In what ‘epoch’ do we dream, which shape do our desires wear?
And does exploitation, the pursuit of well-being have the privilege of one century over another?
History – and the histories – do certainly tell us that the class struggle has gone unharmed by changes in the labor market (and even prevarication).
Martin Eden was written by Jack London and for many literary critics of his time contains a strong autobiographical vein.
A poorly educated sailor is passionate about reading and becomes an established writer (and before that, also a highly acclaimed thinker in the philosophical debates of the time), although few would have ever bet on him, not even the beloved upper-class young lady with whom he is engaged .
He will end up suicidal, right in the sea that represented his livelihood, after having achieved the success he wanted but in which he was lost – having lost self-respect first and then his creative vein.
The first who tried to make a (silent) film from the novel was the American director and producer Hobart Bosworth in 1914 (five years after the release of the novel).
The last to adapt (very freely) the novel for the cinema is Pietro Marcello: tormented by its complexity and by the poetry that adds to that of mr London.
So far he had always made documentaries – certainly unique in its kind, but still documentaries. It’s his first fiction film.
The film travels continuously over time and none of you will feel lost, you will also move – without a theme – feeling light and powerful at the same time.
As if ghosts, you will have an extraordinary introspective power, do not be afraid of it!
The plot is very political but the register is intimate: it winds next to and in the midst of great love stories.
That of a man for the woman who tore his eyes making him unable to see any other, that of a sister for his younger brother who despite his mistreated life. That of a stranger who opens her door and her heart and her young family to a being, just as young but tormented, who meets on a train.
All these loves will be unconditional, except one: the one between Martin Eden and Elena (the upper-class young girlfriend), who must learn to love each other, because they never loved each other.
The glue of this eight-wheeler of volcanic sentiments is Naples, which is all gem and contains everything (suddenly, among the thousand faces that intersect with the gigantic one by Luca Marinelli / Martin Eden, that of Pietro Marcello, the director also appears) .
The port city is heaven and hell, high society and the desperate, the forge of the right as of the left: in it holds and disputes all the evils of the world and, together, the vertices of feelings. And it is the best stage to talk about social redemption through self-enhancement and culture, the only tool that puts every people in a position to find a better path than the one they come from.
What you will always remember is the film’s patina: an alchemy of grains of light and never-before-seen perspectives.
I met on skype Maurizio Braucci, one of the Neapolitan writers of the movie: we have known each other for years because of the civic and social movements crossing Italy in the 90s of which I was part too.
I already appreciated Maurizio’s writing style in the short stories, in the reportages, in the books, in the theater and lastly in the cinema that for over 15 years he has brought on screen as a screenwriter and adapter of great classics or novels that have, it is appropriate to say, contributed to rewrite the literary genres and the ‘labels’ you find on the shelves when you turn in your favorite bookstores.
Great activist and thinker – according to him not good at mediating but I disagree – he tells about himself starting from his last movie, Martin Eden, recipient of the International Jury Award at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival).
Your life from where it starts, in a few lines.
Your civil commitment has taken many forms, not only with the pedagogical theatrical project with non-professional actors (Arrevuoto) but with what I remember most vividly as the most extraordinary season for culture and city cohesion.
I speak of DAMM (Diego Armando Maradona Montesanto) which is still found today in one of the sweetest and most wonderful neighborhoods – even ferocious – of Naples (Montesanto, where you were born). What gave you the boost and what do you keep from that experience?
Born and raised, in fact, in Naples, I often walk away – for work: Rome for cinema, Milan for teaching.
Both Pietro (Marcello) and I come from an experience of ‘roots’ movement, which you also lived. In 1995 we occupied this park and with our work we returned it to the city. I no longer collaborate with because I leave room for the younger ones.
Now the DAMM is an open reality, with lots of institutions and associations keeping it alive. As industrious and lively the whole neighborhood is.
What you say about Montesanto … um, I don’t know.
I think those who lived it feel it, not who just went through it. These today’s realities of social cohesion and cultural production are so camouflaged in the reality that those who are only met by who does explore them. You really need to know the neighborhood to know that there is the Sgarrupato, the DAMM itself, the Scugnizzo, the Chiesa delle Scalze and various other realities. We also invited the Louise Michel Center for Libertarian Studies to the Neapolitan screening of Martin Eden to say that we considered the film an appendix to these experiences.
If you remember those early years, in the movement we were already a ‘case’, we always stood out because oriented towards representing (that is, making possible) many languages but above all, despite having a strong political base, we were more dedicated to doing activities directly in the society living texture, especially with youngsters. I remember Luca Rossomando, with Monitor that comes from the DAMM. We have made all colors of theater, music and contemporary art!
