alina Marazzi

Documenting women

Silvia Carlorosi, Ph.D.
Bronx Community College
City University of New York

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Alina Marazzi was born in Milan in 1964. She completed her higher education in London, UK, where she received a diploma in Media Studies and a BA in Film & Television. Returning to Italy, she soon started her career as a filmmaker authoring shorts and documentaries. These include L’America me l’immaginavo (America—As I imagined it, 1991) which explores stories of immigrants from Italy, and Ragazzi dentro (Kids inside, 1997) a two-episode television documentary, dedicated to the lives of children in juvenile prisons. These initial films, she says, contain “the elements with which I am interested in working still today: Super 8, letters, photographs, the word entrusted to women.”[1] Influences on her early works include Laura Mulvey, with whom Marazzi had the opportunity to work as a student in London, as well as Italian filmmakers Giuseppe Piccioni and Giovanni Maderna, with whom she collaborated in her early career. They all influenced Marazzi in constructing a poetics that explores the Italian social sphere from unique points of views, while looking at individual experiences or microhistories. She investigates social topics using experimental cinematographic techniques, a predominant documentary style, and art films. Marazzi’s subsequent major works reflect these premises and mainly focus on women and their condition in Italy.

Un’ora sola ti vorrei (One more hour with you, 2002) is her first feature documentary and her first personal film composed of a montage of family movies, letters, and audios of her lost mother. Marazzi started this project when she found and re-read letters her mother had sent to her during a stay in a psychiatric hospital. “The format of these letters, their visual language, reminds the spectator of Marazzi’s cinematic style’s primordial imprinting: excerpts from home videos, photos, letters, diary pages, postcards, found footage and new footage everything mixes and forms that unique combination of different texts and images which is Marazzi’s collage,” [2] Benini explains. Marazzi’s mother suffered from depression and she committed suicide when her daughter was only 8 years old. In Un’ora sola ti vorrei, Marazzi constructs a hybrid narrative using the footage and letters found at her grandfather’s house in order to retell and make sense of the story of her mother. In so doing, she imprints her own personal meaning and perspective in her mother’s life. The film’s title, which translates into “I would like to have you for just one hour,” quotes a very famous Italian song from the 60s, and significantly expresses the director’s need to take possession of her mother’s memory, even if for only one hour of cinematic time. Marazzi uses the cinematic footage authored by her grandfather, the internationally known editor Ulrico Hoepli, and gives it a different meaning. She deconstructs images and re-constructs a story according to her own voice, which follows letters and diary pages written by her mother. In so doing, Marazzi gives meaning to the life of her mother, granting her a dignity of which she had been deprived in her life [3].

With Per sempre (Forever, 2005), a documentary about cloister nuns, Marazzi continues her exploration of the female universe, this time focusing on a religious life choice. The film’s format is more traditional, as she uses her own footage while investigating the lives of nuns in three different orders: the Carmelites of Legnano, the Benedictines of Viboldone, and the Camaldolese of the Priory of Contra. Through voiceover narration, Marazzi adds her own voice to those of the nuns in her efforts to capture the mysterious and unspeakable reasons for the nuns’ choice of seclusion. The director acknowledges both her fascination and discomfort with the choice these women have made, and by the conclusion of the film she ends up recording their voices and listening to them without adding anything else. As Benini also notes, “Marazzi gives voice to something which by its very nature is beyond words. What finally emerges is the empathy between the director and the rebel of the community, the one that pushes the limits of her self-imposed rules.” (136). The documentary draws attention to the limitations of verbal language, and after all these women’s words, the viewers are left with silence, visually portrayed with a concluding black screen. 

The influence of microhistory in building social awareness is sounder in Marazzi’s next film, Vogliamo anche le rose (We want roses too, 2007), which can be considered a continuation of the director’s joint political and aesthetic projects. The intertwining of discourses gets more complicated as the director uses and edits archival images, found-footage films, and advertisements commented in voiceover, through the personal diaries of three women writing in 1967, 1975, and 1979: Anita’s, Teresa’s, and Valentina’s. Paola Bonifazio has argued that in Vogliamo anche le rose the director constitutes a hybrid between documentary and found-footage films [4]. The archival footage represents the public space and gives a context to the private voices of the women’s diaries that appear to be strictly linked to the social environment [5]. With the intent of re-constructing the story of women and the feminist movement of the 70s, Marazzi shows images of women decontextualized from the original sources and sometimes repeated in order to add stratified meanings to the film. Visual and auditory components are de-codified from their original meaning and re-worked in a collaborative and passionate investigation of the past. Images can thus be made sense of only in her new filmic narrative, which infuses images with a new meaning. Furthermore, some of these images are multiplied in a way and shown in different moments throughout the film, imbued with a different meaning and perspective in each instance [6]. Intertextuality, furthermore, extends beyond the screen, as Marazzi asked writer Silvia Ballestra to collaborate on the film script [7]. In re-creating a women’s narrative, Marazzi dialogues with historical first-wave feminism, which was born as a social left-wing reaction to the Italian patriarchal society as defined in the 50s and 60s. Marazzi’s film recognizes a legacy between the feminist movements, but at the same time, as Bonifazio argues, expresses the “attempt to move forward in the investigation and creation of the subjectivities of the sexes” (180).  The plurality of voices represented in Vogliamo anche le rose does not follow a linear narrative, in which the life stories of several women unfold over the film’s duration; rather, the film instead examines their unique selves as women, and their relationships with others and themselves in the 70s. With Vogliamo anche le rose, Marazzi constructs a collective biography of women and gives them back their right to be subjects and agents of their own lives, while re-creating their narratives through her work in film.

