Every night, in Paris, hundreds of men and women anonymously use those phone lines remained unassigned since german occupancy, for talking and loving each other. They are human wrecks of love and desire, they are dying to love, to find a way out of the abyss of loneliness. The love story in this film has really happened. I have recovered and written it, and then put it into images. (synopsis by Marguerite Duras)
France, 1978. The painful wandering of a man wrecked by a profound discontentment. After a distressing separation from Catherine, the woman he wildly loved, Julien leaves his flat and wanders through the city in search of his old friends. He finds nothing but closed doors and indifference. Later on, coming back to his chilhood village, he meets with his former schoolmaster, Jean, who entrusts his pupils to him. Julien starts teaching in quite an original way which will soon gain the children but at the same time gives rise to the parents' hostility and the authorities' angry reaction.
More than just a painting of the XIIIth century society, the film appears to be the initiation journey of Klaus, the actor playing Roland, who abandons the pilgrimage to go back northwards, towards life. The film obviously carries ideas defended by the French Left, particularly when claiming the importance of knowledge as the main instrument in fighting any oppression. In the French sociological context of 1978, the film is involved in an important political debate. Its great interest, for me, is the ability to harmonize words and ideas. (Hubert Desrues: La revue du cinéma, Sept. 1978)
This film is based on Nietzsche's correspondence with his sister and also on his last book "Ecce Homo". Relating what could have been his youth in his marginal, life-exploring aspect, including ménage à trois episodes, it is mostly the story of two men and one exploited woman... But, as stated in the film epigraph, "This film is not a biography. It is a free adaptation of real characters and events". In Rome, in 1882, Paul Ree (R. Powell), a young German intellectual, desperately seeks his way through life. Beside him, Professeur Friedrich Nietzsche (E. Josephson), who has not yet found himself, is most of the time locked up in a hotel room, smoking opium. Wandering around the city ruins, Paul meets Lou Andreas von Salomé (D. Sanda), just arrived from Saint-Petersburg. This beautiful young woman takes him to a homosexual show. Fascinated by the woman's beauty and moral freedom, he introduces her to Nietzsche. Paul proposes marriage to Lou in vain and then she reluctantly accepts Nietzsche's invitation to spend a few days in Germany together with his family.
My father said: "Here is the first of Dominique's films that we can watch!" We don't have the same tastes! But for me [Dominique Sanda] this American film was an experience. For the first time I acted in a movie intended for the general public. As a matter of fact, it is the first time my 6-years old son can see his mother in a movie. (Interview of D.S. by Monique Pantel: France Soir, 6/16/1978)
This is an intimist film that makes my deeepest vibrations emerge to the surface. It was quite an experience for me, both beautiful and disturbing, as it delivers to such extent what is behind the veil. Let me add it is not the dressed Maja's portrait, but the other one...(Dominique Sanda)
A young roman woman, rather poor but very beautiful, wants to conquer the Ferramonti inheritance and sets about seducing a whole family. After she marries one of the sons, she gains his sister's favour and gets his brother into her bed. She then seduces the father, always cheating on them to her own benefit. When finally her doings are about to be rewarded, fate, family and order will revert the situation.
This is a chronicle of the Emilia, the director's native province, and the fate of two heroes, one representing the employers' class and the other one the working class. Novecento describes the transition from agriculture to industry from 1900 to the present time, and the decay of certain national popular values. Bertolucci followed the rythm of seasons to shoot the movie. With both eras totalizing a five hours and twenty minutes show, 1900 is a remarkable political fresco where a dramatic tempo confirms all of the 20th century social disruptions. With a superb lyrism, the Conformist's author depicts the slow disintegration of a patriarchal system and the hope for a new world. (Anne Andreu, Les Nouvelles Littéraires, 7th to 13th of June 1984)
The dearest convictions of a very talented young Italian will always be alive in Novecento. He was a little more than thirty-years old in the 1970's. Even today, when I think I took part in this dramatic epic movie, I feel a quiver of admiration. The man I am talking about was so passionate about the ideas he adhered to, that his attitude gives us the best clue to his youth at that time. As far as I am concerned, I must say that when I was offered the part of Ada Fiastri Polan, I was not attracted at any time by the supposed realism of the story. On the contrary, what really appealed to me were the most heartbreaking scenes of accidental, arbitrary, sometimes crazy actions, where Bernardo Bertolucci -of course I am talking about him- is an unquestionable master. Bernardo is a poet rather than a historian, a poet of image, plasticity, attraction; an artist who does not limit himself to show his universe on a real scale. At the end of the 20th century, François Jacob -Nobel Medicine Prize- wrote that "every crime in history is a consequence of some fanaticism. Every slaughter has been achieved in a virtuous way in the name of true religion, legitimate nationalism, appropriate politics, right ideology; in short, in the name of the fight against the other's truth, the fight against Satan". I remember an old Russian man telling me not long ago, just after he had been watching Novecento in an Italian cinema retrospective: "Please God that we have a Bertolucci some day in our holy Russia, capable of creating a historical fresco about so many millions of deaths as a result of all the endless years of the Bolshevik revolution..." Do you know what I answered? "But Bernardo Bertolucci is still alive!!!" (Dominique Sanda's speech at the Cinema Arlecchino, Festival Internazionale di Litteratura e Cinema in Bologna, 6/29/2006, celebrating the 30th anniversary of Novecento, just before the film was shown.)
