Profession Against (August 1983)

I considered refusing the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, but I could not come up with a good enough reason. I would have refused it on instinct alone. I have received many awards, at almost all the film festivals – Cannes, Venice, and Berlin. The only place I have not yet won is Moscow, but that’s such a particular festival that I could do without. So, when I think of another Golden Lion added to the one I already have, it is already too much. I do not know how to say it – I mean, it puts me into a situation – that is, it gives me another responsibility in dealing with the past, and this is what bothers me. I do not want this responsibility. My films are what they are, I do not know if they deserve another Golden Lion or not, and I do not want to have to talk about it. This is how I feel about that prize.

Then what made you accept it? 

I did it because it is very difficult to say no to Venice. It seems a bit presumptuous for me to say: “No, I do not need another award, I am already who I am.” After all, I guess it is OK to have another one.

Maybe you don’t like these festivals because they show films that no longer satisfy you as they did when you filmed them, films that you have regrets about. Have you ever thought about that? 

Well, in my professional life I have regrets in the sense that when I see one of my films again I do not always like it. That is, I might not like the whole film, but rather just parts of it – certain sequences, or maybe its subject matter. I would not say that I am satisfied with the entire film. There has not been a film of mine that has completely satisfied me.

Not even one? What about The Girlfriends, The Cry, La notte, Red Desert, Identification of a Woman, The Passenger? 

Well, The Passenger would have completely satisfied me if I had been able to include all of the parts that I was forced to cut out because of its length. And let’s not talk of the final version for the English-speaking market which I cannot accept, and would have removed my name from, if I could have. But even the European edition – which is the one I signed, and which I consider the only acceptable version of the film­, even that version, I believe, is mutilated because the story is not well explained. For example, a sequence is omitted that explains the relation­ship between the protagonist and his wife, thus making it possible to understand how the failure of their marriage has an impact. If I could have included that sequence, the narrative would have been much better.

Have you met many short-sighted producers? 

One example might be the brothers who produced The Eclipse and cut the film’s ending without letting me know. The ending might have seemed a little too long, but it actually worked because it left in the viewer certain feelings, a lingering sense of the whole story that had just been told. I have written all this in one of the stories in the collection That Bowling Alley on the Tiber – I don’t know if you have read it 

Yes, I read it while I was on vacation. The story you refer to is called, if I remember correctly, ‘Just to Be Together.’

Ah, you read it on vacation – that’s good. Yes, it is that story. I mean, one should not let a film end with its ending – it has to continue further, outside the theater, where we, the viewers, live: we who are actually the protagonists of all of the stories that are told. I mean that it is necessary for the film to have a longer life than its physical projection time. It needs to stay with the viewer and the viewer should take it away with him. Then, if the film remains inside the viewer, it means that the experience that the viewer had while watching the film was worthwhile.

Once you said: ‘in my youth, I would rise at dawn to get on the carts that went to the countryside and talk with the carters. I spent many evenings in the taverns with a lot of different people.” What did you learn? 

Well, I can only answer after racking my brain, because many years have passed since then; I would say a whole lifetime. Indeed, everything that has happened later in my life has practically erased all of these memories, which remained in what I would call the “fog of my infancy.” What did I learn? I think those encounters helped me to understand people. My family belonged to the lower middle class; my father was a petit bourgeois, and my father’s friends who used to come to our house were petit bourgeois. I, on the other hand, was more fond of – I had friends among the lower class. Even in my love affairs, I have always preferred women from the lower class, rather than from the middle class; I don’t know why, but I liked them more. I think that what I am getting at is that I preferred poor clothes on a girl rather than rich ones. Yes, people from the lower class were more genuine, more sincere – at that time, of course. In a certain sense, I was drawn to my parent’s poor origins, since also my parents came from the working class. They were, let’s say, self taught bourgeois.

And what moral lessons did you get from your family? 

