Writer-director Laura Bispuri’s Daughter of Mine was one of the movies I was most anticipating to at the recent Tribeca Film Festival. Three years before, Bispuri deservedly won the festival’s Nora Award for best female director for Sworn Virgin.
In her debut feature, Alba Rohrwacher played a female from a remote Albanian mountain village who has lived as a celibate male since childhood. For her new film, she reunited with the marvelous actress.
The Tribeca Film Festival synopsis: “Vittoria (Sara Casu), a shy 10-year-old girl, spends the summer on the windswept Sardinian coast with her loving-but-overprotective mother Tina (Valeria Golino). Vittoria begins to suspect that local party girl Angelica (Rohrwacher) is her birth mother, a revelation that upsets her innocent childhood existence. When financial difficulties force Angelica to leave town, she asks Tina if she can spend some time with Vittoria before she goes. Tina reluctantly agrees, setting off a dramatic summer during which Vittoria finds herself torn between two imperfect mothers.”
Watch the trailer:
I was unable to interview Bispuri and Rohrwacher prior to its 2016 release, so I was delighted to have a chance, with the help of an Italian translator, to speak to them this time around.
Danny Peary: Before you made Sworn Virgins, did you know each other?
Laura Bispuri: Yes, but we got to know each other much better.
DP: Were you already thinking of making another film together?
LB: A true story I often tell is that when I finished making Sworn Virgins I wanted to investigate Alba more because I felt that she was—I use this simile often—an instrument or tool that has so many different tonalities that I wanted to discover.
Alba Rohrwacher: I was thinking of making another movie together as well. And now I want to make another and another, and another.
DP: Do you feel similarly with other directors you like or is there a special connection between you and Laura?
AR: It’s not always the same. There can be special relationships between actors and directors, and we have that between us.
DP: Laura, why did you make Angelica and Tina friends rather than sisters?
AR (laughing): Maybe in Daughter of Mine 2, they will discover they are sisters.
LB: In Sworn Virgin, Mark and Lila, who she stays with when she moves to Italy, are cousins but they are as close as sisters. Here, though Angelica and Tina aren’t biologically connected, there is a powerful, deep sense of sisterhood that links them, and that becomes particularly apparent at the end.
DP: Alba, would you have played your part any differently if they were sisters?
AR: I don’t know. Maybe if they had been sisters, the screenplay would have been different.
DP: Friends make a choice to stay together, sisters are always bonded.
LB: In this case, they are friends but they are tied together for life because of Vittoria.
AR: Maybe the daughter makes them sisters. She links them.
DP: Laura, why did you make Vittoria 10 instead of 15 or 16?
LB: I think a girl of 15 is much more rebellious and has many teenage factors that would complicate things and shift the whole center of the story. Ten is a purer age for discovery. I will give you an example: We see Vittoria taking long walks by herself. From the earliest synopsis of the film, I talked about her as kind of an errant, wandering daughter. I always imagined her taking those long walks as a little girl. These walks would have been very, very different at the age of 15.
DP: When do you think Vittoria first sensed Angelica was her birth mother, now or always?
LB: Vittoria at the start of the film is disquieted and restless. When she looks in the mirror, she can tell she looks different from Tina, and there’s question inside her that she needs to ask but she’s not completely aware of it yet. She gives herself enough space to ask this question, and begins to piece together a puzzle that’s being played out from moment to moment. She finally becomes clearly aware of that question within herself, and that’s how the story develops, with her finally putting the pieces of the puzzle together about her two mothers.
DP: Alba, do you think Angelica had urges through the years to tell Vittoria that she is her birth mother?
AR: No, I don’t think so. Prior to the beginning of the film, Angelica doesn’t think of her daughter even minimally. She’s just too distracted by the kind of debauched life she is living. They live in different worlds. But then something happens—she comes to the point where she will lose everything.
She needs money to save her house and then remembers that there is one thing that she really does own, her daughter. She initially attaches herself to Vittoria out of a sense of opportunism, thinking she will use her for something, but then she realizes this daughter loves her and she loves her in return. She finds a kind of freedom in that.
DP: To me, Tina’s one flaw is that she tries to be perfect.
