The key to the film

Ginevra Elkann on Alba Rohrwacher, costumes and boiled eggs in Magari (If Only)

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Ginevra Elkann with Alba Rohrwacher at the Museum of Modern Art premiere of Magari (If Only)
Ginevra Elkann with Alba Rohrwacher at the Museum of Modern Art premiere of Magari (If Only) Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

At the Istituto Luce Cinecittà opening night reception for The Wonders: Alice and Alba Rohrwacher at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, while Julian Schnabel circulated through the crowd and Sony Pictures Classics Michael Barker and Rome Film Festival Artistic Director and Le Conversazioni founder Antonio Monda held court, Ginevra Elkann, the director of Magari (If Only) joined me for a conversation on her debut feature film, co-written with Chiara Barzini.

Riccardo Scamarcio as Carlo with Alba Rohrwacher as Benedetta in Magari (If Only)
Riccardo Scamarcio as Carlo with Alba Rohrwacher as Benedetta in Magari (If Only)

Magari, shot by Vladan Radovic (Marco Bellocchio’s The Traitor, Gianni Zanasi’s Lucia's Grace, Laura Bispuri’s Daughter Of Mine), stars Oro De Commarque, Alba Rohrwacher, Céline Sallette, Brett Gelman, and Riccardo Scamarcio with Ettore Giustiniani, Milo Roussel, and Benjamin Baroche. After viewing If Only, I thought of my Babsi, Isabella Rossellini’s Nando, and Thom Browne’s Hector with Andrew Bolton, the Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of The Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute.

Pain au chocolat, croissants and crêpes with Nutella are on eight year-old Alma’s (Oro de Commarque) mind in church - and who can blame her, as she hasn’t eaten since the night before. The little girl’s fantasies and narration guide us through Elkann’s film about family and growing up. Wedding visions in various constellations mark the unfolding coming-of-age tale.

Charlotte (Céline Sallette), Alma’s mother, remarried and converted with her three children to Russian Orthodoxy. She is pregnant again and intends to move with the family from France to Canada. Both news are to be kept secret from Carlo (Riccardo Scamarcio), her ex-husband and father of Alma and her two older brothers, Seb (Milo Roussel), and Jean (Ettore Giustiniani) while they spend the Christmas vacation with him in Italy.

Alma (Oro De Commarque) with Jean (Ettore Giustiniani): “I think the costumes were very important to me and I really did a lot of work on those.”
Alma (Oro De Commarque) with Jean (Ettore Giustiniani): “I think the costumes were very important to me and I really did a lot of work on those.”

Carlo is a screenwriter, who introduces his new girlfriend Benedetta (Alba Rohrwacher) as his writing partner to the kids, when they are on route to a house by the seaside, borrowed from his American friend Bruce (Brett Gelman), an antiques dealer. It was supposed to be a ski trip to the mountains and the children are outfitted in their warm Moncler jackets, Norwegian sweaters and Moon Boots which don’t necessarily turn out practical on the wintry Italian beach.

By the grey sea many things happen that mark the kids’ growing up. There is their father’s adorable and prominently featured wiry-haired dachshund Tenco and a local youth who catches Alma’s eye to the extent that she imagines - in tune with Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg - opening a garage with him.

Make-believe can only go that far and the worthiest of them all pays the highest price for being out at night.

Anne-Katrin Titze: I just saw your film. The costumes are great and very important for the narrative. They are on the one hand painterly, such as red spots on the roof, and on the other hand about character. From the Moon Boots to Alba's fur cap to the Moncler puffer jackets. Can you talk a bit about the costumes?

Will Smith Genius is Born Crazy Moncler billboard on Houston and Lafayette in New York
Will Smith Genius is Born Crazy Moncler billboard on Houston and Lafayette in New York Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Ginevra Elkann: I think the costumes were very important to me and I really did a lot of work on those. And what was the most important for me was for the costumes to be … the clothes to be worn the way people wear clothes. There's no stiffness. A blanket can become a skirt. A sweater can become a scarf, you know.

AKT: They move. The yellow pullover is 'borrowed'.

GE: They move. Yes, she [Alba Rohrwacher] is wearing other people's clothes. Clothes are moving around. They have that same fluidity as the story.

AKT: I loved the scene with the eggs [the girl Alma, played by Oro De Commarque, carefully fishes boiled eggs from a pot]. We don't know how many eggs she is going to balance out. How did you film that scene? The little girl is very concentrated on her task.

GE: Very! I love that scene. I think that scene is really the key to the film. It represents really the story in one scene.

AKT: It's a family who cannot keep secrets.

Carlo (Riccardo Scamarcio) with Charlotte (Céline Sallette)
Carlo (Riccardo Scamarcio) with Charlotte (Céline Sallette)

GE: Yeah.

AKT: The dog is very prominent, the wiry-haired dachshund. What made you choose that type of dog?

GE: I love that dog and I had one of those dogs and I think they're very expressive.

AKT: Very. I had one of those, too. So did Isabella Rossellini and so do Thom Browne with The Met's Andrew Bolton.

GE: They [dachshunds] are actors.

Read what Alba Rohrwacher had to say on Marco Bellocchio, Daughter Of Mine, Lucia's Grace, and storytelling with her sister Alice Rohrwacher.

Read what Alba Rohrwacher had to say on Adam Driver in Saverio Costanzo’s Hungry Hearts, Arnaud Desplechin, Isabelle Huppert on shoes, and Sworn Virgin.

Anne-Katrin Titze with her wiry-haired dachshund Babsi
Anne-Katrin Titze with her wiry-haired dachshund Babsi Photo: Elli Titze

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 - Alice Rohrwacher on Jacques Demy’s Donkey Skin (Peau D'Âne) and helicopters, Astrid Lindgren, Rip Van Winkle, and The Tin Drum’s David Bennent in Happy as Lazzaro.

The Wonders: Alice and Alba Rohrwacher retrospective is 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.

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