Writing long novels – Italo Calvino said when his collection of short stories came out If a winter night a traveler – “it is a contradiction because the dimension of time has been shattered” and one can only live or think “if not in pieces of time that each move away along its own trajectory and immediately disappear”.
Since then (it was 1979), it is as if the Italians got used to forgetting, or at least not considering too much, that literary genre of which we have had so many teachers, from Verga to Pirandello, from Parise to Ortese. “Here in Italy, short stories do not make the publisher happy, while in America it is a literary genre that survives well”, he explains. Francesca Marciano, remembering that it was Jhumpa Lahiri, a stranger writer and Pulitzer winner, who recently tried this by taking stock in a book (Italian tales), released three years ago for Guanda. “I too am at ease in the form of the story, it is my comfort zone, because you start from an idea that leads me to something else, to a reversal and a quick movement that brings out a world bigger than that. that I thought at the beginning “, adds she who is one of the best and most requested screenwriters (among others, she has worked with Salvatores, Verdone, Bertolucci, Casini, Comencini and Golino), author of Heaven uncovered (Mondadori 1998), Red House (Longanesi 2003) and The End of good manners (Longanesi 2007) and Big island Small island (Bompiani 2015). His latest book, Animal Spirit, comes out today for Mondadori and like all the others, he wrote it in English and then translated it into Italian, because – he specifies – “writing in another language makes it even freer”.
It contains six short stories, starting with the one that gives the book its title, six micro novels covering long spans of the characters’ lives. There is the one dedicated to the end of a clandestine relationship or the one in which a girl, after an inner journey that is not at all easy, undertakes another unexpected one with a group of circus performers; there is the one where two couples on vacation in Greece question their relationships and that of a man who takes his ex into the New Mexico desert. There is an actress and also an American writer, there are voices, sounds, noises, births. In these short stories that resemble unexpected adventures there is life and death which together faithfully draw our multiple trajectories in the world.
When did you start writing these short stories?
In 2018. For every book I wrote, I went away, making residences for writers to isolate myself from everything and everyone. For each book, a different place. For the latter I went to India for the third time, but in the south; for Red House, I went to New Mexico, a place that has remained in my heart, one of those where I would move instantly.
Immediate changes and choices never frightened her. When she was very young she left Rome for New York and remained there for seven years, but at the time, she was an actress.
Yes, it’s true, but I ended up in the cinema by chance. I had recently finished high school, I was a bartender to save money to go on vacation and every now and then I enjoyed acting for very few people in an experimental theater in Trastevere with a crazy director with whom – just think – we talked in ancient Greek. Do you know one of those absurd things you see in a Nanni Moretti film? (laughs, editor’s note) Yet, it was just like that. An actor friend introduced me to his agent who was Fausto Ferzetti, the father of Fabio (the journalist, ed), a delightful person, who lived next to my parents. It was he who made me do my first audition.
The one with Lina Wertmüller for “Pasqualino Settebellezze”?
Exact. I went to the appointed place, I lined up among young and beautiful actresses, made up and dressed in the 40s, but after an hour of waiting, I went home. The next day, Fausto called me and told me that Lina wanted to see me, but it didn’t interest me that much already. In the end I went to her who took me and thanks to the money I earned, I fled to Greece. When the film came out, the “case” broke out, because despite making a small appearance, I was noticed by everyone. He called me Pupi Avati for two of his films (The house of laughing windows e All dead except the dead, ed), but I already knew that this was not the job I wanted to do.
I liked cinema, but being an actress made me feel like an object. I wanted to be the subject. In order to leave, I said that I would start an acting class in New York with Lee Strasberg, but after a few months I changed everything again and stayed there for seven years. I started working as an assistant director in small productions and with Stefania Casini we directed Far from where (1983), a feature film with which we also went to the Venice Film Festival and which had some success, but the directing technique was not for me. I liked to direct and decide, yes it’s true, to be in charge, but in another way.
Here, then, comes the writing.
Writing has given me so much. I come from a literary family, because my grandfather was a writer and a man of letters and my father also wrote in his own way being a lawyer who worked in the cinema. He was the lawyer of Germi, Pasolini and Antonioni was a family friend like Risi. Today I write for the cinema and I am part of a team, I write fiction and I am alone. However, it is never a retreat to hide, but something I do to find a dimension that is the most interior one, the most intimate one. I like to do both: working with others – now, for example, I am writing with Valia Santella and Federica Pontremoli the new film by Nanni Moretti (which is not Three floors taken from the book by Eshkol Nevo, which has yet to come out, ed), but my true happiness is also being able to write books, spend months and years inside something that I build entirely.
