A family affair

The daughter of the late, celebrated Italian director Luigi Comencini – accomplished filmmaker Cristina Comencini – is here to promote her latest movie at the Haifa Film Festival.

Cristina Comencini 311 (photo credit: Courtesy of Gustavo Hochman)
Cristina Comencini 311
(photo credit: Courtesy of Gustavo Hochman)
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.
Her latest 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.
His 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 novels.
The story is informed by her own experiences as a young mother.
“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 city.”
“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 says.
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.”