liliana cavani: a european eccentric phenomenon

By Francesca Brignoli

Liliana Cavani is the only female Italian director to be recognised at a global level. Her story is interconnected with her productive and political involvement – an activity that she has never fully worked out – making her a truly unique humanist. Cavani considers cinema a tool for understanding and conversing with contemporaneity. The historic, cultural and spiritual lands she crosses make her cinema eccentric: the caution with which it is received, especially in Italy, is proof. She has been followed with more sensibility abroad, where she has been considered more as a European phenomenon than an exclusively Italian one: her productions reveal a very strong cosmopolitan vocation.

She belongs to the generation that definitively freed itself from Neorealism; from her earliest beginnings her name has been paired, also from the generational point of view, with those of Marco Bellocchio and Bernardo Bertolucci. Their cinema invented new forms of interpreting the real from an intensely subjective point of view. But to truly understand the space within which the filmmaker moves, one must actually look to Luchino Visconti and Pier Paolo Pasolini. She shares the concept of the “foreign body” with Pasolini, of that which is different and subverts the established order. With Visconti she instead shares a propensity to use history as a scenario of experiences, as a stimulus for a cultured, sophisticated and cruel human story.

Her vision, free from any kind of Manichaeism, has made her a fascinating but complicated figure: in some cases her originality has shadowed her sophisticated mindset and dedication. RAI (national television channel) produced her first films, which were documentaries and historical-social inquiries. The Cannibals (I cannibali, 1970) captured the interest of international critique, with Susan Sontag bringing the film to the New York Festival. In the sixties she founded Lotar Film in order to acquire creative independence, which produced The Night Porter (Il portiere di notte,1974) – her masterpiece – and Beyond Good and Evil (Al di là del bene e del male, 1977). These films were very successful in the European box offices and stimulated intellectual debates abroad. In Italy, on the other hand, the films were regarded as scandalous and raised discussions about the power of censorship and a filmmaker’s autonomy, especially in the case of women. She continues to direct in modern times, also with significant foreign productions: Ripley’s Game (2002) for the British Fine Line Features.Francesca Brignoli (IT) is an independent researcher and cinema specialist of Liliana Cavani, to whom she dedicated her thesis, graduating with a degree in Cinema History and Criticism at the Faculty of Letters of the University of Pavia. She continued her research on Cavani’s cinema, writing speeches, essays and the monograph Liliana Cavani. Every possible journey (2011).
She and Nuccio Lodato edited historical-critical monographs dedicated to Ingrid Bergman. The Vertigo of Perfection (2010), Marilyn Monroe. Deceits (2014) and Orson Welles. Fourth power (2015). At Roffa Mon Amour she will talk about the work of Cavani.