Further to be a place where gigantic artistic productions for all the city happened (and will remain so for years to come!), it was above all a meeting point for people of all ages, I remember the great parties but also the afternoon Sundays with tea and little ones act …
That was the part that the public lived the most, but above all we worked on the everyday life of the inhabitants and on the relationship with the neighborhood.
Beyond the fact that there was also Pietro in those years, I have always been struck by the DAMM as a method: it has remained unique …
There are many social centers, not only in Naples, which are now called liberated spaces, rightly: freed from abandonment, from not being places for the city. All these activities are now linked by direct work in their neighborhood for people who need support most.
I recently visited the former OPG, which struck me not only from the artistic side but from the quality of the (free) training courses it provides
For example, they also established themselves as a political entity with Power to the People, which was a party to the recent national political elections …
Your passion for writing comes from afar (from fiction and journalism) before taking the path of cinema. What exactly led you to moving images and why?
You started with the first film by the Caserta director Pietro Marcello, with which you have finally signed the script of Martin Eden winning also at TIFF … which so far seems to be your favorite direction: to adapt a great novel for the cinema.
You did it also with Gomorra (by Roberto Saviano) and lastly, before Martin Eden by Jack London, with another text by Saviano that earned you the Silver Bear in Berlin, La Paranza dei bambini
I think today’s literature is typically contaminated by various other genres, for example do think of journalism or literary reports. In fact it is not that they were invented in these years: these writings are of ancient tradition from Checov onwards, even thinking of London himself. Narrations of excerpts taken from the real world which rests unknown to many because marginal.
I express what my time expresses.
The cinema, perhaps, can have a political value more than literature itself if you want: it is for everyone, it reaches everyone.
To meet a book you have really to get to on it while with a movie you can happen to be easier there – not just for choice or a chance but also by word of mouth …
I continued, however, especially in regard to the report and the literary report, to write and I made a booklet last year – Italian unhappiness – which Monitor published, on the current situation of the relationship between Italians and immigrants.
It is true, cinema has become my central activity, but I have not left the others. I simply gave it more space.
Screenplays from very important novels, or from great classics: do you particularly like it?
I happened to make adaptations, this is often requested in the movie industry. Beyond this, I believe that literature is the educational base of people. That’s why in my screenwriting all my literary experiences come very strong. Even today, I form myself with the reading of both classics and contemporaries.
When I teach film writing courses, I always say that literature is the most advanced writing experimentation. Take for example the TV series today: they use techniques (see the cut-up or the stream of consciousness, the narration free from temporal planes) that literature has been adopting for some time and that on the screen are instead considered special innovations.
Recently, at the Venice Film Festival, the president of the jury expressed with much courage and dry words that “the duty of cinema is to start a conversation around the evils of our time, precisely because it is increasingly difficult to converse today”. Following her words, an enormous responsibility derives from those who write about cinema, the most hidden profession in industry (where the most famous faces are those of actors and directors).
Screenwriting is perhaps the most particular along with songwriting. If I dare a parallel, it has the honor and the burden of making the rhythm come out. How do you perform your job? Is it more shared than that of a writer, is it less solitary?
I agree with you very much!
We are very hidden in the profession and in the industry. And we have an enormous responsibility, from many points of view.
The screenwriter rarely writes alone, ours is a writing of passage because then … there is the film.
I was lucky enough to work with good directors who helped me grow and learn but gave value to what I could write.
My working method is a little different from what you are used to if you leave the screenwriting schools, which follow the ‘structuralist’, American, complete, defined one. I am more interested in experimentation and therefore I am willing to take more risks. I also wrote structured films, but always looking for a contribution that comes from the fact that I give a lot of value to literature.
Taking your last two recent adaptations – Martin Eden and Gomorra – you have therefore chosen collectively what were the most relevant parts of the book to bring in the film
It was different: with Gomorra it was a job led by Matteo Garrone (the director) who had an immediately cinematographic vision on that book.
In the case of Martin Eden, Pietro and I worked almost in symbiosis on a book that united us, that we loved and that we love. So it was immediately a bet on something less structured, moreover Pietro does a poetry cinema.
I knew, knowing him, that everything we wrote would have been transformed through his cinema writing and so it was.
Who are your masters if you have any, or have you looked for someone?
Apart from the great writers that all those who love literature have, surely those writers who put their lives into literature.
My writing masters are two great Italian scriptwriters with whom I had the honor of working – Massimo Gaudioso and Ugo Chiti.
What do you feel to give today in Naples, your city and a little the center of your world from which you come and go, and what does Naples give you back?
Many of your film scripts have approached and not moved away from the city, like a theme as strong as that faced with a true story like La Paranza dei Bambini (I saw the movie not in Naples with people not from Naples and everyone had the desire to come and meet the town immediately … maybe nobody ever told you about the story!)
