Coming from the future

Laura Luchetti on Cesare Pavese's novel and the songs and costumes in The Beautiful Summer

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Laura Luchetti on Man Ray, Lee Miller, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jacques-Henri Lartigue: “The inspiration for me was photographs and photographs and photographs.”
Laura Luchetti on Man Ray, Lee Miller, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jacques-Henri Lartigue: “The inspiration for me was photographs and photographs and photographs.” Photo: Anne Katrin Titze

The day after Cinecittà and Film at Lincoln Center’s Open Roads: New Italian Cinema opening night screening in New York of Edoardo De Angelis’s masterful The War Machine (Comandante, starring Pierfrancesco Favino), Laura Luchetti joined me inside Film at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater for a conversation on her latest film, The Beautiful Summer (La Bella Estate) starring Deva Cassel (Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel’s daughter), Yile Yara Vianello, and Nicolas Maupas.

Based on the novel by Cesare Pavese, previously adapted by Michelangelo Antonioni in Le Amiche, Luchetti energetically and with flair takes us to 1938 Turin and the fashion atélier where 17-year-old Ginia (Yile Yara Vianello) works under the perceptive eye of Signora Gemma (Anna Bellato). She lives with her brother Severino (Nicolas Maupas), as both escaped the countryside to start a new life in the big city. During a picnic at the lake with friends, Ginia sees a vision. Amelia (Deva Cassel, who splashes onto the screen in her first movie role) jumps into the water from a rowboat to swim ashore.

Ginia (Yile Yara Vianello) dancing with Amelia (Deva Cassel)
Ginia (Yile Yara Vianello) dancing with Amelia (Deva Cassel)

She is an artists’ model and the friendship with her will alter Ginia’s life forever. There is a lot more to the world than what she knows, and the parties and encounters of the summer turn out to be stronger than just foolish things. History enters the periphery in the shape of a Mussolini speech, heard through an open window, that is quickly closed. Ginia’s concerns are elsewhere and she wants to “have someone look at me and tell me who I am.” Ginia has talent as a dressmaker and the film deftly explores the rite of passage when life interferes and a path is in the process of being destroyed to make way for another.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Hi!

Laura Luchetti: Hi! Did you enjoy the song?

AKT: You mean the song in the end, Ein Walzer Für Niemand - A Waltz For Nobody?

LL: Everybody asks me about that! There’s always in the Q&A, why the German song? It’s in German, but it’s not German, it’s Swiss. There’s a long story about that.

AKT: Let’s talk about the songs! Is it Charles Trenet singing the French version of These Foolish Things, Ces Petites Choses?

Ginia (Yile Yara Vianello) with Amelia (Deva Cassel)
Ginia (Yile Yara Vianello) with Amelia (Deva Cassel)

LL: It’s the French version - we had many versions and I chose that.

AKT: It fits beautifully.

LL: And the song that they sing at the beginning with the guitar is what my grandmother used to sing. It was a massive hit in 1937. It’s the same song you hear in the original version when they go to the artists’ bar. When the two girls get into the posh bar and there’s music, it’s the same song sung in the beginning by the kid with the guitar. Italians will recognise that because it was very popular. It’s called Bambina Innamorata - Girl Who’s In Love.

My grandmother used to sing that song to me and I felt that at that time if they went to a picnic, and that was a hit of the moment, they would have sung that. Then when they go to the posh bar, the Café des Artistes, there’s the proper version played on the record, on the gramophone.

AKT: There’s also a song that sounds like young Frank Sinatra.

LL: In English?

Mainbocher Cocktail apron from the Millicent Rogers collection at the Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion Costume Institute exhibit at The Met.
Mainbocher Cocktail apron from the Millicent Rogers collection at the Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion Costume Institute exhibit at The Met. Photo: Anne Katrin Titze

AKT: Yes.

LL: Yeah, it’s one of the songs of the period. I can’t recall the name because I’m getting old.

AKT: You did a lot with the songs, which I liked.

LL: Because at the time it wasn’t allowed to have songs which were not in Italian. But because they’re Bohemians they drink absinthe and they smoke and they probably also had records that had come from abroad. I love that we talk about the music! That’s such an important part of the film and nobody asks me! Apart from the German song.

AKT: I loved the songs and how they carry what is forbidden. This is a different world that your main character, Ginia, enters. She enters a world that has songs in French and English and we don’t know how much she even understands of the lyrics.

LL: Probably nothing.

AKT: Probably nothing, but she understands the mood of it. Is she also working in a fashion atélier in the Pavese novel?

LL: She is, but you never see her at work. But I needed it because the novel is amazing and it’s crazy to think that you can adapt Cesare Pavese. As a matter of fact, nobody has done it before, apart from Michelangelo Antonioni, who won the Venice Film Festival, I think in 1956, with an adaptation of the trilogy [The Girlfriends, Le Amiche] of The Beautiful Summer.

Wolfgang von Waltershausen with Christl Ehlers and Brigitte Borchert in People On Sunday
Wolfgang von Waltershausen with Christl Ehlers and Brigitte Borchert in People On Sunday

That’s why at the beginning I was a little bit reluctant. Because there’s a big cultural burden to carry on your shoulder when you make a decision like that. But because I love the novel and I love Pavese, you know, when you’re in love you do crazy things. Like adapting the novel into a film.

AKT: You created the atélier?

