A room plunged in chaos, as if a bomb had exploded inside. Emma Liegi, 32 but looks 25, is asleep on her bed, unconcerned with the alarm going off. The volume becomes unbearable by the time Micol Pagnotta, 16 years old, but whose sagacious appearance makes her look 23, ventures into the room hopping round the minefield of clothes scattered on the floor.
They would seem flat mates, university students or friends. Perhaps even sisters, but you would never say they were mother and daughter, because of the scarce difference in age, and even the roles seem to be inverted. Only their love for each other is unchanged.
– Give us a kiss, says the sleepy disheveled mother puckering up her lips.
– Wash first, adolescence personified replies.
This is how A Family Novel begins. A story of mothers, daughters and pregnancies: unexpected and overwhelming is that of Micol, a young clarinet player made pregnant by her young instructor Federico. And that of Emma, who gave birth at the age of sixteen and who will become an adult mother watching her daughter’s belly grow, finally a real head of the family. A path in the opposite direction from the one that had led her fifteen years earlier to leave Livorno and her family to escape her powerful authoritarian father, Gian Pietro Liegi, and sheltering in the love affair with Agostino Pagnotta, then a cadet of the Naval Academy and today a Navy Lieutenant. For him, every time he returns home after a sea mission, mother and daughter begin their “great maneuvers,” the titanic task of transforming their daily chaos into the family nest Agostino yearns for. Fifteen years travelling around Italy, a messed up but compact micro family, no contacts with Gian Pietro and his new wife Natalia (Emma’s former nanny). And then, suddenly, Agostino’s transfer to Livorno, home to Gian Pietro and the Liegi family. Pure chance? Fate does play strange tricks; just when Gian Pietro tries to reapproach his daughter who ran away from home pregnant, Emma really comes back, but this time she is the parent of a pregnant daughter. But Gian Pietro also has other problems to deal with: his degenerative illness and a family business in deep difficulties.
A squared pregnancy, with the grandfathers (soon to be great-grandfathers) under sixty and the adults just over thirty. Anything can happen at thirty, even meeting Giorgio, the boy you thought you were in love with and who could technically be Micol’s real father, even wishing you could start all over again, even having to face the illness of a father you thought immortal. Nemesis, fate, divine design. There are many ways to call it. Ivan, Micol’s classmate, deaf from birth, would raise middle and index fingers in the shape of a V, lift his little finger and clench his fist. In sign language this means LIFE.
It’s been very pleasant to do this work for television, designed for a television audience, hence a heterogeneous one. Imagining a more popular narration, making an effort to appeal to everyone without relinquishing the complexity of human nature.
It represented a huge challenge at the planning and writing level even before the directing phase. With the excitement, humility and even the cheekiness of when we do something new for the first time. Learning a method, a technique, watching tons of TV series, old and contemporary, jotting down the treatment of the best of these, copying and then doing as we pleased. Reading once more the great writers whose novels were serialized, like Balzac, Dickens, Tolstoy; but not out of pretentious tortuousness, on the contrary, to find the source of a narrative that was first and foremost popular. They all wrote for newspaper or magazine supplements, for the feuilletons, even though, who knows why, this has become a derogative term.
Two years of writing. We knew where we would end up, the finale was very clear in our minds, but during the long journey of twelve episodes we let the characters guide us, we allowed them to live according their psychic and human traits.
Equally complex was the planning of the visual structure. I wanted everything to be novelesque, but real; reason why I wanted to introduce the world of the Military Navy, which with its rules, uniforms, ships, landing yards, the dawns at the barracks and the sunsets over the sea, which could evoke in the audience the archaic lying in each one of us. We needed a city at once old-fashioned and modern like Livorno: its shipyards, the Villa Liegi, Moses the python. Each element was carefully chosen to create a classical, almost nineteenth century, narrative tone and then given a contemporary heart, which was allowed to beat wildly. In this way, with the images, the sounds, the lights, the music, the acting, I have attempted to blend truth and form.
I hope I succeeded. I hope I have given these characters an authentic life: on this long narrative path I have truly loved them, together with the enthusiastic immensely generous actors who portray them.
Guido De Laurentiis
Producers for RAI
With the support of
FILM COMMISSION TORINO PIEMONTE