Friday, June 14, 2024

Sodankylä morning discussion 2024: Michelangelo Frammartino

Michelangelo Frammartino, Elina Suolahti, Otto Kylmälä. The morning discusion at the School, 14 June 2024. Photo: Juho Liukkonen / Midnight Sun Film Festival.

Michelangelo Frammartino

In Italian. Hosted by Otto Kylmälä, translated by Elina Suolahti. 60 min
The School, Sodankylä, Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), 14 June 2024

Otto Kylmälä (MSFF Catalogue 2024): " When it comes to quality and pace, Milanese director Michelangelo Frammartino is in the same class as veteran masterpiece-maker Victor Erice. Frammartino could be likened to many of the greats of film history while still being firmly in his own league. His seemingly modest filmography is a prism into humanity, larger than the sum of its parts. In his films, the symbiotic natural relationship between humans, flora, and fauna – but also the decay of that relationship in the modern world – are central. The sturdy landscapes and forgotten villages of Southern Italy set the stage. "

" Frammartino, who finds his niche somewhere between documentary film-making and art installations, began his studies in architecture but later made the switch to the film school of Civica Scuola di Cinema. Stylistically, Frammartino is one of the vivacious reformers of Italian cinema. His hybrid style has similar observational notes as the award-winning films of Gianfranco Rosi and Pietro Marcello, and a love for a more diverse Italian imagery, as in works by Ermanno Olmi or Alice Rohrwacher. "

" Though he comes from industrialised and urban northern Italy, the director often turns his gaze south, to his grandparents’ Calabria. His debut film The Gift (2003), which has also graced Finnish TV screens in the past, tells the interwoven stories of an old man and a young girl in a remote Calabrian village, whose winding roads call to mind the rural landscapes of Abbas Kiarostami. Shipwrecks and decaying cars mirror the forgotten Italian south and the passage of time. Erosion and wind have hardened the rocky village, but that hasn’t dampened the desires or humanity of the townspeople. Frammartino’s film is, in and of itself, a little gift to the viewer. "

" The director’s international breakthrough and one of the masterpieces of modern filmmaking, The Four Times (2010) depicts the wayward journey of the soul or the spirit from one body and form to another, both poetically and irresistibly cinematically. It is hard to imagine how a film, which deals meditatively with themes of rebirth, can also seamlessly draw from the wordless comedy of Tati and Chaplin, but this is something one must witness for oneself. The film had its premiere in the Quinzaine des réalisateurs section at Cannes, where the central dog won the Palm Dog award for the best canine performance. "

" Loyal followers of Frammartino had to wait more than a decade for his next work, but it was well worth the wait. The partially documentary-style The Hole (2021), which had its debut at the Venice Film Festival, is set in the early 1960s and at the peak of the Italian economic boom. While Europe’s tallest building is being built in northern Italy, a small group of researchers are descending into the world’s third deepest cave in the south. The film depicts both the descent of the research team as well as the everyday life of a nearby town. In the beginning, the camera steps out into the light as from Plato’s cave, but true knowledge is found by delving back into the depths. Icons of the time and magazine cover stars are ephemeral dust before the mysteries of the universe. " Otto Kylmälä (MSFF Catalogue 2024)

MSFF Press Office 14 June 2024: " On Thursday, the morning discussions began with Italian director Michelangelo Frammartino. Frammartino is known for depicting the symbiotic relationship between people, animals and plants. His movies also highlight the forgotten villages and majestic scenery of Southern Italy, where his grandparents hail from.

Frammartino himself grew up in Milan, Northern Italy, in the 1980s. The preceding 1970s were characterised by a sense of community as people took to the streets and protested often. On the other hand, the 80s brought on the economic depression that made the people return to their homes. The life became more family-oriented and Frammantino told that like other children, he spent a lot of time in front of the television. Going to the cinema was considered a luxury.

Working in the middle ground between documentary and art installation, Frammartino initially studied architecture but switched to Civica Scuola del Cinema film school. During the discussion, he said that he regards his studies in architecture more relevant to his career in film than his studies in film school. From architecture he learned the ethics of design; an architect designs a space where people will eventually live in. This is how Frammartino sees movies as well: “Cinema is a space that welcomes its audience in.”