Nico appears, desperately lonely, eaten away by solitude, chased by silence, spotted by beams and shadows. In another image, Philippe Garrel himself appears, dark and petrified like a gloomy statue. From time to time, it is like a painting with lighting effects and languid poses, psychedelic or blazing moonlights which seem to extremely fascinate the author of the film, thus orchestrating his reverie and inspiring his oneiric journey through the mysterious expressions of Dominique Sanda (white and discrete), Margareth Clémenti (cheerful and enigmatic), Anita Pallemberg (fanciful and lost). A lyric poem, with no dialogue nor anecdote, cradled by “Ash Ra Temple” cosmic music, Le berceau de cristal celebrates women and death with a complicated charm: the spectator himself must compose rhymes and verses, unravel the reveries secret as he pleases... Philippe Garrel splendidly proves that the most desperate poems often are the most beautiful.
Please tell us about your first impressions of Visconti.
When I first met him, I was quite amazed to find a very likeable and tactful person, with a gift for open and direct communication. I was all the more attracted to him since the inside of his house was decorated with a remarkably good taste. As I was impressed by the photo of a very beautiful young woman with old-fashioned clothing, Visconti realized I was curious and told me: "This is my mother", and added "of course, when she was young". The story would not actually end there but I didn't know at that time it would leave a mark on Visconti...
How were you selected to play the part of the professor's mother in Conversation piece?
When the film productor contacted my agent in 1974 offering me the mother's part, I asked myself exactly the same question. Later on, Visconti showed an oval portrait in pastels to the make-up team so that Alberto Rossi could reproduce an identical make-up on me, and then I began to understand quite a few things: the portrait in pastels was the same one as the photo I had seen at Visconti's house years before, when I first met him.
Did Visconti explain the relationship between the professor and his mother to you? If so, in which terms?
He gave me very precise information about the character's movements, eye expression and gentleness when she addressed the child. I have never heard Visconti elaborate on intimate family matters. As I just said, he told me how he wanted me to impersonate the child's young mother. Who was exactly the professor for Visconti? He was the only one to know. However, what I've said about his mother's portrait might shed a new light on this question.
Did you feel Visconti considered the film to be more personal than others, including part of his memories in it or getting involved in a particular manner? Do you agree with the reviewers when they take Lancaster's character as the director's self-portrait? Supposing they do share certain characteristics, which are these?
It is well-known that reviewers tend to simplify things. Personally, I'd rather believe that if Luchino never precisely mentioned this next to last film as his farewell to this world -a world he so often tried to understand- and if he did not mention his desire to tell about the final solitude of his own age, that's because he wanted these questions to remain unanswered.
What about the atmosphere on stage? Did Visconti's health condition have any influence on the team's work and state of mind?
I constantly felt a highly emotional atmosphere from the very moment I recognized the person in the oval portrait in pastels he showed to the make-up artist as his mother when she was young. Visconti was on a wheelchair, a little thinner, and we could see some nostalgia, a lucid resignation in his eyes. One day I went to visit him on stage and he told me: "My physical condition has declined but I do have a clear mind". He used to work with the same team, so that everybody knew him well and liked him. Working with him was highly rewarding.
Retrospectively, what do you think about Conversation piece ? Where does it stand in Visconti's production? And in your career?
