Io e Lei: Interview with Maria Sole Tognazzi

Io e Lei: Interview with Maria Sole Tognazzi

It’s not the first time that Maria Sole Tognazzi has decided to put women at the centre of one of her films. She had done this before with Viaggio Sola where Margherita Buy was an undercover hotel inspector; a single woman by choice with a fun career, free and happy.

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Io e Lei (Me, myself and her), the director’s new film that CinemaItaliaUK will screen on Sunday, January 31st at Genesis Cinema, can be considered a natural progression of that process.

Maria Sole Tognazzi will be attending the event with Producer Francesca Cima (Indigo Film, Oscar winner for The Great Beauty), for a Q&A with Tricia Tuttle (Deputy Head of Festival for BFI), moderated by Director and Producer Luisa Pretolani.

Waiting to meet her in person, read our exclusive interview with her.

How did the Io e Lei project come to be?

Io e Lei was born on the trail of the previous film. Viaggio Sola portraits an atypical character: single women were generally depicted as victims, full of issues, unlucky and abandoned. Instead, in this film Margherita Buy’s character is the exact opposite, which has provoked amazement, so much so that the film was a real “case”in our country. When I found myself thinking about the next film, I realised I wanted to continue to investigate these type of characters and stories.

The film tells the story of a couple of mature women (Margherita Buy and Sabrina Ferilli ) living a “normal” relationship and going through a crisis.

That’s right. It is a love story between two women, something that in Italy had not been shown yet, maybe with the exception of Viola di mare, 7/8 years ago. But that was set in a different era and in a totally different context. There have been films with gay characters – even women – popping in from time to time, but never as protagonists. You can say that this is the first time an Italian film set in the present telling the love story of two strong, independent and mature women.

"Io&Lei" di Maria Sole Tognazzi

“Io&Lei” di Maria Sole Tognazzi

What is striking is the sensitivity with which this is done, the total absence of morbidity in the way you look at this relationship. In the film there are no sex scenes, and yet you manage to find other ways to convey a sense of intimacy and tenderness.

It was a deliberate choice. With Io e Lei I tell about a relationship which began six years and of a couple going through a crisis: the way I saw it, at that particular time in their relationship sex simply wasn’t there.

At the beginning of the film we see a scene where Marina (Sabrina Ferilli) approaches Federica (Margherita Buy) under the sheets. We sense that something might happen, but I’m not even sure in the end. Because as it happens to all couples of a certain age going through a crisis – regardless of sexual orientation – sex is the first thing to go. And yet we still discover that despite the lack of sex there is great love, great intimacy and a great solidarity between these two women.

 

Two very different women.

Yes, first of all because they have different backgrounds. Marina (Sabrina Ferilli) is confident, working class, she’s always been a lesbian, always been out and she’s comfortable in her skin. Federica (Margherita Buy) is more bourgeois, she has a failed marriage and a son, and is experiencing a relationship with another woman for the first time. The absence of sex in that moment of crisis is one of the things that pushes Federica to question their relationship, thinking that perhaps she’s done something wrong or that she’s not the right person for that life. But this is not necessarily because she’s with another woman, rather because it is with that particular woman (Marina)

 

In fact the dynamics in the film are universal regardless of sexual orientation, crisis and lack of sex included.

Exactly. For me Margherita Buy’s issue in the film is not so much the “I’m with a woman”, as the personality and strength of Ferilli’s character Marina. It’s not only about homosexuality, as much as it is about the choice of person she’s with. And this is where Federica falters, she thinks that maybe her previous life was more suited to her and find safety in her previous life by a meeting with a man from her past. Federica falls into a small trap (which is only momentary) because at that stage she needs to feel like a woman and thinks – wrongly – that to fulfill that need she perhaps needs to be with a man.

"Io&Lei" di Maria Sole Tognazzi

“Io&Lei” di Maria Sole Tognazzi

Do you find that there are still old stereotypes around same sex couples? The result of ignorance and easy judgments?

Unfortunately, I think so. I think that in Italy, where I live, we all pretend to be open, but in fact there is still closure on this topic. Fortunately it is not so for the younger generation, but when it comes to the older generations as well as politically we are a country left far behind, with situation from the Middle Ages. In Italy prejudice and backwardness are in the minds, even before the laws.

Do you think that female homosexuality is an even bigger taboo than male?

I don’t think it is a taboo, but there has been a lack of visibility and like with all things which are under-represented, is more frightening. Certainly in Italy we’ve seen more films with love stories between male characters – in some cases portrayed as caricatures but in others in a more sensitive way, see the work by Ferzan Ozpetek – than between women, so there is more distance.

In your film there are no judgments or a political message, but what did you wanted to share with this story?

I haven’t made this film to provoke; if anything is the “normality” around these two women that has created a scandal: the fact that it wasn’t a film that showed off something or portrayed a transgressive relationship, but the most normal story in the world like all love stories are, I believe. In a sense my provocation was the normality, not the diversity. Emphasize the equality of the relationship, putting it on the same level – as it should be – with all other love stories turned it onto a political film, but that was never the intent. I would say that I wanted to underlay the equality: the falling in love, the doubts, the crisis are the same in all love stories.

 

Was it difficult to direct two great actresses like Ferilli and Buy that – in addition to being highly successful – appear to be very different from each other?

Actually it was very easy. With Margherita there’s a beautiful affinity, otherwise I would not have decided to make another movie with her: we met, respected each other and loved each other immediately. We worked very well in the first film and the same goes for this one. I met Sabrina many years ago, while I was working in four films as an assistant director and I liked her since then. We understood each other immediately. Then I continued to follow her through her films, I was struck by her role in The Great Beauty and I would have liked to work with her. I must say that it went great: like Margherita, Sabrina is also an absolute professional, the relationship between them was wonderful and there were no rivalries or problems of any kind , it made a very nice work.

 

An (almost) all-female cast.

Yes, I wrote the script with Margherita Buy and Sabrina Ferilli in mind because I figured they would be a great couple and I also knew that, despite the differences, they would work well together, which they did. And producer Francesca Cima (together with Nicola Giuliano and Carlotta Calori) immediately accepted with enthusiasm the idea of this project. So I called the two writers I normally work with – Ivan Cotroneo and Francesca Marciano – and I told them I wanted to try to write this story never written before. Not entirely an all women-team but certainly a film with lot of women, which is very unusual in the Italian cinema scene.

The result? Find out with us Sunday, January 31. See you at the movies!

Tickets for Io e Lei are available: bit.ly/1O6awfI