Torn between two mothers, little Victoria - 10, long red hair - discovers that she can be free and find strength in herself, without giving up a thing. And that's a blessing that Laura Bispuri sends to all the young girls. The 40-year-old Rome-based director takes part in the Berlin competition for the second time. After Sworn Virgin, Bispuri made a film that confirms her gaze and attention towards the complexity of female identity. Daughter of Mine, to be released on February 22, is the story of a young girl who lives in a small town in Sardinia, between the sea and the inland. She has a symbiotic relationship with Tina (Valeria Golino) who protects her and keeps her close to herself, but the encounter with Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher) - a woman with a disorderly and painful life, between alcohol, debts and promiscuity - opens up a new perspective for her. Towards this second mother, who takes her around through the countryside and makes her dance, the young girl feels both attracted and repelled, and a little seduced too, awakening jealousy in the other woman.
In fact, there's a secret pact between the two women, which now is about to break and risks destroying that small female universe where men - Tina's patient husband (Michele Carboni) and a German who sells horses (Udo Kier) - remain to the margins. Warmly received at the crowded press conference where Alba and Valeria have been compared to Giuletta Masina and Anna Magnani, Daugther of Mine, produced by Vivo Film with Colorado and Rai Cinema, stars a young revelation, 11-year-old Sara Casu.
Laura, how did this story of biological and symbolic maternity begin?
Many years ago, even before making Sworn Virgin, a 20-year-old girl from a quiet family confessed me that she would have desidered to be adopted by another mother. I found that idea interesting and I talked about it with my regular scriptwriter, Francesca Manieri. One book that helped us in the reflection was A. M. Homes' The Mistress's Daughter, and then also many texts, both old and modern, the biblical tale of King Solomon, Brecht. I love to move from an ancestral context to ask contemporary questions.
The film is a reflection on the image of the mother - the topic of the good mother and the bad mother, so dear to the psychoanalysis - and it moves from two archetypes just to question them eventually.
I liked the idea of deconstructing the image of the perfect mother, which is so idealized in Italy, but also elsewhere. Telling about flawed mothers is interesting. What does being a mother mean today? Is it possible to grow up with a number of maternal figures of reference? How important is the physical bond with whom carries you in her belly and looks like you? Eventually, the young girl finds out that both women have the right to be mothers.
The two women evolve and end up, if not looking alike, showing unexpected sides of their personalities.
The film doesn't take ideological stands and I don't want to exploit it. My journey so far has always been linked to the topic of female identity, both for my personal interest and also as a small political act. I'm tired of seen so many films in which women remain in the background, trivialized, at home waiting for their husbands. I wanted all-round female characters. I chose this path and I will keep on in the future. Angelica and Tina are two complex women, they have archetypal features, but evolve in a criss-cross journey.
Men are left to the margins of the narration. I guess that was a conscious choice.
Giving women centre stage is a statement for me. However Umberto, Tina's husband, is the most positive character in the film. He shows an important masculine side: he's a good man who loves this woman and this girl, without machismo.
What do your think of the #MeToo movement?
I think we are living an important historical moment. Sexual harassment in the cinema world is just one aspect of a systematic abuse towards women all over the world. In Italy many women get killed by their partner or ex partner. The level of abuse is huge. #MeToo paves the way for discussion and increases the awareness about the issue.
After Albania, you chose Sardinia as the setting for your story. It's something more than just a location, it's a driving force of the narration.
I work on the script for a long time, approximately two years. I try to live the place. I got to Sardinia led by my instinct first. It's a disarming, melancholic landscape that reminded me of my characters. It's a land with a very strong identity that is protected by its inhabitants. It's divided between opening and closure, it has a complex relationship with the outside, with the continent. In fact, Sardinia mirrors the identity journey of the characters.
Did you look at the issue of the language the characters have to speak?
Eventually I opted for a slight Sardinian accent, and not for the dialect. There's not a fixed rule as the film stars Italian actors, Sardinian actors, and non-professional actors. After a film shot in Albanian, I didn't want to use a thick dialect or give a stereotyped image of Sardinia. Sara is Sardinian but has Irish colours as I looked for a girl who could have a physical resemblance with Alba. For the role of Tina I also thought about a potential Sardinian actress, but then I chose Valeria, who was trained by a coach, Maria Loi.
How did you end up chosing Sara Casu?
I did auditions for 8 months as I needed a young girl who could face complex things both at a technical and a psychological level. The film has complex long takes. Some girls started crying during the audition already.
Tina is represented as a woman who is very devout to the Holy Mary, and who goes often to church.
That's an element we lightened compared to the script. But in Sardinia there are women called "prioresse" who dedicate themselves to the Holy Mary, and bring her home too. Valeria and I often went to church to better understand this aspect.
There's also a western-like side of the story, that by the way opens with a rodeo scene. I also think that these women have a strong masculine element, also when they compete with each other.
In Sardinia breeding horses is a tradition. The rodeo exists for real, and we needed it to give the opening scene an archairc yet pop feeling as well as to show the world the two protagonists. Then there's competition between them, that's true. And a lot of dust.
Why did you ask Udo Kier to star in the film?
I met Udo as I was travelling all over the world with Sworn Virgin. He fascinated me. He told me about Fasbinder. His presence could broaden the mosaic of narration. Same goes for Michele Carboni, who is a real shepherd and had some acting experience with Mereu before.
Cinematography is by Vladan Radovic, a regular collaborator of yours.
Yes, we made two shorts and two features together. We understand each other very well, also instinctively. This time I've asked him a warm light, contrarily to Sworn Virgin
, because this is a sentimenal film, and not a cold one.