Alice Rohrwacher on Working With Her Sister: ‘We Always Tell Each Other the Truth, Even If It Hurts’

·5-min read

Having won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival for “Le Meraviglie” (The Wonders) in 2014, and the screenplay award there for “Lazzaro Felice” (Happy as Lazzaro) in 2018, Alice Rohrwacher is very pleased that her latest feature, “La Chimera,” starring Isabella Rossellini, Josh O’Connor and her sister Alba Rohrwacher, will also compete at the festival.

“I am very attached to the Cannes festival, both as a spectator and as a director. It is always a dream and always a surprise to be nominated. The emotion is the same as the first time,” the Italian director tells Variety at Visions du Réel film festival, in Nyon, Switzerland, where she is a special guest.

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Rohrwacher describes “La Chimera” as “a film that, in a very special way, talks about our relationship with the afterlife by following the story of a man who belongs to a gang of archaeological thieves.”

Working with Alba Rohrwacher, who also appeared in “The Wonders,” “Happy as Lazzaro” and the short film “Le Pupille,” for which Alice Rohrwacher was nominated for an Academy Award this year, is important to the director. “I deeply admire actors, they are able to do something I can’t do,” she says. “Working with my sister is a privilege, because she is a great and very generous actress. We trust and love each other so much that we always tell each other the truth, even if it hurts, and sometimes that can cause arguments. But we know that our criticisms are very constructive. She is always one of the first people who reads my scripts.”

As she finishes the sound mixing of “La Chimera” in Geneva, close to Nyon, Alice Rohrwacher also took the opportunity to talk about the importance of sound. Music is never used as a commentary on emotions in her films, but rather to reveal them or to create a contrast with them. “But the biggest part of the job is to work with the actual sounds so that they give meaning to the scenes. We always keep an opening to what’s going on around us when we shoot and let it enter the story.”

The filmmaker loves this editing phase, which she calls “the real rewriting of the film.” In fact, it was when she started out first in editing that she discovered her passion for cinema. “As a teenager, I wanted to do something where life and work were connected. And that’s exactly what cinema gives me. It is also one of the few jobs that is a collective work, and that is the most beautiful thing about it!”

Despite her achievements, the director is still always afraid when it comes to showing her work. But that fear is a good thing, she explains: “It is a strength for me along the way. If I didn’t feel it anymore, it would mean that I didn’t endanger myself enough on a film.”

At Visions du Réel, Rohrwacher also spoke about this healthy fear during her three-hours masterclass. Interviewed on stage by Rebecca De Pas, a member of the festival’s project selection team, she shared with the audience a piece of advice given her by her producer at the time of her first feature film, “Corpo Celeste” (Heavenly Body), and that still serves her today: “I was afraid the film wouldn’t be popular. He said, ‘You mustn’t think about that. Do you believe you are something special?’ I answered no, of course not, even if deep down I thought I was a bit special,” she laughed. “My producer then replied, ‘You are not extraordinary, you are very common. So just make a film you like because there are millions of people like you.’ So I did a film that I liked. But still, at the time of unveiling it, I was afraid that what he had told me was not true!”

Rohrwacher had switched from documentary to fiction features because she found it difficult to film people in their reality. For her, the camera remained an intrusive object. “I associate filming a little bit with stealing and had this feeling I shouldn’t do it,” she tells Variety.

On stage, she described her work on fiction in a very colorful way: “I was always amazed at how, when something in nature, like a flower, is very beautiful, we tend to say: ‘It looks like it’s fake!’ And when something fake is very beautiful, we say: ‘It looks real!’ That’s what I wanted to achieve: to make a completely fictional film in such a way that it feels like the story is real.” She still keeps a great love for documentary, and co-directed “Futura” in 2021 with Francesco Munzi and Pietro Marcello.

“Reality always exceeds imagination. That’s why I think that in fiction you have to keep a space for reality because it can give more meaning to it.”

Her first feature “Corpo celeste” also marked the first time she worked with cinematographer Hélène Louvart. Since then, she has tried to collaborate with her whenever possible. “I am very loyal to my team. When you like working with someone, it’s hard to do without them. But it’s always a headache because if you wait for the whole team to be available, the actors might not be available anymore.”

Rohrwacher also likes to integrate constants that are dear to her in her films: that of waste and that of ridicule. “When you find something ridiculous, it’s often because there’s something real behind it that touched you.” And of course, she likes to give food for thought. In “Happy as Lazzaro,” she explored the relationships between those in power who take advantage of keeping people in the dark in order to establish their authority.

In “Le Pupille,” “a very materialistic and political film,” the big cake that everyone wants all for themselves reminds us of the world’s resources. “It shows how we could share. A film has to make things difficult to digest too,” she says, making a parallel with food which takes a prominent role in her films to describe social relationships. “We are what we eat, both in terms of food and what we consume culturally. Feeding people is a great responsibility.”

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