Backstage with Andrea Porporati
Italy's New Filmmaking Star
September 7, 2007

By Eric J. Lyman

Italy has one of Europe's richest cinematic histories. But by the 1970s, after two successive generations
of legendary directors -- including
Vittorio DeSica, Luchino Visconti and Roberto Rossellini in the
1940s and '50s, and
Pier Paolo Pasolini and Federico Fellini in the 1960s -- the Italian film industry
was languishing, producing scores of simple and unimaginative films.

In recent years, however, Italian cinema has begun a comeback, drawing increasing numbers of
moviegoers and attracting new critical acclaim. The film renaissance has been led by a few key veteran
auteurs, such as
Nanni Moretti and Marco Bellocchio, as well as a troupe of talented new directors
under the age of 50. Three of them --
Paolo Franchi, Vincenzo Marra and Andrea Porporati -- have
films vying for the prestigious Golden Lion Award to be presented on Saturday at the Venice Film
Festival.

Of the trio, the 43-year-old Mr. Porporati has followed the most unusual course to Venice. An
intellectual who started out with little interest in making films, Mr. Porporati, a native of Rome, made a
name for himself with a pair of acclaimed but weighty novels, "La Felicit Impura" ("Impure Happiness")
in 1990 and "Nessun Dolore" ("No Pain") three years later. Soon after, he began dabbling in
screenwriting and then dedicated himself full-time to the craft. In 2001, he directed his first film, the
well-received "La Sole Negli Occhi" ("The Sun in the Eyes"), a Dostoevskian story of a troubled son
who murders his father.

"Il Dolce e L'Amaro" ("The Sweet and the Bitter"), Mr. Porporati's second film, had its world premiere
Tuesday on the Venice Lido. The movie is a psychological examination of Saro Scordia (played by
Luigi Lo Cascio), a small-time member of the Sicilian Mafia who turns into an informer in order to
build a life with Ada (
Donatella Finocchiaro), who left him and moved north because she didn't
approve of his life of crime.The film's title refers to a Sicilian adage about accepting fate -- based on the
idea that life offers things "sweet and bitter" and that a person must accept both.

Mr. Porporati spoke with
Eric J. Lyman on the sidelines of the Venice Film Festival.

Q: How did this film come about? Is it inspired by a true story or fictional?

There are a lot of real stories that combined to inspire it. I didn't want to base it on one story because if
you do that you're sure to get it wrong. But if you base it on pieces of many stories then you can
capture an element of the truth.

    Q: Tell me about some of the real stories the film is based on.

    Well, there are the stories about [Giovanni] Falcone and [Paolo] Borsallino
    [two anti-Mafia magistrates assassinated in Sicily in 1992] and many other
    less-known judges who were murdered. But the stories that interested me
    the most were about Mafia informers. To make this film I read many, many
    biographies of these people and one common denominator in their stories is
    that after they become informers and go into hiding there comes an
    unavoidable crisis of self-doubt.

    Q: Why are filmmakers so attracted to telling stories involving the Mafia?

    I think there is a kind of Nazi quality to the Mafia that makes it fascinating.
    The Mafiosi are like wolves among sheep. When a person is selected he is
    told that he is one of the wolves, that he is not like the others. But if you are
    a wolf you have to accept that eventually you will come across another
    wolf that is more ferocious than you are and he will try to kill you.

Q: There's also a love story in the film. Is that based on a true story or is that also an amalgam of
other stories?

Actually, that part is completely made up but I think it rings true. Saro, the protagonist, is a small-time
Mafia operative and then we created a normal woman as his girlfriend, someone who simply wants a
normal life. And then we stepped back to see what would happen naturally given the set of
circumstances. As we know, the Mafia is so masculine that the role of a woman is completely
incompatible with it. To stay with him, she could only choose to close her eyes and pretend that what
was happening was not happening. But, instead, she told Saro, I love you but I cannot be with you.

Q: How did a Roman end up making a film about the Sicilian Mafia?

Really, this film isn't about the Mafia. The Mafia is just a convention. The film is really about what's
going on inside the head of the main character, who happens to be part of the Mafia. But Saro's
problems are problems everyone has, though they are much less dramatic for most people.

I, for one, have spent my whole life trying to protect myself. Sometimes I build a wall around me and I
decide who I should let in. I worry about status, comfort, the future. Sometimes I attack to prevent
being attacked. Everyone does this. But after years of psychoanalysis I've realized that, in the end, this
kind of defense makes you more vulnerable...It certainly doesn't make you happy. If I believe that
because I got rained on the whole day was ruined, then a lot of my days will be ruined. But if I just
accept the rain and the fact that it's going to get me wet some days, I have a better chance of being
happy. To a very extreme extent, this battle about how to react and what to accept in life is the story of
Saro.

Q: What do you think has been the impact on the Italian psyche that comes from accepting the
Mafia as part of what defines Italy? And why do you think the Mafia rose up in Italy and not
elsewhere?

The concept of the Mafia is such an ingrained part of Italy that the impact is hard to measure. But it's
important to note that organized crime isn't an entirely Italian phenomenon. There are similar
organizations in Russia, China, and of course in the U.S. The Mafia isn't ethnic; it's sociological and
social. It's a group of people bound by the idea that the law doesn't apply to them. The difference is that
these conditions exist -- or at least they existed -- in Italy to a greater degree than they did elsewhere.
Italy has been a country for less than 150 years. The country has always been very divided, and so
there's a tradition of one part pitted against another. For a long time foreigners governed the country and
these groups could stand up against that authority as well.

Q: You started out as a novelist. Could you have guessed at the start that you would end up later in
your career as a film director?

Oh of course not! I never thought I could reach that height. I felt like film directors were giants, people
like Fellini or Passolini. There were wonderful foreign directors I looked up to like [Martin]
Scorsese or
[Brian]
De Palma, who has one of the other films in competition here in Venice ("Redacted," a faux
documentary about the war in Iraq). The fact that my film and De Palma's film are in the same
competition in Venice still seems unbelievable to me.

Q: The evolution from a writer to a screenwriter is fairly common. But how did the transformation
from a writer into a film director take place?

When I was younger I was convinced I would remain a novelist. I did some ghost writing and a little
screenwriting on the side, just to pay the bills. But writing is such a solitary process that it became
unenjoyable. What I love about making a film is the collaborative aspect of it. The advantage to writing a
book is that it's a complete product once it's written; it stands on its own but it also must be created on
its own. A script is like the blueprints for a house, and the work of a director is like the work of the
builder. Actors and behind the camera staff all play a part, and everyone has to do their share in order
for the project to succeed.

Q: It's been 14 years since your last book was published. Do you think you'll ever write another novel?

I'll never say never. But I will say the process is less attractive to me now. It's too solitary for my tastes.

Q: After a weak period in the 1980s and 1990s, Italian film is on the rise again now. How do you see
the state of the industry?

One problem that Italian films have is that they're necessarily made for a relatively small domestic
market. How many potential viewers are there for an English-language film? And how many potential
viewers speak Italian? Because of that small market, Italian budgets are smaller and the industry itself
has become very tied to television, which is not the healthiest state.

The situation is also generational. People of my parents' generation are part of a world that doesn't exist
any more. And people a lot younger than me are part of a world that is still in development; we don't
know what it is yet. There were aspects and values from the old world that remained unchanged since
the time of Homer up until the 1940s and 1950s. But now it's completely different, and the change is
like telling a painter that the colors he's always used are no longer available. I think these artistic
growing pains were experienced in the U.S. in the 1970s, and in Italy they came 20 years later. We're
just emerging from it now, which is obviously to the benefit of Italian cinema.
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