Padre: Giada Colagrande and Willem Dafoe discuss the unique intimacy of small sets
Director Giada Colagrande and actor Willem Dafoe entered into conversation with the audience at the Regent Street Cinema after the London premiere of Padre. The filmmaker, who also plays the leading role in the movie, explained first of all how the idea for the script was born from dreams. “To me, the making of this film was a very precious experience. I continued to see myself in the same situation of the same narrative, night after night: it was a mystical experience for me to have these dreams.”
Inspired by a conversation with producer Gaia Furrer, the Italian auteur embarked on the making of the picture with very few resources, but putting one hundred per cent of herself into it, crafting the picture as she used to at the beginning of her career as a visual artist.
Asked about the preparation for his character, James – a family friend of the protagonist – actor Willem Dafoe commented on the uniqueness of this filming: “when you see this kind of production, you know it is unlike anything else I have done in the past. This movie was shot in three weeks, with friends. It has a sort of homemade amateur aesthetic – where for amateurish it means the researched feeling and sense given, not a poor quality of the final result.”
The role played by Dafoe is a great support for the mourning lead, Giulia. The actor has already worked in the past with his partner Colagrande, interpreting more loving parts. The relationship established in this movie seems opposite to previous roles. “Somehow, we figured it out that that kind of relationship [between the protagonist and James] could only be if the character was gay, because there’s no paternalism and there’s no sexual attraction. Me and Giada are used to making movies where we are together and have some sexual relationship. Instead, this was a sort of departure, a distance to be put in place.”
When it comes to interconnections, the affinity among the whole crew, in general, was also very important. The movie was made among friends and people who have strong ties to each other: either an affectionate or working relationship was already set up. “I feel more comfortable working in an intimate environment, rather than big sets” remarked the director, recalling her previous work. Among her colleagues, on the night of the screening at the Regent Street Cinema, Tommaso Borgstrom – the director of photography who passed away last September, right after the end of the filming – was remembered. “We worked together for ten years with Tommaso. The news and the moment it happened were simply shocking: because of the movie, I was very much into thanatology, and Tommaso, like all the other members of the crew, was into it too”, recalled Colagrande. “He did an amazing job: just with his camera, no light, nothing, he created a very special atmosphere.”
Returning to the topic of limited resources, the host of the night asked the guests whether this shortage of funding from big companies does actually result in a freer creative process. “I definitely want to believe that! It’s the only consolation when you don’t have a lot of money to work with, and you end up doing the job of ten roles,” replied Colagrande. The filmmaker described how her first movie was made at home from start to finish, in contrast with the second one, where a bigger budget was conceded to her. Still, even with under a million – which she said was equal to zero in the American industry at the time – Colagrande was not allowed the final cut of the film. “The lack of freedom is a rule in the States probably more than in Europe. And yes, low budgets give you more freedom, but it doesn’t actually guarantee that.”
Padre is centred on the grief of Giulia, but the ghostly presence of her father (Giulio Fontana) plays a major role in the woman’s spiritual experience. For more than 40 years, the renowned Italian songwriter Franco Battiato has been interested in – and composed extensively about – certain issues portrayed in the movie. For example, one of his lyrical references was Gurdjieff, Armenian philosopher, whose movements are present in the feature. That is why, in the words of Colagrande, it all came together very naturally when writing the script. “The letters I read in the film are real: they come from a book by an Italian alchemist, Paolo Lucarelli, who doesn’t have anything to do with Franco. But as you could see, these different threads really came together in a natural way because of the themes and human challenges treated.”
Another interesting reference in the film is a recording of American director Maya Deren, who talks about the reasons why women are, by birth, made to be artists. “We are constantly surrounded by a male imaginary, male perspectives, male points of view, and this is simply because of numbers. Those figures in the theatre play that Giulia and James are putting together, I chose them because they are my daily points of reference. When getting through a loss, you can constantly get nourished by the books you read, the pieces you listen to, the pictures you see. And those are mine.”
When the discussion was opened to the floor on Padre’s London premiere, one of the questions regarded the strange relationship Italians have with death. Some people say it has to deal with an irreconcilable attitude towards their past, others for superstition. The director, indeed, knowing about the rejection they’d have had in her home country, explained how she had the idea to premiere the movie at the Morelia Film Festival, in Mexico, where the reactions were at the opposite. “Most Italians don’t like even to think about death; imagine watching a movie!” “Dealing with the past is one thing”, she added as a final comment, “but dealing with death is a very difficult matter in the country. However, so far, the film is getting a positive response, and we are pleasantly surprised.”
Photo: Franco Origlia/ Getty Images
Padre does not yet have a UK release date.