He mentioned that he was jealous of the cinematographers in his film school as they could work physically with the cameras, whereas the directors were not allowed to touch them.

“Nowadays everything has become digitalised so the significance of the material has diminished. Cinema is in danger of becoming fully conceptual.” Frammartino told that he is also interested in people who work in film but come from a different field: “If for example a visual artist is given a movie camera, the results are unique.”

Frammartino’s first film The Gift (2003) is set in Southern Italy’s Calabria, where his grandparents are from. Frammartino was asked how the region differs from the north, and he highlighted the differing relationships between the inside and outside spaces. In Milan, the division is notable; in apartment buildings visitors had to ring a bell, take an elevator and knock on the door. On the other hand, in Calabria people could come in and ask for permission to visit afterwards. If you wanted milk, a shepherd with a goat would be called inside to milk the animal.

Similarly set in Calabria, Frammartino’s international breakthrough The Four Times (2010) stars a dog and goat kids. Animal characters cannot be fully controlled, and according to Frammartino it puts the director in the role of an observer and enabler. You must stay patient and still for long periods of time. “The aim is to create perfect choreographies but the content is unpredictable so it will never be perfect,” he said.

The Four Times explores the theme of reincarnation, which is not a part of the local, firm Catholic tradition. According to Frammartino many beliefs in Calabria are based on pagan worldview. Frammartino’s religious grandmother also believed that snakes are enchanted souls. “In Calabria items and things have a soul too,” Frammartino said.

The name The Four Times originates from a description written in the name of philosopher Pythagoras which claims a human to be formed out of four elements. The bone structure is mineral, the circulation alludes to flora, the ability to move to animals and the rational thought distinctively human. According to Pythagoras people have to learn to know themselves four times.

In the end of the discussion the topic turned to the director’s most recent film The Hole (2021). The partly documentary film tells the story of a deep cave found in Italy in the 1960s, and the group of researchers from Piedmont who studied it.

Frammartino was interested in Italy’s Boom in the 1960s. Back then the aims were high, Pirelli skyscraper built and Yuri Gagarin travelled to space. At the same time one of the deepest holes in the world was explored in Italy. The dark movie is extraordinary as the only light in many scenes comes from the headlights of the characters. Through the film Frammartino almost became a cave researcher himself. “I make movies for a very long time and in the end I start resembling my subjects. While filming The Four Times I learned to herd goats.” MSFF Press Office 14 June 2024

MSFF Press Office 14 June 2024: " Aamun keskustelun aloitti italialainen ohjaaja Michelangelo Frammartino. Frammartino tunnetaan ihmisten, eläinten ja kasvien symbioottisen luontosuhteen kuvaajana. Hänen elokuvissaan ovat suuressa roolissa myös Etelä-Italian jylhät maisemat ja unohdetut kylät, jotka ovat hänen isovanhempiensa kotiseutua.

Frammartino itse kasvoi Pohjois-Italian Milanossa 1980-luvulla. Edeltävä 1970-luku oli vielä Italiassa yhteisöllisyyden aikaa, jolloin ihmiset olivat kaduilla ja osoittivat mieltään ahkerasti. 80-luku kuitenkin toi taantuman ja vei ihmiset kaduilta kotiin. Elämästä tuli perhekeskeisempää, ja Frammartino kertoo viettäneensä muiden lasten tapaan paljon aikaa television edessä. Elokuvissa käyntiä pidettiin ylellisyytenä.

Dokumenttielokuvien ja taideinstallaatioiden välimaastossa työskentelevä Frammartino opiskeli ensin arkkitehtuuria, mutta vaihtoi opinnot Civica Scuola del Cinema -elokuvakouluun. Keskustelussa hän kertoi pitävänsä arkkitehtuurin opintoja elokuvauransa kannalta paljon tärkeämpänä kuin elokuvakoulua. Hän oppi arkkitehtuurista suunnittelun etiikan: arkkitehti suunnittelee tilan, jossa ihmiset myöhemmin tulevat elämään ja asumaan. Näin Frammartino näkee myös elokuvan: “Elokuva on tila, joka ottaa vastaan yleisön.”

