Using her own family as an example, director Valentina Primavera explores violence against women in her first film, "Una Primavera."
Fiorella Primavera first had to learn to use her freedom Photo: Fugu
For Valentina Primavera, the word "spring" evokes two associations: New beginnings and family. The former is understandable to most, the latter a personal matter, because it has to do with her family name "Primavera" (in Italian: spring). That the Berlin-based director titled her debut film "Una Primavera" makes sense. On the one hand, the documentary is about the new beginning that Primavera’s mother is striving for after she left her husband following the last episode of domestic violence, and on the other hand, it is about the director’s family constellation, whose patriarchal structures she focuses on.
site: Ms. Primavera, what made you decide to make a documentary about your family?
Valentina Primavera: The trigger was my mother’s decision to leave my father after forty years of marriage and our family home in Roseto degli Abruzzi (small town in the Italian region of Abruzzo, editor’s note). Because with this step, for the first time in her life, she put her own needs as an individual in the foreground and at the same time left behind everything by which she had defined her identity until then. This raised many questions both for her and for me as a daughter, in terms of her self-image and the meaning of family. So I decided to accompany her in this self-discovery phase with the camera.
In the process, you provide deep insights into your family history: it’s about domestic violence and deep-seated patriarchal structures. How do you make the decision to make all this public?
I was able to make the film only when I understood that it is not just about the story of my family, not just about my parents Fiorella and Bruno, but about patriarchal dynamics and role conceptions that are structural and therefore universal. These also go beyond Italian society, as unfortunately shown by the statistics on domestic violence in different countries.
Born in 1985, grew up in Abruzzo. Since 2010 she lives in Berlin, where in 2014 she completed an MA in Stage Design and Scenography at the TU Berlin. Works as a stage and costume designer, among others for the Berlin Theater Hebbel am Ufer. "Una Primavera" is her directorial debut.
So does your film not contain any criticism of Italian society in particular?
Yes, it does. I think the way gender issues are dealt with in Italy is particularly problematic. The main issue is how such topics are talked about. The level of discourse is completely shifted. Just think of the case of Nilde Iotti (the first woman to hold the office of president of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, ed.), who on the 20th anniversary of her death was described by the newspaper Libero as a "shapely Emilian woman, good in the kitchen and in bed"; or the discussion that flared up over the supposedly too revealing dress of Minister Teresa Bellanova. This brutalized language cements patriarchal role models in the collective mentality and has a direct impact on women’s self-image.
This leads back to the film.
Right, because under these conditions it is difficult for women to recognize patriarchal dynamics and even violence. In the film, my mother is always told that she has the freedom to decide, that she can reinvent herself. This is not true, because to act in a self-determined way requires means that were not given to her by school, television or the community in which she lives.
"Una Primavera". Directed by Valentina Primavera. AustriaItalyGermany 2018, 80 min.
While making the film, weren’t you afraid of being too close to the story to abstract its political dimension?
That was indeed the most difficult thing about the realization of the film, also because I did the camera work myself. This was indispensable, because my family would not have opened up to a person from the outside. But that’s why I had to constantly reflect on my view and didn’t sift through the footage for a long time after shooting, in order to create an emotional distance. But the real distancing could only take place in the editing phase. With the editor Federico Neri, I tried to separate the personal and the private in the material. The former is intimate, yet has a political value. The latter, on the other hand, satisfies voyeurism, but is counterproductive to a serious discussion of content. That’s why our goal was to exclude the private from the film.
In the film, you almost never take a stand on what your protagonists say or do, not even when, for example, your uncle quotes Mussolini ("It is better to live one day as a lion than to be a sheep for a hundred years") to defend your father. Is that also distancing?
To take a stand, you wouldn’t have needed the film, because that’s what I do every day as a private person. It would have been much too easy to condemn my father in the film or to have an argument with one or the other. Instead, I focused my gaze on the communication gaps within the family constellation and the lack of empathy they create. I wanted to observe the gestures and the reactions, for example my sister’s facial expression and its effect on my mother, without commenting.
Again, the decision to prefer your mother’s perspective in the film testifies to a clear attitude.
This was essential for me, because my mother was confronted with the belittling of her needs, feelings and problems from the very beginning. This happens to many women who are first seen as mothers and only then as women. This causes them to fall back into a kind of silence. For example, when my mother saw the finished film, she asked me, "Who should care about my story?" With the film, I primarily wanted to give her the opportunity to break the silence about herself for the first time. For me, that is the most important position I could have taken.