Speaking with director, producer, actress and writer Eleonora Danco about her most recent brainchild, N-Capace, I openly confessed to her that upon reading the synopsis/presentation of her docu-movie I was not optimistic. It read:
“This movie is about a woman’s conflict with her father, after her mother’s death […] In this journey between Terracina and Rome, amidst the grief that overcomes her, she speaks to elders and teenagers. […] [T]hus two generations having in common emptiness and anxiety undergo comparison.”
I told Eleonora I was wary of yet another neo-neo-realism movie with feminist undertones… and that frankly, the only thing that had caught my attention was Terracina. Having spent considerable time in the unassuming seaside town, I became curious regarding what movie could have come out of that place. We all know curiosity kills the cat. So inevitably falling into curiosity’s trap, there l was at the Rome Foreign Press Bureau, where projections for the Globo d’oro award for Italian films are held.
“Yes, maybe the description isn’t so fit,” Danco told me during our conversation after the screening. “Why don’t you write something?” she told my journalist and Foreign Press Bureau member friend and I.
The movie starts with a typical old peasant woman sitting in a tree grove. She could be anywhere between 80 and 100 years old and speaks the local dialect understandable only to native Italian speakers. We rightly assume that the woman is most likely poor and uneducated; a voice off-camera is asking her questions. The questions are short, curious, faintly ironic. Despite their dryness, the questions bring out a candor and humor we do not expect either from a documentary or from such an interviewee.
The off-camera voice, Danco’s, goes on to interview other characters, mostly elders and teenagers. From what these characters tell us, their lives are far from easy or glamorous. Not that we would expect them to be: in fact, if we stop and think about their stories, we would conclude that struggle haunts pretty much everything that concerns them. But the way the film is devised (questions and answers are not casual but carefully planned) we are not allowed to stop and analyze. We are too busy, as we have been drawn into the conversation. We are present and curious, not patronizing members of the audience. Thus the feelings we get from this participation are those of lighthearted small talk— things are the way they are and that’s that.
In between interviews, we see Danco in different settings acting out surreal poses and situations. Her other work is mostly on stage and she brings this modus operandi to the silver screen. This other character is her, but it is not her; it’s not the same Eleonora than the one asking questions off-camera. In fact, looking at the end titles we find out that this character is named “anima in pena” or wandering soul. It stands to reason. And where our intellect again expects to find anguish, we have instead a feeling of humorous poetry and relief. This is not a movie for the intellect but for the gut; and I don’t know how she does it but Eleonora Danco manages to steer us away every time from feelings of anguish, conflict, emptiness and doom.
The cornerstone of N-Capace is a touching set of interviews of Eleonora’s father by Danco’s off-camera voice. Difficult questions regarding life, love, sex, her mother’s death. Again, Eleonora Danco purposefully gives up the opportunity to wallow in regret, bitterness, sadness or struggle. She brings the conversation so close that we are sitting there with them. No drama… just a subtle and surprising form of deliverance.
To mirror Danco’s ironic style I will end paraphrasing a cliché: This movie does not go looking for the flower that grows through cracks in concrete; it makes you see beauty and lightness in concrete.