Davide Ferrario

  Interview with Davide Ferrario (Author of "Dissolvenza al nero") by Johann F. Janka for www.buchkritik.at

  Mr. Ferrario, I have researched a little bit your career and found out that you are a successful and well-known director. What was/is the reason for becoming a writer? Is one of the reasons that you can decide more in your written story than as a director after a screenplay or is it more a kind of coming back to your profession as a Journalist and screenplay-author and what is the artistic difference for you between making a film and writing a book?

  The reason is quite simple. In 1994 it became clear to me that I could not direct the film I had planned. I was free for a year. I had played with the idea of writing the Welles novel for some time and I realized that was the right occasion. You see, I don't make such a big difference between movies and books. Or documentaries and music videos. The basic thing, for me, is to tell a story and/or to convey a feeling. Of course the means are very different (I am considered a very visual director and I hate words on the screen, for example). The important thing is to focus on the inner movement of the story you are going to tell and make it live with a sort of personal heartbeat. It's not a matter of control, of "book versus film". But I have to admit that playing with the character of Orson Welles is easier on the page than on screen. I don't envy the director that's going to make the movie from the book...

  How do you see the situation of filmmakers in Europe, particularly in Italy in comparison to the USA, except the money and quantity, I mean, are there ideas for making movies and are there people who are willing to finance films?

  Right now I am writing for Miramax the script of a movie that I am going to direct next year in the States; and at the same time I am receiving a number of proposals in Italy, without being able to make the movies I really want to make. In my country, though we are experiencing a renewed confidence of the audience in Italian movies, there is quite a discouraging conformism. It's not difficult to make movies, but nobody dares venturing out of the scheme of middle-class good sentiments. I don't consider myself an iconoclast or a provocateur, but I was very saddened by the way "Guardami", my movie about the life of a porn actress, was received in Venice two years ago. So I prefer to work with the Americans, though I am perfectly aware of the risks involved. How could I not, after reading so much about Welles's constant clash with Hollywood?

  Coming back to your book. "Dissolvenza al nero" comes over very realistic and it is sure that you have spent a lot of time for investigating facts for your book. Wasn't it very difficult for you finding right institutions and persons to get all the information (I mean except the bone-work and the amount of time) and to investigate so many facts, especially the actions of the Mafia, Government-Agencies and how have you got so close connections to people and files for proofs?

  It was all there. I mean, there is nothing in the book that some other scholar or writer proved at a certain time. My work was mainly to take the pieces of the puzzle and give them a pattern, using Welles and his Italian friend Moravia (who is basically the only character of the story completely invented) as a thread. Post-war Italy was an incredible set, but in a way it was consumed by the image of neo-realism. Instead, it was also the beginning of the Dolce Vita, a time on contrasts. You see, historians who dug out the truths about the politics of the period were never interested in less serious matters, such as the love life of the movie stars. But that was in fact one of the big topics of the day. In Italy there were dozens and dozens of magazines about that. So, I checked both sources, serious and mundane, and short-circuited them in a detective story. Take the dinner between Welles and Togliatti, the leader of the Communist Party. A very strange event indeed. I found evidence of it both in the FBI files and in the gossip columns of the Italian dailies: with different perspectives, naturally. That is why, I think, the book sounds "true" in a very daily manner. My greatest gratification has been to receive compliments by people who were young at the time who told me "Yes, It was like that".

  Was your investigation easy or did you recognize also some resistance when you asked for stories about the time after the war?

  The point is slightly different. The problem is that the truths in the book are not considered disturbing any more. I thought that writing that the Americans planned a coup d'état in Italy if the Communists won would be a matter of big discussions. To my surprise, it was accepted by everybody (right-wing critics included) as a fact - but belonging to the past. And that was the general feeling when I made my inquiries. "Oh yes, it was terrible. But it was so long ago...". Quite scary to me, actually. There were also a few cases of absolute rebuttal: when I asked the Argentinean Embassy for information about the real character on which Michael Akian is based, they checked with Buenos Aires and very politely said "Forget it".

  Mr. Ferrario, you know your country Italy and the United States of America very well. What is your opinion about these two countries now, at the moment?

