Bring something from home

Francesca Archibugi on Pierfrancesco Favino, Nanni Moretti, Patti Smith, The Clash and The Hummingbird

by Anne-Katrin Titze

The Hummingbird (Il Colibrì) director Francesca Archibugi with Anne-Katrin Titze on Dancing Barefoot: “That Patti Smith song is very important to me.” And The Clash’s London Calling: “It does belong to Marco’s (Pierfrancesco Favino) story as a boy …”
The Hummingbird (Il Colibrì) director Francesca Archibugi with Anne-Katrin Titze on Dancing Barefoot: “That Patti Smith song is very important to me.” And The Clash’s London Calling: “It does belong to Marco’s (Pierfrancesco Favino) story as a boy …”

Francesca Archibugi’s The Hummingbird (Il Colibrì, co-written with Laura Paolucci and Francesco Piccolo, based on the novel by Sandro Veronesi) with songs from Patti Smith, Billie Holiday, and The Clash, stars Pierfrancesco Favino (in Andrea Di Stefano's The Last Night Of Amore at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival), Nanni Moretti (his A Brighter Tomorrow with Mathieu Amalric, premièred at Cannes), Bérénice Bejo, Laura Morante, Kasia Smutniak, Benedetta Porcaroli, Fotinì Peluso, Azzurra Di Marco, Francesco Centorame, and Sergio Albelli Is the opening night selection of Film at Lincoln Center and Cinecittà’s 22nd edition of Open Roads: New Italian Cinema.

Luisa Lattes (Bérénice Bejo) with Marco Carrera (Pierfrancesco Favino)
Luisa Lattes (Bérénice Bejo) with Marco Carrera (Pierfrancesco Favino)

Other highlights include Roberto Andò’s Strangeness with Toni Sevillo (Paolo Sorrentino’s Oscar-winning The Great Beauty), as Nobel Prize-winning playwright Luigi Pirandello, Salvo Ficarra, and Valentino Picone; Paolo Virzì’s Dry (Siccità, co-written with Paolo Giordano, Piccolo, and Archibugi) starring Silvio Orlando, Valerio Mastandrea, Monica Bellucci, Vinicio Marchioni, Claudia Pandolfi, Sara Serraiocco; Susanna Nicchiarelli’s Chiara (with Margherita Mazzucco as St. Clare of Assisi); Michele Vannucci’s Delta, and two débuts: Monica Dugo’s Like Turtles (Come Le Tartarughe); and Giuseppe Fiorello’s Fireworks (Stranizza D'amuri), starring Samuele Segreto and Gabriele Pizzurro.

The Hummingbird spans many decades and intertwines two families who once upon a time vacationed in the same cliffy seaside spot. Marco Carrera (post-childhood played by the splendid Pierfrancesco Favino, whose presence adds extra soul and depth of thought to all films he is in) is our buzzing centre. His complicated love for Luisa Lattes (Bérénice Bejo in her adult form) is merely one of the many strings to follow in this labyrinthine work of longing and loss, gambling and deliration, righteousness and being right.

Francesca Archibugi on Nanni Moretti as Carradori: “He added something and I like my actors to bring something from home.”
Francesca Archibugi on Nanni Moretti as Carradori: “He added something and I like my actors to bring something from home.”

Nanni Moretti, who plays the therapist of Marco’s wife Marina (Kasia Smutniak), a Slovenian flight attendant with a truth problem, shows up unannounced in Marco’s office, and adds an extra dimension of ghostliness into the real. Marco’s sister Irene (Fotinì Peluso) who died at age 24, and his daughter Adele (Benedetta Porcaroli) who feels an invisible thread attached to her back (and whose vision of the afterlife includes people whose breathing you hear but whom you cannot see) reiterate the metaphysical quality of the narrative.

The hummingbird, Marco’s nickname, is more than a title, it’s a theme. As Luisa tells him on the beach one day: “You really are a hummingbird - you devote all your energy to remaining in one place.” A piece of advice given to Marco by Moretti’s character Carradori in the context of loss and parenting will linger long after the movie is over: “As long as you try to fill the void, you will pass on the effort. And that effort quite simply is life.”

From Rome, Francesca Archibugi joined me on Zoom for an in-depth conversation on The Hummingbird.

Adele (Azzurra Di Marco) with Marina (Kasia Smutniak)
Adele (Azzurra Di Marco) with Marina (Kasia Smutniak)

Anne-Katrin Titze: Hi Francesca! In The Hummingbird you set the tone so well with two songs sung by women. There is Patti Smith informing us that “She is benediction” in 1979. And then you have Billie Holiday from 1944 singing “I’ll Be Seeing You.” One of the lyrics is “I’ll be looking at the moon” and the two dogs are looking at the moon. Tell me a bit about the songs you start with!

Francesca Archibugi: You know, that Patti Smith song [Dancing Barefoot] is very important to me. When I was a girl I went to her concerts. So to open the film with that particular song brought me back to those years. It brought both me, the director, and the viewer into that period. That song sort of announces that we are in 1979 and I wanted the viewers, even the youngest, to feel that they were entering into that year.

And the Billie Holiday song is very timeless. It’s something unleashed from inside the sister [Irene played by Fotinì Peluso] of Marco Carrera [Pierfrancesco Favino] and sort of envelops all of the scene and that world in a graceful way. As if to say that life is marvellous but it can’t be lived. That’s the feeling it gives you.

