Isabella Rossellini Calls La Chimera Director ‘A Completely Original Voice’

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Isabella Rossellini returns to her Italian roots in Alice Rohrwacher’s entrancing La Chimera, a film that defies simple categorization with amazing cinematography and complex emotional themes. It follows Arthur (Josh O’Connor), a distraught British archaeologist on a search for his lost love, Beniamina (Yile Vianello), as he loots Etruscan tombs in ’80s Tuscany with a band of grave robbers, the tombaroli. Rossellini co-stars as Signora Flora, a wheelchair-using music teacher and Beniamina’s mother, who adores Arthur despite his profession.




Rossellini calls Rohrwacher “a major talent. This is only her fourth film, but she is a force. She has a completely original voice. She tells stories that haven’t been told before.” This is high praise from such a vaunted actress, director, and scion of cinema royalty. Rossellini, the daughter of Ingrid Bergman and Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini, shot to fame in David Lynch’s classicsBlue Velvet and Wild at Heart. She was also the face of cosmetics giant Lancôme for over a decade, and has created a series of brilliant, strange ‘animal films,’ such as Seduce Me, Animals Distract Me, and Mammas.


Rossellini compares Rohrwacher to her legendary father’s school of neo-realism, saying, “Much of the tradition was started with my father. Films that are very realistic. They almost look like documentaries. Alice represents the Italian movie theater, cinema in the past, but she also creates her own language. That’s what makes her so original and indifferent. And for me, very moving, because of course, I see my father.” Read on for our complete interview with Isabella Rossellini, where she also comments on the vibrant state of female filmmakers and the perspectives only they can bring.


La Chimera Is a Story Told ‘So Beautifully’

La Chimera

La Chimera

3.5/5

Release Date
March 29, 2024

Director
Alice Rohrwacher

Runtime
130 min

Studio
Tempesta, Amka Films Productions, Rai Cinema, Ad Vitam Production, RSI-Radiotelevisione Svizzera, Canal+, ARTE, Arte France Cinéma, Ciné+

MovieWeb:Alice Rohrwacher’s films are such immersive sensory experiences. What attracted you to playing Signora Flora and working with her?


Isabella Rossellini: I wanted to work with Alice because I think she’s a major talent. This is only her fourth film, but she is a force. She has a completely original voice. She tells stories that haven’t been told before yet, we all recognize them. The films are very happy. People are convivial. There is a heartbreaking feel of cultures that are disappearing or people that lived before us. When I first read the script, I said to Alice, ‘Does this film have to do with death?’ She said, ‘No, it has to do with the beyond.’ She’s completely right. We are made of many things, the present, the wish for the future, but also the past. She tells that story so beautifully.

Related: La Chimera Review | An Entrancing Exploration of Devastating Loss

MW: I always wonder how her script translates to the screen. She changes frame rates, film stock, the twisting of the camera angles. Was La Chimera’s look a surprise?


Isabella Rossellini: It was a surprise when she changed her speed of the frame, or even when she works in eight millimeter, 16, 35. I was surprised when I saw the filming. The camera wasn’t digital. I said, ‘Alice, did you find enough film around to make a whole film?’ (laughs) Unfortunately, the digital, it might cost less now, but it deteriorates much faster. There is a lot of money that has to be spent to maintain it more than film. But she said, ‘No, I have a richness that I cannot get in electronics.’ Sometimes she changed his [Josh O’Connor as Arthur] speech, like a silent film. That was a surprise for me. I didn’t know she was doing it. But I think maybe some of the things also came up while she was editing.

Distinguishing Between Life and Death


MW: Alice is often branded as a magical realist. Her films are so deeply emotional. Talk about Flora’s relationship with Arthur compared to the way she treats her daughters. He’s like a surrogate son. Why does she like Arthur so much?

Isabella Rossellini: Because he is also the connection to the dead daughter. The film is also about the beyond, the people that lived, some with us, and some before us. She’s older, and maybe slightly gaga (laughs). ‘Gaga’ is the new craziness. She doesn’t really distinguish that much between life and death. She also basically has a foot in the grave too.

Isabella Rossellini: I think she sees in Arthur somebody who is sensitive. You can feel whether it’s the void with the stick [divining rod], which is something that people do. They generally do that to find water, but they also use it to tomb raid. She is convinced that he can find in the void the daughter. Alice is very cultivated, but not very hand heavy-handed about it. There are references to the Greek and Roman myth of Demeter and her daughter, Persephone.


Isabella Rossellini: The myth is, she had a daughter called Persephone, who was kidnapped by the god of the underworld. The mother was heartbroken. She was so desperate to lose her daughter that the world went into a complete death. That’s the winter. Then she was able to make a deal with the god of the underworld. Her daughter comes back to her for half of the time, spring and summer. Then she goes back down into the underworld, which at the time was not hell, it was just the mysterious underworld. That’s the fall and winter. That’s a great myth. And occasionally, in Latin literature, the mother is called Flora.

Josh O'Connor as Arthur stands with a crowd of people watching something in La Chimera
NEON


Isabella Rossellini: So there is that reference. There is also a reference to Orpheus, when he goes down to try to get her out of the world of the dead, to bring her back with music. This mixing them all up is amazing. [Rohrwacher] is never very heavy-handed and intellectual. If you get it, fine. If you don’t get it, it doesn’t matter. You still have the poetry, you still get this magical neo-realism. They call her neo-realist, much of the tradition that was started with my father. Films that are very realistic, they almost look like documentaries and, for example, technically working with non-actors, and not mixing professional actors and non-actors.

Isabella Rossellini: So Alice represents the Italian movie theater, cinema in the past, but she also creates her own language. That’s what makes her so original and indifferent. And for me, very moving, because of course, I see my father [director Roberto Rossellini] that I knew when I was a little girl.


Isabella Rossellini on Finding a Woman’s Voice

MW: We have these brilliant, avant-garde female directors blowing up cinema all over the world. Justine Triet, the incredible Greta Gerwig, you’ve been on film sets your entire life, and also a director. What does Alice do that’s different?

Isabella Rossellini: Sometimes I ask myself, is there a female voice? In the case of Greta Gerwig, it is clear. Barbie did need a sense of humor. I don’t think that film could have been done by a man because they don’t play with Barbies. And the guilt of liking Barbie, she captured that so brilliantly, and with such an enormous sense of humor. Because sometimes feminism, like everything that is civil rights, can be very serious. Sometimes I wondered if there was a woman’s voice. Of course, there are individuals, and individuals make them very different one from another.


Isabella Rossellini: It’s really difficult, and I feel stupid to generalize. But I have the feeling that women are interested in women. Sofia Coppola, when she made the film about Elvis Presley, it was about the wife. That was very interesting, because how do you live in the shadow of a man? Because all women, in a way, are traditional women in the shadow of their husband. That was a point of view that was very feminine.

Isabella Rossellini: But also sometimes I feel there is a sense in Alice’s films of living in groups. Often, the story is a love story or a competition, and instead, in women’s life, family is bigger, it’s not just the husband. There’s children, there’s the grandmother, there’s the grandfather, there’s the aunt, and there’s the cousin. So sometimes I feel more in women’s films that voice of a group. With Alice, she uses almost a choir. The tombaroli, the tomb raiders, yes, some of them are characters, but some of them are just a choir. The same thing with my daughters, the actresses that play my daughters, there are five daughters, and it’s a group, it’s a choir […] She dresses them up, she makes them act in ways where there are individual differences, but really they are a choir.


La Chimera, though, stands out. is currently in limited theatrical release from NEON. You can watch the trailer below:

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