Wednesday, June 22, 2022

275. Italian director Paolo Taviani’s twenty-second feature film “Leonora addio” (2022), based on his original screenplay: A fitting, unique tribute to the Nobel Prize in Literature winner Luigi Pirandello and to the late film director Vittorio Taviani from the 91-year-old Paolo, younger brother of Vittorio









 



 

“Have any of you read Pirandello?” asks a senior priest in a Sicilian seminary to his junior priests 
“I read him in secret, then I confessed” replies a junior priest meekly, with penitence, “I have read one novel--The Old and The Young.” 
“Do you remember the inscription? It reads –To my children: young today, old tomorrow” adds the senior priest, a Pirandello admirer
--conversation between priests in a seminary within the film Leonora addio

Paolo Taviani collaborated with his late elder brother Vittorio on 20 feature films until Vittorio’s demise in 2018 at the age of 88. Their first feature film was released/made in 1962. The two brothers had a unique method of directing their films. Each directed alternate scenes with the other watching but never interfering. That formula worked. The Russian film maestro Aleksander Sukorov, in an interview given to this writer, said it was very rare and commendable for two creative persons to collaborate as directors on feature films for a long stretch of time (he was referring to Grigori Kozintsev and Leonard Trauberg of Russia who worked on a much shorter list of films than what the Tavianis made together.) Two of those Taviani collaborations won the highest award at the Cannes (Padre Padrone) and Berlin (Caesar Must Die) film festivals over the decades. Many of their films are geographically related to Sicily in Italy. All the Taviani films have either original or adapted screenplays written by the brothers. Paolo Taviani has made two feature films after the death of the Vittorio—the first of the two was based on the jointly written screenplay of both the brothers. Leonora Addio, the latest work of Paolo Taviani, made at the ripe age of 91 is the sole work where there is no official contribution of the late elder brother—but in the title credits, soon after the film’s title, are the words “...to my brother Vittorio.” 

Leonora addio is not a mere tip of the hat to Vittorio from Paolo. It is also an acknowledgement of the brothers’ admiration for the Italian playwright, novelist and poet Luigi Pirandello, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1934. Though controversial as a supporter of Mussolini’s Fascism for a while, he was admired and respected, not merely in Sicily but all of Italy and the world as people became increasingly aware of what he had written and published. The Taviani brothers had made a fascinating 1984 film titled Kaos (released as Chaos in USA) based on four short stories written by Pirandello. In Leonora addio, some scenes from Kaos are included, or rather, recreated. 

Years later in 1998, the brothers made another feature film You Laugh based on two Pirandello stories. Pirandello was indeed close to the hearts and minds of the two Sicilian brothers. 



While Sicilians respect Pirandello, they are superstitious
and refuse to fly on a flight with his ashes on board



Pirandello's ashes arrive in Sicily in a Greek urn
and are transferred to a white coffin meant for a dead child,
while Pirandello's admirers peek at the activity


The comedy of Pirandello rubbed off on films of the Taviani brothers. In Leonora addio, Pirandello’s ashes are carried in a white coffin of small size meant for a sinless child because “the town has run out of adult coffins.” A child who witnesses the stately procession of the coffin asks her father innocently, “Papa, has a child died?,” evoking spontaneous laughter from the grieving adults. 

In this dreamlike sequence, a nod to Kubrick's final sequence in
2001-A Space Odyssey, Paolo Taviani recreates
an old man (Pirandello?/Vittorio?) on his deathbed as the door opens
to reveal three children who emerge and age fast to elderly adulthood



Later in the film, when the final resting place for the ashes is decided after a 15-year search for an appropriate final resting place, there is a leaping leg-clap by the individual who located it, recalling Carol Reed’s musical film  Oliver!, where the leg-clap is beautifully executed by actors Ron Moody and Jack Wild walking into the sunset at end of the film! 

Leonora addio may not be appear to be a perfect film on a casual viewing but it provides perfect entertainment for those familiar with the works of Pirandello and of the Taviani brothers. Much of the film deals with the relocation of the jar containing Pirandello’s ashes to the area in Sicily where the writer was born and grew up. That process of relocation is described with considerable respect which mingles with wry humor, typical of most Taviani films. Most of all, one has to respect the effort of a 91-year-old director showing his love and respect for his elder brother and colleague, as also to a great Italian writer that both brothers admired. Implicit in  Leonora addio are the decisions taken by people in the evening of their lives and how those decisions are dealt with by those who survive the person who has died. The film constantly deals with children and the elderly--"young today, old tomorrow."


Leonora addio's second segment is Pirandello's The Nail,
where an affable Sicilian immigrant boy (in Brooklyn) who
can dance to music while working as a waiter. In Taviani's earlier work 
Kaos, Sicilian boys dreamt to emigrate to USA


The immigrant boy waiter who dances, later kills a girl who was
fighting another seemingly "without purpose." Taviani's earlier film
Good Morning, Babylon was about two Sicilian brothers who
emigrate to USA and find work with D W Griffith in Hollywood 


It is thus not without purpose that the first half of Leonora addio, dealing with the relocation of Pirandello’s ashes as per the writer's wishes, is shot in black and white, which is followed by a Pirandello story titled The Nail set in Brooklyn, USA, filmed in contrasting lush color, This segment also deals with death of a little girl with a large nail and her killer’s frequent trip to place flowers on her grave on a regular basis, after his release from prison. When the killer is asked why he killed the girl, he answers that he killed  the girl because she was was fighting with another “without purpose.” The viewer could reflect if the growth of Fascism under Mussolini was "without purpose" as well.

The most intriguing trivia is that the title Leonora addio is indeed the title of a written work of Pirandello that surprisingly is not discussed within the film. So why did Paolo choose the title of that Pirandello work as the title of the film? There must be a reason and there is one that fits logically. There is a Pirandello play called Tonight We Improvise, which is part of the Pirandello trilogy of plays better known as ‘Theatre within Theatre.’ In this play, a famous opera singer describes the physical theater to her children, who have never seen it, while singing parts of the opera ending with the duet Leonara addio, she apparently dies from exhaustion only to get up later and seek the forgiveness of the audience. 

Time must pass and carry us away with all the scenarios of life” is a Pirandello quote spoken in Leonora addio. The film allows us to do the same recalling both Pirandello and the elder Taviani. All this adds to the details inter-mingling the memories of the works of Pirandello with the past works of the Taviani brothers and other works of Italian cinema shown in clips within the film. Leonora addio’s depth of communication will be lost on those viewers who are not sufficiently exposed to the films of the Taviani brothers or the written works of Pirandello, significantly his most famous play Six Characters in Search of an Author and its related concept of “theatre in the theatre.” It can argued that Pirandello’s “theatre in the theatre” laid the foundation for the more famous concept of “theatre of the absurd” of Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco and Arthur Adamov. However, for those who are familiar with all that, Leonora addio provides quality entertainment. If we look closely at the title credits, the title of the film followed immediately by the dedication, is a personal message from Paolo “Leonora addio.. to my brother Vittorio,” which a lover of good cinema and literature would relish and approve of. 

P.S. Leonora addio won the FIPRESCI prize at the Berlin international film festival in 2022 and was nominated for the Golden Bear. The Taviani brothers' film Caesar Must Die (2012) has been reviewed on this blog. (Click on the film's title in this post-script to access the review). Paolo Taviani is one of the author’s favorite 15 active filmmakers in the world. Two of the Taviani films are included in the author’s list of top 250 films: Padre Padrone and Kaos.


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