Roberto Minervini (Fermo, 1970), italian film director and screenwriter, one of the most honorable eye in the american contemporary panorama. His career begins in 2005 with the independent productions of some shorts but his first feature film takes shape six years later (‘The Passage’). One year later he presents the up-and-coming ‘Low tide’ in the Orizzonti section of Venice Film Festival but it’s only in 2013 that arise his most mature work ‘Stop the pounding heart’. This year the author has presented his last feature film for the section Un Certain Regard of the Cannes Film Festival: ‘Louisiana (The Other Side)’.
Cinepaxy: Firstly we are grateful for your willingness and for your time. Well, on 28 May your film ‘The Other Side’ got a theatrical release in Italy, it is very interesting but overall revolutionary in staging an awkward reality rarely shown on the big screen. How did the project start out? Which kind of need involved you to display this face of United States?
Roberto Minervini: The draft came to life as continuation of my artistic path. All my movies are linked one to another, relationships, friendships, among all the characters of my four feature films and ‘Louisiana’ is not an exception. The need to tell all these stories has a strictly politic nature. The fact is that I live in USA since 15 years and I have followed a common route I mean, from the East Coast of NY, where I also studied and continued my political commitment – that started years ago in Italy – to Texas, where I began to experience ones that were the most important American policy’s issues: the great rift between institution and public opinion besides informative manipulation of the media (an important task to progressive authors of the left wing as, for example, Noah Chomsky). I found myself in an ambiguous situation ‘cause, having been part of this intellectual élite, once I changed level, I had to take the fall and sense the political isolation of the same level I used to support. The same applies to Obama: even though he implemented some major political calculus as the Welfare one, he hardened public opinion with controversial choices about foreign policies and the Meaddle East situation. So I’ve always sensed the need to voice those who hate institutions, for example Obama, and I considered a relevant commitment to understand the reasons of a discontent deeply rooted here in the South.
CP: A topic that you felt you had to deal with, as an american citizen…
RM: Absolutely yes, it is similarly close the army issue, the control one, and all those themes that deeply interest me. My cinematic approach is like the ideological one, I mean I try to attach importance to the transparency, to play with an open hand, so it was very important to shed light on problems hidden from mass media.
CP: In this respect we can say that ‘Louisiana’ has been your first political film, the first one to face these issues, contrary to previous works where that led to a more than social political interest.
RM: Of course much more social. Then again, a political issue occurs in ‘Stop the Pounding Heart’ too, not in the film rather in the footage that was the starting point of my political research about the discontent of the South. The intention was also to call into question Lincoln’s reputation and all controversies surrounding him: the abolition of racial segregation, the general dissatisfaction, the alienation from central institutions.
CP: Regarding the production of the movie, have you noticed any particular problem during the shootings?
RM: To be honest I had many logistic problems, mainly because I had to film, as well as live, in illegality and, moreover, contribute to such illegal actions. What most of all attached me to my characters has been the fear: fear not to succeed in all senses, not to be able to accomplish my duty ‘cause of the dread of some terrible event.
CP: Let’s change topic. ‘Louisiana’ is a work that both in its classification (a documentary) and in its original title (‘The Other Side’) clarifies every purpose. Can we deduce some different feature, apart from the one regarding the social inquiry, for example from the couple of protagonists, their drug addiction, their inability to disconnect from reality?
RM: In some ways it surely subsists another intent apart from the one regarding the carrying out of a politic painting of the South, in fact I can say that there is a common denominator in all my movies, and it is the human aspect, the need to set love as condition either of life or death. Love as selfish necessity, as primaeval need, but not necessarily in a positive way, accordingly as the only one possible solution to fear, the inevitability of fear, of dying in those fields, something strictly pre-adolescent. Dread that our loss of love could become death, the loss about not being capable of finding the right path to God. We could say I was interested in religion, faith, something blind and childish, instinctive, blind faith against primordial fear of dying. In this sense we could find all those things in the characters’s instinct of protecting one another: this strong, foolish feeling between Mark and Lisa arises from the fear of living and I’ve always been interested in this lack of love as a matter of life and death, the real essence of life.
CP: In which terms would you define the so evident growing maturation from one film to another?