Naples is a common place in Italy. If you want to make a film about politics, you would place it in Rome; if about finance, you would set it up in Milan; if you want to make a pop movie, so, in Naples.
It is full of a special vitality, whatever story we live in there is always a character that is really Naples. So dense, vital, overflowing that you don’t keep it in the background. But it is also true that it’s a metaphor. I happened to often tell stories taken from little-known pieces of the world (childhood, crime but not only) that gained strength from this context. I naturally participated in projects that started from Naples because it seemed to me they took more strength, precisely.
Talking of stimuli towards the world, Naples gives too many, even too many of them.
Stories, stories, stories, faces, faces and faces are stories – and a lot in terms of emotions!
It also clearly gives you an enormous responsibility that is to not stand by and watch. Let us not forget that it is the moral capital of the South, of a Southern Italy that is the great “national issue”.
I speak of an area that has not yet really benefited even from those compensations that economic development and democracy as we have in this society may have brought to other parts of the country. The southern question remains intact and enormous.
I am not surprised, in the end, to observe causes with recurring conditions and problems that are also cultural, anthropological.
As I said, when you decide to stay in Naples, you automatically have at least the responsibility to tell all this.
Living in Naples needs a sort of upgrade while performing your citizenship, it is a place where you need to contribute to the politics of the city because it remains a place with a strong irresolution. The great issue of the city is the lack training of young people in culture and at work, there is so much and too much to do in there!
When I talk to you about this, I also talk about much of the South, since Naples as told is the ‘moral’ capital of the South.
It is also a city that eats a lot of the things it produces. It re-buries them, re-sprouts them, but it seems to me that for example with cinema it is becoming a great reference.
A question about the economy of the film industry. At the last Venice Film Festival the largest figures on productions and co-productions were recorded by Italy and France, two countries that also contributed to the birth of your film. Once again it is a major alliance of European cinema, even if on the distribution side, we are lacking especially in the market of second screenings. How do you see it on the question of funding: will we continue with partnerships between cohesive nations?
It is a very important question because first of all it represents a more general question of Italy’s relationship with Europe (problematic in recent years as well as for other countries).
The European Union remains fundamental but must be rewritten starting from cohesion policies, not acted at all as it has been until now.
Salvation for Italian cinema lies precisely in the international co-productions because in Italy the productive situation is one of the reasons why I told you I always see myself fighting on the barricades.
There are very few real producers with us, many are only directors and mediators of funds for the cinema, which is almost entirely from the state. It follows that there is no real industry for the cinema.
The actual dynamics of public funds surely protects the experimentation but of this situation (whose blanket is already short, we add) some more powerful realities not aiming to make engaged movies take also advantage. Perhaps International relations help those producers and those authors who are more excluded from cinematographic lobbying, which exists in this as in all fields.
Italian distribution remains, however, an unsurpassed stumbling block, given that it is in very few hands. We have never had movie halls with less obvious programming or for the second screening (apart from the film clubs and associations).
Distribution is a big problem and there is also the lobbying issue, also because technologically speaking we are all ready to start new routes – from streaming to the most diffused cinema halls.
It would also be “defensible” those positions of the distributors (for example that the cinema is a bulwark of quality of vision) but the problem is that our halls are not well disposed towards the public, they prefer very commercial policies and therefore exclusionary ones. I would be in favor of keeping things if this halls policy changed, but it didn’t seem to evolve.
I would like to make my debut as a director, bringing to the screen a script (The Broken Fountain) by an American anthropologist, Thomas Belmonte, who wrote about Naples in the 1970s, born from the observation on the field of the culture of poverty and other human issues not only still valid but very beautiful. It is a story that shows how an observer gets lost in the world he undergoes to investigate with his empathy.
A talent you have, one that you lack
What I lack is mediation, I am a person who also experiences many conflicts. Inevitably those things that you see that don’t work between people don’t work even in the workplace. I wish I could mediate more, drop a series of issues etc but I always find myself making battles, clashing with injustice and exploitation and this always makes me a bit standing on the barricade!
Where you see yourself in 10 years?
I have not found a (another) place where I thought of going. But I often leave for work and generally move a lot, maybe that’s why I manage to stay in Naples.
Naples is very stingy, there are few resources managed by a few.
The anarchist experiences in this city are more beautiful. And here we can return to the story of Martin Eden, made by a director from Campania, by a Neapolitan screenwriter. It was the easiest thing to do: to set it in Naples.
What have you learned so far from life
That love is the most important thing: apart from talents and successes, it is the most difficult art.
Cover: The Martin Eden film delegation, Maurizio Braucci is on the left (credits: La Biennale di Venezia, foto ASAC)
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