LB: At the start of the film she thinks of herself as a perfect mother with a perfect daughter. But over the course of the film things become very complicated and there is a crisis of sorts. Vittoria is more complex than she realizes, because she contains in herself both Tina and Angelica. The story belongs to all three of these characters, and it’s a very difficult and painful path they have to follow. That will complicate Tina’s sense of herself and, like the other two characters, she is going to have to touch the dark side of herself in order to be reborn.
DP: Has there been a competition between Angelica and Tina through the years?
AR: They love each other but there is a competition because of the daughter. Angelica is actually very fond of Tina. She’s the only one who cares about her and comes to her house and helps her out. There is a very strange balance between them but as the rivalry over the daughter enters into the picture, little by little it is thrown off.
DP: What was the first conversation you had with Alba and Valeria?
LB: The first true conversation we had was when we there on the set. The three of us sat down and we rehearsed the scene when Tina first comes to Angelica’s house, and that was really the hardest moment because we threw everything up into the air, including the sequencing and the credibility of the characters. But then we kind of came away from that with all three of us having the will to stake everything on this and to grow with the project.
DP: Alba, was there ever a time when you and Valeria got together without Laura?
AR: Yes, it was right after this. That first day was very hard. Laura and I had a very strong relationship and then Valeria arrived. She felt my relationship with Laura was too strong, so we had to find a new balance. The first day there was no balance. Valeria and I are similar human beings and we have the same quality of feeling. We were very sincere about finding a positive, constructive balance. So the next day, we went to the same place and started the rehearsal alone, without Laura.
We were friends in life, Valeria and me, so it wasn’t about finding a connection between us but between our characters. The problem was that our characters were so different from us. Valeria and I had to put strangers into us and then put them together. So after the second day it went well. Now the three of us are very close. [Laughing] But I don’t know if we can accept a fourth.
LB: Too much! Three is enough!
DP: Alba, I find it interesting how you have such comfort in how you move your body in Laura’s movies. There was an intentional stiffness at times to your female-living-as-a-male character in Sworn Virgin, but this time there is a fluidity to your movements as Angelica, almost like with a ballet dancer. There is a freedom to how she moves.
AR: The character in Sworn Virgin is imploding and restrained, keeping everything inside, but Angelica is exploding, screaming out loud. So what I had to do was just give myself up to the part, which is the hardest thing for me to do.
In a certain sense I saw the character of Angelica as already existing and I had to allow myself into being absorbed into her. I had a lot of fun doing so. She was someone I could play while allowing myself anything including dancing when everyone least expected it.
LB: The whole physical aspect of cinema is something I care about a lot, whether it’s the landscape or actors. In fact, my cinema has become very physical. Alba is an actress who loves to transform her body and this is an aspect we worked on a lot. It was sort of the starting point for the investigative research we did for the film.
I have to say that when we were making Sworn Version, Alba became the character she played, and not just when we were shooting. She went to bed as Mark, slept as Mark, and woke up as Mark. Here again she became the character of Angelica. She became Angelica to all. (Laughing) I have to be very careful of the roles I cast her in! I have to pay attention!
DP: Laura, the men in the movie have peripheral roles. The dirt bikers that speed by and kick up dust on your females never even take off their helmets..
LB: Those moments happened by chance. When I was home studying Sardinia I read there was dirt-bike racing there so I inserted a couple of scenes with that into the script. Then when I was doing locations scouting and found Angelica’s house and was in a desert I liked, I turned around and discovered that there was a dirt-bike path right there. Scenes I imagined were actually taking place in the location I had chosen.
DP: In Sworn Virgin and Daughter of Mine, the setting is obviously very important to you, part of the physicality you spoke of.
LB: I could never make a film that takes place on my own street. I always want to enter a faraway world. The location is my journey into the film, all by myself. All the details of the film are found through this, from a small picture frame to the faces of people on the street.
Slowly there is kind of a fusion of the written world and this physical place. There was a two-year process when I wrote the scripts for Sworn Virgin and Daughter of Mine. Hopefully, for future films, it won’t take so long.
***I hope everyone will pick up a copy of my new book with Hana Ali about the origins of her father’s most famous quotes: Ali on Ali: Why He Said What He Said When He Said It. (Workman Publishing)
Danny Peary has published 25 books on film and sports, including Cult Movies and Jackie Robinson in Quotes.