Film festivals are full of moviemakers, actors and wannabes vying for press
attention. So someone with the quiet confidence and elegance of
director/screenwriter/novelist Cristina Comencini stands out. A guest at the
27th Haifa International Film Festival, Comencini is an accomplished filmmaker
whose 2005 film, Don’t Tell, was nominated for an Oscar.
movie, When the Night, is a dark and sensual character study of two lonely
people, and is in competition for the Golden Anchor Award at Haifa, the prize
given to films made in countries along the Mediterranean. (At press time, the
winner of this competition had not yet been announced.) Her charm and poise as
she talks about When the Night comes not only from her many accomplishments, but
also from the mixed blessing of being born into a family of well-known
filmmakers. The daughter of the late, celebrated director Luigi Comencini, she
grew up knowing her way around the movie industry.
“I’ve had a strange
career,” she says.
“We were all in a creative world and my father was a
master of Italian movies.”
Her three sisters and other relatives also
work in film.
Asked whether she thinks of herself as having gone into the
family business, Comencini smiles.
“I had a child at 18, and then went to
university while raising her,” she says.
Her daughter, Giulia Calenda, is
now a screenwriter who sometimes collaborates with her mother. “I decided to go
to study economics, and my father was against that.”
His opposition, she
stresses, wasn’t because he thought she should be a filmmaker, but because he
understood that her real attraction was to the arts and humanities.
concern was on target, because Comencini then wrote a novel, which was a turning
point for her. Novelist Natalia Ginzburg became a mentor to her and helped her
to publish the book.
TO DATE, Comencini has published 10 novels – and
directed 10 films. When the Night, which was shown in competition at the
recently concluded Venice Film Festival, is based on one of her
The story is informed by her own experiences as a young
“It’s about a young mother whose child is recovering from some
kind of accident, and she takes him to the mountains,” she says. “The child’s
father is a normal husband, he has to work, so he stays behind in the
“There is a tremendous loneliness in being in this isolated place
with a baby.”
But this cabin she rents is not entirely isolated, and she
meets the cabin’s owner, a mountain guide and a troubled man whose mother
abandoned him as a child and who then went abroad and had another family and
several other children.
“It’s a love story that involves the primary
secrets of women and men, secrets of maternity and paternity,” she says. “In a
way it’s the story of every mother, every mother knows the loneliness of the
time with a young child. You can have all the capacity to do all kinds of
things, but when you have a child, you are alone much of the time with this
child, for a year, for two years.”
Through the relationship that
develops, the guide, Manfred, learns to accept his lover as “a mother and an
imperfect woman. He has a complex relationship to his own mother, who abandoned
him. He is a man who kind of hates women.”
Their complex story takes on
overtones of a psychological thriller as well as a romance.
Asked what it
is like adapting her own book for the screen, she says, “Movies and books are
two separate works.” When adapting a novel, “you always have to rearrange. If
you don’t make these changes for the screen, you can betray the work,” she
But she very much enjoys moving between both worlds: “A novelist
writes alone, but when you make a movie, you have to share it with other people.
I love both very much, writing novels and making movies.”