First of all, I think this film must be seen. I'm saying this in a Socratic sense: One day Socrates was in the gymnasium, surrounded by young Athenians, when an overexcited student came in. He had just seen an incredibly beautiful young woman and he intended to describe her to his fellow students. Socrates vigorously stopped him with the following comment: "Beauty cannot be described, it must be seen". And all the students went with the overexcited one to "see" her. Concerning Visconti's next to late film, let me give the same piece of advice. I am perfectly conscious that in Visconti's vast filmography, there are several films where the light is particularly dazzling, like “Il gattopardo”, “La caduta degli dei”, “Morte a Venizia”, “Ludwig”, to mention only a few, but I insist, Conversation piece will lead the sensitive viewer to ask himself the same question you asked me: "Is this film more personal than others for Visconti?" The film is haunted by the protagonist's nostalgia and continuous lucidity, as he knows where the end of the road is leading him. All along the film the story rests on three columns: a very beautiful aristocratic woman, with a strong personality and in love, in her own way, with a rather vulgar ruffian, and a refined professor, well aware that the end is near for him. The film is about a man's last journey, when he progressively accepts this "family" although at the beginning he felt his privacy was invaded and his peaceful solitude disturbed, and he ends up by feeling a wise and touching affection towards all those people. As far as my cinematographic career is concerned, the film has not been a fundamental milestone. On the other hand, being selected at the age of 23 by Luchino among all the young actresses of that moment to impersonate a character who was reminiscent of his mother when he was a child, meant a great deal to me, and a great help in gaining a self-confidence I didn't have before. Specially because I have always admired his ability to reflect the characters' minds through their facial expression.
(Denitza Bantcheva: Dominique Sanda's interview about Visconti)
Harry Haller (Max von Sidow), physically and morally ill (he dislikes society), behaves as a sort of hostile and solitary steppe wolf. Before committing suicide at the age of 50, a decision he has already taken, he wanders around the town. In a third class bar he meets a beautiful mysterious young woman, Hermine (Dominique Sanda), who incites him to the pleasures he ignored or refused. To complete Harry's training, she drags him to the "magic theater"...
Following the advice of Macintosh and his secretary, Mrs Smith (Dominique Sanda), Rearden (Paul Newman) plans to steal diamonds transported by the British Postal Services. After negotiating for his flight abroad, he returns to England, where he is denounced, arrested and sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. There, a prisoner gets in touch with him, offering to help him to escape in return for half of the diamonds value...
The drama of a writer who feels trapped between two women and invents a third one to escape from a difficult reality.
Three murders have been committed with a rifle with telescopic sight. Although at first sight there is no connection between the cases, a police inspector thinks there might be one. Based on a novel by Ed MacBain, this film will not disappoint those who love French-style detective movies.
Once upon a time there were four young people living together in a house on Appia Antica: Eva (D. Sanda), a fashionable French singer, Georges (Giorgio Maulini), her press attaché, Hiram (Hiram Keller), her American lyric writer, and Micaela (Micaela Pignatelli), a rich Italian aristocrat, fond of occultism and of Hiram. This apparent harmony is more motivated by self-interest than by true feelings.
How many years have gone by since that distant June afternoon ? More than thirty. However, if I close my eyes, Micol Finzi Contini is still standing there, leaning on the garden wall, talking and looking at me. […] … and nothing has really changed her, as far as I remember (page 56). As though she wanted me to believe that nothing had changed, that everything between us was the same as before, when we could meet every afternoon. Micol would not lose an opportunity for bringing me back to that series of extraordinary, « unbelievable » days (p.132). She knew very well that for me, as well as for her, what counted more than possessing things, was how we remembered them. Any possession, as compared to the recollection we may have, can only seem disappointing, banal, insufficient. She understood me so well ! I wanted the present to immediately turn into the past, so as to enjoy and watch it at ease, and so did she. This was our vice : always moving forward, but looking backwards. Wasn’t it so ? Yes, so it was –I could not help admitting it in my heart-, that’s the way it really was. (p.224) EPILOGUE : My story with Micol Finzi Contini ends here. And now it is also fair to stop telling the story at this point, because all I could add to it would not be about her but in a way about myself. […] Then what did occur between us ? Nothing ? Who knows ! » (p.294 ; BASSANI, GIORGIO : Le jardin des Finzi Contini, Paris, Gallimard, 1964)
