Paolo Benvenuti: Behind the director’s curiosity with the great composer


ITALIAN JOURNAL: Puccini e la fanciulla stems from an extraordinary research work. Where does your interest in the stories hidden in the folds of History come from?

PAOLO BENVENUTI: Behind every one of my screenplays there was in-depth historical research. My previous movie, Segreti di Stato (2003), for instance, was about the killing of communist militants in 1951 Sicily. It came from a six-year research in the CIA archives in Washington, where I found out something very different from what we usually read in the official history books. Cinema allows me to show pages of history that people hardly know. I do it especially for the young people, who don’t know history at all.

I am a teacher, and doing this job I realized that young people are totally unaware of what happened in the past, and therefore they are scared of the future. That’s the reason why many people still live with their parents at 40 years old! They are rootless, they don’t know history, so they can’t build up their future, and therefore they live in an eternal present. I feel like a modern Don Quixote tilting at windmills: my goal is to get young people to history, to make them understand that history is fascinating and precious for all of us.

Film Title: Puccini e la fanciulla

IJ: Puccini e la fanciulla is substantially a “silent” movie. What’s the reason of such an audacious stylistic choice?

PB: I don’t think that’s so audacious. For the first thirty years of their history, movies were silent. The greatest masterpieces in the history of cinema belong to this silent era. As for myself, I believe that cinema is art as long as it is experimental. What I wanted to show in my movie was the tight relationship between Puccini’s music and the sounds of the Massaciuccoli Lake, where he found his inspiration. That was made possible thanks to Mirco Mencacci, the sound designer of the movie. He is an extraordinary talent: he is blind, and maybe because of that he has developed his listening skills to the fullest. If I had inserted dialogues, the sounds of the lake would just remain in the background. I rather wanted to get people to listen to the silence and retrieve the beauty of Puccini’s music in it. Besides, the absence of dialogues makes my film more accessible to an international audience.

IJ: Will the movie be distributed in Italy and abroad?

PB: The movie has aroused great interest abroad and we hope to find an international distribution soon. In the United Stated, the premiere of the movie was held at the Lincoln Center of New York on the 16th of November, followed by another screening at the N.I.C.E. Festival of San Francisco on the 23rd of November. In Italy the situation is difficult. Distributors are quite short-sighted: they only look for immediate profits. So far no one has accepted to distribute the movie, but many cinema exhibitors, who are closer to the audience, have much appreciated the movie and will screen it in many Italian cities. It will be a distribution from the ground up!

IJ: What’s the significance of a movie on Puccini in the present day?

PB: Through this movie, young people will discover that Puccini’s music is extraordinarily modern and appealing. Besides, that of Puccini is the story of an Italian ambassador in the world. In this globalized world we are influenced by other cultures and tend to forget ours. I wanted the young generations to learn the story of one of our greatest talents. Moreover, while reconstructing an episode of Puccini’s life, the movie also tells the story of the typical Italian little province, with a woman killed by social prejudice. And that’s something that still happens today. Puccini’s life is the story of an Italian genius as well as the story of the complex relationship between individual and society.

Laura Giacalone is the Associate Editor of the Italian Journal.