And speaking of short stories, these last six he wrote all have a strong animal presence in common: why this choice?
In reality it was not something intentional, but born by chance. The animals entered very fluidly in these stories of mine, not with a thought. As I wrote them, I realized that the connection that existed was precisely this presence. What strikes reading them is the wildness that is in us, something that is obviously part of me too if I think about my relationship with nature, my choices made in the past as we remembered, including the decision to move to Kenya after New York, a choice that completely changed me.
Tell us how.
It is not a place from which I have detached myself, because I continue to go there, to maintain relationships with the people who have been close to me and who have become friends over time. It’s hard to break away from a place like this: you can take a girl out of Africa, but not Africa from a girl. Everyone goes to places where they subconsciously feel they want a relationship. For me Kenya was the discovery of myself. I discovered things I had never experienced and aspects of myself that I didn’t think I had, from the ability to put myself in danger and face myself to the strong relationship with nature. Something we all tried, for example, during the first lockdown.
(In the meantime, to interrupt our conversation for a few seconds, comes Nanà, her cat with a long, gray hair that we find on her coat as a souvenir once we go away).
In the first lockdown, being closed in the house, the animals arrived to take back those places where we were no longer used to seeing them, it was a magical moment as it is magical to realize that around us there is a world that usually we do not pay attention, but it is there anyway. Just notice it.
Many animals, but Rome is also very present in these stories.
It is a sort of sleeping, millennial ‘animal’, a kind of dinosaur that emanates its sensuality with its being inefficient, ancient, majestic and wild. In these parts, in general indifference, wild fennel grows on the asphalt. Rome doesn’t care about being efficient and continues to move forward in a decadent, imperious and haughty way that is also found in the way of being of some Romans.
In the first story he speaks of a love that is in crisis, a clandestine love that – we quote his words – “is insatiable like an eating disorder: one is never full and always wants more”.
Not everyone manages to experience it. For me it is made of very subtle alchemy, it is governed by the opposite of what should be a love that should be lasting. On the one hand there is a very strong physical attraction which, as we know, is volatile and does not last forever, on the other hand there is also the sense of danger, but above all the sense of guilt, three fundamental elements. The idea of not being able to possess the other only increases the desire to want him. The clandestine love takes your head, makes you a prisoner of another situation from which you would like to escape, you are jealous … it is a set of emotions that overwhelm you, it is like walking on a tightrope. It is a dangerous road. In that story, that sudden change in their equilibrium causes everything to collapse.
It is called “Terrible Things Could Happen”, an almost prophetic title if we use it to describe the situation we are experiencing today.
I spent the first lockdown entirely in Rome, then I moved to Salento, near Castro. For me, little has changed, because I work from home and I am very lucky, because I have had the opportunity to continue doing it, but there are too many people who have not done it and today they are very bad both from an economic and existential point of view.
Closed theaters and cinemas, churches and restaurants no.
I find it ridiculous. The restaurants, with people sitting at the table without a mask for two hours passing glasses and plates, have been opened while the theaters and cinemas have not. I hope they reopen them as soon as possible, because we all need them. Going to the cinema as to the museum, getting out of ourselves through art is fundamental. With Covid I understood how much it helped us. We are used to the less, to live with the less. Covid was and is a general test that you can live with much less, but the lack of human relationships and companionship is an impoverishment. We need to have coffee with a friend, to go out, to live.
What else has this pandemic taught you?
That we needed to stop. It came unexpectedly, it stopped everything and everyone, it was shocking and it still is, the death bulletin continues to be scary. I was lucky not to get sick, but we still don’t know how we are, I still tell myself today. This period of closure has made us curl up in our lairs and there is also a bit of fear to go out and travel. In my opinion it will take some time before we really want to do it again, because we are used to this permanence and I do not know if it is a good thing. The world is standing still everywhere. I add one last thing.
Please, tell me.
Covid has taught us that we are worse than we think we are. There continues to be a great deal of distrust that goes hand in hand with vaccine inconsistencies. I’m sorry to think we will come out more bad, but maybe, as has been said, this will be the case. The big lesson is to understand that we cannot be in control of everything. We have to surrender to what is totally unpredictable. We have to let things go, accept that a carpet can be removed from under your feet, the most difficult thing for us in these 2000s.