In the midst of his third artistic life, that as a director, after his theatrical debut (“In Livorno we had set up a company”) and the long intermezzo as a screenwriter for others (his signature is in Virzì’s greatest successes), Francesco Bruni he had a revelation: “I think Catholics like me.”
He says it softly, betraying more curiosity than dismay. The impression is that she accepted this interview also to ask us about it. After all, The Film Magazine has never made a secret of it: three important awards in just over ten years – Revelation Award to Filippo Scicchitano for Shawl! in 2011; Navicella Italian Cinema Award a What will be in 2020; the Premio Navicella Serie a Everything asks for salvation a month ago – they go beyond the certificate of esteem. Bruni likes it. And not because he is a decent person – he is – and not even because his work is a useful support for Sunday afternoon catechism: “I still consider myself an atheist”, he reiterates. No, there’s more. And he admits it himself: “It’s as if you were telling me that there is something strongly spiritual in my cinema”.
Your work has a soul.
“This thing strikes me a lot. It reminds me of a teaching from my great teacher, Furio Scarpelli: ‘It doesn’t matter the money, the special effects, the bombastic stories. Your films must have a soul’. I have always understood it as the ‘have a deep thought about the world and people. But maybe there’s more to it.’
“A form of spirituality. I wasn’t fully aware of it until What will be. A breakthrough title. In that moment of my experience I really questioned myself. Not arriving at faith, this is not, but changing perspective on things. For the first time I felt, strongly, the feeling that my time wasn’t unlimited. At one point I signed a document telling me how many chances I had of dying. This redefined the world around me, the people I thought were friends and weren’t anymore, the ones I ignored and got closer instead. Suddenly I made a clean sweep of a series of thoughts, frustrations, bad moods that had marked me up to that point.”
Saint Teresa of Lisieux spoke of illness as a moment of spiritual purification.
“The disease is a part of me. In February it will be five years since it manifested itself. Afterwards, it is said, the chances of a recurrence are extremely low but I prefer not to believe it. I want to continue working thinking I have this possibility inside me. The doctor told me something I will never forget: ‘Never say you have defeated the cancer. Say she’s in remission.’ He makes me imagine him as a creature who, after taking so many blows, has holed up somewhere. But she’s not dead.”
Where others prefer to remove, you want to remember instead.
“Decidedly. Everything I do now must have an important meaning. I’ve worked a lot in my life, I’ve also done things that don’t represent me, that don’t say anything significant, pure entertainment. Now I don’t want to anymore.”
The discourse on fragility as an experience of strength is a constant in your work. And he is very courageous in an era that wants to deny fragility instead.
“Fragility is a virtue. It’s a concept that connects What will be to Everything asks for salvation. It is something that I feel deeply mine, that belongs to me. I find today’s warrior rhetoric very annoying, a deep offense against those who can’t make it. Who is it that doesn’t fight not to survive? This thing is part of a prevailing, deleterious culture that feeds itself also and above all through social media. A rhetoric that requires winners. When you come up with a script, they often ask you what your character’s superpower is. In the case of the protagonist of Everything asks for salvation the superpower was, for example, fragility, sensitivity, the inability to protect oneself from pain. In general, however, we continue to dream about the superman.
We are still children of Nietzsche. Let’s think about the painful story of Vialli. We have read of the stubbornness with which he faced the disease, only to forget that he is dead. It is as if today a fundamental anthropological component is missing, which integrates the experience of death into man’s horizon.
“I often think about it instead. What will I leave, when I go, is now my mantra. Even in this world of entertainment. Faced with a system that wants you to be performing, successful. Behind this rhetoric of the superman we often forget that there are people. In private, however, things change. Some time ago Kim Rossi Stuart told me about when Mihajlovic, who was a bit the emblem of the warrior, told him he had seen so many times What will be. It is something that struck me a lot.
To future priests the Holy Father said: “Not supermen, but with a heart in the rhythm of that of Jesus”.
“Pope Francis is a figure that I admire totally and uncritically. He is one of those people who have impressed me a lot in recent years. The other is Don Matteo Zuppi. I had a rather intense relationship with him: he allowed me to shoot All that you want in Santa Maria in Trastevere. He came to introduce it in Piazza San Cosimato, we wrote to each other many times, he always saw my films, he reviewed them, so to speak, affectionately. ”
The other big clot of spirituality that we recognize in your work is the theme of relationships. We are saved together.
“It’s also the way I conceive the set: a place for relationships. My ideal would be to have the actors available for the entire shooting time. This thing is difficult today. They all work so hard! However, in Anzio, where we shot Everything asks for salvation, this thing was created. We all stayed there, slept there, went to dinner together. An affectionate atmosphere was created which still persists. There are familiar elements in all the things I have done: apart from my wife, Raffaella Lebboroni, there is my son in All that you want. His are the music in Everything asks for salvation. My daughter did the casting of What will be and of Everything asks for salvation. And there are actors who are now family to me, like Lorenza Indovina and Fotinì Peluso. People with whom the relationship is not only professional. For me the word professional is very harmful, it excludes the emotional element. I am very attached to my actors. When I see them on another set, after they’ve worked with me, I have a jealous attack.”
