Every film festival needs a glamorous couple, and Sergio Castellitto and Margaret Mazzantini, who are guests at the 31st Haifa International Film Festival, fit that bill.
Castellitto, an actor/director, and Mazzantini, a screenwriter/novelist, are here to present their latest movie, You Can’t Save Yourself Alone.
The movie, based on Mazzantini’s novel, tells the story of a recently separated married couple whose conversation over dinner, which is meant to sort out who will take their children during the summer vacation, turns into a wide-ranging reminiscence and discussion of their entire relationship.
It’s a contemporary Italian movie that brings to mind Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage, mixed with some of Federico Fellini’s earthiest films, and with a bit of the sweetness and affection that Francois Truffaut felt for his characters.
You might think that the creators of You Can’t Save Yourself Alone, a drama in which the characters’ relationship has its ups and downs, but is always volatile, sexually charged and stormy, might be a bit combative with each other. But the elegant duo – whose chic clothing stands out amid the generally schleppy Israeli style at the festival – are soft-spoken, affectionate and supportive of each other.
“After making a movie out of my book Twice Born, which was set in Sarajevo, the story of a woman who wants to find her son, I wanted to get back to something more intimate,” said Mazzantini.
Yet this film, which was a great popular and critical success in Italy, turned out to be a very complex project for the married couple, who have four children together.
“It was very difficult to shoot the movie,” said Castellitto, who, like Mazzantini spoke partly in English and partly through a translator. Castellitto, who has starred in such international films as Mostly Martha and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, as well as the Italian version of the television series In Treatment, which began as the Israeli show Be’ Tipul, does not act in the movie.
“I wanted to concentrate on the directing.
It was an apparently little book, but it’s about the always intimate war between a man and a woman, and it is at heart, a love story.”
Said Mazzantini: “It’s a personal story of two people who try to build a relationship and are not ready, so they find themselves in a crisis. It’s very much the story of a generation that has had trouble growing up.”
“Young people very much identified with this story,” said Castellitto.
“The table in the restaurant is like a therapist’s office,” said Mazzantini. “It’s like two movies that come together – the scene in the restaurant and then the story of their love leading up to that moment.”
“The movie shows how no one is an island. That’s what the title says – that you really can’t save yourself alone, that you need other people. But the couple in the movie are both like islands, islands that destroy the bridge between them,” said Castellitto.
The characters in the movie, Gaeteno (Riccardo Scamarcio), an aspiring intellectual who feels frustrated that he has to write popular television shows, and Delia (Jasmine Trinca), a health enthusiast who battles anorexia, are drawn together and then push themselves apart with an intensity that frightens them both. Eventually, their drawn-out battles and messy temporary reconciliations compromise their ability to be good parents, and they separate, but although the ties that bind them are frayed, they don’t break.
In one of the most cinematically effective scenes, they take a first-aid class for parents, and are unable to resuscitate a child-size dummy.
“They still want to go back and resuscitate the body of their love, to bring life back to a third body [the first-aid class mannequin],” Castellitto explained. “I didn’t want to do a movie that would just be sad. They are full of love and energy, and I wanted to show that.”
The love scenes are very raw for a serious drama, and that was very much their intention.
“The scene of their first lovemaking, I wanted them to be like animals, to do everything but kiss on the mouth, because animals don’t kiss,” said Castellitto.
Asked about the obvious question about the autobiographical elements in the work, Castellitto admitted, “We have had some terrible dinners in restaurants.”
Mazzantini added, “But I never threw an ice cream in his face.”