Honesty, I would say. My father was a man who was truly honest. I think that, overall, I learned this from him. And he was a hard worker. I must say that I am less of a hard worker than he was, because in my line of work there are forced breaks that sometimes make me very nervous … and this is the reason why … I have written this book, or painted the pictures for the show that opens tomorrow at the Correr Museum, here in Venice, and then will travel to the Gallery of Modern Art in Rome. They are exclusively mountains, and I called them “The Enchanted Mountains.” They are small designs that I enlarged through the technique of blow-up. I cannot stay idle; I have to constantly be doing things. Since I work within a creative field, I continue along the same route.

You have been writing stories since you were a boy. You wrote, or began to write, a novel when you were forty. You wrote some plays. Why have you chosen to express yourself primarily through the visual image rather than through literature? 

Because, instinctively, I feel more drawn toward this form of expression than towards the written word. The written word has always been harder for me, even if I more or less know how to hold a pen in my hand. I did not think I had the cultural background that was needed to become a real writer. I even had problems in school, so that from the liceo I had to transfer to a vocational high-school. Then, at the university I studied economics and business. So I really did not think, maybe wrongly, that I was good enough to become a writer. I then realized that, actually – this is something I realized while reading, studying foreign literatures. In America, for instance, a lot of writers come from the lower classes. They have learned to write in a style that was different from the academic teaching. Anyway, I have to say that I am more suited for the world of images than for the written word.

When you were young, did you often go to the cinema? 

Oh, I don’t know when I began to go regularly. Yes, when I was young, I went often and I liked it a lot. I quickly fell in love with that type of spectacle, which in the small town of Ferrara was one of the few forms of entertainment that were available.

Did you have mentors, models who inspired you when you began to direct? 

I would say that the only thing I might have learned – but without realizing it at that moment – was also the only thing I liked: the refusal to have main scenes that I saw in Bresson’s films. Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne, a film that I really liked, showed the consequences of the main scenes, the consequences of the conflicts, but it never allowed you to see the actual conflicts. I began under Carne, it was my second job as assistant director. The first one did not count, because it was with a director who was working on his first film, and he did not influence me, even if my experience with him allowed me to go to France. I went there to work with Carne because of [Ubaldo] Arata, who was the director of photography on I due Foscari. He spoke well of me to Scalera, the head of the production company we both worked for, and Scalera sent me to France with Carne. So my career started this way. As for Carne, I continually disagreed with what he did. The only thing I appreciated about him was how he positioned the camera, it was always perfect. But I felt that, as a persona, he was uninteresting. 

You had many romantic experiences when you were a boy, and­ — also when I was older.Even when you were older. How many of these experiences did you put on film? 

Well, I think that in every film one includes always something of oneself I would not say complete characters, since I would not know where to find, in any of my films, models that were important in my life. And yet, in all of my films, a part of these stories is certainly present – a piece of one character, a piece of another, and in the end you may even find a complete character. But I could not say which different pieces make up a specific character and, if so, which character would emerge.

In La Stampa, Stefano Reggiani wrote: “In his maturity he still feels that his films present a challenge. “Are you doing this in order to prove that you exist, like [Vittorio} Gassman? 

No, I do not have this problem. Reggiani said that after seeing the films, and I think it is true. To me, a film always presents itself to me as something to be done “against” someone, even “against” myself. The first challenge that one takes up is “against” oneself; it is a creative effort, you know? The challenge, therefore, consists of this effort. It is not easy to have to face this problem every morning while getting ready to film. I ask myself: “What should I say, what do I have to say, and how will I say it?” Then, our everyday challenge, and – if we are sincere in trying to solve these problems, this daily problem – our autobiographical intentions, consist in this effort.

Has it ever happened that you go on the set and do not know what to say and how to say it? 

When I enter the set or go on location, I prefer to arrive in a state of complete “virginity,” so that I can improvise, and so that the first ideas that come to me are those that I film. If I have to think too much about a scene – which sometimes happens because I have to resolve very difficult and complex technical problems – I first have to discuss it with my cameraman, with the director of photography, with the director of production, etc. In this case I am forced to think about it first. But in general I prefer to not think about it.

Are the ideas that come to you when you improvise, always good? 

