Film Kairòs, Mammoth Films, Rai Cinema, supported by Ministero della Cultura, in association with Armando De Angelis, Banco di Sardegna Spa, Aliante Partners, in association with Windmill Lane Pictures, with the support of Media Programme of the European Union, Regione Sardegna, Regione Lazio, Comune di Cagliari, with the participation of Irish Film Board, Bord Scannan Na héireann, Sardegna Film Commission Foundation
festivals & awards:
Annetta lives in a small village in rural Sardinia at the end of the 1930s. She is in her mid-30s, always wears black, is a loner and silent, with a flinty beauty typical of the dry surrounds. She holds a terrible secret from the past and spend long days waiting for a call. When it comes, her slim fingers open an old leather bag and reveal a wooden mallet, an old cushion, a broken mirror… until something unexpected happens to change her whole existence… and gradually Annetta will discover that she can be something completely different from the Accabadora (angel of mercy) which she once was, taking back her own life and the fact of being a woman.
Death, war, love, our story revolves around these three eternal narrative elements.
The thing which increasingly interests me as a director is to explore the most hidden corners of reality, the forgotten corners, where invisible lives pass through, forgotten by history.
Annetta is one of these human beings whose existence takes place in an “archaic” microcosm (in the etymological sense of something arcane, forgotten). Annetta’s remoteness from the world, from its lights, this fact of hiding in the shadows, in the corners of life is not a choice. In this sense Annetta is initially a tragic character, the trajectories of her life seem designed well beyond her own desires, destiny has placed her in a remote place, her life is marked by tradition, rites of a dark world, to carry out the role of the Accabadora which her mother passed on to her and which the community asked of her.
Annetta lives in this dimension where she has an almost shamanic detachment from the world, she hides, or rather she ignores, her feelings, she has acquired all the toughness needed to perform the role of Accabadora, to provide people with a painless death.
And yet Annetta, as we have imagined her, is light years removed from the stereotypical Accabadora which popular tradition and the few existing studies have passed on to us: an old woman, an expert in natural medicine, capable of giving “easy death” to the terminally ill, in an archaic world where, given the lack of treatment, there was perhaps tacit acceptance for this form of instinctive piety.
Our Annetta instead is a woman who is still young and beautiful, on whom her mother has imposed the secrets of the rite to bring the sick to the end of their suffering and agony. But this condition, as she will clearly state, buried her, while still a girl, in a ditch. She lives buried as if she was her own dead, the hidden movements of her spirit are accompanied by the presence of her first “assisted death”, by a tragic twist of fate a child affected by an illness which was endemic on our island: Mediterranean anaemia. Annetta’s life is no life, a life which must continually deal with death. But, unlike the traditional figures, Annetta is unwittingly driven by a strong desire for light, contact, love and will find in her failure to fulfil her traditional role the strength to change her destiny.
The only truth which guided us during our narration is that of the character: we had no intention to recover an historical or anthropological reality. And the most interesting thing which can happen to a character is a breakdown in their equilibrium, everything stems from there. That is why we have taken up Annetta’s story at a key moment: it is something which concerns her life above all, her passing from one state to another, from a world suspended in its unchangeable forms to the uncertainty and vagueness of a new state which includes a value she has never experienced: love in its numerous forms.
The love for Tecla, the contact, the proximity she is forced into to take care of the young orphaned niece, all trigger the move from the state of rest, which numbs the ancient and deep pain of her broken childhood, to the discovery of the world and its heartbeat. Annetta thus comes to know the city of Cagliari, with its modernity and with the war which is part of it. She falls under the spell of the creative world of the extravagant artist Alba (a character inspired by the Coroneo sisters, little-known but important figures in the rich artistic and crafts tradition of Sardinia) and rebelliously opens up to a deeper relationship with Albert, based on self-confidences and abstract reflections which go beyond the confines of her small archaic world.
Also in Cagliari Annetta finds death, brought in its most modern forms by the war and by the bombing. But in this city she also meets the Doctor, the man who uses science to care and cure, the “Foreigner”, the utmost emblem of the other. He will manage to break through her shell and to unlock Annetta’s heart, preparing her for physical contact and love, making her discover a desire which she has always driven away, denied to her body as a young woman, forced, like an ageing priestess of a long-forgotten rite, to live far from human beings and their feelings. Annetta becomes a modern woman in moving from the countryside to the city. But in the 40s the city is going through an enormous change: Cagliari paradoxically is living through its shift to modernity. The war led to change in its most tragic form: destruction through the bombs, produced in the age of sophisticated technology.
