A Woman is a Woman: The Female POV, a film series I curated, kicks off this weekend at Maysles Cinema in Harlem. Just asking the question—”Are films made by women different in some way from films made by men?”—takes a strong stance, a feminism of differentiation rather than simply equality, and implies not only that there are masculine and feminine styles, but that much of what we consider neutral is actually inherited from a long line of masculine structures. Differentiation in feminist thought took hold much more strongly in France and especially in Italy, and yet is underknown in the United States and Britain. We Want Roses, Too is a 2007 documentary that opens the film series this Sunday at 5pm, telling the history of feminism in Italy exclusively through diaries, illustrated romance novels, pop songs, home movies and other found footage. I had a chance to speak with the director, Alina Marazzi, last year about her film.
The L: I wanted to talk to you about this film because, for me, it’s so successful in what the great Italian feminist Carla Lonzi calls “authenticity”, in telling the history of Italian feminism in a completely feminine, nonobjective, non-authoritarian voice. But because of that, because it’s so subjective and personal and private, if you don’t have a prior knowledge of the history, it’s difficult to know that the form of the communication is exactly what that particular feminism is about. I wanted to first ask you first about your approach. How did you become interested in making a documentary about the history of Italian feminism?
Alina Marazzi: To tell the whole story, it goes back a while, because for me this film We Want Roses, Too is somehow a continuation of previous film, which is a very personal film, the story of my mother, One More Hour With You. We edited the home movies that my grandfather had shot of my family, and I used the letters and diaries of my mother, who died in ’72. So it is the reconstruction of her image, her personality, her voice, her face. And it’s a very personal image of me somehow meeting her through what was left of her, those images, photographs, diaries, letters. So it’s a very subjective film, as well as very personal. And it was urged by a very, very intimate need of reconciling with the loss of my mother. She died when I was 7.
So she died at a time in Italy just when women were starting to get together and talk about private problems, and recognizing that their own personal problems were not just individual problems, that they recognize themselves as a social body and a collective body. She died after living in depression for a few years, and at the end of that she took her life. So her story is the story of a woman coming from a bourgeois milieu, who remained trapped in the conventions of society, marriage, etc. She married the man she loved, she had kids—she had us—and everything, but then she couldn’t cope with that role of the wife and mother somehow.
So she basically never met these other women, who at the same time were starting to feel inadequate as mothers, as wives, as women and so on. So she belongs to that generation, but she missed out—because of illness, because of casualties because of…. I don’t know—but she missed the train somehow.
So, after I made that film, I wanted to somehow continue to understand what had happened to other women like her, but who came from different situations in that time.
So for me, that first film, the story of my mother, is the story that has one face, one voice of a woman who doesn’t succeed at enjoying life. And WWRT is a film that gives voice to many different women. And so for me there’s a close relationship to the two films. Of course, one is coming form inside me, and the other is coming from an intellectual curiosity. So, WWRT in fact starts telling the story from the late 60’s, and tells the story of three women during a timespan of ten years.
So this is one very personal motivation, and the other motivation is that women of my age-I’m 44-we didn’t live those events in the first person. But as a child I remember certain… atmospheres, certain women looking a certain way and speaking a certain way, talking about certain things. But I feel like in Italy there has been a kind of lacking. Older women didn’t transmit to younger women the value of their experience.
So feminism in Italy remained very much closed within certain circles. You either belonged to a family where there are feminist women who can tell you about what happened in those years, or maybe you go to university and do Feminist Studies. Otherwise, women like me—and even more younger women, women in their thirties and their twenties—don’t really know what happened. I mean, we know that there was a big social change, we know that there was a so-called sexual revolution. And we all benefit for the change that happened there, but we don’t actually know how hard it was and what it implied for women then, having to go through a personal revolution in their lives.
So this is the other motivation that urged me to go look for women’s stories and also different images. Because you know, I didn’t want to interview women, feminist women, who had lived through those days and ask them, “Where? What happened? What do you think is happening now?” I preferred to go and look at the documents of the time, like the personal journals and the Super 8 films and the experimental films, because I was looking for images that portrayed interiors.
