SUSANNA NICCHIARELLI

Silvia Carlorosi, Ph.D.

Bronx Community College

City University of New York

Photo by Pietro Luca Cassarino is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Susanna Nicchiarelli was born in Rome on May 6th, 1975. After graduating in Philosophy, she entered the world of cinema via the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome. Under Nanni Moretti’s supervision she shot one episode of the documentary and tv series I diari della Sacher (Sacher’s Diary, 2001), and she collaborated on Il Caimano (The Caiman, 2006), all the while cultivating an individual style and exploring topics of interest that have come to characterize her distinct cinematic gaze. 

 

Between 2001 and 2009, Nicchiarelli directed a few shorts and documentaries. Especially noteworthy is Il terzo occhio (The Third Eye, 2003), an experimental and self-reflexive documentary which explores the relationship of a mother and her two daughters growing apart; while the daughters continue to search for a connection with their mother, the latter wants to emancipate herself from her motherly role. The documentary is shot with an almost all female crew and staff, amongst which are Susanna Nicchiarelli as herself, her sister Federica Nicchiarelli, and her mother Annagrazia Bassi. The story, blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction, is set in a health spa which specializes in treatments to stimulate the “third eye,” the sixth chakra that focuses inwardly on the self, and helps to summon forgotten memories. Symbolically, this third eye is also the eye of the director who investigates herself as a woman, a daughter, and a director.[1] This first documentary also establishes the main focus of Nicchiarelli’s cinematic gaze: women. In the films and documentaries that follow, she will investigate the various features of women as young girls, mothers, daughters, wives, artists, vis-à-vis the roles that society imposes on them. A constant in Susanna Nicchiarelli’s first films, is her role as actress: whether it be small or major, she makes an authorial statement and plays with intersubjectivity, by being part of her cast. She in fact acts also on the following Cosmonauta, and La scoperta dell’alba. Furthermore, the historical background, which is always politically engaged, is a remarkable constant trait of her works. 

 

Nicchiarelli’s first feature film is Cosmonauta (2009), a coming-of-age story of a rebellious girl in the 60s, Luciana, whose aspirations are projected to the space missions of the Russian cosmonauts. Following the legacy of her lost father, the girl is a member of the Youth Communist party and, in her own way, she struggles against the societal norm that places women in the home. The film won the prize Controcampo Italiano at the Mostra internazionale d’arte cinematografica, and the Golden Ciak for the best First Feature Film in 2010. It has also been critically acclaimed by scholars who recognize its innovative value in the Italian cinematic landscape. Critics Susanna Scarparo and Bernadette Luciano examine both Cosmonauta in the context of the political history of Italian communism.[2] Dana Renga studies the film vis-à-vis teen movies and explains how this is an example of post-feminist resistance against more traditional coming of age films.[3] Nicoletta Marini-Maio, furthermore, reads the film as a nostalgic representation of communism and a tentative to reassess its historic erasure.[4]

 

Nicchiarelli’s second feature film, dated 2012, is La scoperta dell’alba (The Discovery of Dusk). Based on a book by the ex-leader of the Italian Democratic Party Walter Veltroni, the story is about a man whose father disappeared when he was a teenager during the Anni di Piombo. Nicchiarelli’s filmic reading, which alternates between history and fantasy, renders her adaptation in an all-female main cast. Caterina and Barbara Astengo (Margherita Buy and Susanna Nicchiarelli) are two sisters who are trying to cope with the premature loss of their father when they were little kids, even now that they are successful adults. The oldest of the two, now an adult daughter, is strong enough to redeem her mother, giving her a new life in a parallel story of possibility (or potentiality). Using an old dial-in telephone as an improbable time machine, Caterina gets in touch with younger self and, thanks to her younger self she is able to make sense of the loss of her father. By bringing to the surface the father’s faults and fragilities, she finally gets over her false memories of him as a strong paternal figure. Noticeably, the main actress—Margherita Buy’s performance was recognized with a nomination to the Golden Globe Award in 2013.  

 

Continuing her investigation of women and their status, in 2014 Nicchiarelli directed a documentary titled “Per tutta la vita” (Until Death Sets Us Apart), where she explores and interviews women for whom the law on divorce, which passed as a result of a Referendum in 1974, became an instrument of freedom and redemption of the self. 

