Cristina Comencini on the importance of being a woman behind a camera

©Fabio Lovino-Cristina-Comencini
The film director Cristina Comencini

Cristina Comencini is an award-winning writer and film maker, with her latest film, Latin Lover, having recently been shown at the 2015 BFI Film Festival in London. The film is a delightful comedy-drama which tells the story of the Italian movie star Saverio Crispo, a man emblematic of the Golden Era of Italian Cinema, on the ten year anniversary of his death. His various daughters and wives gather to remember their beloved, but unfaithful, father and husband, and to piece together the puzzle of this famous man. Not only is the film a great story, but also plays as an homage and critique of Italy’s great film heritage.

In between the numerous press conferences, interviews and photo shoots, I ask Cristina about her career in film and how she manages to be the perfect example of a multi-tasking, successful, professional woman.

In this latest movie, the cast is predominantly made up of female characters; the different wives, lovers and daughters. They show us some of the different aspects of being a woman and tell us the story of the eponymous ‘Latin Lover’, Saverio Crispo, from their own experiences. What do you think is needed to achieve a true equality for men and women?

‘In my books and films I have always focused on women because I think we’re in the midst of a great revolution for them. But although women are finally reaching powerful positions in most European countries, a male way of thinking still predominates. A simple example of this are the low birth rates in many countries. Society still has a tendency to force women towards the male way of thinking and working, and as a result we miss a great opportunity to bring forward the differences the female body and mind can offer. Female equality is meaningless if it simply means ‘acting like a man’. A symbolic experience like motherhood should be incorporated into our way of life, and into how we see a professional, working society.

Even in developed countries such as the United Kingdom or France, where there are far more services to help women in their everyday life as both mother and professional as there are in many corners of the world, it is still a work in progress.

In this film, you do, to some extent, developed the traditional idea of the ‘Latin Lover’, introducing something new: his bisexuality. What was your thinking behind evolving this side of this character?

‘My ‘Latin Lover’ is a man who loved women, but he definitely did not understand them, and understanding this differentiation is key. For the sake of our society’s future, we naturally must have an acceptance of sexual diversity. I do not agree with conventional gender identities and I think that a world made up of all kinds of people is a really great opportunity, and not one to be missed.

In Italy, I really hope that there will soon be official recognition of civil unions, which is essential in our country, especially seeing as we are all used to living in a world with the differences of sexual preference anyway. It is time for the legislation to catch up to our all-embracing awareness, and I am personally in favour of anything that makes all kinds of love and union safe and recognized.

Civil unions are obviously a very important issue when talking about family, and the dynamics of the family unit are very much present in your film. So tell me, what does family mean to you?

‘I think that a family is a reflection of society, and of human change. I came from a big family and now I have three children of my own I am fascinated by all kind of familial relationships. I feel like I understand family ties and as a film director I have always been interested in exploring them, especially because they keep changing. It is a perfect place to analyse the evolution of our society and attitudes.

For me, family has two sides. It is where everyone feels safe, like a nest which protects us but, at the same time, it may be claustrophobic and restricting if it is not open enough to others, to differences. That is what I tried to show through this international, open-minded family in Latin Lover.’

One of the biggest subjects of this film is the strong relationship between the father, a film icon, and his daughters. How much is there of your own personal relationship with your father, Luigi Comencini, the great movie director and screenwriter?

‘Well, my father has always been a faithful husband. But there is certainly this idea of reckoning the myth of the father with that of the man. In the film, I tried to depict ‘the unknown father’ par excellence; the movie star, loved by everyone, the great man, loved by women, and the father, still fascinating his daughters years after his death.

As women, we all grow up with the mythological figure of the father, the first man in our life, the one who we sometimes see more as an icon than a man, and this film is for all the daughters of the world who must realise that to understand the true man, you have to remove the myth’.

As you mentioned earlier, you are not only a daughter and wife, but also a mother of three, with your eldest born when you were only 19 year old. How much of influence has motherhood had, do you think, on your life and career?

‘I can’t imagine my life or my career without my children, even if it’s not always easy, but they are present inside of all my works, and, moreover, they have changed my way to see the world. When you make the lifetime decision to have a child, and to experience the presence of another human being within you, you cease to be so self-oriented.

Motherhood provides an outlook on the world that only women can bring to society, even by those who have decided not have a child of their own. I believe that written into the fabric of every woman is and understanding of others, and this allows women to enrich the way we as a society experience life, and is as important for artistic professions as it is for the dynamics of a more common office job’.

If you could choose an actress from the past for your next film, who would it be?

‘I would definitely love to have Shirley MacLaine (Terms of Endearment, The Apartment). I love her ability to be both a deep, serious performer, and a comedian. I met her once at the Academy Awards and I was totally captivated. I would like also to direct Meryl Streep (Kramer vs Kramer, Doubt); I think that she is one of the greatest actress and woman at the moment. And I have been very lucky to work with many great actresses throughout my career, including Virna Lisi (La Reine Margot, How to Murder Your Wife) and Angela Finocchiaro (Mio Fratello è Figlio Unico) in this movie, and then soon l am going to starting a new film with Paola Cortellesi (Nessuno mi può giudicare) and Micaela Ramazzotti (La prima cosa bella).

And finally, in your films and books you have managed to paint a bit of a portrait of what it means to be Italian. But what is Italy for you?

‘Italy for me is its history and culture, which flows into the fabric of the country today. When I have been away from Rome for a while, and then I return to once again see all the Romans ruins, the Palazzo Farnese and all these wonderful places, I feel I have a sense of duty to this country that has always given so much to the world. As Italians, we have this great responsibility in representing our country considering the great history we have had, and we should protect it and preserve it’.


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