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Categories: Interviews

Thomas Humphrey chats with the crew behind the innovative documentary “Il Solengo” – directors Alessio Rigo de Righi and Matteo Zoppis, cinematographer Simone D’Arcangelo, and Composer Vittorio Giampietro.

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As the International Film Festival Rotterdam brings its 45th edition to a close, we see yet another brilliant celebration of alternative cinema come to an end. As always, the festival’s attendees have shown a remarkable enjoyment and threshold for some very unusual films, and the festival itself has continued to support innovative filmmakers both with its awards and its Herbert Baals Film Fund.

This year’s newly streamlined Tiger Competition’s award has been handed to Babak Jalali’s nuanced Radio Dreams (a story about a musical Middle Eastern diaspora who try to unite their music legends Kabul Dreams with Metallica) and the Warsteiner Audience Award has gone to Martin Zandvliet’s incredibly moving Land of Mine, a story about German prisoners of war in a post-WWII Denmark.

Though beneath that surface of popular and critical acclaim, there has also floated a number of often surreal, sometimes incredible new cinematic visions. Some of these new perspectives have passed with less attention than they deserve, and Alessio Rigo de Righi and Matteo Zoppis’ sophomore documentary Il Solengo would seem to be a definite example of that.

This innovative feature takes us deep into the heart of a very specific Italian community in a part of the Lazio region called Tuscia. This is real Etruscan territory and seems to carry with it some deep sense of that prehistoric past, something this film really attempts to tap into with a look at an Italian hermit who shuns his society in favour of a rustic life out in the woods. This earns him the nickname of the film’s title, “il solengo” referring to the solitary wild boars who roam the same woods he lives in.

It is how this film explores this individual that really makes it interesting, however. They capture his elusive mysteriousness by almost never filming him, turning instead to the hearsay of the villagers who greet him with distant mistrust. Filled with the wonderful spirit of a hearty conversation over a fine Italian meal and focusing almost exclusively on the process of rumour or myth creation, it is certainly easy to say that this choice to focus on these villagers’ accounts alone takes the film into a fascinating territory for non-fiction filmmaking.

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Equally, Il Solengo is quite clearly a passion project, made with great affection by a small but talented crew. So for that reason, Cinema Jam caught up with the directors, Alessio Rigo de Righi (above left) and Matteo Zoppis (above right), as well as cinematographer Simone D’Arcangelo and Composer Vittorio Giampietro, to ask them how they saw the work they’d done on the film now.

Hopefully the film will be receiving its UK premiere some time soon, but it is early to name any set dates yet.

Did you ever find yourself identifying with the men in your film and with their traditions and experiences?

Matteo: Not really. [Alessio and Matteo both laugh.] I mean, it depends. Of course there were elements of their desire to live in a quite free way that I could maybe relate to. But I think it could be quite naïve somehow to think like that. No, I think it was more that the film has this kind of nostalgia for something that is inherited or far away – or for something that comes from the older generation.

Alessio: There’s a curiosity that drives us, I think. This desire to discover those stories. We want to find new stories that are told in a certain way and by certain kinds of people – all in a certain kind of environment, too.

Do you think this curiosity and nostalgia ever crossed the line into idealising your subjects?

Alessio: I think we totally do in the film, but in a way that those characters do not necessarily represent themselves. Certainly not in a realistic sort of way, because they become these sorts of types of characters in the structure of the film and through their interaction with stuff like what is present in the film’s mise-en-scene.

Matteo: We worked a lot on the distance they would have from the camera when we framed shots. That was one of the main points we discussed with Simone actually: the distance that people had to have from the camera in order for us to create this sense of them being characters. We wanted it to be like they were not really themselves anymore, because they were also sort of playing themselves in this kind of space. That was super important to us.

How did you manage to achieve that?

Matteo: Initially we actually started by filming the movie in a different way – at the very beginning of making the movie. But when we watched it back, we soon realised that the results were not what we were looking for. What we’d captured just seemed confusing to us and we preferred to change it so we could have the people in the film square in front of us, with steady shots. Them talking to us, basically.

So we had to construct that, because it looks like they’re at the table over lunch in the film. It looks like they’re talking to themselves, but they’re actually interacting with us, the viewers.

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How long did it take you to get that kind of approach right, in terms of cinematography?

Simone (Cinematographer): Well we basically shot for two weeks, and then we waited like two to six months before shooting another for about another two weeks, but always just during the weekends. I’d say we nailed a lot of what we wanted in the first two weeks of shooting (and that probably makes 80% of the movie you see now) but it was still pretty difficult.

I’d say we learned pretty quickly that we needed to set things up in a different way during shoots, like Matteo said. But that meant that a chunk of the footage we had before then didn’t work in terms of visual style or in terms of the story, because after that most of the movie became set during the course of a lunch. So if you look closely at the movie, you’ll notice that we actually staged people so it would be clear where they are sat around the table. It’s as if they’re speaking to each other during this kind of lunch.

