Lunch with Stella Maris
An interview with Giacomo Abbruzzese, director of Stella Maris
At what moment during the process of making this film did you decide on Italy as the setting? Could it have taken place elsewhere?
The film was inspired from the image of the arrival of a Madonna statue on a beach in Polignano a Mare, in the Apulia region. It is also a film linked to my childhood memories in Italy when my parents and I went to religious processions which possessed something frightening yet beautiful at the same time. So, no, for me this film could not have taken place elsewhere.
Stella Maris asks questions on several different levels. To what extent did you want to address the theme of freedom of speech?
It is one of the subjects of the film, one of the stories and themes throughout the film. I was inspired by the FAME street art festival which years ago had invited street artists to a small village in the south of Italy. The villagers were shocked, especially by the illegal and provocative nature of the mural paintings. This seemed like an interesting theme, a modern-day “counter-story” as opposed to the immutable procession.
Above all, Stella Maris questions Power, its different forms and its application. What brought you to address this theme?
The question of power is at the foundation of our societies, so it is normal to address it through art and film. In Stella Maris, I wanted all the characters with institutional power (the mayor, prosecutor, judge, priest…) to be interpreted by acting professionals, and all the other characters to be played by non-professional actors. It is also in the way we speak and move that the question of power arises.
Certain representations, like sexual drawings, are they forbidden in Italy? What place does Religion hold within the society?
They are forbidden in Italy as they are in France and elsewhere. There is not a place where we can freely draw penises in a public space without permission… With regard to the place of religion in society, the Christian tradition is obviously much more present in Italy than in France. Religion has a presence not only in the individual’s spiritual and individual world but directly in the collective organization of society. Examples of this are same-sex adoption and abortion. However, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between religion and all that is linked to the traditions of a people, or a subgroup of people.
In Stella Maris, you played on the caricatures of figures in the traditional rural community: the mayor, the inhabitants, the village girls… How did you imagine these characters and why did you portray them as caricatures?
In fact, this is one of the reasons why this film works everywhere except in Italy. It is always a bit hard to see ourselves as caricatures… I wanted to search through the caricatures of archetypal characters. My films are made with character-concepts more that “psychologized” characters. I’m not interested in being realistic. I create parallel worlds with their own rules, and slightly out of phase. They are worlds different from our own, but which tell us something about our own world.
In Stella Maris, you stage the question of the artist-activist. Do you consider yourself to be one of them? How do you relate to that concept and its representatives?
I have always feared the question of the artist-activist. I have the feeling that people apply a label to me, and I despise that. I think that many “activist” films are films based on a thesis that merely looks to confirm the certitudes of their audience. They are films of goodwill, where the poor are good and docile, where the world opens up to an easy reading, and which comfort us in our ideas. I try to shake up our certitudes, to make films that are divisive, to push activism into areas where there can be no consensus, where contradiction is revealed.
Stella Maris plays with darkness and light, which, despite its charm, proves to be dangerous. Why did you decide to make light seen as dangerous?
Cinema is light on black. It is an unveiling. It is the opposite of TV, where we already see everything, where everything is lit up. The cinema is erotic, the TV is porno. When I make films, I like to play with the light. I love the night, at the cinema and in life. It leaves more to the imagination, to mystery. But in every mystery, there is attraction and there is danger. It has been this way since Prometheus.
Stella Maris also deals with the question of resistance, guilt and expedited justice. Did you have a political cause in mind before making the film or did it evolve as you made the film?
I don’t write based on a program like I imagine many others do. I don’t say to myself: I am going to make a film about resistance and guilt. But there are things that have marked us, things we think about, and visions. On this matter, I was very impressed by the story of a no-TAV activist (the Italian movement against the construction of a high-speed train between Turin and Lyon) who, during a demonstration, as the police were charging, a bit as a final gesture, a bit by desperation, climbed a pole all the way to the high-voltage wires and got electrocuted. It was a miracle that he survived after several months in a coma.
Stella Maris was produced in France. In your opinion, what does French short film production have that the others don’t?
This film would never have been possible with only Italian funds. There isn’t really a short film tradition in Italy. There isn’t much money for that. But that is generally the situation for almost all art and experimental films today, feature-length films included. It’s very difficult to raise the funds without France. Moreover, it is mainly in France that there is an audience for these films. Long live the cultural exception!
Programme for viewing Stella Maris: National Competition F10.