About Everything asks for salvationdid you know that the author of the book, Daniele Mencarelli, is a point of reference for Catholics?
“When I read the book I didn’t know anything about him. Reviewing the series, however, I realized how many symbols and moments of spirituality there were. When Federico Cesari reads poetry in church, there is a crucifix behind him and he somehow it fills it up, it replaces it. I hadn’t thought about it while walking around. I realized it later.”
The title already expresses the cornerstone of Christianity: faith in that God who would like to save everything, imposing man’s freedom as a limit.
“In Shawl! we talk about mercyunderstood as looking at the other, listening, attention, care. This is what Bentivoglio tries to teach Scicchitano’s character when he says “respect”, meaning something profoundly different from what the boy imagines, that is, respect in the manner of criminals. Later I discovered that Virgil, who is the subject of contention between the two, was much loved in the proto-Christian sphere, on the basis of the fact that in the fourth eclogue he speaks of the puer divinuswhich for the communities of the time was a sort of anticipation of the coming of Christ.”
You quote Virgil and think of Aeneas and Anchises: the image of him carrying his old father on his shoulders is a very strong image, which we find in the relationship between the young Carpenzano and the elderly Montaldo di All that you want and, with reversed parts, between Bentivoglio and Scicchitano in Shawl!
“Virgil is an author that I love very much, also for the new feeling he brought to literature. A feeling that was not present until then: Aeneas is the pious, meek, non-violent hero, somehow full of doubts.”
Here your studies in classics come out. Thesis on Virgil?
“No, on the neo-Hittite kingdoms in Anatolia. But of the university experience in Pisa I remember above all the Arsenale, which was 200 meters from my house. I spent the whole day there and I saw many wonderful films there.”
So begins your apprenticeship in cinema?
“No, it begins in a parish in Milan, Sant’Ildefonso, where I grew up. It had a cinema, the Orizzonte cinetheater which showed swashbuckling films on Sunday afternoons. There was a very avant-garde priest there, Don Lanfranco, who made a cineforum for adults. I remember that my parents went to see Pasolini, demanding stuff which they then talked about at home. That was my imprinting.”
And the first film that opened up a world to you?
“Nashville by Robert Altman, which I saw when I was 13. My father took me. Mine were open-minded, English-speaking parents. My father worked for Arthur Andersen, an American consulting firm. In our house there was a lot of American music, American books. My apprenticeship in cinema continued in Livorno, where I met Paolo Virzì. There was a movie theater there, The 4 died, where I started doing theater. First in amateur dramatic companies, working as assistant set designer. Then with Virzì we set up our own theater company, Space theater. We set up a text by Virzì directed by me. We have also tried to do experimental theatre: Pinter, Mamet. This is why I love cinema with dialogue, the characters. If there is good dialogue for me the interpreters can sit and talk for five minutes, that’s no problem. I don’t feel the need to move the car. For me the actors are the polar stars of the staging. Along with the script.”
You used to write mostly for others.
“And I would like to go back to it, but they don’t call me. There is this fact that once you are a director you are no longer considered as someone who can serve another director, but a competitor. It is a silly thing. But perhaps with Virzì we will start again.”
What cinema does Francesco Bruni like?
“Communicative on several levels. Simple in its exposition and empathic. A cinema that perhaps the critics do not appreciate, thinking that complexity and artificiality are synonymous with quality. Even if I personally have always had an excellent relationship with the critics. Festivals, however , compared to a simple, communicative, “large” cinema, they have a certain foreclosure. I suffered it. Shawl! my films have never been taken, except for What will be in Rome. This thing makes me suffer a little. I think simplicity, which is a point of arrival, is exchanged for banality.”
Which other directors would you like to work with?
“Martone and Bellocchio. Both, despite being openly secular, have an extraordinary ability to introspect the human soul.”
What about directing a script that’s not yours?
“I couldn’t do it. I’d be a mediocre director. Without inspiration my technique doesn’t exist. I feel like an author in the old-fashioned way: while I’m writing I imagine.”
What is your opinion on the platforms, now that you’ve worked on them?
“The platforms are already in their mature stage of development. Today their offer is not only rich in quantitative terms. There is a lot of quality. The seriality then gives you the opportunity to work in depth on the story, to explore the characters that cinema you are often forced to leave even when you don’t want to. Watching it in theaters, however, is another thing. When we did the preview at the cinema of Everything asks for salvation I was struck by the power of the image and sound. Not a fly was flying. I would like to go back to the cinema. Hoping to find them still open.