Whenever I read Alberto Moravia‘s interviews, suddenly he comes back into my life as if he was still alive. Alberto’s brief answers, his judgements about people, artists, ideas. He really was very unusual, special in his way of thinking. In his answers he was always unexpected and somehow naïf – somewhere between a child and a wizard. He adored cinema and I know he was quite impressed by the fact that De Sica, Godard, Maselli and Bertolucci had all made very important films out of his novels. He and Fellini had a mutual respect for each other’s genius. They were not close friends, but Fellini took great account of what Alberto Moravia wrote about his films in the magazine L’ Espresso, where he was the film critic. You can decide for yourself how original Moravia was in the acuity of his discernment in this short interview. I really wish he could still be with us!
Originally released by Bompiani Panta, ‘Visions between cinema and literature’, edited by Francesco Casetti and Elisabetta Sgarbi, an anthology of interviews on cinema. We publish the unedited conversation between Alain Elkann and Alberto Moravia.
ALBERTO MORAVIA: HOW WAS BRIGITTE BARDOT?
“Bardot? She looked like a pekingese.”
On writers, the cinema, divas: “I love Godard, Fellini and Buñuel.”
How did it come about that nearly all your novels were made into movies?
Because in a way they come from the cinema, because actually they are theatrical, and then they return to their origin. My novels are almost all dramas dressed up as novels.
Of the films that have been made based on your books, which do you particularly remember?
A film directed by Vittorio De Sica with Sophia Loren, Two Women (La Ciociara, 1960). Some movies made with most important actresses such as Gina Lollobrigida in The Woman of Rome (La Romana, 1954); Catherine Spaak in The Empty Canvas (La Noia, 1963); Brigitte Bardot in Contempt (Le Mépris, 1963); Dominique Sanda and Stefania Sandrelli in The Conformist (Il Conformista, 1970) etc. And then I also had the best directors: Bertolucci for The Conformist; Godard for Contempt; De Sica for Two Women; Citto Maselli and Mauro Bolognini for A Time of Indifference (Gli Indifferenti, 1964) etc. Good directors make good movies, therefore I really cannot complain too much.
And do you know all these directors personally?
I know them, yes, some more than others. Bertolucci is the one who I know best, because he is also a friend. I only barely know De Sica, Godard a bit better.
But when they released Contempt were you not also involved?
Of course, although my introduction to Brigitte Bardot and Godard was not very encouraging. I asked Brigitte Bardot, after witnessing all the hooha that took place during the press conference for the film, if she was interested in doing an interview for Candide. She said, “Let’s do it,” but the interview never actually happened.
How was Brigitte Bardot?
Quite a bit different from how she looks in her photographs. Her body, yes, very pretty and graceful, her walk is most elegant. In real life though her face is like a pekingese, more pug-like than you see on the screen. The movies sweeten such features. In her case that was quite difficult. I can’t altogether believe that I ever had quite such a crush on Brigitte Bardot.
How was Claudia Cardinale?
I was asked to do an interview with Claudia Cardinale for Esquire. I agreed because I needed the money, but I was a bit uncomfortable about it: doing an interview with a diva can be very annoying, especially if they turn on their star status, playing all those film star games with the journalist. I had the idea that I would turn this into a philosophical interview. To give consideration to what can be said about La Cardinale as a manifestation in space. I said to her, “I do not care who you are, nor what it is that you do in your life, nor that you are an actress, nor what you think of the movies. All I am interested in is your body.” And so she told me what she thought of her legs, her breasts, her eyes, her hair, etc. The interview was a great success and it went really well. I believe it was imitated all over the place. Anyway, then I wanted to do an interview with Bardot about her Marxism, given that she was a middle class person, or so I thought. So okay, I am going to do this interview with her based on her ideas about capitalism. But she dodged the issue. I remember she said: “Je n’ai pas fait son premier film, je ferai son dernier.” (“I did not make his first film, I will make his last.”)
Do you think Godard is a genius?
Godard is a genius, yes, but when I say “genius” I do not mean a great artist. I do not even mean a great creator, I simply mean he is a genius and nothing else. In fact, what I just said is wrong, he is a creative man.
Fellini is a great artist.
While Godard is not?
Actually, he is a great artist as well, but he is more creative as a revolutionary than as an artist.
Bertolucci, he’s another case again. You can sum it up like this, Godard revolutionized the cinema, at least he started a revolution that has gone on for quite some time. If you compare a Godard film with any other film, you see immediately that this is something quite different. There is a certain way of contextualising, of framing the images…
Is Godard the Joyce of cinematography?
No, not really Joyce, no, I would not say Joyce.
His is a new kind of cinematographic storytelling?
There you have it, if anything, yes, more like Robbe-Grillet or a surrealist like Breton. Joyce is the super naturalist, naturalism inflated to the nth degree so as to break through naturalism. Joyce went beyond naturalism by sticking with naturalism.
But when it comes to surrealism, then it is Fellini, right?
No, Fellini is actually a bit of everything. Fellini is like Buñuel. There are two points of contact between Fellini and Buñuel. Fellini makes use of avant–garde experiences, Buñuel does too. Buñuel has a strong Spanish foundation, into which he has integrated his own surrealistic experiences. But Buñuel’s personality is bigger than what he does, he is not of any one school. It’s the same for Fellini. Fellini is a man who has made use of a bit of everything. But he has his own personal style… On the other hand Godard is a real revolutionary in the way he uses his lense, how he looks at the human form, and I must say, to tell the truth, for me it is Godard, then Fellini and next comes Buñuel, he is the third director that I love.
He has many points of similarity with Visconti. He is a cultured director, with a cultural sensibility. But then he’s also a sensationalist, as the English say. He makes you feel a punch in the stomach, just like Visconti. Bam! He gives you a punch in the stomach, he makes you look at a boy as if he was a pear with a fork in his veins. Then he has a social conscience, this is also very important. And, like Visconti, he has a fantastic feeling for the past. That is the characteristic that I admire in him the most. Because even though he was just a child during the fascist era, even so films like The Spider’s Stratagem (1972) or The Conformist are miraculous as reconstructions of an atmosphere, of a way of life that has completely disappeared.
Where does he dig this up from? He will have seen documentaries …
You know, it’s not the same thing, in his films he creates precisely the right atmosphere. I must say this, both Visconti and Bertolucci are special directors… Bertolucci is almost a more operatic version of Visconti. In short, they are scene-setters as much as they are directors.
Is being a director different from being a writer?
No. A real director like a Godard or a Malle has his own style, in fact he writes. He writes with pictures. To sum it up, cinematic writing is no different to that of literature.
Published in La Stampa: September 13, 2008