Pupi Avati: «Dante will seduce you. It is Boccaccio who saves him for us “

from Aldo Cazzullo

At the cinema with the director of a film that was the fruit of courage and purity: «I felt inadequate, I studied for 20 years but I did it. The Poet as a human being I think I guessed it “

It takes courage and purity to make a film about Dante.

For the seven hundred years since the death of the greatest poet that not only Italy but humanity has ever had, TV has done nothing. Absolutely nothing. Cinema, the fiction industry: nothing.
Dante doesn’t care. Or rather, it scares. He makes you lose plays (or you think he makes them lose). It’s not just the old rule that the impresario who invested in the bad taste of the public never lost his money. It is that Dante is considered complicated; while in reality he is deep.
To take him to the cinema it took the courage and purity of Pupi Avati. Angelic non-purity: in the film Beatrice appears naked, as in Dante’s night vision; and Dante makes love with a prostitute (after all Boccaccio defines him as “lustful”: he liked women very much, and had various stories during his exile, in which he was not followed by his wife). But spiritual purity. Love for poetry. Ability to grasp the “mysterious grandeur” of the poet, or at least to be fascinated by it.


Pupi Avati explains, in the room where we see together his film entitled precisely Dante – at the cinema from 29 September – that the lack of courage of others does not scandalize him, on the contrary. «Dante communicates to everyone a sense of inadequacy. He creates inferiority complexes, and rightly so. He opens a distance for his omniscience, for his poetic excess, for his mystery. I tried to make Dante seductive. And to do so I studied for twenty years ».
The film, says the director, had to be done in 2002. «I already had a contract with Rai, concluded with Giancarlo Leone. But, if the desks are always the same, people change; and they no longer wanted to hear about Dante ». Meanwhile, Pupi Avati continued to think about it. To work on it. And to write about it.

The film was born from the beautiful novel that the director published by Solferino, High fantasy. Boccaccio’s journey to discover Dante. And, like the book, the film also stitches three stories together, uses three registers to tell the poet’s life.
The first is his youthful passion for Beatrice, reconstructed by Dante’s voice, who speaks to us through the Vita Nova and his moving sonnets of love.
The second is the genesis of Hell; and when Dante is seen tinkering around the sheet from which he never separated, which he wore tied to his chest and unfolded the night to draw the map of the otherworldly abyss and the names of the various characters to be placed in the different circles, it comes to mind Shakespeare in Lovethe Oscar-winning film in which John Madden recounts the birth of Romeo and Juliet in his own way.

Boccaccio at the center of the scene

The third register is Boccaccio’s journey to the places of Dante’s life. This is the fundamental intuition of Pupi Avati: “Boccaccio saved Dante. He has saved his work of him, copying it by hand at least three times. He changed her name: no longer alone Comedybut Divine Comedy. He physically avoided its destruction: convents were forbidden to keep a copy of Dante’s masterpiece, because there was bad talk of the Popes, in particular of Boniface VIII and John XXII. Furthermore, Boccaccio inaugurated the long tradition of the Lecturae Dantis, the readings of Dante in public, reading the Inferno, he was already ill, to exhaustion, with enormous success and great emotion for the Florentines ».

Repair the evil done

The film takes its cue from the Florentines’ reawakening. To partially repair the evil done to their illustrious fellow citizen – exiled, hunted down, the “confiscated, devastated, destroyed” assets, the death sentence by beheading and burning, the attempts to physically suppress him, up to the desire of Cardinal Del Poggetto to burn it bones so as not to leave any trace of him -, the Florentines commissioned Boccaccio to bring a sum of money and a request for forgiveness to Dante’s only surviving descendant: his daughter Antonia, who became a nun with the name of Beatrice.

Boccaccio is sick. He has scabies. He survived the plague, which killed three children. He has one left, a little girl named Violante, who, however, does not recognize him as a father. He tries in vain to win her back by bringing him the wedding doll that belonged to Beatrice as a gift: almost an omen of doom (a scene reminiscent of a classic by the irregular Pupi Avati, who in 1976 The house with laughing windows he also tried his hand at horror).

Fathers and sons

Before setting out in search of Dante’s daughter, Boccaccio must recognize his own father, who died in the terrible plague of 1348, which reduced the population of Florence to a third. It is a terrible and splendid scene: the monatto lifts the sack that covers the face of the deceased with the special hook, until Boccaccio recognizes the features of him, deformed by evil from agony, of his own carnal parent. It is a final goodbye; because Boccaccio considers himself spiritually the son of Dante, “the father of all the joys of my life”.
«I have delegated to Boccaccio the task of narrating Dante», the director smiles; “Because Boccaccio often thinks and says the things I think and say”.

