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
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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