LL: It says she works in an atélier, not a fashion atélier, and I wanted to explore that and explode that also because that’s what my grandmother used to do and her sister. And so I invented the structure of the atélier. Because the beauty of Cesare Pavese’s novels is that they are evocative, they are impalpable, they are melancholic, but most of the time the structure is really fragile, really invisible.

So I needed this structure and I also wanted to put this young girl to such a height, that when she falls, the fall would be really dramatic. So I created the atélier and I loved with the costume designer to create all the uniforms of the girls and the hairdos.

AKT: And the shoes!

LL: The shoes! I had a couple of pairs of shoes! And I also created this character Gemma. I didn’t audition for Gemma, I wanted that actress, Anna Bellato. She’s my muse. In life she’s unrecognisable. We turned her into something not even her husband recognised in a photo when I sent it to him. The husband is a film and theatre director. This woman had to be an older version of Ginia. She’s very chic, she’s got jewelry, she’s dressed impeccably.

Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion at The Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute
Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion at The Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Photo: Anne Katrin Titze

But once she gets to the mannequin and finds out that Ginia is working extra hours on her things, she says, let me see, and she puts the needle in her mouth. That tells you that she didn’t inherit the atélier, she didn’t marry rich, she was a seamstress. Only seamstresses do this. I studied that with her, with the actress, the small tiny things at the end of the film when she gets Ginia back and this small cover for the finger - I don’t know what it’s called in English?

AKT: A thimble.

LL: Yes, and she gets it off to the desk to remind herself that the reason why she likes this young girl is because she sees something of herself. So we worked on characters like Coco Chanel or the Fontana Sisters, you know, the Italian atélier, because they came from nothing. They didn’t marry a rich man who bought them an atélier, their money doesn’t come from family. So we worked on small things.

AKT: It looks good on the big screen. You can see some of the hand stitching.

LL: It was fun to create that environment because also this is a very small film. We had to invent things. The costumes we got - many of them that belonged to the costume designer’s grandmother. We went to this beautiful market in Turin, called Gran Balôn and we got all these 1920s, 1930s things. It was a collective effort because we didn’t have money to splash out, actually the opposite.

AKT: I don’t know how long you are in the city, but don’t miss the Costume Institute exhibit at The Met, Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion.

LL: I know! I’m going tomorrow morning.

AKT: It’s beautiful!

Open Roads New Italian Cinema poster at the Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center
Open Roads New Italian Cinema poster at the Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center Photo: Anne Katrin Titze

LL: I read about it a couple of days ago and I want to go!

AKT: It includes wondersome objects, pieces of clothing that are falling apart.

LL: There’s a story about all the outfits and the clothing, I read.

AKT: Yes, Millicent Rogers, for instance, there are pieces from her vast collection. I particularly loved the “evening aprons” and “cocktail aprons” which are ornamental belts with flowers and embroidery that people used to wear going out at night [also a hat by Bill Cunningham from his time as a milliner]. So much to discover. It’s fabulous.

LL: I’m obsessed! It’s fun to have interviews with women because they are so imaginative about the questions and notice so many things. I like that because it’s not the periphery of a film that we are talking about, but actually … Because otherwise they always ask about the character …

AKT: The character of Amelia has her big entrance jumping into the lake from a rowboat. It’s also Deva Cassel’s movie debut and entry into this world.

LL: It’s an invention, it was not in the book.

AKT: With the picnic by the lake, were you thinking of Menschen Am Sonntag, People On Sunday? The film from 1930, on which all the people in Berlin who would soon be famous in Hollywood collaborated?

Michelangelo Antonioni's The Girlfriends (Le Amiche, adapted from Cesare Pavese’s novel)
Michelangelo Antonioni's The Girlfriends (Le Amiche, adapted from Cesare Pavese’s novel)

LL: Tell me again what it’s called, I don’t know it! I need to watch it!

AKT: People On Sunday, it was directed by Robert Siodmak and Edgar Ulmer.

LL: Siodmak!

AKT: The story is by Billy Wilder. Fred Zinnemann was the assistant cinematographer and it’s about a group of young people going on an outing to a lake.

LL: I have to see it now! You know, my main influence usually are photographs. I have a room in my house full of photograph books. The big inspiration for me for this film, except two Italian films that I watched that were shot in that year, that helped me to see how people were walking and talking. With the beautiful Vittorio De Sica playing the main character.

So I said to the guy who plays Severino [Nicolas Maupas], go and look at Vittorio De Sica how he acts in his 1936 films! Because he seems as if he comes from the future. He is so modern and everywhere, everybody else around him is slightly Ancien Régime. Then the inspiration for me was Man Ray, Lee Miller, [Henri Cartier-] Bresson, photographs and photographs and photographs.

AKT: Jacques-Henri Lartigue maybe also?

LL: Yeah, because for me it was important to see how they lived, you know? The faces, the lights, and the graffiti on the wall. There were graffitis in 1936, I didn’t know. Less about movies, more about photographs.

Share this with others on...
News

Chuckle chuckle baby Janis Pugh on laughter, love and community in her comedy musical

A constant source of energy David Hinton on Martin Scorsese and Made In England: The Films Of Powell And Pressburger

Five highlights of Fantasia 2024 Oddity, The Tenants, The G, Infinite Summer and The Missing

Making films without permission Nicole Riegel on why cinema should be uncomfortable, and Dandelion

Measuring happiness Arun Bhattarai and Dorottya Zurbó on their latest documentary collaboration

Filmhouse signs 25-year lease Jack Lowden and Charlotte Wells announced as patrons

More news and features

Interact

More competitions coming soon.