Italy’s turbulent history — both past and present — made big waves on the Lido Tuesday, as helmer Mario Martone’s 19th century-set drama “We Believed,” about the revolutionary turmoil that led to Italy’s unification, unspooled.
Martone’s warmly received costumer, produced by Carlo Degli Esposti’s Palomar for pubcaster RAI, was partly shot in ancient villages in Italy’s Southern Cilento province where on Monday the local Mafia gunned down Angelo Vassallo, the mayor of the small town of Pollica, with whom the helmer had become close friends.
The film touches tangentially on Italy’s Mafia plague, among many of the country’s ills.
Vassallo, who had been instrumental to the “We Believed” shoot, was known as an environmentalist who would not kowtow to the mob.
“It’s tragic news that has devastated me personally,” said Martone. “I had invited him to Venice to see the film.”
Italy’s unification took place in 1861 spearheaded by nationalist revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi after decades of blood-soaked and sometimes internecine struggles.
Martone said that though the present state of the Italian nation drove him to this subject matter, he did not twist history around to establish facile analogies between past and present.
Instead, he called it a “rigorous historical reconstruction.”
But Martone did note that “We Believed” stood as testimony to “how there has always been a deeply rooted authoritarian drive in our country and the need to have a powerful figure whom we are made to believe can lead us strongly.
“There has always been a conflict in Italy between two anthropological souls of the nation — authoritarianism and democracy — and this does not mean right and left, per se,” he said.
Getting the almost three-hour movie made was not easy.
“The dialogue is in 19th century Italian, the acting is not naturalistic, the music is operatic; it took me a long time to find a producer willing to believe in this film,” Martone said.
But his big allies “were the actors who always supported me.”
In the end, Degli Esposti and RAI went with his vision for the film, which dovetails nicely with this year’s 150th anniversary of Italy’s unification.
RAI will release “We Believed” theatrically via its 01 Distribuzione, and will also broadcast it.
Co-protag Luigi Lo Cascio, who plays a revolutionary in “We Believed,” said its key element is actually disillusion.
“They (the nationalists) had a great dream; they fought for its realization by doing battle, by going to jail, by being in exile. But they were left with great regret that it could have ended up better,” he said.
Comparing Italy to the U.S., Martone pointed out that American movies have greatly contributed to consolidating a democratic spirit in the U.S.
“Filmmakers in America have turned the story of the birth of their nation into a founding myth,” he said, pointing out that this was less so in Italy.
“Cinema is the conscience and also the (collective) dream of a country,” Martone said. “In a psychoanalytic sense, if we are suffering, we need to go back and look at the roots of our problems. And to do that, you need to dream.”