  To be honest, I think that a specific Italian character does not exist any more. The Americanization of the western world has its worst example in Italy. Young generations have no memory of what we were and are content of being some kind of second choice Americans. The funny part is that foreigners keep thinking of us as we were still in Anna Magnani times: and the Italian movies that are successful abroad are all about that period.

  You say that your book is partly a novel but many things and characters are true. Was your impulse to write this book to show the reader and the world the ugly dealings of this post-war period in Italy or was only the very good idea of the story a challenge for you to write a novel?

  You see, I hate stories with a pre-fab "demonstration". Once I understood the matter and the scope of the work, I set down to write a novel about cheating. A fascination with cheating was the beginning of it all. I read on a paper that, during the 1948 elections, Welles was in Rome shooting "Cagliostro". As I found out, it was not true as it was reported. But I started thinking of a master deceiver as Welles playing a historical deceiver like Cagliostro during a period of such incredible ideological and political deceit as post-war Italy - well, that made my mind jump. The basic idea of "Dissolvenza al nero" is that truth is useless, because people prefer to be deceived on any level. You find that motive also in the Welles-Padovani love story.

  You write about the Vatican in great detail. Are you convinced that the Vatican really was involved to this extent in bringing so large sums of money out of Italy like you wrote in your book or is that just an interesting freely invented point?

  The Vatican scheme is widely proved. The story of monsignor Cippico Pressner is also true, though I admit making up the more private details of his sex life. But he was definitely a womanizer.

  What do you think about the Vatican and its business beside the holy tasks now, more than fifty years later?

  I do think that the Vatican is a center of worldly power. I am an atheist, I don't even argue the faith of the single believer. If it's fine with him, I won't try to convince him otherwise. But any organized religion, anybody saying "I speak in the name of God" scares me. Whatever good reasons they might have in certain cases is completely erased by the role the Vatican plays on the political (and financial!) scene.

  It seems that your most important person in the book is Orson Welles, but the real main-part is by the PI Tommaso Moravia. Did you realize your ideas mainly through this private investigator?

  Yes, I guess so. You see, Orson was such a character by himself that my main worry was never letting him fall below his legend. In a way, it was already written and I did use a lot of thing he said himself. Moravia is closer to me. He feels the same fascination and repulsion to Welles and what he represents that I do towards Americans and their culture. But he is a cursed man. He will never find his place in the world, not with the Communists or with the Americans. And not with the woman he runs away with. There is no reconciliation for nobody at the end of the story.

  Signore Ferrario, would you tell us something about your projects in the future? Is there another book-project and are there any intentions for making further movies?

  Since I wrote "Dissolvenza al nero" I was quite lucky (and busy) as a director. I did not have the time for another book. I just started thinking about it now and may be this fall, before starting the Miramax film, I will sit down to write some fiction. At a certain point I played with the idea of reviving Moravia for an earlier investigation, set in Venice in 1944, during the nazi occupation. But I guess my new book will be completely different from "Dissolvenza".

  Is it right that Oliver Parker will be director of the coming filming of "Dissolvenza al nero"? If yes, couldn't you imagine doing this job by yourself? And last question, will you write the screenplay, or do you wish to leave this production to others and confine yourself to having written the book?

  The film from "Dissolvenza" has a long story already. Now it's Oliver Parker, but at a certain point it was Roman Polanski. I met with him and we discussed his ideas: I was very thrilled but the producers who had bought the rights did not agree with him. He wanted to play down the investigation motive and enhance the comedy of the foreigner (Welles) stepping into schemes he does not understand - a little bit like Frantic. Then John Sayles wrote a beautiful script, quite close to the story, and now Parker is going to direct a 20 million dollar movie for Renaissance Pictures. In all this, there were talks of me directing, at a certain point. But I feel I already paid my debt with this story writing the book. Actually I am very curious to see what another director can do. I myself used other people's stories to make movies: and I know the silliest thing for any author is to say: "It's my story". It isn't since the first reader opens the book or the first spectator sits in the theatre.

  Mille grazie, signore Ferrario for this interview and all the best for the future.

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