There seems to be an almost Hitchcockian aspect to The Unknown Woman. Could you talk a bit about Hitchcock and other directors who inspired you for this particular film?
I wasn't inspired by Hitchcock or others in making this film. Some would say, for example, during the scene at the circus that I'm influenced by Fellini but when you make a film you never set out to cite a style of another director. There are directors, not just Hitchcock and Fellini and Kurosawa, but hundreds of others who taught me to love cinema, who nourished me with the extraordinary visual and emotional richness of their films. We are the children of those who nourish us. So I don't exclude the fact that you can sense in the film my love of that particular type of cinema, and not just the films of Hitchcock and Fritz Lang and the other great directors of mystery and thrillers.
Particularly in Cinema Paradiso and The Star Maker, there is a love of cinema seems to infuse your work.
In a way, it happens without my wanting it to happen. From the start, I have loved cinema even more than I loved the craft of filmmaking and I think that this comes out very naturally in all the films that I do. Someone has pointed out that in my current film, The Unknown Woman, there's a very short sequence that's shot inside a movie theater and wondered why I always have a scene from a movie theater in my films. I said, "Well, if i could, I'd make 300 films that have a scene in a movie theater," but my love of cinema is a constant point of reference in my life. It has never failed me. It is something that I have never doubted, that I have never had a crisis about, and that has illuminated and improved my life.
You've been making films for over two decades now, and I was wondering whether you watch fewer films than you did before you became a director. Do you have less of an appetite for cinema because you make films yourself?
It's true that before I became a filmmaker, I saw a lot more films, tons of them. Now I see fewer because I have less time, and I really regret this. But I always try and keep up and whenever I have a free moment, the first thing I try to do is catch up. If I have one regret, one point of nostalgia, it's that I can't go to the movies every day like I did 15 or 20 years.
A number of the directors I've spoken to say that when they're making a film, and even during pre-production or the writing process, they try not to watch films so as not to have any external influences that will affect their vision of the film. Are you like that also?
I'm not really afraid of being influenced by other films. I'm not at all worried about that because something that I'm very happy about is that when I go to a movie theater, I'm just another member of the audience. I leave my job at home when I go to a movie theater, and I always have a feeling of very great affection for the films of others. From the moment I enter the movie theater and the lights go out and the first images come up on the screen, I'm very happy about the fact that that film exists and I feel a great warmth toward it - even if, in the end, it turns out that it's not a particularly good film. I don't go to the movie theater feeling like I have to analyze the film or that I need to criticize it up and down - this is not something that I do.
One of the things that I'm happy about with my own life and my own understanding is that I have always defended, and succeed in defending still today, is the purity in the gaze of the audience, so I don't need to analyze what is right or what is wrong about a film, what I like or what I don't - I don't want to ask all those sort of professional, critical-type questions. If I do want to ask those questions, I go and see the film a second time.
In a lot of your films, there are strong, beautiful female characters at the center of the action. How do you find the right actresses for these roles? Do you have actresses that you write for who are your muses?
It's not always easy to be able to write a film knowing who the actor or actress is going to be. It's an extraordinary privilege when you're able to do that, and sometimes I've had that privilege. For example, for the film Malèna, I knew when I was writing it that Monica Bellucci was going to be the actress. But this time around I didn't know who the actress was going to be, but I knew many things about her. I knew that she had to be an extraordinary actress, I knew that she had to be a very strong woman, a woman with very uncertain, wavering beauty who in certain moments did not seem to be beautiful but in other moments seems to be very beautiful, a woman who was fleeing, in a way, just like the whole story is fleeing.
Once I had defined this character, I went out looking for her, and this is something that is very curious, very extraordinary in the life of a director, when you go out searching in reality for something that you have conceived in your mind. You have a very clear conception of who you want them to be. You believe very strongly in that idea, and you go out looking for her with every effort that you possess. When you have these three things, then you will always find what you're looking for. It's impossible not to. So I went looking for this character and I found her. I was not inspired by this particular actress, but I thought of her and then out looking for her in reality.
Could you tell me about your continuing working relationship with Ennio Morricone, arguably one of the greatest film composers of all time.
My working relationship with Ennio Morricone, my human relationship, is a very important part of my professional life which I am very proud. It is a relationship which is based on great trust and a great sense of friendship, but we have one ironclad rule, which is that when we work together we will not be influenced by this mutual trust and this friendship.
The second thing is that we have a particular method that we use: when I start to write the script, he starts to write the score. I don't like this method of writing the score only after the shooting has been completed, so he starts working on the score at the same time as I start working on the script. I love this particular method because it means that when I do start to shoot, by the same token, I know what the script is going to be, I know who the actors are, I know what the costumes are that I have chosen, I know the locations that I have scouted out, and I also need to know the musical score. Having this knowledge at hand already from the start of shooting gives me this absurd belief that the film already exists somewhere and all I have to do is start looking for it. This is a method, of course, that involves a lot of hard work and certain very strong clashes between us.
For example, in this latest film, The Unknown Woman, Ennio Morricone did an extraordinary job. He's working almost the way a young experimental composer might, the way a young avant garde composer might work. I wanted to do something that was very different, not only from what I had done before but traditionally in film. What I wanted to do was to decapitate the power of the principal theme, the main motif that the audience always hears throughout the film and leaves the movie theater remembering. I wanted to avoid this dictatorship of the principal theme so we scored each scene as if it were a closed, separate scene and then the motifs were maybe repeated once or twice at the most, in such a way as to prevent the audience from memorizing a principal theme. This strengthens the ungraspable quality of the film and of the character, because the audience feels like it can't grasp, it can't possess that one principal theme. This underlines and reinforces the mystery of the character and of her actions, and this is interesting because the music that we do use in all of these parts is still melodic music, tonal music, it's not atonal music.
I have to say that this was one full year of work by Ennio and he did an extraordinary job for which I'm very grateful. Even after the more than 20 years that we've been working together, he always surprises me.
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