DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE: AN INTERVIEW WITH ALESSANDRO COMODIN
HAPPY TIMES WILL COME SOON is a fiction feature shot in Italy and directed by Alessandro Comodin (THE SUMMER OF GIACOMO). Using fantastical elements but told in a realist fashion, the film is a visually sumptuous deconstructed fairy tale about the way we tell and act out stories. At its center are beautiful fugitives that climb into a hole and are possibly transported to another world.
KINOSCOPE’s Jordan Mattos spoke with Alessandro at the New Directors New Film premiere last month about time travel, realism and storytelling.
Watching the film, I felt transported through time. I didn’t know what period it took place in. It looked like it could have taken place after the Second World War, but then again, we’re also taken to places that could be contemporary.
I tried to make this film from the point of view of a child. Maybe not quite the same perspective, but I wanted to give you the feeling of a child who is listening to his grandparents’ stories and fairytales. In his head, this child plays with reality and mixes it in a way that isn’t always rational. In the script, I tried to convey that feeling—of a child living partly in reality and partly in a world of imagination. I also like time travel stories.
Instinctually, I wanted the film to have a beginning, middle and end and for the script to use a framing device, like the character of the Storyteller in The Princess Bride. But the script didn’t do that. How much familiarity with storytelling structure does an audience need to have to understand the film’s logic?
l like to surprise the audience. To give them something to think about and then change expectations. I thought that it would be very interesting to use classical narrative devices, like the people who tell the story, and then we see the story interrupted. I like to use, even for narrative and dramatic structure, elements from documentary. I ask the audience to trust me.
Many filmmakers now work without a script and use improvisational methods to find their story.
Like a hunter waiting for an accident, I don’t know how to get there, but I’m sure I will catch something. The script was just a collection of desires of what I wanted to film. It’s very basic, very primal. I wanted to film a specific girl. I don’t know why. So in the writing, I had to justify her presence. I can’t say I’m completely happy with my film, because I’m aware of my mistakes. But I think it’s a very sincere way of working. I hope that people can feel that I’m telling this story in a very personal way. I want to show my film to everybody, even people who watch only commercial films. I know there’s a limit to where you can take them before you lose them. But then you try to catch them again.
Was there a process of collecting visual references before shooting? I recognized moments from many mediums, not only stories but also films, like the homage to Jan Nemec’s, Diamonds of the Night, or even painting methods, such as chiaroscuro.
I come from a little village close to Venice, so there was always art everywhere. I was in a very good classical secondary school in the countryside. I studied ancient Greek myths, philosophy and art history. I liked the Middle Ages and Renaissance literature, Dante and so on. After that, I was in Bologna, which has a very good cinema center. I watched all the films that I couldn’t see as a teenager. There were many painting schools there and it’s true that I feel very comfortable with the lighting in those kinds of paintings.
The dreamlike imagery is broken up by disruptions of realism, either in the way you edit, or in the way certain characters all of a sudden seem like they’re in a documentary, shot in a traditional talking-heads style.
I have a sensibility that’s closer to naturalism, but this isn’t a Dardenne brothers film. I like to create contradictions between realistic techniques—how the film is lit or how we use sound effects, for example—and the fantastical story elements.
The characters believe in the supernatural, too. It’s never doubted that somebody could turn into a wolf, for example. Fantasy is normalized within the world of the film.
That’s very cultural. I come from the countryside in Italy, where people are religious, but in a very strange way. I’m not a believer, but Catholics—deep down, they’re not Catholics. They’re something else. Carlo Ginzburg, the Italian historian, wrote a book called The Night Battles about the benandanti, or “good walkers”. They were witches and healers. Most of the time they were women who had powers to change into animals.
Were there any particular legends or stories that you used as a framework? I was reminded in parts of Little Red Riding Hood, the girl in the woods, and also Alice in Wonderland. At one point she climbs down a hole and it looks like she enters another world.
I wanted to use the most known fairy tales for small details, and then mix them with history. I looked for a very long time for a place where I know something had happened in the past. The hole in the ground in the film was dug where partisans used to throw fascists. So, a touch of Alice in Wonderland, but it’s treated in a very historical way. I’m not religious, but the church taught me how to have faith in something. I think my way of working is political—the only thing I have faith in is reality.