A very attractive film, full of life, which takes place in a disintegrating world. When Vittorio De Sica shot this family fresco, he intended to put an atmosphere into images, that of Italy stifled by Mussolini's fascism, rather than a real intrigue. That is why we should not seek the realism of a historical document in it, but a lyrical melodrama about young people trying to live a normal life in a totally absurd world. Delightful for the eyes, the heart and the soul... (Télé Journal du 2 au 8 Juin 1984)
One merit of this movie is to show us that war declarations are easier than love declarations. (G. S., Le quotidien de Paris, 6-VI-1984)
Today, The garden of the Finzi Continis is no longer the same. Vittorio de Sica and Giorgio Bassani have passed away, and the film possesses a dimension it did not have in 1970, when the film was released, a dimension given by the passing of time. Works of art grow or fade, live or die with time. As of now, it does not depend any more on the authors or the reviewers. It finally depends on nothing but the viewers, that is on you, as it always should be but obviously can never be from the beginning... (Dominique Sanda, on July 9th 2007, at the rerun of The garden of the Finzi Continis at the Cinéma Saint-Germain, in the presence of Manuel De Sica's son - Manuel De Sica had composed the music for the film- and Bassani's daughter, Paola, the President of the Giorgio Bassani Foundation at Codigoro)
Because of an error he committed in his youth, a young man is going to alienate his present by ways of self-punishment. He will conform to custom, he will try to erase even his own shadow and to conceal his feelings so well that he will never recapture them. Not very lucky in love either, in Rome he had married a girl who is more stupid than attractive, but he detests and desires her at the same time. He comes to Paris to take part in the assassination of a notorious antifascist, and there he falls in love, in vain, with his future victim's wife. Among his excellent partners, Dominique Sanda is particularly remarkable, an actress who was brought to fame two years ago in Une femme douce (A Gentle Woman) by Robert Bresson. Beautiful, touching, she is capable of being all the conformist is not: self-confident, direct, determined and courageous. This film shows an outstanding aesthetic refinement, a great deal of wise audacity, and every moment attains its point of perfection. All these qualities turn young director Bernardo Bertolucci into the worthy successor of the greatest, Fellini, Visconti or Antonioni. (Robert Chazal, 1971)
Although this film is usually considered as a testimony against the years of fascism in Italy, it lends itself to a much wider perspective. A very good paradigm of how certain personalities behave when they are unable to face their own weakness. Consequently, either they imperiously need to attribute such weakness to others -regarded as the cause while they will stand as the resulting effect-, or they will feel the need for a system that not only tolerates the mentioned weakness but esteems and praises it to the extent that it is considered exemplary and honourable, as far as it can be used as a model for the cause. The human raw material for all dictatorships, tyrannies or ideologies that proclaim themselves as revolutionary in order to conceal the terror they spread among those who do not share totally their ideas, feeds on characters like Marcello Clerici, the young ex-student of philosophy of the movie. Bertolucci succeeds in creating a smothering system-dependent atmosphere, which Clerici needs so much so as to feel liberated from his demons, to be just one link in a chain he is glad to adhere to, for it will show him the way through life. But in Paris he will meet with liberty, a dazzling liberty. Anna Cuadri -my role in the film- somehow represents this liberation from any kind of subordination or dependence, and the complete emancipation, as opposed to any adaptation or conformism. I was delighted to play this part when I was 18, I felt in a way as the opposite of such a gloomy character. And to this day I think Bernardo was not wrong when he selected me. (Dominique Sanda's speech at the Festival Internazionale di Litteratura e Cinema of Bologna in 2006, before the film projection)
An apparently peaceful atmosphere still exists in the feudal-looking manor of bygone splendour. Zinaida's mother, a ruined princess, gives up living in the big city and goes to the countryside. She describes disorder and chaos: in town all the communications are cut off and supplies are not easily found. However they still give parties in the manor, although sometimes a party is interrupted by far away explosions, shooting and shell noise. At dawn, the landlord, representative of a decadent society, discovers the unusual scenery of a burning wood where dead and derouted soldiers can be seen. No attention is paid to poet Maidanow's prophetic and meaningful words (John Osborne). Alexander (John Moulder Brown), 16-years old, has been raised in a peaceful atmosphere. He feels a tender and deep love for the mysterious and amazing Zinaida (Dominique Sanda), who also represents an endangered world. This Love is more and more threatened by the shadow of revolution. The end is near. The peasants attack the manor, while revolution is progressing, bringing along war, destruction, and an endless number of refugees. In the epilogue, Alexander tells how his love ended. With sadness but like a poet, in a detached manner, he describes facts that in the past meant so much for him...