Hän kertoi olleensa kateellinen elokuvakoulun kuvaajille, jotka saivat työskennellä fyysisesti kameroiden kanssa, kun ohjaajat taas eivät saaneet koskea kameroihin.

“Nythän kaikki on digitalisoitunut, joten materiaalisen merkitys on vähentynyt. Elokuva on vaarassa muuttua mielelliseksi.” Frammartinoa kiinnostavat myös muiden alojen ihmiset, jotka tekevät elokuvaa: “Jos vaikka kuvataiteilijalle antaa käteen elokuvakameran, tulos on omanlaisensa.”

Frammartinon ensimmäinen elokuva The Gift sijoittuu Etelä-Italian Calabriaan hänen  isovanhempiensa kotiseudulle. Aamukeskustelussa häneltä kysyttiin, miten tuo alue eroaa pohjoisesta. Frammartino nosti esiin erilaisen suhteen sisä- ja ulkotilaan. Milanossa raja näiden välillä oli tarkka. Kerrostalossa kyläilijän piti soittaa ovikelloa, tulla hissillä ylös ja koputtaa. Sen sijaan Calabriassa ihmiset tulivat ovesta sisään ja kysyivät vasta sen jälkeen, voivatko tulla kylään. Jos halusi maitoa, paimen kutsuttiin vuohen kanssa sisään lypsylle.

Frammartinon niin ikään Calabriaan sijoittuvassa kansainvälisessä läpimurtoelokuvassa The Four Times päähenkilöinä on koira ja kilejä. Eläinhahmoja ei voi täysin hallita, ja se asettaa Frammartinon mukaan ohjaajan enemmän havainnoijan ja mahdollistajan rooliin. Paikalla on oltava kärsivällisesti pitkiä aikoja. “Tarkoituksena on saada aikaan täydellinen koreografia, mutta materiaali on arvaamatonta, joten siitä ei koskaan tule täydellistä”, hän sanoi. 

The Four Times -elokuva käsittelee uudelleensyntymää, joka ei kuulu paikalliseen vahvaan katolilaiseen perinteeseen. Frammartinon mukaan Calabriassa monet näkemykset kuitenkin perustuvat pakanallisiin käsityksiin. Myös Frammartinon uskonnollinen isoäiti uskoi, että käärmeet ovat tuomittuja sieluja. “Calabriassa myös esineillä ja asioilla on sielu”, Frammartino sanoi.

The Four Times -nimi tulee filosofi Pythagoraan nimissä kirjoitetusta kuvauksesta, jonka mukaan ihminen koostuu neljästä elementistä. Luusto on mineraalinen, verenkierto vertautuu kasvikuntaan, kyky liikkua eläimiin, ja rationaalinen ajattelu taas on ominaista vain ihmisille. Pythagoraan mukaan ihmisen pitää oppia tuntemaan itsensä neljään kertaan.

Aamukeskustelun lopuksi puhuttiin ohjaajan uusimmasta vuoden 2021 The Hole -elokuvasta. Puolidokumentaarinen elokuva kertoo Italiasta 60-luvulla löytyneestä syvästä luolasta ja sitä tutkineista piemontelaisista tutkijoista.

Frammartinoa kiinnosti 60-luvun alun nousukausi Italiassa. Silloin kuroteltiin korkeuksiin, rakennettiin Pirellin pilvenpiirtäjä ja Juri Gagari matkasi avaruuteen. Samaan aikaan Italiassa alettiin tutkia yhtä maailman syvimmistä kuopista. Tummanpuhuva elokuva on poikkeuksellinen, sillä ainoa valo useissa elokuvan kohtauksissa tulee hahmojen otsalampuista. Näyttelijöistä tulee siis eräällä tavalla kuvaajia. Elokuvan kautta Frammartinosta tuli myös lähes luolatutkija. “Teen elokuvia hyvin pitkän aikaa ja loppujen lopuksi alan muistuttaa sitä mitä kuvaan. The Four Times -elokuvan kuvauksissa opin paimentamaan vuohia.” " MSFF Press Office 14 June 2024

AA: Added notes:

Q: WHAT WAS THE FIRST FILM YOU SAW? A: I don't remember. At age four with my father I saw an animation with insects. [AA: Around 1972 it's hard to figure out what the film might have been. There have been many animations on the Grasshopper and the Ant, including by Disney, and there are the Wladyslaw Starewich classics of course]. Tantissimo televisione - multiple movies on tv - Hitchcock - only state channels - before arrivo Berlusconi - the center was Rome - Milano was peripheral - North Italian cinema: no studios - more experimental.