In Tuscany still pervaded by the “stench of the plague”, Boccaccio retraces the stages of Dante’s exile, and meets the witnesses of his passage. The Casentino, where he was welcomed by a beautiful, albeit goiter, woman who saved him from the Florentine assassins charged with eliminating him. The castle of Romena, where the only manuscript of Dante was kept (now no longer found): a letter in which he asks forgiveness from the sons of Count Alessandro because he cannot come to their father’s funeral, as poverty has deprived of weapons and horse (Boccaccio is moved by reading the letter and kissing it; and even the spectator struggles to remain numb). It was precisely to Romena that Dante was told by a daughter of Count Ugolino the story of the cruel death of his father; while on the battlefield of Campaldino he met Bernardino Da Polenta, who told him about the murder of his sister, Francesca.

The birth of Paradise

In Ravenna, Boccaccio sees the mosaic of the apse of Apollinare in Classe, with all the stars of the celestial vault, of which Dante knew “the real name”. They tell him that sometimes the poet was locked inside the church all night, to wait for the first light of dawn. Paradise was born there.
Finally, Boccaccio arrives at the convent where the poet’s daughter lives. She who refuses to receive him: she is too offended with the Florentines, she does not want to forgive them (“a nun who does not forgive?” Boccaccio asks himself). But in the night the writer and the nun meet as if by chance, and Dante’s daughter recognizes Boccaccio as her own brother.
Boccaccio is Sergio Castellitto.
His interpretation is extraordinary. Very intense, even physically. I am not a film critic, on the contrary I sometimes find myself in disagreement with critics, and certainly they are right and I am wrong. Critical judgment of a film, like that of an actor, is also a technical matter, and as such should be left to the experts.

Extraordinary actors

But cinema, like all arts, speaks to the minds and hearts of men, and so as spectators we can say that the actors of Pupi Avati in this film are extraordinary. Also because they are “his” actors of him. Gianni Cavina, for example, plays a notary from Ravenna, a friend of Dante, who is dying; and during the making of the film Gianni Cavina was really dying, he had only two months left. The dying Dante is instead Giulio Pizzirani (the young one is Alessandro Sperduti, who has held up a very difficult role with dignity). Alessandro Haber is the Abbot of Vallombrosa, who recites the verses of Paradise against the Pope with the tone of a conspirator. near the end.

Hunger and pride

Death is the real co-star of the film. And here another Pupi Avati masterpiece comes to mind: Magnificat, set in the holy week of the year 926. In the Middle Ages, death is looming. He firmly believes in the afterlife because he feels he is close, separated from life only by a thin veil. And it’s a public death. Nobody dies alone. The death of Bella degli Abati, Dante’s mother, who is just five years old, is public and she wipes her mouth after kissing her mother who has just passed away. Beatrice’s death is public, her beautiful face disfigured by her smallpox: the burial scene is wonderful, with the women comforting the deceased, “you are not alone in the tomb, your sister Ravegnana is there …”. And the Dante’s death, killed by malaria and the bitterness of a tormented and fruitful life.

One question remains. Perhaps the poet’s true biography is his work.

Greatness and humanity

In the Divine Comedy they are all there. His inspirer, Virgil. The beloved woman, indeed Beatrice. The master, Brunetto Latini. And the characters in which Dante finds himself. Pier delle Vigne, who committed suicide: and the poet also thought about suicide during exile. Count Ugolino, who sees his “children” die of hunger (actually two children and two grandchildren); and Dante too, very poor, saw his children – who unlike his wife had followed him into exile – suffer from hunger and hardship, because of his pride. And above all Ulysses, the hero of knowledge, who renounces the sweetness of the family to become an expert of the world, and of the human soul.

But, explains Pupi Avati, bringing the Divine Comedy it would have been too much, and too little. “It is an undertaking that many have tried their hand at,” recalls the director. “Zeffirelli. Fellini. But it is a business destined to fail. Why the Hell it is a totally resolved work. Beyond Doré, the wonderful French illustrator, it is difficult to go. And then productively the Hell it would be a blockbuster. It is too great a way of making cinema, which does not belong to me. But Dante as a human being I think I guessed it ». And he has given it back to us, in his greatness but also in his humanity of him.

August 6, 2022 (change August 6, 2022 | 09:35)

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Pupi Avati: «Dante will seduce you. It is Boccaccio who saves him for us ”

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