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True Characters: An Interview with the Filmmakers of "Il Solengo"

We talk to the filmmakers of unique provincial Italian documentary exploring the true legend of a local hermit.
In partnership with New York's Film Society of Lincoln Center, MUBI will be hosting four films recently shown at Art of the Real, the Film Society's annual showcase for boundary-pushing nonfiction films. Il Solengo will be showing April 27 - May 26, 2016 on MUBI in the United States.

A group of elders gathers in a hunting lodge and recalls the life of Mario “de’ Marcella,” a man who lived in a cave over 60 years of his life. Why he chose to live a solitary existence is unknown. Perhaps it had something to do with a mysterious and tragic event of his childhood...
Directors Matteo Zoppis (right) and Alessio Rigo De Righi (center).
NOTEBOOK: This film almost seems to be a sequel to your short, Belva Nera, since it's a new mysterious tale which takes place in an area you know very well…
ALESSIO RIGO DE RIGHI & MATTEO ZOPPIS: We are fascinated by this territory and its people, most of all by this group of hunters with whom we’ve opened a dialog that is still not entirely closed. Their tales transport us, move, excite and cause us to reflect. Belva Nera was our first approach, then with Il Solengo we wished to deepen the subject of the countryside and traditional oral tales.
NOTEBOOK: Where does your interest for this territory’s folk culture, its ways of recounting and oral storytelling stem from? I'd like to quote the first line of Alphaville by Jean-Luc Godard: “At times reality is much too complex to be verbally transmitted. Therefore it is recreated as a legend which allows it to travel the world.” 
RIGO DE RIGHI & ZOPPIS: We believe in the cultural value of the rural world and the weight of stories which arise from these. We are interested in giving voice to an often forgotten world which is slowly disappearing, in the hopes that this may awaken the spectator’s attention in the way it happened to us. The legend of Il Solengo allowed us to enter into the thick of this world and to understand the value of folk tales as an instrument to analyze our world.
NOTEBOOK: How and why did you choose “staged interviews” for the storytelling?
RIGO DE RIGHI & ZOPPIS: We wanted to make a film in which words bring forth the narration and where one can actually witness the making of a folk legend. This is the reason why we chose to stage the set as though we were sitting at the table taking part in the conversation, each time moving to a different position as though the characters were speaking directly to us as well as between themselves. Through their words we tried to create a sort of mocked tale by removing that uncomfortable distance which generally separates the interviewer from the person being interviewed, allowing these talking heads to become true characters. In a way the film is the attempt to recreate our emotions during that lunch when we heard the tale of il Solengo for the first time. 
NOTEBOOK: How long did it take you to prepare and shoot and how did you go about the process of editing?
RIGO DE RIGHI & ZOPPIS: We worked for a long time on the structure of the film before shooting by going on location many times and making several audio interviews. When we had developed a sort of screenplay we shot most of the film in a matter of days. The longest process of the film was editing; for many months we worked on the interviews trying to pull out of their words a discussion which followed a specific logic, which spoke about their own world but also left room for any doubts on the truth of the facts by keeping the mystery of the hermit alive.
NOTEBOOK: How did you come to know about the main character and his story?
RIGO DE RIGHI & ZOPPIS: We heard about the story of il Solengo when we were working on Belva Nera. While we were sitting at the table having lunch we heard bits and pieces of the hunters’ recollections as they tried to recreate, through hearsay and distant memories, the life of this man. We were immediately intrigued by the tale but felt even more attracted to the way these hunters told the story. Their words gave witness to a time in the past forcing us to imagine the facts but were at the same time a narrative driving force bringing forth a story as in a fictional film.
NOTEBOOK: When and why did you decide—to reveal or not reveal—the “main character” of the tale?
RIGO DE RIGHI & ZOPPIS: We were interested in discovering how a traditional tale evolves in time, how a myth is created and what it represents. It was therefore essential to omit the person and the voice of the main character in order to create around il Solengo and the characters that tell the story that same mysterious vibe. We wanted to make a film based on words, and these same words generate the images that accompany the narration. We like thinking that the main character of the film is also the tale itself.
NOTEBOOK: I believe the audience will feel the political dimension (in the widest sense) of the tales and their conjured destiny. Was this your line of choice from the beginning?
RIGO DE RIGHI & ZOPPIS: Since we would like to create an active dialogue with the spectators we tried to leave room for folk voices without necessarily forcing our opinion but using topics capable of stimulating thoughts on current events. The world we record is an old world, but also one that tends to fall apart like the walls of the ancient village because they are unkempt and abandoned. We hope that the tales and the destiny elicited make people reflect on the wealth of a world that should be carefully preserved.

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