Cannes: Italy's Nanni Moretti on Why Directors Are "Assholes"

Courtesy of Guidi Locurcio
Nanni Moretti's 'Mia Madre'

The filmmaker and Cannes veteran opens up about his latest personal film and his relationship with actors.

With a whopping seven films in the festival's competition over the years, including his 2001 Palme d’Or winner, The Son’s Room, Nanni Moretti is a Cannes mainstay. His latest competition film, Mia Madre, is once again garnering buzz for its personal exploration of life and loss. Moretti was inspired to make Mia Madre when his own mother, a professor of Latin and Greek, died while he was directing We Have a Pope in 2010.

Instead of casting himself as the lead, Margherita Buy plays the director of the film, who is also named Margherita. She retreats further into her work while her brother Giovanni, played by Moretti, quits his job to take care of their mother. John Turturro plays an American actor who gets on Margherita's last nerves.

Moretti balances the film’s more somber moments with humor, poking fun at Italian culture, the industry and the difficult dynamics of a film set. In one memorable scene, Margherita breaks down and shouts, “Directors are assholes!” — which prompted a wave of applause during the film's Cannes gala screening.

THR sat down with Moretti in Cannes to find out how he really feels about filmmaking, directors and actors, and whether he uses filmmaking as therapy.

Do you agree with the statement that all directors are assholes?

I thought that applause was a little bit about me. It is a thing that I wrote about myself in my diary after a day of shooting during We Have a Pope. It was a scene where you had a character that was sitting on a sofa. So I shot it once, and I didn’t like the blankets. So I asked the assistants to go to my house and my mother’s house to get blankets that I knew I liked more.

In the meantime we were waiting on set. Then all these blankets arrived. So I did another version with one of my blankets and another with my mother’s blankets. In my diary I wrote this sentence: “Directors are assholes that you allow to do anything.”

Do you feel the same way about actors?

Actually with the actors today, I feel much more solidarity with them than when I was younger. Before, I had the feeling that they were pieces of the game that I can move anywhere. Now I have much more empathy towards them.

Do directors need to be assholes to be great directors?

This is a good question. Let’s say that some are real assholes and some force themselves to be real assholes. I don’t think it is an obligation. It helps, but it is not an obligation.

There is a scene in which Margherita says all the extras look fake. Do you feel cinema today often looks fake?

Let’s say that sometimes us directors, we are stuck on some sort of reality that does not belong to the present anymore. And sometimes we need an injection of reality.

Putting so much of yourself into your films, do you ever treat filmmaking as therapy?

No, it is absolutely not a therapy. I often made movies where I showed my new obsessions or neuroses, but it didn’t help to solve my problems. Maybe sometimes a movie can help the spectator, but not the person that makes them.

I know that a movie can’t save the world, can’t save the spectators and can’t even save the director who is doing it. It is a great job. It plays a very important part in people’s lives, but you can’t ask too much from cinema.

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