And The Power of Imagination
Giovanna Faleschini Lerner
Franklin & Marshall College
Born in Milan in 1970, Paola Randi graduated from the University of Milan with a degree in Law and went on to work as project manager for a number of international NGOs, focusing on women and the economy. In 1996 she founded, together with Chiara Sforni, Federico Parenti e Federica Santambrogio, the theater and visual-arts magazine TTR and its attendant festival of research theater, which ran until 2001. She then moved to Rome, where she continued to be engaged in the visual arts
and the theater, experiences that—as she said in the occasion of her participation in the Berlinale Talent Campus in 2004—led her “directly to the cinema.” Her selection for the Talent Campus (now known as Berlinale Talents) allowed Randi to take part in laboratory experiences and master classes led by directors and film professionals like Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Stephen Frears, Anthony Minghella, Walter Murch, and Alan Parker. In 2004 she also attended Werner Herzog’s seminar at the Holden School in Turin. Before going solo, Randi participated in collaborative projects with screenwriter and director Paolo Franchi, first as assistant director on his first feature-length film, La spettatrice (2003), and later as artistic collaborator on his Nessuna qualità agli eroi, which was presented at the 2007 Venice Film Festival.
Randi’s first directorial production was the 2003 short, Giulietta della spazzatura (12m), a love story set in Rome, featuring Valerio Mastandrea as a garbage collector who falls in love with a woman whose trash he picks up every day. The film underscores the power of imagination to create human connections, and explicitly spotlights the transformative potential of music and art. This theme, which is a feature of Randi’s work, returns in the 2008 La Madonna della frutta, which was nominated for a 2009 David di Donatello. La Madonna della frutta is a short feature (14m 40s), in which Isabella Ragonese is cast as a 20-something assisting an elderly woman in her home, as part of her national civil service. When she realizes that her charge is obsessed with an old rivalry, she uses her skills as a photographer to resolve the conflict in the older woman’s favor and forge an intimate connection with her. The film is, thus, as much about the value of the National Civil Service (the government agency that commissioned it) as about the power of human imagination and artistic creativity to radically change human experience.
In 2014 Randi participated, with Progetto Panico, in the collective project 9X10 Novanta, a series of ten shorts by emerging Italian filmmakers, produced by the Istituto Luce Cinecittà to celebrate the 90th anniversary of its foundation. As Randi writes in the short blurb accompanying her film, what began as an exploration of cultural stereotypes about femininity and masculinity, soon turned into the discovery of the sci-fi potential of the film archive: the archive becomes a lens through which to interpret the present, but also engage with the past in order to imagine and shape a different future. In the film, Randi excavates—as part of an interstellar archeological research project—the traces of gender-based inequality, discrimination, and violence that are present in the film archives of Istituto Luce, using estrangement as a tool for critical examination. In this respect, the film resonates with feminist concerns with futurity, and anticipates important aspects of her later work, which engages with sci-fi tropes and structures.
In 2010 Randi released her first long feature, Into Paradiso, with director of photography Mario Amura, and featuring Gianfelice Imparato, Peppe Servillo, and Saman Antony. Produced by Fabrizio Mosca’s Acaba Film (Alì ha gli occhi azzurri, 2012), and nominated for four David di Donatello awards, Into Paradiso is a comedy that brings together two fundamental aspects of contemporary life in Naples: the tentacular reach of organized crime (the Camorra) and the presence of diverse immigrant communities. As Randi explained in a 2010 interview with La6radio, the idea of the film came from a scene she witnessed in a piazza in Naples, where, on one side of the square a group of local urchins played soccer with a tennis ball, and on the other a group of elegantly clad Sri Lankan youth played cricket.
The film is the story of a middle-aged cellular biologist, Alfonso, who becomes unwittingly involved with the Camorra and, after witnessing a murder, escapes into Paradiso—a fondaco (an urban complex built around a common courtyard) that houses a Sri Lankan community. He finds refuge in a rooftop shack, and there he makes friends with Saman, a former cricket champion who has just landed in Naples after retiring from the sport, looking for “Paradise.” Their unlikely friendship, as Ruth Glynn observes, serves to foreground both a critique of the myth of the Camorra and of the anti-immigrant rhetoric of political discourse (197), though it risks reinforcing the Italian cinematic trope of the immigrant as a redeeming figure for the Italian protagonist (Di Bianco 121). As Enrico Carocci points out, this critique is also closely connected to a deconstruction of notions of masculinity (423). At the same time, it sometimes risks reinforcing the Italian cinematic trope of the immigrant as a redeeming figure for the Italian protagonist (Di Bianco 121).