This is a drama of solitude, incommunicability between human beings. While standing in front of his dead wife lying on the marital bed and waiting for the undertakers, a young man tries to understand why his wife committed suicide. He tirelessly walks around the bed, as he remembers their story. A succession of misunderstandings did not take long to turn the badly-matched couple into a hostile one. In fact, this 16-years old girl who was craving for knowledge, could not find what she was seeking through marrying a pawnbroker who became rich from other people's extreme poverty. Although the young couple was for a moment under the illusion of happiness, the husband had not understood anything about his wife's desires and she would soon seek the meaning of her life elsewhere. She had even considered killing the man who has so much disappointed her. In the end she impredictably kills herself, at the very moment when the husband had started to realize his mistakes and considered making up for them. Dominique Sanda shows a strong personality, she certainly is a person that should not be abandoned by the cinema for long. (Robert Chazal,1969)
Everything was simple and marvelous in my encounter with this master in cinematography named Robert Bresson, on the occasion of my first movie, where I impersonated A Gentle Woman. This is the experience that had the greatest impact on my life at the end of childhood; it struck my imagination and enriched the 16-years old young girl I was at that time. I remember with many details our first phone conversation, our first meeting at his flat in the Saint-Louis Island, our shopping together on the Champs-Elysées to complete my wardrobe, the film shooting with a lot of particular moments, the auditorium dubbing, the film release on the Champs-Elysées. I also remember how he had been taming me, and how deeply I felt that he wished me well and understood me. Such a depth is quite uncommon in this profession, when you think about it. After that, how could I have resisted seeking in future movies other relationships that would be so strong, so powerful, so genuine? (Dominique Sanda: With Robert Bresson, “267 étoiles du cinéma racontent leur meilleur souvenir” ("267 movie stars tell their best memory"), Le Figaro 5/7/1977)
It is impossible to talk about Robert Bresson without talking about religion, poetry, love and death. I'll say just a few words, as I am sure everybody here perfectly knows what kind of a person the great master of French cinema was. I was very young, just 16, when I spoke to him for the first time, and I immediately became aware of his mystical mind. As it generally occurs with most of the mystics, Bresson was in conflict with the notion of death. Communication with him seemed to be achieved through something different from the simple meaning of the words or the simple language. I always remember how he would insistantly point out that comprehension is not attained by means of explanations but just trying, loving, getting closer and embracing if possible. He strongly believed in the supernatural, but always with nature as the starting point; the way he conceived the world was reminiscent of the Renaissance spirit. "Getting close to things may be the way to perceive supernatural things. The supernatural is always in reality, it is something real to which we approach as much as possible", he said. "The characters in my films are beings whom I approach as if they were precious treasures". Then he added: "When I am filming them, it is like taming one another, I adjust myself to them, they adjust themselves to me, it's a kind of interchange or divination that has nothing in common with directing actors or making a film ". He confessed he intended "to see something else on the screen than bodies in movement; I wish I could make the soul perceptible, as well as the presence of something superior that is always there and that is God." All along A Gentle Woman, the theme of the meaning of life is suggested in a sustained crescendo. Albert Camus, an assiduous reader of Dostoievsky, wrote: "Judging whether life is worth living or not, is answering the fundamental question of philosophy". I believe Bresson must have asked himself the question more than once, not from philosophy but from faith. And it is precisely because of faith that he seems to have found an answer in this wonderful phrase by Georges Bernanos which he actually included in one of his films (1)- : "There is not one kingdom of the living and one kingdom of the dead, there is the kingdom of God and we are inside". Thus the idea of death is neutralized, weakened, in a way abrogated by the sparkling brightness of the miracle of existence that from there on admits no more scission. When love fails on Earth, the possibility of this other love still exists, capable of moving us to tears, which for this very reason may sometimes be taken for sadness but is in fact a mystic shaking that liberates the soul. I would like to conclude with Marguerite Duras' words: "Every time I watch a film by Bresson, I am so touched that I get the impression I'm watching a film for the first time of my life". Let me add this: how fortunate those who feel the same way are. (Dominique Sanda's speech at the Cinema Arlecchino of Bologna (Italy) during the Festival Internazionale di Litteratura e Cinema di Bologna, 6/26/2006 before Bresson's film Cosi bella cosi dolce was projected)
(1) Le journal d'un curé de campagne, 1950 (The Diary of a Country Priest). The phrase is taken from the film script by Bernanos "Dialogues de carmélites" (The Fearless Heart): "There isn't a kingdom of the living and a kingdom of the dead, only the kingdom of God, living and dead, and we are in it". Bibliothéque de la Pléiade, 1961,p. 1161