 

Nicchiarelli’s next feature movie is Nico, 1988 (2017) which received numerous prizes: among which Best Film at the Venice Film Festival (2017), Grand Prize of the Jury at the Les Arcs European Film Festival (2017), Best Actress to Trine Dyrholm at the Titanic International Film Festival (2018), Best Screenplay at Bari International Film Festival (2018), Golden Ciak Award (2018) and Davide di Donatello Award (2018) and the Gran Premio Internazionale per il Doppiaggio for a Feature Film (2018). The many façades of women all come into play in this film. Nico, 1988 once more focuses on telling a woman’s story, that of Christa Paffgen, the Velvet Underground singer named Nico, whose voice is an icon of the Sixties. Christa quickly became a model of womanly beauty as an actress female voice of the Velvet Underground and an art muse for Andy Warhol, but in the film, set in 1988, she has become an old woman inhabiting a disabled and poisoned body from years of drug abuse. Nicchiarelli’s film investigates Nico’s latest years and lays bare the conflicting contradictions of a woman defeated by life: a mother who feels guilty towards her son, a singer who still feels her talent hasn’t been fully disclosed, an aging woman whose dream still remains to become an old elegant lady. 

 

Subsequently, Nicchiarelli co-directed a television series for Netflix, La luna nera (The Black Moon, 2019), which brought collaboration with fellow female directors such as Francesca Comencini and Paola Randi. The TV series narrates the story of a group of women suspected of witchcraft in the 17th century and is based on Tiziana Triana’s book Luna nera: Le città perdute (Black Moon, Lost Cities, Sonzogno Ed, 2019). 

 

The director went back to cinema with Miss Marx (2020) and received various recognitions at the Venice Film Festival, including the most prestigious Golden Lion and the FEDIC Best Film award. Miss Marx focuses on the youngest and dearest daughter of Karl Marx, Eleonor Marx. She was a brilliant, educated, politically engaged woman, who tragically ended her own life at 43 years old. Nicchiarelli depicts her with an inquiring camera, which, once again, shows the contradictions and dreams that Nicchiarelli’s other works have set up as innate to womanhood. This is currently Susanna Nicchiarelli’s latest success. 

 

On an ending note, it is interesting to mention that Susanna Nicchiarelli’s films have very unique and noteworthy soundtracks, which are often commissioned to the group Gatto Ciliegia Contro il Grande Freddo, and which constitute a sort of musical comment and Greek choir to the film narrative. Also, in her latest two feature movies, which focus more on female portrayals of historical and social figures, the director stays off camera, choosing not to participate in her cast as in her earlier films. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Carlorosi, Silvia. “Gy-neology and Genealogy of a Female Filmmaker: The Case of Susanna Nicchiarelli's Films," in Italian Motherhood on Screen, Giovanna Faleschini-Lerner and Maria Elena D’Amelio Eds.  New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. 175-194.

 

Donzelli, Mauro. “Miss Marx, Recensione” https://www.comingsoon.it/film/miss-marx/58823/recensione/

 

Guerrini Rocco, Stefano. “Nico, 1988 Recensione” (10/15/2017) http://www.ondacinema.it/film/recensione/nico-1988.html

 

Hipkins, Danielle. New Visions of the Child in Italian Cinema, Oxford: Peter Lang, 2014. 

 

Luciano Bernadette, Susanna Scarparo. Reframing Italy: New Trends in Italian Women’s Filmmaking. Lafayette: Perdue UP, 2013. 

 

Marini-Maio, Nicoletta. “The Space Race, or When Communist Girls Dreamed of the Moon. Cosmonauta by Susanna Nicchiarelli (2009)” in Nuovo Cinema Politico, Giancarlo Lombardi and Christian Uva eds. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2016. 279-290.

 

Renga, Dana. “Italian Teen Film and the Female Auteur” in New Vision of the Child in Italian Cinema, Daniele Hipkins and Roget Pitt eds. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2014. 307-329.

Zagarrio, Vito. La meglio gioventù: Nuovo cinema italiano 2000-2006. Venezia: Marsilio, 2006. 

https://www.ecodelcinema.com/susanna-nicchiarelli-biografia-filmografia.htm

 

[1] For more on The Third Eye, Cosmonauta and La scoperta dell’alba, please see the book chapter I authored titled “Gy-neology and Genealogy of a Female Filmmaker: The Case of Susanna Nicchiarelli's Films," in Italian Motherhood on Screen, Giovanna Faleschini-Lerner and Maria Elena D’Amelio Eds.  New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. 175-194. Part of this introduction references my chapter in the book. 

[2] For their analysis of these two films see specifically the sections dedicated in chapter 3 (74-77) and chapter 4 (103-106) in Reframing Italy.  

[3] See Renga “Italian Teen Film,” 310. 

[4] See Marini-Maio “The Space Race,” 279-290.  

To cite this biofilmography, please use this reference: Carlorosi, Silvia (2021) "Susanna Nicchiarelli's biofilmography" Gynocine Project, Barbara Zecchi, ed. www.gynocine.com