In the film there are many images inside of homes. Very often in the 1970s of the collective imagination are images of street demonstrations, of fights… as if everything was happening in the street. But, in fact, what women were doing—at the same time that the men were out in the street and throwing pebbles—they were discussing things, sitting around kitchen tables, doing new things, for them, talking about their own personal issues.
The L: I get the sense from your film that it’s not just what we learned from and accomplished from that era, but also what didn’t quite happen? There’s that scene towards the end of the film with all those feminist propaganda films, and the women sing, “Young ladies and girls we’re expecting you.” It’s amazing footage; I found it so moving. I think I cried when I saw it because they sing, “If you’re not there already you will be soon.” There’s a sense from that that we didn’t quite get there, and I think because of your noninterpretive approach, it becomes more about the immediate experience of the past and its possibilities, of a lost future. And maybe there’s a connection to your film about your mother, what’s lost but might have been?
AM: In the third diary, Valentina’s diary, she is already sensing the end of an era as she writes. She tells about her personal affairs, but she comments on the fact that the first era of feminism somehow has come to an end. And this is, in fact, what happened in Italy towards ’78 and ’79. And that diary was written in ’79. In ’78 there was a very important thing, which was a referendum for making abortion legal. And Italian people voted to have that law, which was quite incredible (laughs) knowing we have the pope in Italy. So that means that not only women, not only feminist women, but a big part of civil society-that there was a great awareness of what legal abortion was. And after that law was passed in parliament, somehow that first feminist movement started to fade out. Because what happened is that they obtained The Big Victory, and then, it wasn’t that there were no goals but there were no immediate objectives. This is why there is that underlying comment in Valentina’s diary, because it’s written at the end of the era of Italian feminism. And so she’s trying to foresee the future somehow.
The L: Do you consider the style of this film a feminine style, a female style?
AM: Yes, of course. I wanted to find a style, to adopt a specific point of view, and so I was hoping to find diaries because I wanted to tell the story from a subjective point of view because that had so much to do with feminism. I wanted to make a subjective film.
You know, I prepared the film, I did research for the text and images, and I didn’t write the script, of course, but I tried to write how the film would look, and in the end the film looks very much how I’d imagined. And of course the film was actually made in the editing room, and I always work with an editor, Ilaria Fraioli, and what we do together is experiment a lot in the editing. We talk about documentaries, of what is allowed and what is not allowed, for instance the fact that in We Want Roses Too somehow we use all the different elements as if they were grammatical elements and we create our own syntax, we create our own language, juxtaposing images that come from very different sources but together they make a sentence. So I believe, well, we are two women and we are making these films, and we want to create a language that’s not applying those rules of narration, so we’re always trying to question classical narration, not using the epic…
The L: Structure?
MB: Could you tell me a little bit more about the connection between the subjective and feminism?
AM: Well, the film tells the story of what happened in Italy over a span of ten years. And it’s a collective history, but of course collective history is made by individual stories. What feminism did for the first time is gave value to personal experiences of women, and men, and so made it possible for people to recognize themselves in one another by telling their own personal stories, and made the personal become political.
MB: I’ll read this Carla Lonzi quote: “We have come to realize that, as far as the exercise of power is concerned, it is not capabilities that are required, but a special form of extremely effective alienation. The position we take does not imply a participation in male power, but a reevaluation of the very concept of power.” And I feel like that could be applied to your movie, not just the participation of power, but in the participation of a “male” history. I mean your film is so successful not only for what it is but for what it avoids. Avoiding the traditional form of the historical documentary.
AM: Well, yes as I was saying before, we tried very hard to invent a new language, to tell that history because we didn’t want to tell the story of the sexual revolution using institutional archival footage, for instance, or using voiceover or interviews that would already bring with them an interpretation of that history. And so of course we are interpreting that history, because we have made that film, but somehow we wanted to shift the point of view and create a new… a new epic.