Like Roberta Torre’s musical comedy, Tano da morire (1997), Randi’s Into Paradiso uses comedy in highly self-conscious ways. As Glynn writes,
The film’s celebration of intercultural exchange between the native population and the new migrant community as the potential antidote to the disorder of organized crime is supported by the highly stylized and innovative incorporation of theatrical devices, stop-motion animation and video diorama and, more firmly, by the musical score’s harmonious blend of electronica, spaghetti western harmonica tunes, and Sri Lankan melodies. (197)
Visual stylization, theatricality, and the central role of the music score are defining features of Randi’s work. Alfonso constructs entire theatrical mise-en-scènes in his mind, in order to make sense and re-order a reality that slips from his comprehension. His daydreaming, as Randi makes explicit, is directly connected with cinema: “the capacity to daydream is what makes us all capable of being filmmakers in our mind’s eye—our ability to voluntarily fantasize and meld the real and the imagined parallels the cinematic urge to be a desiring machine” (Nathan 220).
Randi’s comic approach helps de-mythologize the Camorra (Glynn 199-200). For some critics, though, her self-referential style risks reducing Naples to a series of picturesque stereotypes or a theatrical background with no depth. Enrico Carocci proposes instead that Randi’s non-realist representation of Naples constructs “a model of post-national identity” (Carocci 422). Humor allows Randi to challenge “Manichean notions of self/other in a wonderfully eccentric Neapolitan urban landscape” (Nathan 224). Indeed, as Carocci argues, “the locations create a short circuit between the migrant identity and the local one: we are in Italy, but only the hybrid settings of the Paradiso building are relational spaces,” whereas “[t]he Italian spaces – that is the strictly national ones – are empty, violent and oppressive, and they express a split between nation and territory” (422).
The importance of space and location returns in Tito e gli alieni, which she wrote and directed in 2017, with Roberto Forza as director of photography. The movie, starring Valerio Mastandrea, Clémence Poésy, and two first-time child actors, Luca Esposito and Chiara Stella Riccio, was produced by Bibi Film and was recognized as best film at the 2018 Ortigia Film Festival. Filmed in the desert of Armería (Spain) and in the Nevada desert, along the Extraterrestrial Highway in Rachel (NV), Tito e gli alieni is the first sci-fi movie produced in Italy after Giuseppe Salvatores’ 1997 Nirvana. The film is the story of an Italian scientist (Mastandrea) contracted by the NASA to work in Area 51, who tries to find the traces of his dead wife’s presence in the galaxy. His lonely search is disrupted by the arrival of his niece and nephew, who have also lost their parents. As for Into Paradiso, Randi found inspiration for the film in a visual memory: her father, suffering from memory loss, contemplating a photo of his long-deceased wife and trying to retrieve his memories of her through that image. Sci-fi, for Randi, offered the mixture of mythology and science that sustains humanity’s attempt to find “an antidote against the fear [of] death and sorrow” we feel when we lose someone (Basso). The universe inhabited by those that suffered a loss, she explained in another interview, is alien to those that have not had that experience (Zingariello).
As in Into Paradiso, in Tito e gli alieni Randi’s directorial style is highly self-conscious and ironic in using the conventions of genre film. As she explained in the press conference that accompanied the film release in June 2018, technology is approached with “irony, humility, and love.” The universe that the film inhabits was constructed both digitally, in post-production, and during the actual shooting: cinematographer Daniel Yost, for example, shot a dream sequence by slowing down the recording, rather than using stop motion. The feel of the film is thus, in Randi’s own words, “vintage” and is inspired by sci-fi movies from the 1970s and 1980s, especially those for which Carlo Rambaldi created special effects—Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Alien (1979) and E.T. (1982) among them. (A 2003 sci-fi short, Ufo, was Randi’s first attempt with the genre).
