Marco Bellocchio: ‘Direct Reality Fascinates Me But it Isn’t Enough’

Italian director, screenwriter and producer Marco Bellocchio has opened up about his career and upcoming projects during a masterclass at the 53rd edition of Visions du Réel, where he received an honorary award.

The 82-year-old master is guest of honor at the documentary film festival, which includes a retrospective of a dozen of his works and a screening of his latest film, “Marx Can Wait,” a documentary about his twin brother Camilo’s suicide in December 1968.

Featuring footage filmed during a family get-together, personal archive material and clips from his films, it is an intimate and poignant documentary that explores how his brother’s death deeply influenced Bellocchio’s work over the decades.

At the time, Bellocchio explained, “the revolution of ’68 was underway, there were protests and riots, and I said to myself ‘I have to do something.’ So in September, together with friends who had founded the Maoist movement, we had the first fully organized groups – I was deeply involved in this movement.”

So obsessed was Bellocchio with defending his political cause that he didn’t hear his brother’s distress call.

“I just told him: ‘The only way out of desperation is political engagement, serving the people is the only way to find your own identity and finally see life through a revolutionary perspective – and Camilo replied, ‘Well, Marx can wait.’ He was trying to tell me, ‘You have understood nothing of my despair,’ ” said Bellocchio, who later used that very sentence in his 1982 feature “The Eyes, The Mouth.”

Asked about his upcoming projects, Bellocchio said he was working on a film which Steven Spielberg had originally planned to make, about the notorious Catholic kidnapping of a Jewish boy in 1858.

Entitled “The Conversion,” it tells the story of Edgardo Mortara, who was administered an emergency baptism as an infant – making him a Catholic in the eyes of the Church – and was taken from his parents to be raised a Catholic, with Pope Pius IX personally overseeing his religious education. His parents’ struggle to reclaim their son became part of a larger political battle that captured public attention across Europe and North America in the mid-19th century.

After Spielberg dropped the project, when he reportedly failed to find the right child actor for the part, Bellocchio decided to take it on.

The main challenge is indeed finding the young actor, said Bellocchio, referring to Charlie Chaplin’s genius in discovering Jackie Coogan for “The Kid,” adding that Coogan, ironically, was himself received by the Pope in the wake of the film’s success.

“Actually, if you have a child aged between six and seven he could audition for the part,” he quipped, drawing laughs from the crowd.

Earlier, during the award ceremony, Marco Mueller, the former head of the Venice and Locarno film festivals, told the audience via video link from Shanghai where he is confined, that the prize had particular significance because it acknowledged the delicate balance between fiction and documentary that is characteristic of Bellocchio’s work.

“I think of what your fiction films have made of reality – ‘Good Morning, Night,’ ‘Vincere’ and ‘The Traitor.’ I think of what your documentaries have accomplished in terms of fiction,” he added, to which Bellocchio replied: “I have received many prizes throughout my career, which goes to show that what I do is not always understood on the moment but that appreciation comes over time.”

“Direct reality fascinates me but it isn’t enough. So I have often been tempted to mix so-called archive material with images that I shoot, especially in recent years,” said Bellocchio, adding that this allows him to find “synthesis and style.”

Bellocchio’s retrospective runs through April 16. Visions du Réel wraps in Nyon on April 17.

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