Interview: Alice Rohrwacher, director of ‘Corpo Celeste’

Corpo Celeste (2011) is the assured debut feature from Italian director Alice Rohrwacher. Centring around a community in urban Italy through the eyes of the adolescent Marta the naturalistic and allegorical film examines this microcosm from an outsiders view, and in particular the role of the church in modern Italian society. With the film out on DVD this/next week, CineVue were lucky enough to put a few questions to the director.

Ben Nicholson: Corpo Celeste is your feature debut both as writer and director. How did you find the step up into this role from your previous work?

Alice Rohrwacher: Prior to working at The Mill, I made several documentaries and worked extensively in theatre, especially in experimental theatre in Italy. These two things, made me face reality and look at the body in space,. They made me take a position in front of a story, in front of an experience. It was not too difficult to translate this feeling into film work, in fact, it was quite natural.

BN: Both the central character, Marta, and her surroundings have a vital role to play in the film. Which was it that initially drew you to tell this story? It feels like either one could have been your starting point.

AR: No, Marta came last. The starting point was the research within a community, the parish life of a city on the outskirts of Italy. I realised that to tell people about that world, I needed an ally, someone who walked the line between inside and outside, between belonging and alienation. That’s where I found Marta.

BN: The film raises potent questions about the role of the Church in modern day Italy. Was this an initial aim, or a by-product of the story?

AR: My desire is to tell how it has changed a society, a way of being together, through the lens of the church. The purpose is not to criticise the church, but starting from the limitations of that experience, open and talk about the crisis of a human being of a community.

BN: The film is very naturalistic in tone, both in performances and cinematography, which suits it very well. Was this choice made specifically for this material or will we find it to be more of a personal style choice?

AR: The film starts from the truth, but at the same time is very symbolic and precise in the pictures. This was a choice, of course, to take a position in front of the unfolding of the story and work in pictures. The hand-held camera allowed us greater precision and greater freedom to the actors, many of whom are professionals, while the Super 16mm film donated a grain particular history, sacred aura despite the realism.

BN: Where on Earth did you find Yle Vianello? She’s wonderful.

AR: Yle we met visiting friends in the mountains, away from the city. She lives in a very isolated self-sufficient community, so her look is vital, curious, never granted. The meeting with her was crucial to the film.

BN: What’s up next for you?

AR: We are putting together the pieces for an upcoming film, this time to tell the change of the Italian landscape, always in a vertical perspective, trying to get to the bottom of a very small and specific.

Win a DVD copy of Alice Rohrwacher’s Corpo Celeste with our brand new competition. Follow the link to enter.

Ben Nicholson