RM: I see a lot of perpetuity in my authorial and human routes. At the beginning I felt a sort of hesitancy toward the real world, which I knew very little. Then I started to perceive the will to dive in my own social web, the Texan sub-proletariat. Despite that, at first I did it through the eyes of a child, with one main character, without going straight ahead to the social issue. Starting from the protagonist, in this last movie I have reached my purpose, I have extended the matter to a familiar and social issue.
CP: So, compared to your other works, do you think ‘Louisiana’ could be defined as your best achievement?
RM: Doubtless it can be defined as my most complex work and that because of its paucity of storytelling; but it’s also simple in his intents and again complex in his production. In the meantime the various stories are very sheer and intelligible. There is a macrocosm composed by many microcosms and each one is linked to another: the anthropological one, the primaeval one, made of feelings and emotions, the political and the ideological one. I think I’ve reached some kind of apex or finish line, something that satisfies me. Now I need a break.
CP: A sort of structural, stylistic evolution, I mean compared to your previous work ‘Stop the pounding heart’…
RM: I consider ‘Louisiana’ a fulfilling film. Unfortunately, ‘Stop the pounding heart’ left an open door to a compliant, paternalistic eye (considering the main female character). Indeed, the movie was positively considered also by people who pitied Sara and I didn’t intend to do the same thing again, no compassion or pity. Here I paid attention to my intent of breaking everyday narrative and I concentrated on a conceptual plan, that’s why I consider that work my best one.
Stop the Pounding Heart (2013)
CP: In fact, during the movie, while the first part of it follows Mark and Lisa, the second one proceeds according to a conceptual scheme, forsaking the single character in favor of a wider view.
RM: That’s true. I found necessary to get away from every sort of intimacy. If this were a literary talk it could be read as a preface (the first part) and an afterword (the second part), in accordance to the outlook of the reader. The first part is certainly more intimate, veristic (in literary terms), proustian in a certain way, not so different from a journey to memory’s meanderings. In reverse, in the second part of the movie it subsists a completely different talk, more austere, distant and essayist.
CP: Regarding reminiscences, aside from the literary ones you told us just before, do you have some about Cinema? Can you consider yourself debtor toward some director or cinematic stream?
RM: Not properly debtor since I have no direct inspirations; I feel more debtor with regard to cinematographers or technicians. There are definitely directors whom I have a great admire because of their human path and their integrity, I mean their independent soul. Inside brazilian cinema there are many authors which I appreciate a lot, from Ruy Guerra up to Nelson Pereira dos Santos: they adopt a experimental approach in a very complicated political context, I hold in great esteem their courage. Anyway, a part from that I think that it is fundamental their authorial perspective. Among the modern directors I of course appreciate a lot Carlos Reygadas, my great friend. All his work take form from an independent disposition, he is the only real author – among the relatively young ones – considering he began in the early ’00s with a film like ‘Japón’.
CP: How do you look at the role of author towards the public? Do you think this one has actual moral obligations? In this case, should he disregard from economic aspects as well as from the production industry?
RM: It’s hard to tell, I’m not really fond of the kind of Cinema you find in the movie. I guess film industry it’s full of dangerous, manipulative people, and when manipulation reaches a so high standard it becomes really dangerous, it becomes politics; media strategy is one of the most serious disease of our times. Another problem is that, when mass media begin to affect Cinema, some directors acquire a huge responsibility as manipulative. Then, to answer you, yes, there is a sort of social importance in their role of counterfeiters. When you make some kind of decisions in order to sell a product you can’t pretend to maintain moral fiber, especially when you try to dialogue with your audience.
CP: Therefore, would you conclude that it exists a background contrast between the practice you consider as manipulative and the achieving of a communication through the filmic object? Do you look at the first one as a failing approach?
RM: I think so. I don’t believe you can straddle both worlds, I mean think about the audience whilst clearly considering the sale of the product. But nevertheless, there are works I consider very important for other aspects (I am thinking for example of the form, I mean great narrative innovations or great screenplay’s performances). For my part, I am not particularly concerned with Cinema in this sense, it would mean putting such a spin on this art.
Louisiana (The Other Side) (2015)