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‘Daughter of Mine’ Director Laura Bispuri on Motherhood, Modernity and #MeToo

Italian director Laura Bispuri made a splash in the 2015 Berlin Film Festival competition with her first feature, transgender-themed “Sworn Virgin.” She’s back at the Berlinale this year with “Daughter of Mine,” about a 10-year-old girl’s rapport with her adoptive and biological mothers. She spoke to Variety about tackling the theme of maternity from three different points of view.

How did “Daughter of Mine” originate? I think you’ve cited American writer A.M. Homes’ memoir “The Mistress’s Daughter” as a source of inspiration?

Several years ago, before “Sworn Virgin,” I heard a story about a 20-year-old woman – unlike the film – who felt a need to be adopted by another mother. This really struck me. I talked about it with my regular screenwriter, Francesca Manieri, and that led us to read that book.

Then “Sworn Virgin” came along. But afterwards I felt drawn back to that story; my daughter had grown, my maternity journey was further along. We started building these characters drawing from all kinds of sources including the biblical tale of King Solomon. We wanted to take an ancestral story, if you will, and ask contemporary questions. That’s what I always try to do.

With your follow-up to “Sworn Virgin” it’s become obvious that you are attracted to narratives about the feminine condition with both ancestral and contemporary aspects.

Yes. But in “Sworn Virgin” there was a clear distinction between the archaic and contemporary worlds: the mountains [of Albania] and the city [in Italy]. That film was split into two separate parts. In this case instead we took our cue from the archaic aspects of Sardinia, but we depicted a Sardinia that is of course affected by modernity. It’s as though I’ve joined the two strands of “Sworn Virgin” into a single world.

The girl who plays 10-year-old Vittoria, the daughter at the center of the film, is amazing. How did you find her?

It was more complicated than I expected. I just couldn’t find the right girl….I personally combed through parts of Sardinia, school by school, class by class. Nothing. Then we broadened the search and we found Sara [Casu]. What struck me right away was her voice, which was very mature, besides her physical aspect that, being a redhead, is far from the Sardinian stereotype. We did an audition with Sara and Alba [Rohrwacher] in which I asked Sara to express both attraction and repulsion for this woman in a dance scene with her. We ended up adding that scene to the film.

Compared with “Sworn Virgin,” the tone here is less subdued. It’s more extreme, especially the character played by Rohrwacher.

The film is basically a melodrama. I wanted to depict three characters who are all placed in a conflict that, to put it simplistically, breaks their heart, for different reasons….It’s a visceral journey….I wanted to delve into the folds of a maternity that hasn’t been depicted that much. Mothers are often sanctified; my intention was to go against the perception of maternity as perfection, to be more truthful than that. So we had to get our hands dirty.

As a director who explores changing female identities in your movies, how to do feel about the #MeToo movement?

I think we are at a very important time, historically. Sexual molestation [in the film world] is just one aspect of what until now has been systemic abuse towards women all over the world. It has always happened everywhere, even in so-called evolved democracies….In Italy a woman is murdered every three days [by a partner or former partner]. This is a fact, not an opinion….We are talking about a gigantic level of abuse, of which molestation is one very serious aspect.

Luckily, #MeToo is paving the way for discussion and a greater awareness of this problem. What I find upsetting is how difficult it’s been, and still is, to see it clearly….I think this American movement is hugely important, because it’s starting to shed light on this.

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