Greta Bellamacina | The Silent Trappings of Cinema

Foreign hushes veiled in eye contact to break hearts.

Written by

Brit Parks

Photographed by

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In the silent cinema of cause Greta Bellamacina is taking stock. A leg's length of spirit spills from her lips to paper's ears. From her mind delving in piles of too much, heatherred in too often, she is memorizing the shape of silence. She is straying from an unknown to a deep well of dance fittings steeped in formal chaos. Bellamacina donates a script written in sand tears, a wavering glow of madness, and a slinking hope filled mouth. She understands the detail of a second. Her new film Venice at Dawn stokes original with galant improvisation bedded with a dance scene to make Godard blush. In Italian cinema, Commedia is racing the avant garde to the finish by speaking in foreign hushes veiled in eye contact to break hearts. And her recent foray to the written word is a meltingly honest take on women bound to women in her original film Tell it to the Winter Sea. Bellamacina is fearless in her willingness to soak in vulnerability and let a discussion of the poetics of thought play out like a live wire in a stoic castle of love endured.

In Venice at Dawn, how did you prepare for a role that required improvisation?

Greta Bellamacina: My character Sally is the opposite of a romantic female heroine. She is a revenge seeker, a kind of charming criminal who happens to fall in love with the other criminal Dixon, played by Fabien Frankel, who is helping her steal a painting. A lot of the preparation for the character came from discussions with the director Jamie Adams about the reasons why she is so complicated. It was also small things like what she likes to listen to and her morning routine. The things that humanize her and bring her a bit of light in an otherwise dark situation. As all of the dialogue was improvised it was about seeing how far you could push the ridiculousness onto the other character. How far you would believe your own madness and keep the idea alive. I like how Sally is the bad influence in the love dynamic. It’s a modern comedic Bonnie and Clyde.

As an actress, what do you consider your method?

I would say I am more of a hard thinker. I am always a little too deep in my thoughts. I do find it hard to stop thinking about a character, to stop opening up the small locket of heartache within the person I am playing. I think because a lot of acting is less about the dialogue and more about the silent reactions. There is an invisible thought process that gets translated though a secret passage of the eyes. I think to be truly method you never switch out of character and in reality that is an extremely exhausting state to be in. I like to have a bit of space between myself and the character to help understand the unspoken world of the character better.

Commedia seems to be part of the past echoes of cinema whilst engaging in a contemporary context. In your mind's eye, was that feeling present?

Commedia is a dark comedy which examines the thin borderline between creativity and madness set against Rome. It's a city with a long cinematic history but for the first time in a long time it's shot in an entirely new way. There are two main characters who are patients in a mental hospital who want to make a movie. I play one of them, Irene, who dreams of making a movie and persuades the other patient, Rocco, into helping her. The film is an exploration to where the borders of sanity and madness lie. I’ve always been drawn to stories that celebrate the outsider. I think perhaps that’s where I feel most comfortable and equally most unsettled. I’ve always struggled to feel like I truly fit in. I like the idea that madness is so closely connected to reason. It was an honour to work with the great film and theater director Riccardo Vannuccini. His work is very unique and he is partly inspired by the physical theater of Pina Bausch. He works with mental patients, refugees, and prisoners in Rome. His theater company, Artestudio, are really on the cutting edge of how theater can help society. His work is very avant-garde which is one of the reasons I liked the script so much. My character remained English and the other patient remained Italian. Because of this the film has a sort of meta-reality which I love. We worked with a translator on set every day and this confusion and lack of language gave us a way to look at each other in a new way. I think you can see that on screen. There is an innocence to it. A childishness to their dreams. A gaze in the eyes suddenly becomes much more important when you don’t share a language.

Photographed by Chantelle Dosser.

As a lover of Pina Bausch, I noted her as an influence listed on Commedia, I know you have a dance background. How did that change your approach to this role?

It was really something I learnt on set. Riccardo takes you out of the words and puts your body into them instead. He had his theater company come and do an almost chorus-like assembly around the story. A lot of the beauty of the film comes from the synchronicity of how he wants the main characters to be together. The story is not a romantic story but instead a story of two children dreaming. There are moments where they dance together, other moments where they drag chairs along the sand in sync, other moments where they walk next to each other muttering nonsense. The Pina element is in the physical theater of the film but that is not the only layer.

How do you keep yourself from getting lost in the role and constantly reawakening to your other forms of creative work?

Mostly it’s the preparation of the project I enjoy getting lost in, I find the actual filming to be much more of a mediation. A kind of journey within a journey. I think this is true for most things I do. Especially when I write poetry, it’s about the idea first, then it’s about letting it evolve and hold enough broken light in it to make it feel the most honest and moving. I like to collect as much as I can until I feel like I have to let go of it because I can’t hold on anymore because it's almost too painful to hold it all in. It feels right to give it a place to breathe.

How do you think your poetic mind contributes to your acting?

With poetry you can be very profound in a few words. In acting it can be as simple as a glance. I like this silent language that they both have, this other language. It is about reinventing a language so the person listening or watching understands it again. There has to be something in it that feels like a reinvention otherwise the words and facial expressions hold less power. So much of what you want to say has been told before, so the poetry of anything is about finding a new way to say it. I like this challenge. I like this quiet battle that both worlds seem to need.

As a script writer, do you write with the translation of the film in mind? Is that inevitable? Or do you leave them in silos and let the acting transpire when you reach that point?

When I write a script, it’s the characters I have in mind first. I want to make character-led films. I care less about the plot than I do the characters. It has to feel worthwhile to me to write. Again it comes from wanting to translate a headspace. What I found when I made my first feature Hurt By Paradise was that the final film is the edit. That’s when the job is done. The script becomes less important in the editing room. It's about breaking up moments to keep the film a film. The script is suddenly obsolete. You want in this moment to let go of it all and find the beauty and the space in the edit.

What drives your passion for acting and film?

I like the hard graft of film. I think every film feels like a miracle because there are so many moving parts to it. There is no telling what you have created until it’s lived in many different forms and been spoken and retranslated through many different lips. I like how it’s a group dedication, and its reliant on a whole community of people. Every film is a struggle and sacrifice of the self and of a community, and because of this it’s a complete joy.

Can you speak to the difference in vulnerability as a writer and actress? Particularly in Tell it to the Winter Sea, how do you reach these different points of expression?

I had already worked with the Emmy-Award winning director Jacyln Bethany on two of her other films. We became friends through her stories of female friendship and difficult love. We knew we wanted to make something together. So when we eventually started writing together, as she is based in Mississippi, I would wake up first and write the first ten pages in the morning and in the afternoon she would read them and write more. A lot of the story came out of our memories of first love and our shared love of dance. The film is set over a hen party weekend where two friends get reunited after a long time and they were also each other’s first love. Jacyln had recently got married and it felt interesting to both of us to explore the second coming of age environment of the ‘hen party’ which brings school friends together again in adult life. I think when it came to acting on set, it felt like I had lived this script many times, so it was really about seeing how close I could bring myself to the unspoken thoughts of the character. I played alongside Amber Anderson and before we started filming we had a handful of dance rehearsals together which was really special because it meant me where able to physically understand each other. We play both the teenage and present day characters of ourselves so there is something already quite vulnerable about the timeline of the story and having to switch perspectives. The film is an entirely female cast so the environment was already quite special. I think we made something emotionally subtle and poetically melancholic with little bits of humor scattered here and there. 

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Greta Bellamacina, Commedia, Venice at Dawn, Tell it to the Winter Sea