Ettore Scola, Mario Monicelli and Aki Kaurismäki. Valerio talks about getting inside the story with the directors he has acted for, including Silvio Soldini's Garibaldi's Lovers (Il Comandante E La Cicogna) opposite Alba Rohrwacher, Marco Bellocchio's Sweet Dreams (Fai Bei Sogni), and Valeria Golino's Euphoria (Euforia) with Riccardo Scamarcio, Jasmine Trinca and Isabella Ferrari.

Valerio is Nico Naldini, confidant to Pier Paolo Pasolini, played by Willem Dafoe in Abel Ferrara's Pasolini.

Valerio Mastandrea on Abel Ferrara: "The way Abel looked at me who observed - that's the difference that he can put on screen in the movie."
Valerio Mastandrea on Abel Ferrara: "The way Abel looked at me who observed - that's the difference that he can put on screen in the movie." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

“Mine is not a tale. It is a parable. The meaning of this parable is the relation of an author to the form he creates.” One of the many poignant Pasolini quotes, it was chosen, as Ferrara told me when I spoke with him and Dafoe, by the unholy trinity of the two of them and screenwriter Maurizio Braucci.

Pasolini had a special love for the format of frame narratives and made films inspired by some of the greatest in history. The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer and A Thousand And One Nights, the collection of Arabic stories with fragments going back to the 9th century.

Anne-Katrin Titze: I liked very much your scenes as Nico Naldini in Pasolini. You're mostly just sitting there but expressing a lot during the lunch and the scene at the end.

Valerio Mastandrea: That's Abel, not me. Abel can put on screen something … When I worked with Abel I did only two days. I had the same reaction that I had with [Marco] Bellocchio's movie [Sweet Dreams (Fai bei sogni)]. With them I feel cinema when I'm inside, when I'm on the set.

AKT: What does that mean?

VM: I don't know. Even though I have done 70 movies, with some directors I can feel cinema in all its aspects. An American frame by Abel is different from any other one. Because he moves people to feel cinema inside, you know. The character is deep because of that kind of mise-en-scène. I played two days, not so much, and I didn't do anything, more or less.

Valerio Mastandrea on being in Silvio Soldini's Garibaldi's Lovers opposite Alba Rohrwacher: "He is really a visionary man."
Valerio Mastandrea on being in Silvio Soldini's Garibaldi's Lovers opposite Alba Rohrwacher: "He is really a visionary man." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: You were absorbing. Really your role in the film, to me seemed like that of the perfect observer that he captures.

VM: But the way Abel looked at me who observed - that's the difference that he can put on screen in the movie.

AKT: Did these experiences come into your head when you were directing your own film [Laughing]?

VM: I think many of the directors I worked with are inside my movie. I don't know who, I don't know why.

AKT: You don't know where either?

VM: I don't know where but I learned a lot from many of them, even from the ones I do not want to face anymore in my career. There's much I have learned in 25 years of acting. When I'm an actor on the set I'm not uncurious. I look, I search, I ask. I've always been like that. I'm fascinated by the world of cinema, of the set, of movies. I do not say that I was prepared to be a director, but I used everything I saw in my career.

AKT: A film of yours that sticks in my mind is Garibaldi's Lovers, the one with the stork. You play Alba Rohrwacher's love interest. Your son has a stork.

Valerio Mastandrea is Nico Naldini, confidant to Pier Paolo Pasolini, played by Willem Dafoe in Abel Ferrara's Pasolini
Valerio Mastandrea is Nico Naldini, confidant to Pier Paolo Pasolini, played by Willem Dafoe in Abel Ferrara's Pasolini Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

VM: Yeah, [Silvio] Soldini's movie.

AKT: It's an absurd story in which you are talking to the ghost of your dead wife.

VM: Right. Soldini is also a director who has something different from the others. He is really a visionary man. I remember that. The Italian name of the movie is Il Commandant E La Cicogna.

AKT: The statue and the bird in that film - did Oscar Wilde ever come up in that context? There is a beautiful story by Wilde, called The Happy Prince.

VM: Maybe. I don't remember, but I think that SIlvio told me about something like this.

AKT: You are in Valeria Golino's new movie [Euphoria (Euforia)].

VM: Valeria is maybe the director that I'm most interested in in the last twenty years, because she's really a unique actress but also a unique director.

AKT: Honey, her debut, was wonderful.

Valerio Mastandrea on Valeria Golino: "Valeria is maybe the director that I'm most interested in in the last 20 years, because she's really a unique actress but also a unique director."
Valerio Mastandrea on Valeria Golino: "Valeria is maybe the director that I'm most interested in in the last 20 years, because she's really a unique actress but also a unique director." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

VM: This one is good too. Because she can put her way to be an actress in the movie.

AKT: Does it help if an actor directs other actors? Did you feel that way?

VM: I am the opposite. It's not true that I do not care about character, but I want actors to think about themselves and what they do. They have to be completely inside the role inside the story.

And they have to make feelings about the story, and they have to be natural, spontaneous. That's the way I face movies as an actor. And that's the way I want actors to face my movie.

AKT: Were there other directors, maybe ones you didn't work with, that influenced you?

VM: I like [Ettore] Scola's movies, [Mario] Monicelli's movies. Even [Aki] Kaurismäki's movies. I like this kind of magic realism. Subtly, something strange. As an audience, I like loyal movies.

AKT: Loyal?

VM: Loyal with the audience, not ruffian. Something really authentic.

Valerio Mastandrea was in Marco Bellocchio's Sweet Dreams (Fai Bei Sogni)
Valerio Mastandrea was in Marco Bellocchio's Sweet Dreams (Fai Bei Sogni) Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Loyal is a really interesting adjective in this context.

VM: Loyal to themselves and to the audience. I do not want to …

AKT: Manipulate?

VM: Yeah, manipulate and to suggest to people about what they see. They have to be free. Alone and free to feel something about what they see. I don't like a movie with a message. You have to find your message.

Read what Valerio Mastandrea had to say on an actor becoming a director.

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

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