Before I met with Alice Rohrwacher, the director of Happy As Lazzaro (Lazzaro Felice), The Wonders (Le Meravigile) and Corpo Celeste (Heavenly Body) which are all screening in The Wonders: Alice and Alba Rohrwacher retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, Alba Rohrwacher the director’s sister and star, joined me for a lively conversation on her career.
Isabella Rossellini cracks up Saverio Costanzo and Alba Rohrwacher Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
First up was her starring role opposite Adam Driver in Saverio Costanzo’s comedy of metaphors, Hungry Hearts, which takes a Roman Polanski Rosemary’s Baby turn. Next up, Arnaud Desplechin, whose Ismael’s Ghosts: Director’s Cut features Alba prominently.
Alba agreed with Isabelle Huppert’s footwear approach to getting into character, which came in especially handy for Laura Bispuri’s Sworn Virgin. Luchino Visconti felt that the hair in the back of the neck is the key to a character and Alba does not disagree, be it Kim Novak in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo or her own performances.
Anne-Katrin Titze: Looking at the list of films in this retrospective, I noticed how perfect the title The Wonders is. Not just because it's your sister's film. So many of your roles deal with the miraculous condition of life.
Alba Rohrwacher: Especially in the past two years I dealt a lot with the life beyond and the miracles of life. We live in a moment of uncertainty and fragility. At this point cinema and art wonder at what lies beyond this present life.
Alba Rohrwacher is Mina to Adam Driver’s Jude in Hungry Hearts: “He's one of the most incredible actors I ever worked with.”
AKT: One of my favourites among your films is Hungry Hearts.
AR: This is not about it.
AKT: It's not about it, although in the end, you have the deer ...
AR: The deer, yeah.
AKT: I love it so much because of the scope. You begin with that hilarious scene in the bathroom.
AKT: Total comedy and then it goes into Rosemary's Baby territory and then deeply into something else entirely.
AR: It's a movie that I really love. You know we shot in New York only four weeks. So it was a very intense and short time, maybe five weeks, but very very intense.
And I met Adam Driver. He's one of the most incredible actors I ever worked with. Adam, Saverio [Costanzo] and I we made a special trio. We were like dancers, because the director was also the DP. He was always with us. And we dance in this kind of nightmare where the characters are.
Alba Rohrwacher on her Ismael’s Ghosts: Director’s Cut director Arnaud Desplechin: “He's a master” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
AKT: That's a great way to put it - dance in a nightmare. It's perfect.
AR: Yeah, it's perfect, no?
AKT: Sworn Virgin was another film ...
AR: … another extreme. So maybe wonders and extremes. Because I always take part of extreme experience.
AKT: Arnaud Desplechin!
AR: Arnaud Desplechin! Did you see the movie [Ismael’s Ghosts]?
AKT: Yes [the long version, not the chopped up one]. Arnaud likes to have both, the extremes and the wonder, doesn't he?
AR: Yes, yes. He's a master, Arnaud Desplechin.
AKT: When I inquire about how actors get into character, I get very different answers. For Isabelle Huppert it's the shoes.
Alba Rohrwacher on how Isabelle Huppert gets into character: “I agree with Isabelle. Shoes are very very important. For example, I found my character in The Sworn Virgin, the masculine one I did, through the shoes.” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
AR: What I can say is, I agree with Isabelle. Shoes are very very important. For example, I found my character in The Sworn Virgin, the masculine one I did, through the shoes. During the costume rehearsal I didn't understand how I could play almost a man. The director [Bispuri], she didn't want to add too much on me and I agreed with her. I didn't want to be like a carnival man.
But I had to find something that helped me and I remember when I tried one pair of shoes, a little bigger than my size, it immediately started to work. Sometimes the shoes are it - so I agree with Isabelle. Sometimes, if I talk of something exterior, the hair.
AKT: The hair?
AR: Like Visconti, he said, the nape of the neck. The way the hair is in the back is the most important thing of the character. And I agree.
AKT: I am thinking immediately of Vertigo.
AR: Yeah, Vertigo. It’s something like you recognise a person from the back. I can't say that through the hair I find the character, as I can say through the shoes, but I can say it's very important.
The Wonders: Alice and Alba Rohrwacher at the Museum of Modern Art in New York Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
AKT: Are there actions in films that you find particularly challenging? And I'm not thinking necessarily stunt actions. For example, you are dying someone's hair in Lazzaro, the grandmother’s.
AR: I don't know. It's natural. It was funny. But about actions of characters, what can I say, I'm not afraid about anything that involves the body. I studied artistic gymnastics. My dream was to be like Anna Pavlova, an acrobat.
AKT: A gymnast!
AR: Yes, so it's something that for me I'm not afraid. The body is an instrument to catch the character.
AKT: So it's the internal goings-on that are the challenging part?
Read what Alice Rohrwacher had to say on Happy as Lazzaro (Lazzaro felice) before The Wonders: Alice and Alba Rohrwacher at the Museum of Modern Art.
Coming up - Alba Rohrwacher on working with Marco Bellocchio, Gianni Zanasi’s Lucia's Grace and her sister and more from Alice Rohrwacher.
The Wonders: Alice and Alba Rohrwacher retrospective was organised by Museum of Modern Art Department of Film Curator Josh Siegel with Camilla Cormanni and Paola Ruggiero of Luce Cinecittà and runs through December 23 at the Debra and Leon Black Family Film Center.