Interview – Insieme Insieme

INSIEME INSIEME – Interview with Bernardo Zanotta

You are from Brazil, living and working between Amsterdam and Paris, and you shot your third short film, INSIEME INSIEME, in Italy, in the area between Lake Maggiore and Lake Orta. Why did you choose this setting?

I chose this setting because it is both decadent and timeless. When I first visited Lake Maggiore in 2016, I was travelling through the north of Italy by myself, and felt strangely connected to this lake, which was rather empty in the off-season and conceded a special air of mystery. I went back in 2018, at a time when I was watching a lot of heist films. Encountering the same landscapes, however this time influenced by fiction, was like stumbling upon a site of exile. I couldn’t separate this location from the idea of it being a perfect hideaway. The film started to take shape in my head then, a collocation of these two forces; violence and stillness.

In the film, in which some elements of your practice as a filmmaker recur, we hear several languages, spoken by characters of different origins. How did you construct this gallery of figures? Could you tell us about the importance of these bodies in the original conception of the film?

The characters as well as the actors come from different countries, and they also come from different times and places of my life. The several languages spoken are a marker of that difference, of those mixed backgrounds and identities. Lydia Giordano, Leandro Lefa, Gustavo Jahn and Jun Ortega are people with whom I forged very strong friendships; some a long time ago, some more recently. They didn’t know each other before making this film, and I think the bond they formed turned out to be really special. We deemed this intimacy necessary for the kind of adventure which they would come to share on screen, and paid a lot of attention to it during the preparation phase. I think each of them brought something unique to their characters, something hard to describe or find elsewhere.

In what appears to be a prologue, a passage from the “Advertisement from the Editor” of Dangerous Liaisons (Les Liaisons Dangereuses) by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos is quoted. How did this novel inspire or accompany the making of the film?

The relationship between the film and de Laclos’ novel is a kind of open secret. At first, I wanted to explore the epistolary novel in the form of a film in a very rigid way. Something which I have failed to do because the film found its own form, its own way. While writing the script, the narrative was organised in such a manner that no event in itself carried an immediate meaning. The solution — life or death — or the explanation — truth or desire — were always felt by the characters as delayed, and this is a convention which derives directly from the epistolary mode. Besides some parallels between Laclos’ characters and ours, what remained from this initial pretence were the different narrative voices in the film. I resisted the choice of a single omniscient narrator until the end, but decided to keep this object of distanciation in the prologue.

In addition to explicit references to the novel of Laclos and Plato’s Phaedrus, the film seems to draw directly on the history of cinema by mixing different film genres and iconographic references. What is the origin of this formal choice? Were you inspired by any sources in particular?

These are texts which investigate in opposite ways the immortality of the soul and the cruel nature of love and freedom; one that tends upwards towards the divine, and the other downward to a material world. ​​I think my way of making films until now has always been by means of collage and juxtaposition. There are always many allusions to things outside the films themselves, but I don’t think it is necessary nor so important for the audience to know these references. INSIEME INSIEME is a film composed of many films, and of this the characters are aware, I think. Maybe this is best illustrated when Rafael (played by Gustavo Jahn) takes pictures of a television that plays a further film, in which we encounter the same three actors. Their wish to turn their lives into this great escapade is often a frustrated wish. They remain in some kind of escapist simulacrum, an imitation of life.

Photography, literature, theatre, music and performance: your films feed on and welcome other disciplines within them. Could you tell us more about the importance of this aspect in your creative practice?

My formal training was as a visual artist. I never went to a traditional film school, and kind of learned things by making. I come from a theatre family though, my father is a dramaturg and theatre director, so this connection to the stage, or to the theatrical, has always been present in my life. Photography made its way into my practice after experimenting with analogue film in my first years in The Netherlands. The awareness that film is a succession of frames on a celluloid strip which one can touch, scratch, copy manually and so on, truly changed the way in which I think about time and the materiality of images. Now moving towards the making of more narrative-driven films, which in many ways began with INSIEME INSIEME, a lot of traces of this specific analogue filmmaking craft remain. The Super 16 format we chose for the film is to me a character in itself, interfering with or befriending the story here and there.

Although the title INSIEME INSIEME emphasises the collective dimension and joint nature of the group, it would seem that each character remains somewhat secluded in his or her own introspection. What do you think about that?

For a long time, there was a dash separating the word repetition in the title. It was called Insieme / Insieme, in order to indicate that precise introspection which you are referring to. In the love triangle we witness, there is a tension between the characters sense of self and their internalised other, the loved one. In my life, I’ve often sought for a total love in the same way the characters in the film do, and it is something that I truly believe to be possible. So I decided to remove the dash. I judged it to be a bit pessimistic, and yet one more formalistic convention, which I hope the film is able to transcend. I decided to leave the title in Italian because I love the sound of this repetition, even though it is not so straightforward for international audiences. One of my favourite writers, Jamaica Kincaid, says that if you love the sound of something, it means more than just saying you love the sound of something. I think if it wasn’t for her, the film would probably have been called something else. There is a certain joy in it, and INSIEME INSIEME brought a lot of joy to my life as well as in the lives of the people involved in its making. Honestly, this is the only feeling I want people to have while watching the film, and it is very exciting to finally be able to share it with an audience in Marseille.

Interview by Marco Cipollini