Q: ANNI PIOMBO. A: In the 1970s there was still communality. In the 1980s there was a backlash, people withdrew into homes, families, the intimate sphere. Television was watched at home, it was the window to the world. Experimental video was important, Studio Azzurro. Interactive installations. I started in video.

Q: ARCHITECTURE. A: The only thing I knew was to draw. My architectural studies were more important than film studies. The ethics of planning. In a film, the story becomes the inhabitant. A movie is a space which receives the audience into the narrative. I entered the director studies at the film school, but I envied the camera studies. I went to school to access the camera. But directors were not allowed to touch the camera. 

There are the grandi cineasti. Rossellini, Bresson, Dreyer, Dovjenko, But there are also non-cineastes who make films anyway. Visual artists as film-makers are original. Such as the little-known Swiss Peter Fischli & David Weiss who create mysterious images. 

Q: THE GREAT ITALIANS. A: Antonioni, Fellini, Visconti. Personally, I love contemporary cinema: Alice Rohrwacher, Pietro Marcello, Paulo Costanzo. In Friuli: Alessandro Comodin. 

Q: INSTALLATIONS, GALLERY ART. A: They are two different worlds. Tile vs. wood. Video vs. pellicola. Now all is digital, and the significance of material is decreasing. As a teacher I juxtapose the physical space with the movie's mental space.

Q: IL DONO - IN CALABRIA - THE NORTH AND THE SOUTH. A: Nato Milano, famiglia Calabrese, roots in Calabria via grandparents. In Milan, the interior / exterior divide is sharp. In Calabria, it is fluid. Hospitality: you don't close the door to visitors and strangers. 


CLIP: Le quattro volte (2010). A long scene with a plan-séquence approach: a crossing with a car, a goat-pen and a country road along which a Biblical costume drama is staged, a procession of the Calvary complete with Jesus Christ carrying the cross proceeds towards Golgotha, the three crosses remotely visible in the far horizon.

A: You cannot control all the elements. The material is unpredictable. But you can create a readiness for the force field in which things can happen. The director's work is observation above all. To enter inside a certain mechanism. To introduce mechanisms which pre-exist. 

Ir is rather the reality which directs me.

Q: REINCARNAZIONE. A: Molto pagano. In Calabria, beneath the churches there are Pagan temples. My religious grandmother entertained Pagan aspects. For instance: a snake is a doomed soul.

Q: LE QUATTRO VOLTE. A: The title derives from a Pythagorean view according to which a human being consists of four elements:
    The bone - mineral
    The blood - vegetarian
    Movement - animal
    Rational thought - human.
To know yourself you must live four times.

Q: IL BUCO, your latest film, takes place in the year 1961.
    A: It takes place at the Abisso del Bifurto in the caves of Pollino discofered in 1961. At 700 meters it is the second deepest cave.
   It was the age of the economic miracle in Italy and many other countries. The post-war reconstruction period had been tough. Now everything was getting higher. There was the Pirelli skyscraper in Milan, the highest in Europe. The Mont Blanc Tunnel was built. Yuri Gagarin flew into outer space. 
    I was interested in the contrast of the exploration of the inside of the Earth.
    My South Italian father had gotten the inspiration to move to the North from television.
    I start to resemble what I film.
    I learned to herd goats.
    Me and Giovanna [Giuliani] turned into cave-explorers.
    We become a part of a community.

A: Renato Berta was a friend of Giovanna's.
We shot a lot in the dark.
Buio completamente nere.
We needed to use helmet lights.
The performers became the actual camerapeople.
I designed the helmet flashlights myself.

A: Solo uno, o mamma mia!
Viaggio in Italia.

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