Then at the end of the film, we move beyond the lunch table, but we still try to keep the whole film united in this kind of single day. This was something we paid close attention to, so at the beginning of the film the sun would just be rising, and then towards the end it’s clear that the quality of light in these scenes is that of the evening. During colour correction we tried hard to make this lighting and the feeling of the passing of the day more realistic. To me it was like we were taking the film on this kind of journey, and that was very interesting.

The camera does also sometimes go on a journey with the characters by walking alongside them.

Simone: That in itself was very difficult to do, because we shot with these big cameras and there was maybe like three or four of us, so sometimes that was very difficult for us. [They all laugh.] Especially when we had to get around in those scenes where we had to follow them walking. We would be sort of hiking up mountains and stuff – but for real – just three people, carrying all that equipment up a mountain, and sometimes it was really heavy stuff, too.

It was necessary for it to have been like that in some ways, though. We were working with people who aren’t used to being filmed, so having a lot of people around them it would have made it really difficult for them to explain themselves or behave naturally. If we’d had a lot of crew, there would have just been something unrealistic about the documentary.

There’s also lots of ways in which you heighten the unrealistic aspects of your film, though.

Alessio: Yes, on set we were trying to keep things as natural as possible for these non-actors, but then at the same time, the film does have this kind of unrealistic world in it. A world which came out of our imagination somehow. Or at least I think this was influenced by our own particular way of seeing those characters and their stories. In some ways it was like a projection of a mix of their memory and our memory too.

Matteo: But then at the same time the place is also very dark somehow. It’s very different from the kind of romantic view we have of places like the countryside in Tuscany around Florence, for example. It’s not like that. The place where we filmed is very dark, very melancholic. You can sense it when you’re there. There’s a strange vibe.

That element came out very early on when we were filming, and we decided to embrace it and take it forward. But that atmosphere definitely exists there a little bit, or at least we think it exists.

Alessio: Yeah, it’s definitely not Tuscany. This part is called Tuscia, and it’s north of Rome.

Matteo: This is really the Etruscan area, and I think something of that vibe is rooted in that past.

Alessio: It definitely has an ancient feeling to it.

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How did you try to capture this atmosphere or the idea of solitude musically in the film?

Vittorio (Composer): We discussed this kind of thing a lot actually, and we decided to break up the music. I was always trying to compose the music in an evocative way, so we have been deconstructing the music in this film since the beginning. That meant that often I would use wood instruments, or just one saxophone.

With the saxophone too, I was always really trying to use it as a melodic instrument, always with just a few notes. At the beginning for example, you hear just a few fragments of brass. It is only towards the end, when the film starts to peak, that you can really hear the saxophone in full. I also tried to include the sounds that the buttons of the saxophone would make, or the sound of somebody breathing into it. It was like I was always trying to create a designed sound that could be mixed with sounds form the surrounding area.

And what emotional effect did you want this to have on the viewers?

Vittorio: It was also pretty important to us to not push our viewers into feeling a certain feeling or emotion, actually. Instead we chose to stay mostly flat and let people arrive at their own feelings, rather than us giving directions.

Matteo: Yeah that was very important, actually, because we always felt that we didn’t want to necessarily bring the audience through a certain emotion. Instead we really just did want everybody to make their own decision about how to feel.

Alessio: But then at the same time we were also trying to keep things unstable through the music, like the reality in the film.

Vittorio: Plus, the silence is really important in this film – because you only really hear that full piece of climactic music about ten minutes from the end. In the moments where there isn’t a traditional score, the sounds of the characters’ voices and dialect becomes really important instead, because the dialect really has its own musicality about it.

So the film is full of these kinds of atmospheric sounds, fragments of music, and then also importantly the people’s voices themselves. Oh, and a lot of silence. These were all choices that we made very consciously, in the end.

Do you think much of the dialect flare is lost in the subtitles?

Matteo: Well, when I first did the subs, they were just too long. In the beginning we translated them almost literally, but then it was just too much of a hustle to follow. You had to be constantly reading these really long subs. So we did have to have to dry out what they said a little bit, and we did it just out of true necessity, otherwise we would have left it all in.

Alessio: But you did do a great job of the subtitles though, I think!

And do you think the kind of life you capture is beginning to pass out of existence now?

Alessio: We hope not, but obviously those people, those faces, those voices are old. So in some sense they are disappearing. There is a very strong tradition, though, and also a feeling that lives there – and will always live in that place. But yes, making this movie we did have the feeling that we were recording something that might disappear, and that’s why I do think our film has this kind of urgency to it.

Thomas Humphrey

A freelance film journalist and acting director of the Nottingham Alternative Film Network. This network aims to champion short films, and tries to bring great features which UK distributors overlook to the city.

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Posted on Feb 9, 2016

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