I had the pleasure to talk with Laura Bispuri about her latest movie, Daughter of Mine, that was screened at the Berlin Film Festival, at Tribeca Film Festival, and will be at AFI Festival in November.
Laura, who is an advisory board member of We Do It Together – a nonprofit organization that produces movies and media content by women, about women but for everyone – has told me about being a woman director in Italy and uproot all the prejudices and stereotypes about women: in the film industry as well as in everyday life.
QUESTION: The first thing that comes to mind, when watching both Sworn Virgin and Daughter of Mine, is the centrality of female partnerships. This happens in front of the camera, with the two leading protagonists, and behind, thanks to your collaboration with Alba Rohrwacher. How important is it, for you, to collaborate with women?
ANSWER: It’s a milestone of my belief. I believe it in life, and the way I decide to live it, and it’s a political belief too. I truly believe in the cohesion between women, it’s one of the things that scare people the most. We can really change everything with it. This collaboration is the thread in both my films: the women I portray are not related by blood, but they are somehow still deeply connected one to the other.
Q: You made maternity a macroscopic concept that often, especially in Italy, is still only interpreted in a very micro way – mother is the one who gives birth and raises her children.
A: One of the hardest things was to have three different points of view, but this was exactly what I wanted: not to define maternity in one standard way, but to create an emotional magma, where every woman can become mother and daughter of the other two. There are several scenes where we understand that there is a past where Tina (Valeria Golino) has always taken care of Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher). I like a lot a scene where Tina pays a visit to Angelica at the pier – here it’s Angelica who takes care of Tina for the first time. Even Vittoria (Sara Casu), who is a kid, at the end becomes mother to the two others herself.
Q: Always talking about women, you are in the board of WDIT. Why did you become part of it, and what do you think of all these current movements like Me Too and Time’s Up?
A: Even before the marvelous explosion of these movements, I have been working on these subjects for a long time. In Italy, every three days a woman dies. But violence is not just physical, it hides in the details. I personally think that it’s because these injustices start inside, in the house, in the intimacy of our lives where women are expected to cook the pasta and be criticized if it’s sciapa (unsalted). There is still a very hard time to define the problem and make people see it as such. All my shorts that I shot before Sworn Virgin are about an investigation on women. It’s a path that belongs to me and the one I have decided to always support.
Q: Have you personally ever struggled, as a female director?
A: There is this spread idea that even if a woman director and a man director are at the same level, a man is seen as a genius and the woman is a good director. This happens all the time. I have always found myself, even in official situations, where people would rather comment on women as objects, rather than on what we do. Sometimes you feel like it’s you against the world, and it’s daily, in the small things – in the critique that men throw at you, for example.
Q: Did this happen with Daughter of Mine?
A: With Daughter of Mine, there have been some Italian critics that have said that it wasn’t right that men, in this movie, were just in the background. At the beginning, I was furious. Then, I felt like laughing, and now I am trying to use this critique to support what I believe in. Imagine where we are standing in Italy, right now. The movie was criticized because women are the protagonists. It’s a struggle, it’s a big struggle. But I feel like supporting this historical phase with all my might. It started from the United States, but it’s spreading all around the world, and this is what I hope: that we can come together all of us, from around the world, towards a common goal.
Q: Both in Sworn Virgin and Daughter of Mine, the main location becomes a character itself. In the former, the mountains have an immensity that it’s almost scary, while in the latter there is a dry land that well matches the desolation of the spirits of these characters. The fact, moreover, that we know that the sea is there but we actually never see it enforces this parallelism. Is the story that suggests you the locations, or does it happen the other way around?
A: I always spend a lot of time on the locations and it becomes part of the writing phase. For Sworn Virgin, it had to be in Albania because that’s where the sworn virgins are. I spent two years researching the location: I have been traveling there, I read books and I would listen to Albanese music all the time until I immersed myself in that world. For Daughter of Mine I felt that it should have been set in Sardinia. I think it was a sort of emotional path because I used to go there when I was a kid, and I then took my daughter as well. Once I instinctively decided that that was the place, I started studying it as I did for Sworn Virgin. I found several connections between the land and the story and Sardinia started influencing the script. The feeling in Sardinia, is very strange. It’s an island that questions its relationship with what doesn’t belong there. The fact that in Sardinia there is such a strong identity, but at the same time an equally strong need to look for it and define it, felt exactly like the characters I wanted to portray. It is a 2-year process: we write a first script, then I go and visit the places, then I come back and I share everything with my writer partner (Francesca Manieri) and we write another draft. Then I leave again, and come back again with new information and feelings that we put in a new draft. This goes on and on until it feels ready. For me, these journeys are part of making the movie – I couldn’t shoot something that I haven’t lived and studied with this process.