L’Avventura (September 1960)
How would you define your journey toward realism?
I think that cinema, as a form of spectacle, is destined to undergo a transformation in the near future. For years now it has been showing signs of fatigue. In many countries, cinema is no longer able to compete with television, although from the artistic point of view television is at a much earlier stage of development. This is proof that cinema has wasted time following paths which are by now well-trodden. Cinematic narrative has lost a lot of its original character, and it is less and less able to satisfy the demands of today’s public. Old formulas are constantly reiterated.
Despite the changes which have occurred in the last few years, directors are limited by technology. Forced to respect a series of conventions which influence his style, the director has lost his freedom over the subject of the film, over his own reality. This is alarmingly apparent in today’s films, and instances of interesting experimentation remain isolated incidents. Producers are undoubtedly the main culprits in this state of affairs. With few exceptions they are highly conservative; and they are such, if I may say so, almost by definition. At times you can still find some producers who venture onto less traveled paths to make unconventional films, but very often the lack of freedom from which cinema suffers almost everywhere dampens their initial enthusiasm. So they end up adapting to the norms and sticking to the tried and true.
After the war-after years of dramatic events, of fear and anxiety, of uncertainty over the fate of the world-it wasn’t possible to talk about anything else. A great French writer said: “There are moments when you don’t talk about trees because you are angry with trees.” There are also times when it would be dishonest for an intelligent man to ignore certain events, for an intelligence that quits is a contradiction in terms. I think that anyone who makes cinema should never lose the link with his own times. This doesn’t mean however that he has to reproduce and interpret its most dramatic events. (You can laugh too, why not? As a viewer I enjoy funny films). It’s a question of finding in ourselves the echo of our times. For a director this is the only way of being sincere and consistent toward himself, and honest and forthright toward other people-the only way to live. And yet I believe that the principle of”ever-greater truth” which in its most crude form is at the root of Italian neorealism, should today be broadened and deepened.
In a world that, in some respects, has become closer to normal, what counts is not so much-or not just-the relation ship of the individual to his environment, but rather the individual per se, in all his complex and disturbing truth. What torments contemporary man; what makes him tick? How do we see reflected in him what is going on in the world? What can we tell about his feelings? What can we tell about his psychology? These are the questions that we have to ask ourselves when we think about the subject for a film. Once we have chosen the subject, what are the paths that allow us to reach realism?
Perhaps I haven’t exactly answered your original question. But it’s difficult to focus on one’s soul. It is very hard because that is always the starting point, even when it’s the brain that is actually working. The spiritual life of a man follows a mysterious and unpredictable itinerary. And it’s difficult to retrace it after you’ve covered it. What I can say is that my way of achieving realism consists of this: trying to understand what is happening inside ourselves, today. In what way? That’s not for me to say.
Do you think a film should be felt rather than understood?
Yes, I certainly do. How do you expect me to “explain” my film?
Three issues emerge in L’Avventura: oblivion, the impossibility of perfect love, and the sense of loss which modern life creates in each of us. Which of these do you think is the most important?
I don’t agree with your list of issues on which L’Avventura is based. It’s obvious, for example, that the first of your three issues, oblivion, blends with the second. And in a sense, both these two in turn merge with the third. I think it would be risky to say that one is more important than another. Today, are men what they are because life is what it is, or is it the other way around? As far as I’m concerned, this alone could constitute a topic of research – an imaginative research, though, not a speculative one.
“Nowadays, even the people who aren’t afraid of the scientific unknown are afraid of the moral unknown.” That was something you said about L’Avventura. What did you mean by it?
I am convinced that today the individual, who takes such pains to widen the frontiers of his scientific knowledge, does nothing to advance himself from a moral point of view. He is still bound by old conventions, by obsolete myths, despite the fact that he is perfectly conscious of this state of affairs. Why should we go on respecting the ancient commandments if we know that they are no longer relevant? Perhaps what is holding us back is the fear of falling into the moral void, even if the void of the cosmos no longer frightens us. Why? Why do we refuse to push ourselves to the outer edges of our moral universe? These are questions to which, at the moment, it is impossible to provide any answers. But I still think it is important to ask them.
You have often been criticized for the slow pace of L’Avventura What is the reason for that?
I hate the artificial mechanisms of conventional cinematic narration. Life has a completely different pace, sometimes fast, sometimes extremely slow. In a story about feelings, like L’Avventura, I felt the need to link feelings to time. Their own time. The more times I see L’Avventura, the more I am convinced that I found the right rhythm, I don’t think it could have had any other pace than the one it has.
In L’Avventura one notes an almost total lack ofmusic. Why did you make this choice and why, on the other hand, are there so many noises?
The use of music in films, as we think of it in the traditional sense, no longer has any right to exist. You use music to provoke in the spectator a certain state of mind. I don’t want music to provoke such a state of mind; I want the story itself to do it, via images. It’s true that there are certain let’s say – “musical” moments in the development of a story. They are the moments when you need to pull yourself away from reality. In those moments, music does have its place. At other times, you have to use noises, even if you don’t do that in any realistic way, but rather as if they were sound effects-naturally, in a poetic mode. In L’Avventura I believed it was more appropriate to use noises than music.
Could you talk to us about your latest film, La notte?
With La notte I tried to carry on the same discourse as in L’Avventura. We are fooling ourselves if we think that all we have to do is know all about ourselves, analyze the farthest reaches of our souls.That is, at most, a beginning. It is certainly not everything. In the best of cases, you achieve a kind of mutual compassion. But you have to go beyond that. The characters in La notte get to that point, but don’t manage to get beyond it. They are characters of today, not of tomorrow.
May I ask the critic who became a director what his idea of film criticism is?
Without criticism, art would lose its strongest supporter.
Of all your experiences in the cinema, which one has fascinated you the most?
The making of L’Avventura. While I was filming it, I lived through five extraordinary months. Extraordinary because they were violent, exhausting, obsessive, often dramatic, distressing, but above all fulfilling.
And I think that in the film you notice it. The most difficult thing for me was to detach myself from all the things that could go wrong – and many things did go wrong. We filmed without a producer, without money, and without food, often risking our necks at sea in the storms. All of that changed the relationships among us, whether they were personal or professional relationships. We watched incredibly beautiful natural phenomena. My greatest difficulty, I say it again, was to cut myself off from everything that was happening, so that only the essential filtered through to the film – so that it had its own atmosphere, separate from what we were going through in real life. I used to get up every day at three in the morning just to be alone, in peace and able to reflect on what we were doing. At five, we would get on board the boat. Often, some of the crew refused to get in because of the weather and just a few of us would leave for the cliffs at Lisca Bianca. At that point, our struggle with the sea would begin: a struggle with the wind, with physical discomfort, with everybody’s bad temper, with tiredness and a strange form of emptiness, a complete lack of energy that often took hold of us. Five months like that. And let’s not forget that the director is the only one who is not allowed to have any of these feelings. He always has to be clear, calm, and collected no matter what happens. Sometimes I had to grit my teeth. When the film was finished, I felt drained. And I had to begin making La notte almost immediately. These are the minor crises that you have to go through. I don’t know whether anyone is interested in them; I only talked about them because you asked.
From Humaniti dimanche. 25 September 1960.