Tutto parla di te (All about you, 2012) marks Marazzi’s passage to fiction. However, her documentary style influences her work in fiction, as storytelling is still intertwined with documentary footage, home movies, stop-motion animation, even art photographs, and dance. The film directly addresses motherhood and the concomitant ambivalent feelings and responsibilities. The film focuses on the challenges and difficulties new mothers face in recalibrating their post-partum lives. In the film, the protagonist Pauline (played by Charlotte Rampling) goes back to Turin to reconnect with her friend Angela, who runs a center for new mothers. Pauline meets Emma, a dancer struggling to reconcile her new life as a mother with her career as an activist artist with a traumatic past and to master her changed body. Marazzi intersperses Emma’s story with interviews with real mothers who bear witness to the difficulties of a role that entails a transformation impossible to foresee. The director’s editing and camerawork serve the narrative in the alternating documentary material, interviews, dance performances (by the dancing company of Fattoria Vittdini), and photography. Such complex intertextuality explores new boundaries between genres and media and remains a signature feature of Marazzi’s cinematographic style. The film was internationally recognized with the prize “Tao Due La Camera d’Oro” at the International Film Festival of Roma for best emerging director (Alina Marazzi) and producer (Gianfilippo Pedote). 

Following Tutto parla di te, Marazzi collaborated on 9x10 novanta (9x10 Ninety, 2014) in which nine directors were given access to archival footage to present a portrait of Italy during World War I. Marazzi’s contribution titled Confini (Borderlands) used WWI archival footage and featured the poet Mariangela Gualtieri. The film circulated internationally and earned Marazzi and her fellow directors the Special Prize for the Nastro d’argento in 2015. 

The film Anna Piaggi, una visionaria nella moda (Anna Piaggi, a fashion visionary, 2016), is a documentary portrait of the life of Italian fashion icon and journalist Anna Piaggi. The documentary revisits Anna Piaggi’s double life as a journalist and fashion icon, in which she constructed a persona distinguished with unique freedom of expression. Anna Piaggi was famous for her eccentric style of dress, and when she created the rubric “Doppie pagine” (double pages) for the magazine Vogue Italia, she would connect ideas, colors, and images as if painting a picture. Fashion and words were two means of communication for her, and they found a cinematic representation in Marazzi’s work. 

Creativity, art, and fashion are also the topic of Marazzi’s latest work, a short specially commissioned by Italian fashion designer Maria Grazia Chiuri: To Cut Is to Think (2020). Marazzi’s project investigates the work of Italian artist Lucia Marcucci, whose art was featured and adapted on Christian Dior’s runaway, with its mix-and-match ideology. Marcucci is an emblematic figure in the artistic world, and she is known for avant-garde collages she calls visual poetry, or cine poetry, which she creates using newspaper cut-outs and mass media imagery. Marcucci combines visual materials to construct a new sense and new ideologies in her pieces of art, which tend to subvert the original denotative meaning of the cut-outs. Like Marcucci, Marazzi also plays with images and words in an ironic way by reappropriating and reusing different materials and textures, giving them new meaning in her films. As the work of Marcucci and Marazzi emphasizes, the act of cutting implies pasting the cut-outs somewhere else, and in order to do so, thinking and reflecting. Both Marcucci and Marazzi’s artistic collages constitute examples of the powerful combined impact of words and images.

In addition to cinema, Marazzi has also worked in theater. In 2014, she edited multi-screen visuals for the contemporary music opera Il sogno di una cosa (The dream of something) and, in 2017, she directed Haye, Le parole la notte (Haye, the words the night, 2017) both by Mauro Montalbetti. 

Marazzi’s work expands beyond directing, as she is also the author of a novella, “Baby Blues,” published in the anthology Tu sei lei  (Minimum Fax, 2008) and a short story titled “Sentimento,” included in the anthology Parola di Donna, in 2011. She is also the author of the entry “mother” in the Italian Dictionary Zingarelli, published in 2015, and she has published in books, articles, newspapers, and magazines. 

No matter the medium, motherhood, women’s subjectivity, and the powerful combined impact of words and images remain the common denominators of Marazzi’s works. Through her work, Marazzi challenges gender and cinematic traditions by retelling her history. Most importantly, in every work, Marazzi makes a point of giving the women protagonists their places as subjects and agents of their own lives, as opposed to their traditional role of objects. Female subjectivity is prioritized both in content and authorship. Marazzi’s work powerfully confronts dominant social infrastructures and proposes new models for understanding the female self: she investigates personal stories of characters who appear to be misfits, uneasy with the social pre-established model they are traditionally asked to epitomize. Rather, they confront this model in their own way, sometimes even with tragic consequences, in an effort to affirm their own identity. Marazzi’s films deal strictly with personal subjective experiences, but they become strong political tools as the director contextualizes such stories in the social history of the period. Her documentaries are experimental in the way she makes images speak, giving her personal take on history. Her films thus challenge traditional social identities and at the same time question the didactic role of the documentary genre [8].

