In occasion of “Alberi” projection in Milan, we met Michelangelo Frammartino to talk about his last work, which comes as installation at Cinema Manzoni in Milan. After the debut at New York PS1 Museum and the presentation at Copenhagen film festival CPH:DOX we spoke with Frammartino about his movie-installation, about Romiti, woody cults, and his own idea of cinema with the support of Andrea Cleopatria, emergent Milanese filmmaker who is working out his first full-long movie.
“Alberi” is a short movie which lasts 28 minutes, shot in digital, a dialogue-free portrait of a pagan, carnevalesque ritual with dark roots in a medieval fertility cult, ( Editor’s Note: the ritual takes place in the Italian town of Satriarno, where men dress up in branches and leaves, and in a re-enactment of the ancient ritual are turned into “romiti”: ghostlike, wandering trees in a symbiotic encounter between men and nature) . In Frammartino’s work we can see the city inhabitants meeting in the morning to go to the forest, wear some leaves and ivy, and then coming back to the little town in a slow motion parade like a walking forest. (Editor’s Note: Vivo Film/Essential Filmproduktion, Italy, 2013, 33m. “Alberi” was produced by Marta Donzelli, Gregorio Paonessa, Philippe Bober).
Luca Castiglioni: We just left Cinema Manzoni, where we watched “Alberi” on poufs: a good sensation.
Michelangelo Frammartino: Have you chosen the poufs? A nice diving eh! It has been a precise proposal to present it in that location, after the experience of Copenhagen, where the film has been presented in a gallery (Editor’s Note: “Alberi” was presented at Den Frie Center of Contemporary Art).
L: Tell me about Copenhagen and your participation at CPH:DOX festival, how did you change the “Alberi” staging?
M: I took part to the festival two years ago and I created a good feeling with the whole environment and Tine Fischer, festival director. Moreover, I presented “Alberi” two years ago as a “work in progress project”, as the festival has a part in which you can meet partners and stakeholders to present them the ideas you would like to create; that was just the beginning. Once completed “Alberi”, Tine asked us to present it at CPH:DOX, where, after the presentation on a round stage at PS1, we screened it in an octagonal space inside a XIX century wooden gallery.
L: Love at first sight?
M: We liked a lot performing “Alberi” in the wood, even if, obviously, we had some trouble and imperfections, but also a lot of interesting and enchanting moments. I would not do it again, but this is its origin.
L: And in Milan?
M: Here my ambition was to think about the limit between cinema and other visual devices: a cinematographic work, but nor video art nor installation. We called it cine-installation, for its strong debt with cinema, even if, in comparison with that, it doesn’t deal with it in a direct way: it is not a movie, but it is quite close to cinema. We projected it inside Cinema Manzoni, leaving the audience free to choose their place inside the room and decide to watch it sitting as if it were a movie, or laying down on the poufs below the screen.
L: We were discussing about how huge was the projection looking up to it from the poufs, was this your aim?
M: When we performed it at MoMA, people felt the same way. We have never seen, while working, such huge images for such long periods of work, with the possibility to touch it too. It makes you feel tiny in comparison with something fading away, now the pictures are step by step smaller. Giving this feeling of greatness means giving to the cinema a sacred dimension, as a cathedral. Cinema is a rite, “Alberi” is a rite too and it was necessary this physical dimension of feeling oneself small, a sacred respect.
Andrea Cleopatria: I thought about that while watching your long-full movie “Le Quattro Volte”, I caught your interest to work with the ancient, as a sacred term, which can not reach our memory, but with a characterized and current cinematographic language, close to the doc-movie languages. There is an important gap between what you tell and the way you do it.
M: It is true, I am working with a situation which brings us back, and going back is in my opinion a very interesting point because it concerns our origins.
A: Yeah, in “Le Quattro Volte”, there is an ancient tradition, but it is still present nowadays, it supports itself; while in “Alberi”, you talk about a myth or something more ancient, we are not even sure about its origin.
M: You are right, it is obvious that working on regression is a contemporary action. If you are insecure, you work on construction processes, you feel stronger in spite of the unpredictable; when you get your calm you are able to de-construct. It’s a conflict, I agree with you, working with the present to face the past, but the present itself is a composure that allows you to look back.
M: At the beginning, the wood scene, “Los muertos” of Lisandro Alonso or that of sunrise in “Stellet licht” of Carlos Reygadas: these are two masters, very important for me, are recognized landmarks, you know their work and looking at them you can find lot of references, even Béla Tarr for the duration. I watched “Los Muertos” 10 times!
A: Moreover, watching “Stellet licht” the landmark is direct, it talks about a person who doesn’t exist anymore and who speaks a disappeared language; it links the people with the idea of being humans, and being humans in relationship with nature.
M: The interesting thing when I worked out “Le Quattro Volte”, was to work in territories which reverse the hierarchies, when you see that people worship a tree and they drag it by arms to the town: you do not realize completely where you are. Nature becomes the main character and mankind disappears. It’s a linguistic overturn because the visual language is focused on human presence. In Lucania, plants are protagonists. These woody cults have been a revolution: in a movie, Robert De Niro, stands in front of the tree, also for a fee question, here it is the opposite, the tree is primary. These could seem banalities, but the cinema is so anthropocentric that this awareness is unbalancing and expands the production and creation times.
A: I understand, furthermore this result creates an incredible visual power: when you focus on a tree, that tree turn itself into something sacred, and it needs to be properly focused on.
M: The casting for the shepherd in “Le Quattro Volte” has been done with three people, the one of the tree with 300 different trees. You can work on the shepherd, but not on the tree, you have to respect inhuman times.
L: In “Le Quattro Volte”, you filmed the real tree ceremony, while in “Alberi” everything is mise-en-scene, which is the reason of this choice?
M: There is a difference, in “Le Quattro Volte”, I could not direct the process, I only tried to follow it in the better way I could. On the other hand, the Romiti cult in “Alberi” was weakening, almost disappeared. Nobody performed it anymore, the only way to film it was to create the mise-en-scene. In this way I would have given force to the ritual, it was a way to refresh the tradition; it would have created this oniric situation for the inhabitants of this village which well fitted the oniric dimension of the Romiti, being these very strong in their mind but not in the reality. Now it has almost become a renovation and a rite, and the funny thing is that now they keep alive this tradition even in a no-carnival context. The forest which goes to the square, almost a performance action. Usually the image comes after the event, here it seems to come first. I do not deserve it, I feel it as the fulfillment of something that was expected.
Michelangelo Frammartino, (b.1967, Milan) Lives and works in Milan, he is a director and writer, known for “Le Quattro Volte” (2010), displayed at Cannes Quinzaine, “Il Dono” (2003) and “Scappa Valentina”(2001).
Andrea Cleopatria, (b.1987, Milan), Lives and works in Milan, he is actually closing his first full-long movie.