In addition to Rambaldi, Randi admires Paul Thomas Anderson and Hal Ashby, for his “elegant touch in depicting a surreal world which is almost like a Magritte painting.” She particularly respects women filmmakers, like Andrea Arnold and Sally Potter, and the Italian Susanna Nicchiarelli and Alice Rohwracher. However, she laments the constant struggle they face in order to emerge: “we are constantly undermined. I am not talking only about sexual abuse, it’s also in the way they look or listen to you, the attitude they have with you. But in Italy often we don’t have the perception of being harassed” (Basso).
These obstacles extend to the roles available to female actors: “there are a lot of fragile, hysterical, poetic, delicate or wasted women, or you have mothers. But where are real women, the rest of us?” The work she has recently completed for the series Luna nera, a Fandango production distributed on Netflix, offers an example of the ways in which new visual narrative forms have the potential to open up new spaces for women directors, writers, and protagonists. The series focuses on a group of women living in Italy in the 17th century, who are accused of being witches. Based on the novels of Le città perdute trilogy, by Tiziana Triana, the screenplay was written entirely by women and the six episodes of the first season were exclusively directed by women: Francesca Comencini directed episodes 1 and 2, Susanna Nicchiarelli episodes 3 and 4, and Randi episodes 5 and 6.
Randi’s recent involvement in Zero, another Netflix series, which explores issues of racial identity and citizenship in contemporary Italy, and is constructed as a superhero fantasy, shows her capacity to draw on a variety of genres and visual media to tell important stories. Indeed, Randi’s and her female colleagues’ willingness to try new formats and genres might be what it takes for a new kind of feminist filmmaking to emerge, a feminist cinema that has the potential to radically change the way Italian and transnational audiences think about the Italian present, the past, and the future, through the power of imagination.
Basso, Chiara. “Paola Randi, an Extra-Terrestrial Director for Italy.” iItaly, December 13, 2018). http://www.iitaly.org/node/54891
Carocci, Enrico. “Migration, masculinity and ‘double occupancy’ in Paola Randi’s Into Paradiso.” European Journal of Women’s Studies 23.4 (2016): 415-432.
Di Bianco, Laura. “La funzione salvifica dell’immigrato. Into Paradiso di Paola Randi e Mozzarella Stories di Edoardo De Angelis.” Quaderni del CSCI 8 (2012): 118-121
___. “Interview with Paola Randi” (2012). Italian Women Filmmakers and the Gender Screen. Ed. Maristella Cantini. New York and London: Springer, 2013. 253-261
Glynn, Ruth. “The Camorra Comedy: Naples in the (Post-)National Cinematic Gaze. The Italianist 39.2 (2019): 191-215.
Tito e gli alieni: Valerio Mastandrea e il cast in conferenza stampa. Spettacolo EU, June 7, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfkGEzmiM30
Zingariello, Luca. “Intervista a Paola Randi.” Spettacolo EU, June 28, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfzMwdTOVq8
Zero. (In post-production.). Season 1, Episode 1. Fabula, Netflix television series.
Luna nera. 2020. Season 1, Episodes 5 and 6. Fandango, Netflix television series.
Tito e gli alieni. 2017. 1h 33 min. Bibi Films.
Progetto panico. 9x10 Novanta. 2014. 11 min. 40 sec. Istituto Luce Cinecittà.
Into Paradiso. 2010. 1 h 44 min. Acaba Produzioni, Istituto Luce Cinecittà.
La Madonna della frutta. 2008. 15 min.
Nessuna qualità agli eroi (Artistic collaborator). 2007. 1 h 42 min. Bianca Film, ITC Movie, Ventura Film. Dir. Paolo Franchi.
Sandokan Dreamin’. 2003. 7 min.
La spettatrice (Assistant Director). 2003. 1 h 38 min. Ubu Film, Emme Produzioni. Dir. Paolo Franchi.
Ufo. 2003. 2 min.
Giulietta della spazzatura. 2003. 15 min.
To cite this biofilmography, please use this reference: Lerner, Giovanna Faleschini (2021) "Paola Randi's biofilmography" Gynocine Project, Barbara Zecchi, ed.