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Artistic Director's Blog
Sergio Castellitto

Artistic Director's Blog
Sergio Castellitto

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Sergio Castellitto is a familiar face for Italian viewers because of his frequent appearances in popular TV series based on the lives of iconic figures in modern Italian history (Fausto Coppi, Don Milano, Padre Pio, Enzo Ferrari), while outside Italy he is better known from his performances in both big-budget movies – The Chronicles of Narnia, Le Grand Bleu (The Big Blue) – and arthouse pictures like Marco Ferreri’s La carne (The Flesh) and Concorrenza sleale (Unfair Competition) by Ettore Scola. Popular wisdom has it that mainstream and auteur cinema must necessarily be two separate worlds, but Sergio Castellitto’s career to date offers living proof that the distinction does not necessarily hold true. Which is the reason why, as part of my first festival at Locarno, I take pleasure in paying tribute to the work of a theater actor who has always played at crossing borders, both the geographical frontiers of Italy and conceptual confines such as the line between acting and directing. It’s a way of reminding us – and myself first and foremost – that film is a transverse art: a form of entertainment which becomes culture because it manages to express the deep-running currents of a people and an age. The cinema we love is the kind that can be effective in multiple registers, the kind that is accessible both to the moviegoer who wants a good night out and to the erudite cinephile. From Hawks to Eastwood, from Cukor to Lasseter, film is still trying today – even in a period of extreme fragmentation – to hold up a mirror to the world and all its complex diversity. Unduly weighty comparisons would be out of place here, but I do think that in the course of what is already a long career Sergio Castellitto has offered proof not only of unusual skill in dealing with subjects and personalities that are remote, diverse and difficult, but also of a determination to steer a tricky course as described above.

Even amid the present-day trends toward excessive differentiation of product and the corresponding diversification of audience segments, Castellitto tries to be consistent. This applies to high-impact TV series such as In Treatment, too: an underlying tone is set throughout the work – I would call it a kind resistance to realism – and the actor-director seems perfectly attuned to it. (Incidentally, it may also be the reason why the series did not go down well with real-life psychotherapists.) This dimension comes out most clearly, however, in his films for the cinema, especially those made by directors with a full awareness of the medium. I’m thinking in particular of the two films made with Marco Bellocchio, especially the character of Ernesto in the excellent L’ora di religione (My Mother’s Smile), but also his work with Jacques Rivette, and the way in which the wanderer figure gradually becomes anti-realistic in character. What is certain is that the presence of the theatre in Va savoir (Who Knows, 2001) and the circus in 36 Vues sur Pic Saint-Loup(Around a Small Mountain, 2009) helps to shift the narrative onto another level; all the same, in my view, what lends the films their ‘lunar’ dimension ­– something not seen for many years in Rivette – is Castellitto’s own presence. In Libero Burro (1999), for instance, the narrative is built around a learning curve set along the North-South axis of Italy, but leaving plenty of room for intrusions on an off-key but felicitous note that has no direct link to narrative demands, despite the grotesque vein of the tale, but cannot be reduced either to mere exposition of the main character.

No examination of Castellitto’s directing career can afford to ignore his artistic relationship with his wife, the writer Margaret Mazzantini, but their collaboration is so tightly bonded as to make their individual contributions and contaminations indistinguishable. Narrative form provides the solid foundation on which to apply a register which is comic or dramatic by turns; seen together, however, the four films directed by Castellitto are revealed as following a single path, as if on an extended journey. It would be out of place to speak of a project aiming to build up a biography of an imaginary character.  But, in my view, the need to construct oneself in respect of the place where one has ended up living, in Libero Burro, the rapport between work and private life, in Non ti muovere (Don’t Move), and the always precarious definition of a family identity in La bellezza del somaro (Love & Slaps) lend support to the biological and sentimental development of an individual. Or rather of a couple. In that perspective,Venuto al mondo (Twice Born) appears as a kind of Chapter None, a kind of parallel genesis in which a past is imagined, at one and the same time, as if it had both already happened and yet were still to come. In this sense it is also his most complex and risky picture – and one that runs counter to expectations, too, inasmuch as heading East these days is never a simple or straightforward matter. It may also be his most difficult – and precious – film for us to take.

Carlo Chatrian
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