These narrative motivations drove our desire to give the film a form that could encapsulate all these ideas. The story of the archaic world had to be told in its real state, in this sense it was fascinating to reconstruct what served to respond to the material quality of the archaic world in which the first Annetta lived. With the set designer and dresser we thought about the need to find a set of colours that could connect the colours of the earth, the skies, and nature. The costumes and the places reflect the mud of the houses, the colours of the stones, the yellowed mass of the woods which surround Annetta’s village. I found what I was looking for in the village of Collinas and its countryside and this place left a profound mark on the film. I wanted to get away from the now classic idea of a Sardinia which we have seen only too often with images of a particular kind of folklore which imprisons our identity within the walls of the classic themes of black, the white of the sheep, rocky mountain-top villages like those in the area of Barbagia. I asked my artistic crew to colour everything by drawing on the work of some important Sardinian artists from the start of the 19th century who used unusual colours to find a different light for an island which is more of a dream than a reality. My dream of this island includes works by Giuseppe Biasi, Melkiorre Melis, the Coroneo sisters, which, however, for the interiors soon gave way to an intense Flemish style which was stubbornly sought out for the interior shots in the village in the first part of the film. A Flemish Sardinia, my wish which the director of photography, the young Irish professional Piers McGrail, took up, with lights which fall lightly on bodies and objects.
A very important element was tied to the role of objects, all the things which appear in our film try to have meaning, are necessary within the overall chromatic and decorative design. In this sense the cloak designed by the fashion designer and artist Antonio Marras to clothe our Accabadora is a timeless object, an item which Annetta has inherited from her family’s past and which is highly symbolic. This costume aged over shooting and needed to be reclaimed, repaired, but together, passing through the fields, passing through nature, it collected and enriched itself with something from the earth and the scent of the flowers, it was bathed by water and touched by the wind and dust and the land, a trace of which it maintains in its colours.
My idea of cinema is essentially based on the importance of the relationship between human bodies and the places which are home to them. I like, and I say this with a great sense of humility, to be considered a landscape artist, in the sense that the human form has no meaning without a solid and essential relationship with the landscape. Landscape in my works, at least I hope it is so, should leave a deep mark on the narration and on the spirit of the characters, on the reasons for their existence, on their desires, their dreams, and Annetta dreams a number of times in the film, dreams within which wild nature is ever present and is as sweet as she knows it, as she has passed through it in the various seasons of her life. Every film starts from a necessity, a need, in this sense my film starts from the desire to put myself before the theme of the past of our land. In order to face it I wanted to return to the days of the bombing of our city, to give shape to the stories of my mother who was a child under those bombs. The city at that time was seen by the countryside as something remote, the inhabitants of Campidano, the plain which surrounds it, admired Cagliari, they saw it as something beautiful and far removed from the hard and hostile life of the countryside. The war and destruction, however, force many from Cagliari to leave the city, its amenities, its bars, its cinemas, its theatres, its frenetic life, to find shelter in the countryside. Tens of thousands of people from Cagliari moved out. But some remained to keep the city alive, and the film is dedicated to them. The doctor remained who was responsible for looking after the wonderful seventeenth century Susini waxworks, real masterpieces of the art worldwide, which can still be admired in the city’s museum district. That young and courageous doctor inspired the character of Albert, our own doctor, who is basically a real person. Many remained because they could not or did not want to leave Cagliari, the milk suppliers from Arborea who every day used to provide supplies to the starving city and the ten thousand who withstood all the bombings. The same milk suppliers provided the van used to carry the statue of Saint Efisio in procession, as per the three-hundred year old tradition, also on 1 May 1943, a few days before the final and definitive bombing. Marino Cao also remained in the city. He was the filmmaker who shot the images of Saint Efisio which we wanted to use at any cost, even at the risk of a style of expression which differed from the rest of the film. Also these images inspired our story and bear witness to those days. For me they also bear witness to the majesty of our art, of cinema, of passion for moving images which remained alive also during the war, as shown by the thousands of historic documents. And in fact it was Marino Cao, the furniture trader, film lover, with his refined tastes and a sense of curiosity, who was one of the people who transmitted to me the desire to make films: to bear witness, to pass on the deep love for my city and for those who live and have lived there.