Carolina Raspanti, a non-professional actress with Down syndrome, stars in “Dafne,” written and directed by Federico Bondi.
Lovable, intelligent and full of life, Dafne is probably the happiest grocery clerk you’ll ever see on screen. But her mother’s sudden death upends her serene and happy family life. Daphne copes by digging deeper into her work and finding comfort with her friends, while her father, Luigi (Antonio Piovanelli), descends into a deep depression and daughter becomes caretaker.
Dafne screened Friday as part as part of Film at Lincoln Center’s “Open Roads: New Italian Cinema.”
Bondi, who lives in Florence, spoke to The Knockturnal through a translator Friday morning at the Walter Reade Theater and following are highlights from that interview after the jump.
The Knockturnal: Carolina Raspanti, who plays Dafne, is not a professional actress but she’s terrific and charismatic. What was your process of working with her?
Federico Bondi: Carolina had never read a screenplay. I was there telling her scene by scene what she had to do. And she’s really reactive so she was taking everything in I told her she had to do in a scene and interpreting it and making it hers.
The Knockturnal: How close to the character of Dafne is Carolina in real life?
Federico Bondi: I wrote the first few drafts of the screenplay basically based on her. I ended up looking at her, observing her with her family, with her colleagues, with her friends and most of all with her parents.
The Knockturnal: I’ve never seen a movie where the central character has Down syndrome. What inspired you to do this?
Federico Bondi: I was in my car in heavy traffic and I saw a woman outside the car holding hands with a younger woman — I assumed her daughter — with Down syndrome. And this image really touched me and I started asking questions to myself, like who is taking care of this girl? Like how is her life? And from there I got the idea for the story.
The Knockturnal: The final scene in the film, where father and daughter — Dafne and her father — are walking a long distance to get to the mother’s grave, is haunting. Why did you end with that scene?
Federico Bondi: The scene of them walking is a metaphor. It’s to show how they are trying to build up a new balance as though to discover inner strength in each other. We actually shot that at the beginning of the movie, during the first week of shooting, because I wanted them (the actors) to get to know each other.
The Knockturnal: What do you want audiences to take away from the film?
Federico Bondi: I’m asked this question a lot. And I thought about it a lot and realized I didn’t really have a message when I wrote the movie. When I write I don’t really want to explain something. I just want to bring things on the page and then on the screen. Now I have to explain the meaning of the movie. I don’t really know what’s behind it. It was more like I wanted to touch people. As I was writing it I got touched by what was on the page, on the screen, and that’s what I want people to experience from my movie. I want them to feel something.Carolina and Antonio Piovanelli star in “Dafne”
The Knockturnal: Dafne is very lovable, also smart and a very hard worker in a grocery story so it shows how productive people with Down syndrome are and how important their place in society can be. Was upending certain misconceptions about this condition on your mind when you made the film?
Federico Bondi: A lot of people actually told me that as they were watching the movie they forgot she has Down syndrome and they actually got in her shoes.
The Knockturnal: This is your second feature film. What is the one piece of indispensable advice you would give to a first-time director?
Federico Bondi: Believe a lot in the story, otherwise it’s crazy to even begin to make a movie. You have to believe in yourself.
The Knockturnal: What do you like most about making movies and what do you like least?
Federico Bondi: What I like the most is the work of research for writing and then the actual writing. What I like least is the pressure of deadline on set. Obviously every hour you’re on set costs money so you have pressure to rush into everything.
The Knockturnal: Do you think there is a unifying theme, subject or look to current Italian cinema? For example, for American movies it would be action films and comic book films. What is the focus of the new Italian cinema?
Federico Bondi: I think when they talk about Italian cinema we do have themes that seem to appear all the time. We have comedies on one side and we have indie movies on the other. And they usually talk about the mafia or immigration. But I do believe that what’s really important is that you believe in your story and so, for example, this movie doesn’t fit into any of these categories.
The Knockturnal: Do you like New York and what do you do here for fun?
Federico Bondi: This is my fourth or fifth time in New York. The last time I came here was with “Mar Nero,” my first (narrative) movie. I have friends and family in New York. What I like about New York is that everything is fun and there’s a special energy in this city. Here you really get experience. You really can get outside to talk to people all over the world. In Florence it’s not like that.
The Knockturnal: What was the best thing about making Dafne?
Federico Bondi: The best thing that happened to me during Dafne was the friendship I built up with Carolina.
The Knockturnal: Do you think Carolina has a future in films?
Federico Bondi: A lot of people are asking her if she’s interested in working in the movie industry and being an actress or doing something else. But she really wants to keep working in the supermarket unless in the next movie her co-star is going to be Raoul Bova, who is like the Brad Pitt of Italy.