Adele Tulli’s Normal, playing in Berlin in the Panorama Dokumente section, is a journey through the stereotypes about gender, to the complexity of a society such as the Italian one, suspended between patriarchal traditions and liberating breaks from the pattern. It will be released in April by Istituto Luce Cinecittà. From the childhood through the teenage years up to adulthood, we are “educated” to be “proper” male and female. The film presents a number of daily situations, investigated with irony and tenderness, maybe grotesque, maybe “normal” in the double sense of an ambiguous word: normal is what is subject to the norm, not what is “natural.”

The preparation of a wedding with the suggestions for the bride-to-be; mothers who exercise in the park using the stroller as an gym tool; the toy factory packaging small pink flatirons; the coach teaching the boys how to hook up with girls; the bachelorette party with phallus-shaped cakes; the selections for Miss Italy exposing the paradox of girls who dream to become scientists while showing themselves off in bikini in front of the jury and the cameras; alpha males and females wearing pink tutus and flowers in the hair… Normal shows a multilayered and complex gaze that question the viewer, who will react differently on the basis of his gender or age, his personal history, and his bias. While tackling theoretical issues, the director works on an emotional level, too.

Born in 1982, this young director has very clear ideas and a strong international background. Living between Rome and London, she previously made the documentary 365 without 377 that focused on the abolition of the anti-gay law in India and won the Turin LGBT Film Fest in 2011. Produced by FilmAffair, in coproduction with AAMOD and Istituto Luce Cinecittà, together with Intramovies, in collaboration with Rai Cinema and Ginestra Film, Normal is sold internationally by Slingshot Films. 

As the director states: “In my previous films I focused on issues of gender and sexuality, and I always chose protagonists who could reflect the point of view of who lives at the margins of dominant social conventions. With this latest work I wanted to experiment a change of perspective, focusing more on what is considered as conventional, normative, normal. The main idea is to create juxtapositions who could evoke a sense of estrangement and surprise while facing the spectacle of the super-normal reality of everyday life.”

What inspired you to make this documentary? Does it relate to you Ph.D. thesis?

Yes, it’s connected to my Ph.D. in the UK and my thesis “Visible Resistence” that attempts to articulate a reflection on genre conventions through the film medium. I wanted to look at the ordinary from unusual perspectives. I’ve been working on the topics even before working in the audiovisual sector, not only with my studies, but also through political activism, feminist and LGBT movements. In 2015, when I started my research, the word “normal” – natural, traditional – was very much present in the public debate. Accordingly, I wanted to reflect on those genre norms and conventions that shapes and influences our daily life.

While watching the film, I thought of a classic of feminist literature such as Elena Gianini Belotti’s Dalla parte delle bambine [On the side of little girls]. It looks like it hasn’t changed much in terms of educational models.

I think nothing changed. One of our problems today is that they say that feminism in the 1970s has been very useful because now we have equality, so we don’t need feminism anymore. That’s not true. Many rights and awareness have been achieved, but there’s still a long way to go and many reflections are still open.

Pasolini’s Love Meetings has been a reference for you?

In Italy, thinking of Pasolini is unavoidable. I travelled a lot in Northern and Southern Italy using a car-sharing service in order to talk with complete strangers. During these conversations I put myself out there and discussed genre dynamics and how they influence our lives.

Your background is definitely international. How come you chose Italy as your field of investigation?

Every country has its own sociocultural specificity and Italy is like a lab. We became famous all over the world for embarrassing episodes such as the “bunga bunga” and we thought that was our rock bottom. Being Italian I am also able to relate to the surrounding sociocultural dynamics.

The film is very open: there’s no voice-off. Meanings take shape through the juxtapositions of scenes.

I did it on purpose. I didn’t want it to be seen as pedagogical or ideological, I hope I tackled these topics in a creative and poetic way. As it is open, free and fluid, I think the film can talk to a non-Italian audience as well, because genre dynamics and social conventions goes beyond the borders.

The ending of the film, with the imagines of a civil union between two men, seem to validate a discourse that challenges the notion of “normality” and looks for new forms of identity. Is it so?

The ending is willingly open, because the film is neither pedagogical nor academic. To the contrary, it aims to create a space for confusion and questions. This ending is meant to be surprising, a short circuit. I am interested in asking myself – and the audience as well – what are the processes of norm assimilations, how do we negotiate a desire for normality? There’s no way out in a world of conventions we can’t get rid of? This film is a mosaic of associations, in which frames, music, and editing  try to describe the ordinary by subverting it.