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by dr andrew cousins

Arturo Bannetti

This years Palme d’Or was won by the Italian film, ‘Mamma Mia!". It tells the story of Maria, a middle-aged librarian who has to come to terms with the death of her son who has been killed in a car accident. The deep irony of his death stems from the fact that he was killed driving to her library to return his overdue books and therefore avoid paying a fine. This beautifully-shot film was written and directed by Arturo Bannetti. I went to talk to him about the film and about winning the Palme d’Or.

AC. Firstly Arturo, congratulations on your win.

AB. Thank you. It’s big, big thrill for me.

AC. You’ve never won an award before. How did it feel to step up to receive this one?

AB. So much of life is emotion - getting married, people dying, having children, losing your car keys. All are things that make emotion happen inside of you. But I honestly can say that nothing prepare me for this feeling that I have inside of me now. When they read out your name it hits you like a bullet in the head. The feeling is like nothing else in the world. Time stands so very, very still. But just for a very little bit and then it starts again. Like a broken clock. Yes?

AC. The press reaction to the film has been enormous. Were you surprised by that?

AB. For me personally, I take the press or I leave them. I don’t care so much if they like the film or not. If the audience like it or not is the important thing. But as you say the press has been very kind to the film and I would like to thank them all. I have done so many interviews! So many newspapers! So many televisions! It’s crazy. My brain it hurts after all the questions!

AC. Much has been made in the British press about the lack of British films at the festival. In fact there was a surprising lack of American cinema on show as well.

AB. Is true. Although I saw ‘Shrek’. So funny. I like Donkey. I met a girl who has met Eddie Murphy. She say he likes to be called Donkey in real life. She knows him quite well I think…

AC. Er, what differences do you perceive between European cinema and American films?

AB. American film is all boom bang a bang. It is quick, quick quick. Europe is more like a seduction. We like it slow and careful. We want a film to build up to something. Americans just want to pull down their pants and ‘boom’! A film is like a wife, they are both expensive but if you treat them right then they are worth it in the end. At least a film cannot divorce you, no?

AC. One criticism of this years festival has been that the films were quite downbeat. Your film could certainly be described as downbeat so how do you react to that?

AB. To these people I would say, "Open your eyes". Life is not all happy happy, no? It can happen that some people are miserable. Do we all pretend to be happy all the time? Do we act like Jim Carrey? Sometimes we have to show this on screen. If someone makes a film about dogfighting and it has no jokes they say "bad taste". Dog fighting is not funny. Suicide is not funny. I saw Lee Evans new sitcom at the Montreax Television Festival and this is not funny either. Barry Norman, he is one funny guy. His hairstyle — just hilarious.

AC. Lets talk about ‘Mamma Mia’ where did the idea come from?

AB. Er, It came from my head. You expected perhaps that it came from the somewhere else?

AC. No, I meant what gave you the inspiration for the plot of the film?

AB. I’m so sorry. My English is not so good and I masturbated the question. Where did I get the inspiration? I think that life is about learning. We learn new things every day. All of the bloody time as I think you would say in England! Also life is a big wheel. It keeps on moving and we cannot stop it. Plus it is moving in a circle — we come from nothing and we go back to nothing when we die. So it is a bit like the front wheels of a car, it turns around and around but it moves in a circle at the same time. So I take this idea and I think "where do we learn?". At school? No. Then it hits me like a bastard — a library! So really it is quite simple for me to think of these things.

AC. Goodness that really is simplistic — I mean simple. Er, the film is very stylistically directed. Was that a deliberate approach?

AB. I compose a shot not with my eye but with my heart. For me personally if it works emotionally then it works spiritually. I do not want to bore the audience. People think that a film is made up of a long strip of celluloid. This is not true. A film is a love affair between the screen and the audience. It is an emotional Jacuzzi. We get in and it surrounds us and makes us warm.

AC. That’s very profound. Are you interested in philosophy?

AB. Let me say this - philosophy is just thinking hard about things, yes? Well I am no philosopher but I do think hard about things. Why does the universe exist? Why cannot we see the black holes? Why do people keep hiring Joel Schumacher? There are many mysteries. If people knew the answers there would be no mysteries. That is my philosophy.

AC. Returning to the film, I think the image that sticks in my mind is the final shot of the film. Perhaps you could talk us through exactly what you were trying to achieve with it?

AB. In the final shot we see Bruno, the librarian’s son lying on the ground in a pool of blood. He has been killed trying to return the books to his mother library so he will not be fined. The camera pulls back in a long crane shot and we hear Abba singing the title song, ‘Mamma Mia’. For me this was a very powerful ending. We have the death, we have Abba. Musically Abba represents death. If Britney Spears had done a song called ‘Mamma Mia’ I would have used it also. We are trying in one last shot to bring the film to a close. Did you see the All-Saints film, ‘Honest’?

AC. Yes I did.

AB. Why? It was terrible.

AC. Yes it was. Was your own film a reaction against that?

AB. No. I just thought I’d mention it.

AC. Arturo Bannetti, thank you.

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