Not always, not always. Indeed there are parts in my films, as I was telling you before, that today I would film in a different way. Let me give you an example. Two young men were doing a TV program on L’avventura and they asked me to return to Lisca Bianca – the small island where I shot most of the film, and to shoot some footage there. That’s what I did in the middle of July and I must admit that the impact was very strong because … that island rejected me. Actually, I was the one who felt rejected; it wasn’t the island. Obviously, the island wasn’t doing anything; so I was the one who felt that what I was doing there at that time was totally useless and rather unbearable. I no longer wanted to be there. 

Most likely, this was also due to the fact that you were dealing with a part of your life that had gone? 

Well, yes, certainly. Perhaps behind this negative feeling there was also that idea: that it was a piece of my life that no longer belonged to me. So I did not see the reason why I still had to deal with it. I filmed what I was asked to do, keeping myself as removed from it as possible.

Of all the things that time takes away from you, what do you feel is the most unbearable? 

In general, it is unbearable to see how, all too often, we throwaway all of our feelings or we don’t take care of them enough. I mean that as soon as we feel that a relationship may be ending, instead of trying to keep it going, we conclude that it is over and look for another. Sometimes things work out fine, but other times they don’t. We do not find another partner and we have lost the first one. And the most unbearable part of it is that, after going on like this for a while, we feel so lonely that life becomes very painful for us. 

What is it that grows old, other than your age? 

I think that people feel old when they think they are old.

Is that also true for illness? 

No, illness is something that either is here or is not. Even with old age, one can be physically old and yet not feel it in spirit…. The spirit may neutralize the physical side. With illness, however, even if you want to believe that you are not sick, once you are sick, you really are sick. Well, of course there are psychosomatic illnesses, and in this case it is evident that what counts is realizing that you are not ill.

What is it, then, that helps, as the years go by? Intellectual curiosity, interest for traveling or-? 

There are still many things I want to do. If my age allowed it, I would go to the moon tomorrow. I’d really like to see these new worlds, to see what they are all about – to see, for example if they have new colors. It could be so, you know? There might even be new forms of life. It would be extraordinary! These new landscapes, these new views shown in the photographs taken by the astronauts are of exceptional interest to me. Right after finishing Blow-Up, I took a long trip to the States and I went to Cape Kennedy. They put on me that equipment they use to simulate lunar landings. That experience was unique. It was one of the best experiences of my life to find myself up there, pretending to land on the moon.

New things are all­

–  exciting, very exciting. For example, I would very much like to experience working with laser. I know that in San Francisco there is a team that is doing it, and I would really like to follow them. That’s why I made The Mystery of Oberwald using only electronic colors – what Coppola says he did, but instead did not do.

What angers you the most? 

Obviously, I am most angered about being the age that I am – that is, seventy years old and no longer young. If I were younger, I would have more time to experiment. Anyway, I will get as far as I can.

Do you like to waste money? 

Do I like to waste money? Well, I would not say that I have this problem: I believe that I spend everything I earn, but I do not think I am being wasteful. I spend for my own enjoyment, but I do not waste anything. I spend – yes, I would call it spending. Yes, I like to spend – of course, when I have the means to do so.

Cinema did not reward you too well? 

Ah, no, not at all. I could have made myself rich, but I didn’t. After Blow-Up – a film that, as you know, earned a lot of money – I had fantastic offers that I refused, because I did not agree with the subjects of the proposed films. Instead, after  Zabriskie Point — a film that did not go over very well – I went through a difficult time. It’s always like that. I could have made a lot of money from the fantastic offers that I had, and then go on to become my own producer. I did not do that. Evidently, I am not a practical man.

Do you think this is one of the mistakes you made in your life? 

I would say so.

Do you regret other things? 

Many. But I prefer not to think about them.

Do you feel any remorse? 

I know the answer to this question, but I will not tell you – I cannot tell you. I did something evil once that could have been avoided. But I can not talk about it.

What is missing from your “adventure”? 

Oh, my goodness, what a diffIcult question! Well, I do not even know how to respond. I cannot say that I have had everything I wanted. But I cannot complain either. I don’t know what I am missing – maybe I am missing a bit of madness, that’s it.


“Professione contro,” from If  Messaggero 3I August 1983.

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