Collyrium – The fantastic universes of the Italian director Alice Rohrwacher

This week Collyrium is going to shed some light on an Italian director very appreciated in the cinephile world, who unfortunately always remained a little in the shadows for the general public. We are talking about Alice Rohrwacher, a young Tuscan director born in 1981 who, despite having only produced 3 feature films, was able to present them all at the Cannes’ festival, winning prizes with each of these.

However, there is no surprise. The director, in fact, succeeded immediately to shine among the great contemporary directors for a marked aesthetic and narrative sense that manages to perfectly define all her work.

Alice Rohrwacher creates unique worlds that fit perfectly between the sphere of the real and that of the fairy tale. Let’s say, real modern fairy tales, in which the naive approach intersects and mixes with a never ordinary investigation of contemporary society. Her films are often shot in unconventional formats with equally unconventional tools. They narrate country life, which we easily identify in the bleak landscape of central Italy. Besides, there is no surprise given the biography of the director. 

Alice Rorhwacher was born in Fiesole, a delightful village nestled in the hills just outside Florence. The young woman grows up in a simple family, her mother is an Italian housewife, her father a German beekeeper. The director then, always paired with her sister Alba (future actress of international fame) grows in the midst of nature, getting her hands dirty and enjoying the clean country air and the loving family nest.

As said, Alice’s films speak of this. In fact, they often combine elements and atmospheres with an autobiographic flavor but without being afraid of mixing them with a fantastic inner world, where even if there are no purely imaginative elements, we can easily find a magical trait narrative. Rohrwacher began her career writing short screenplays and dedicating herself to some choral works such as Checosamanca, a 2009 film that deals with the theme of political action rather than mere passive contemplation. But her feature films are soon to arrive

In 2011, in fact, Corpo Celeste was released, her first film to be presented in Cannes which shortly thereafter managed to win a Nastro d’argento for best first feature. In this first work it is easy to notice the style elements characterizing and consolidating in Alice’s subsequent works.

In this first work it is easy to notice the style elements characterizing and consolidating in Alice’s subsequent works. The story is about Marta, a little girl who, after growing up in a Swiss town, returns, along with her family to Reggio Calabria, her city of origin . So the child confronts a very different humanity from the one she was used to. Even the parish, a place where Marta often seeks refuge, is imbued with a squalid pop culture, made of commercial music and frivolous friendships. Marta doesn’t want all this. In fact, in the second half of the film, the young protagonist finds the meaning of life in a countryside beautiful village perched in the middle of Aspromonte. Even in this brief summary, it is easy to identify the main theme of the story: the contrast, very often violent, between the pop culture of a modern city and the enveloping peace of simple life in the midst of nature.

All subsequent Rohrwacher films will analyze this theme in various ways, using different narrative expedients for each feature film. As already mentioned in this first film we identify its characteristic features that over the years have consecrated Alice as one of the rising stars of Italian cinema. We perceive it from the photographic choices, from the recurring need to picture the world of childhood and the evident contrast between city and countryside.

 Le meraviglie, her 2014 second work, is greeted with greater fanfare than the previous film. Presented at Cannes, it will in fact earn the Grand Jury Prize and will be accompanied by a good critic and commercial success. This film is strongly autobiographical. The story is about a family of beekeepers who decide to take part in a competition of dubious taste broadcast on national TV. The television prize in fact represents both the “magic” element, so grotesque to be alienating, as well as the urban element, which treacherously ends up devouring the innocence of countryside.

We shall have to wait four years to see his latest film: Happy as Lazzaro. With this work, the director is once again on the laurels, winning the Best Screenplay Award at the Cannes Film Festival. Even in Happy as Lazzaro, Alice analyzes the same theme this time exhalting the fantastic elements. Lazzaro is in fact a character completely out of traditional schemes: so kind and simple to be defined stupid although this is not the case. In the course of history, in fact, Lazarus will be recognized as a supra-human, almost divine being almost appearing as an angel prototype. But in the end this film, is nothing than a beautiful story of love and friendship, which has succeeded and is able to continuously move for its beauty and simplicity.

Rohrwacher is a noteworthy director, not only for the awards she has collected over the years but also for her natural propensity for creating imaginative worlds where, however, the strongly real element is always on display. Unfortunately we do not know how much we will have to wait to see in cinemas a new work by the Tuscan director. In the meantime, however, I advise anyone to immerse themselves in its splendid countryside universe, by going to fish out some of these three films

Artcinemacollyriumpop corn
Listen on