FILMOGRAPHY

Documentaries

2002 - Un’ora sola ti vorrei (For one more hour with you)

2005 - Per sempre (Forever)

2007 - Vogliamo anche le rose (We want roses too)

2013 - Tutto parla di te (All about you)

2016 - Anna Piaggi: una visionaria della moda (Anna Piaggi: a fashion visionary)

Shorts Documentaries

1991 - L’America me l’immaginavo (America—As I imagined it)

1992 - Il declino di Milano (Milan’s decline)

1993 - Mediterraneo, il mare industrializzato (Mediterrean, the industrialized Sea)

1995 - Il Ticino è vicino (Ticino is close)

1999 - Il sogno infranto (The broken dream)

Tv Movie Documentary

1997 - Ragazzi dentro (Children inside)

2015 - Anna Piaggi: Queen der Exzentrik 

Shorts

2014 - “Confini” (Borders) in 9 X 10 Novanta (9 X 10 Ninety)

2020 - To Cut is to Think

Self

2002 - Un’ora sola ti vorrei (For one more hour with you), narrator voice. 

2014 - Registe (Female directors), documentary, self.  

Bibliography

Benini, Stefania. “‘A Face, a Name, a Story’: Women’s Identities as Life Stories in Alina Marazzi’s Cinema.” Studies in European Cinema 8 (2), 129-139.

 

Bonifazio, Paola. “Feminism, Postmodernism, Intertextuality:  We Want Roses Too (2007).” Literature/Film Quarterly 38:3 (2010) 171-182.

 

Bruzzi, Stella. New Documentary: A Critical Introduction. London: Routledge, 2000. 

 

Cardone Lucia, Cristina Jandelli and Chiara Tognolotti Eds. Storie in divenire: le donne nel cinema italiano. Quaderni del CSCI n.11, 2015.

 

Cecchini, Fabiana. “Alina Marazzi’s Women:  A Director in Search for Herself through a Female Genealogy” in Italian Women Filmmakers and the Gendered Screen. Maristella Cantini Ed. New York: Palgrave, 2013. 

 

Ginzburg, Carlo. Il formaggio e i vermi. Torino: Einaudi, 2009. 

 

---. “Microhistory: Two or Three Things I Know About It” John and Ann C. Tedeschi Trans. Critical Inquiry. 20:1 (Autumn 1993), 10-35.

 

Luciano, Bernadette, Susanna Scarparo. “The Personal is Still Political: Films by and for Women by the New Documentariste” Italica, 87:3, 2010.  488-503.

 

Persico, D. (2009). “Alina Marazzi. Storie familiari e conquiste politiche,” in E. Morreale and D. Zonta (eds), Cinema Vivo, Rome: Edizioni dell’Asino, pp. 141–59.

 
 

FOOTNOTE

[1]. Quoted in Benini, 130.

[2]. Benini, 131

[3]. As Benini argues, “Ulrico’s gaze is a solid bourgeois male gaze, which choreographs these family scenarios: from the courting and marriage of the grandparents to the birth of Liseli, to seaside or mountain trips, to his children’s marriages and the birth of the new generation of grandchildren. Nothing would seem to disturb the scenes of Liseli’s childhood and adolescence, were it not for the diary pages that, as a voice-over, tell the story of a troubled relationship with both her father and her mother. The fable structure of the footage, built by the paternal direction according to a male projection that is as fascinated by his women as it is prescriptive and coercive, is cracked by the counterpoint of Liseli’s word.” (132).

[4]. “The mix of archival and non-institutionalized images makes We Want Roses Too a hybrid of a “compilation” and a “found-footage” film, which respectively belongs to the modes of documentary (Leyda) and experimental filmmaking (Zryd)” (171). 

[5].  For a thorough analysis of the relationship between public and private space, see Bonifazio, 175.  

[6].  This is the case, for example, for a commercial that opens the film and then reappears near the end, as well as an image of a woman with a bride’s veil who runs toward the sea with possibly conflicting emotions (referring to an image from vanguard films of that period).  

[7].  Silva Ballestra is an Italian journalist and writer who is mostly concerned with stories that bring to public attention the female identity in today’s Italy. Some of her most successful novels are Nina (2001), Tutto su mia nonna (2005), and Contro le donne nei secoli dei secoli (2006). Director Marazzi asked Ballestra to collaborate in the effort of editing the women’s diaries and choosing the most effective selections for the film. 

[8]. See also Scarparo and Luciano, “The Personal Is Still Political” (488-489).  

To cite this biofilmography, please use this reference: Carlorosi, Silvia (2022) "Alina Marazzi's biofilmography" Gynocine Project, Barbara Zecchi, ed.