Il Solengo, Alessio Rigo de Righi & Matteo Zoppis (2015)
Simone d'Arcangelo is an Italian cinematographer and camera assistant, most notably for iconic Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Last Tango in Paris, Apocalypse Now, The Last Emperor). His first feature as a cinematographer, Il Solengo, premiered at Rotterdam, Göteborg, São Paulo, Vienna, and both Turin and Doclisboa, where it won Best Film.
FLMTQ's Filmmaker Questionnaire derives from the Proust Questionnaire, designed to ascertain the thoughts and habits of filmmakers across disciplines.
What are five of your top films, and why?
SD: I would like to try to make a list, but it's so complicated to choose 5 out of a hundred of movies that I love. This is the type of question I always try to avoid... believe me, this is not a snobbish answer!
Most powerful film you've seen this year?
SD: I have a long list of movies that I have to watch still!!
Favorite film you've seen this year?
Your favorite film festival to attend?
SD: I love to be at Camerimage. It's full of energy and new inspiration.
Your favorite film festival to premiere?
SD: I don't have that much experience at festivals, but probably because I'm Italian I would choose Venezia.
What region would you say has put out a consistent body of work in the past years?
SD: South America in my opinion has a lot of new energy and talent— the ability to make great cinema and create epic pictures.
Who are you most excited to see make their second film?
SD: I always love to shoot close to the water— a lake or the sea— water is my favorite element.
What do you consider the most important trait in a director?
SD: The most important trait is to have vision, but a director needs a lot more than that to be complete.
What do you consider the most important trait in a cinematographer?
SD: To be able to find different inspirations in every single project, to have ideas!
What are your main faults?
SD: I never feel adequate.
What is your idea of happiness?
SD: The pursuit of happiness itself.
What is your idea of misery?
SD: To do not fight for one's dreams.
If you could have a different profession, what would it be?
SD: Music would be my first choice.
Which talent would you most like to have?
SD: A supernatural memory!
FILMATIQUE: Il Solengo is structured around absence— its titular character is a person we hardly see and know almost nothing about for certain. How did you seek to create this atmosphere of absence, or mystery, through composition and movement?
SD: We started talking about Il Solengo long ago before shooting. At first, Matteo and Alessio showed me their previous documentary Belva Nera which they shot in the same place and features many of the same characters.
I love the atmosphere that you breathe with these old people in a little village like Vejano. It seems like everything is frozen in time and very few things about their daily life have become essential to them.
We shared a lot of references between photography, movies and painting in order to set a common idea of how the film could work visually. We analyzed primitive art of Northern Italian painters like Covili and Ligabue to capture this timeless bucolic universe, and also Alec Soth's photographs— especially "Sleeping by the Mississippi."
We decided to shoot "Mario's world" in super 16mm and to shoot the narrators who create his world in digital. I believe this gave us the opportunity to slowly pass from the legend to the storytellers.
Since our first meetings, Alessio and Matteo expressed the idea of utilizing long tracking shots to underline the absence of Mario and the immobility of time. Because nature is part of the legend of Mario, we treated the places where he'd pass as one would treat a character.
On the other hand, the hunting lodge is the space of legend, the place where stories about him are told. We decided not move the camera once inside, working a lot on the right distance that the camera needed to be to transform these people into characters, pushing that line between documentary and fictional cinema. The idea was that they're both talking to us as an audience, and to each other in the intimacy of that lunch.
When shooting Lanfranco, it took a long time to find the right place and the right composition. Outside his country house, in an abandoned part of Vejano, we found this little corner in the backyard and we got some nice clouds that gave us a soft backlight. It reminded me of one of Telemaco Signorini's farmer scene paintings.
FLMTQ: Though filmed in a documentary manner, Il Solengo is more than straightforward observation because it explores the form of documentary itself— or rather, the ability (or inability) of such a form to capture reality. How did you seek to communicate such an idea cinematographically?
SD: I believe that when we place a camera mounted with a specific lens to capture a scene— when we frame reality— the result will always be an interpretation of that reality. That's what I love about cinema, the ability to show a vision to an audience.
Matteo and Alessio had a precise idea of the movie, due to their vision and experience on location and sometimes I did feel confused. We had no actual script— only a list of questions and a sort of plot outline. As I was filming my curiosity led me to discover the story myself, and this provided some very unexpected ideas to share with them.
I always tried to use the camera and light to achieve the emotion that they wanted for each particular scene. Sometimes it proved to be complicated because without actors you need to be very concentrated in your camera work, trying to catch spontaneous moments you often can't repeat.
The film is structured as if it unfolds over the course of one day— different moments occur from dawn to sunset, with the very last part set at dusk. We start from morning following Bruno's journey; he crosses the places where Mario lived until he arrives at Ercolino's hunting lodge where we find the film's narrators. During the afternoon we visit Lanfranco and later move to Celso Cellar where the story grows deeper and takes on a different point of view.
FLMTQ: What was your experience like on set? How did you, Alessio and Matteo envision the shoot, and what obstacles did you encounter along the way?
SD: I believe you can achieve what we did with a very small crew, and our crew was very, very small— only 5 people during 10 days of "principal photography," then some extra shooting days of 4-5 months later at which point there were only 3 of us!
We carried the camera everywhere and we were pretty fast. I had a very small camera and light package, but it was still very heavy to carry alone. We wanted to film using the maximum quality we could afford.
My light set-ups were simple— in the hunting lodge we aimed to create the feeling of a real lunch between the elders. That's how the directors came upon the story so we kept the same seats each character had the first time Alessio and Matteo heard them. For me was important to give each character a specific light, contrast and color to underline their different points of view.
We had few challenging situations arising from the very small size of the production. There were certain shots a production like ours couldn't do in the classical way, such as the long dolly shot. So we used what we had.
Despite the fact that we were completely free, we couldn't afford the camera for long time. It was very important to manage our daily schedule by carefully setting the shots at the proper time of the day. But sometimes you are not lucky enough to be in the right place at the right moment. In those cases we achieved the emotion we needed for the scene during color timing— our colorist, Nazzareno Neri, did a great job.
I fondly look back on our road trips from Rome to Vejano where Matteo and Alessio shared the movies they love. They have an amazing cinema culture and I discovered from them many directors that I didn't know before. We discussed cinema, life and photography at length while driving.
One of the most important things of my "film experiences" are to provide a lesson about life, to allow me to grow my personal culture, and to make me discover something new of myself. Il Solengo was one of the best in my life.