Francesca Archibugi on Pierfrancesco Favino as Marco: “We have a very gifted actor who is also right for the part, I couldn’t be happier.”
Francesca Archibugi on Pierfrancesco Favino as Marco: “We have a very gifted actor who is also right for the part, I couldn’t be happier.”

AKT: The two songs prepare us for the time travel, the back and forth, the structure. This is my question - how do you work on structuring a film with so many timelines? We as audience become detectives in a way. We have to become Sherlock Holmes and pick up the clues and be aware of: Where are we and when are we? What is your recipe?

FA: Yes, Sherlock Holmes! The novel is structured that way already. Sandro Veronesi’s novel has these leaps in time but it’s also very orderly - ordered into chapters where the dates are indicated. Doing the screenplay I wanted to relaunch that idea but working with images is very different. So here we were looking at telling a single story, maybe in a Sherlock Holmes style, kind of holding it together in a different manner.

AKT: One of the characters is particularly fascinating and well-cast and that is Nanni Moretti as the therapist who is simultaneously Mephistopheles and the Ghost of Christmas Past and a guardian angel. He comes across as a figure of myth stranded in reality.

FA: Nanni Moretti brought something metaphysical to it, maybe not so much Mephistophelean. He’s a sort of Deus Ex Machina, not an entirely realistic character. Apart from his acting skills I think he brought something. As a director I admire him, he’s a good friend. He added something and I like my actors to bring something from home.

Nanni Moretti as a tennis chair umpire
Nanni Moretti as a tennis chair umpire

AKT: I recently spoke with Frédéric Boyer, the Artistic Director of the Tribeca Festival, and he mentioned that he thinks one of the best actors world-wide at the moment is Pierfrancesco Favino. Tell me about the casting. Did you know that he would be the perfect central character?

FA: In this case, but I think in general for all films, the thing we aspire for is a kind of perfect marriage of the actor and the character as written on paper. It’s important not only for the main character but the entire cast. In this case where we have a very gifted actor who is also right for the part, I couldn’t be happier. Not to mention the fact that Pierfrancesco Favino is very well loved, which also helps the film to find an audience.

AKT: One very interesting thread in The Hummingbird is the thread. Adele as a child has an invisible thread in the back and then there are the mountain climbing episodes. Again the metaphysical comes in that we just talked about in the context of Nanni Moretti.

FA: On one level it’s a very simple story about the life of a man. But it’s also the story of a man who wants to be a hero, who wants to do good and behave well. He keeps locked up inside the feeling he has - he keeps it secret because he doesn’t want anyone to suffer. And as a result of this he creates disaster.

Carradori (Nanni Moretti) confronts Marco (Pierfrancesco Favino)
Carradori (Nanni Moretti) confronts Marco (Pierfrancesco Favino)

The thread of the daughter, as the child psychologist refers to it - we’re looking at the tie between the father and the daughter. She is aware that there is this dark thing inside of him, this love for Luisa Lattes [Bérénice Bejo], which he thinks he cannot reveal to her. But it’s much too big a thing to keep hidden. As a result of keeping it inside he causes a disaster for his family, his brother, his daughter and also for Luisa Lattes.

It’s not Marco’s fault what happens to his daughter; these things happen in life, but they also force you to rethink things. In losing the daughter he also finds his niece with whom he has a simpler relationship because he no longer has this big secret.

AKT: A third song is very prominent later on in the film and that is The Clash’s London Calling, and there is a dance coming with it!

FA: It’s a very beautiful and very famous song and here we have it at the funeral of Letizia [Laura Morante], the mother. So yes, it does belong to Marco’s story as a boy, but also relates in a very specific way to Letizia’s need to not be stuck in the past and to move forward. I wanted to show a character who had the energy to move beyond the bourgeois environment of her family.

The Hummingbird poster
The Hummingbird poster

AKT: I spoke recently with Roberto Andò, whose film Strangeness is also in the Film at Lincoln Center program. We talked about Pirandello and the characters and there’s a quote in the film about Pirandello giving his characters an audience every Sunday morning where they could talk to him. Do you as a screenwriter, as a writer, give your characters an audience?

FA: Yes, that’s funny. This happens especially when you are writing a film more so than when you are actually shooting it, that your mind is crowded with images of imaginary people. It’s very strange because there you are working with these people in your head all day and you come home and they’re not there. You almost feel closer to them and they’re almost more real to you than your friends and your family.

I think the genius of Pirandello was to give them their own life. This is something that happens in the world of cinema. Because maybe after you’ve been shooting a film for a couple of months and then you run into the actors again and they cut their hair and you think: Why do you cut your hair? You belong to me, you’re mine!

AKT: That’s wonderful! Thank you so much! Looking forward to seeing you at the lunch in New York this week!

FA: Thank you! See you then!

Coming up - Francesca Archibugi on Paolo Virzì and Dry.

The Hummingbird screens on Thursday, June 1 at 7:00pm followed by a Q&A with Francesca Archibugi and on Wednesday, June 7 at 6:00pm - Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center.

Open Roads: New Italian Cinema runs from Thursday, June 1 through June 8.

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