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Maura Delpero Talks ’Maternal,’ Diversity, the Argentina-Italy Axis

Sold by Charades, and released in France by Memento Films Distribution, “Hogar” (Maternal), the awaited fiction feature debut of Italy’s Maura Delpero, sees different forms of female desire collide and collude.

Teen mother Lu takes off from Hogar, a religious residence for single teen mothers, to live with her boyfriend, abandoning Nina, her little daughter; Sister Paola, who arrives at Hogar to take her final vows discovers her maternal instincts looking after Nina; another teen resident, Fatima – who comes from a violent home – where she may well have been raped by her mother’s boyfriend – is pregnant by her second child, begins to accept motherhood.

World premiering in Locarno’s main International Competition on Aug. 9, and  winner of the Arte International Prize, adjudicated by Arte France Cinema, at San Sebastian’s 2016 Co-Production Forum, “Maternal” is shot with delicacy and democracy. Everybody has a different take on maternity. Under Delpero’s humanistic gaze, every has their reasons – a stance very welcome is a real world of such acrid dogmatism.

“Maternal” is produced by by Nicolas Avruj and Diego Lerman’s Buenos Aires-based Campo Cine, producer of all Lerman’s movies (“Sheltered,” “A Kind of Family”), Italy’s Vivo Film, headed by Marta Donzelli, producer of “Nico 1988” and Abel Ferrara’s “Siberia,” and a second Italian partner, Alessandro Amatto’s Dispàrte. Rai Cinema, the movie investment arm of the Italian public broadcaster, co-produces.

Variety talked to Delpero as she prepared to present “Maternal” at Locarno.

The film turns on maternity, but you portray it from multiple points of view: Lu’s, Fatima’s and Sister Paola’s especially. Could you comment?

While writing, I was constantly asked which one of them was the protagonist. I think the true protagonist is maternity, as a meeting point between different women. I was asked to choose a single point of view that the viewer could identify with, but for me that meant reducing the complexity of this unfamiliar world. In a movie like this, having a single point of view makes opens the door more easily to prejudice and judgement. What I was in fact interested in was the plurality of multiple points of view about the same human event. The choral aspect was something I defended as an ideological point to the film.

You never mention Argentina’s polemical anti-abortion laws. Yet in many ways, they provide a further context for the film. Again, could you comment?

This is not an openly political movie. And yet it is, indirectly, in its hard choices, even in aesthetics, like choosing a fixed camera, an almost austere direction, that doesn’t highlight marginal things. This isn’t because of artificial sweetening; it’s a question of choosing where you place an emphasis, and the level of dignity you decide to give your characters.
In Argentina, abortions are carried out illicitly, so when a woman decides to abort she depends on her own economic capabilities to do so in a safe way. The right to legal, safe and free abortion is not openly declared in the film, but you can read it between the lines.

When it came to directing the film, what were your major two or three decisions, or guidelines as a director?

Human subtlety and formal precision, two traits that feed off one other. Form is respect. This is essential when dealing with themes that already can become turbo-charged, jump out at the audience. I was on my tip-toes constantly.
Spatial and temporal unity. To empathize with the characters, the viewer has to live a radical experience, unable to escape from this house, its doors closed to the rest of the world.
The “here” in Hogar is also a “now”, an absolute present. The past is a huge off-screen that’s revealed in the experiences held in their stares, the choreography of their gestures, the silence of unspoken words. The future is a place of desire and a road full of forks.
Fixed camera. Walls, long hallway, barred windows: strict geometry that enclose the characters, generating dynamics. The stillness of the camera was an organic decision to tell the world of this confinement to the “here and now.”

What about the Hogar? The place itself has an important role…

The Hogar is powerful for its ambiguity of structure, both of refuge and confinement. I felt this protective enclosure like a boiling pot. A claustrophobic place where, beneath the daily rituals of religion and maternity pulsate the conflicts and desires of women forced to live in the paradox of their own absent or precocious maternities. I always saw the Hogar as one of those far away nightclubs, where you can see strobe lights out the windows and a rhythmic sound: You can only see a still structure, but you can feel there’s life inside, exploding.

You directed actresses who range in experience from stars in two Marco Bellocchio films to people with no-professional curriculum at all. Did that prove a challenge or was  that in some ways an advantage?
That was one of my biggest worries at the beginning! But this fear has made me pay a lot of attention to the matter. From the very beginning, I thought that, paradoxically, the professional actresses would have the longest journey: They would have to get to the same level of “virginity” of these girls. It wasn’t easy because it was a double effort: I asked them to “get rid of their habits” to get close to them, only to have them put them back on as nuns! Since I was very conscious of this challenge, I looked from casting for actresses that I could sense had this large potential for divestment.

The film is lead produced by Campo Cine in Argentina, though co-produced out of Italy. It forms part of a film and indeed cultural axis between the two countries, I believe…

Argentina and Italy are countries connected by a ship that has crossed the Atlantic thousands of times. They have the strength and the fragility of migratory peoples, between unconsolable nostalgia and the dream of a new life.
Living inside a Hogar is in some way like living a suspended life, like a migrant in search of their true home. The Italo-Argentinean identity of this house of lone women, whose engines of desire are always on, though hidden, metaphorically comes close to this

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