From Russia with love

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Summer: most people are fainting under white and blue umbrellas on the beach, worshipping the sun and all the frivolity that comes with it.

Paris: Dali’s melting clock. An open-air oven, more than Sylvia Plath could ever dream of.

I’m fed-up of wearing ugly Birkenstocks and drink naturally mulled wine. The darkness of cinema, seems to be my only comfort, a spark of civilisation.

So, I just completely spontaneously booked a one week solo trip to Saint-Petersburg, Russia.

It might sound random to you, but an actress needs to draw inspiration from somewhere, sometimes.

(The picture above represents myself as zombie Anna Karenina back among the living to find her long lost love Count Alexis Kirillovich Vrosky)

I’ll stay away from train stations, maybe.

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Eugenia at the Movies

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After hours of painful labor Eugenia was born in 1897 in Florence, Italy. The daughter of a bronze pots dynasty, soon to be the disrepute of her family.

Years ago, when I was still a Londoner, I payed a seasonal visit to my dad’s in Milan. We had a classic pizza-movie night and the film in question was Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo (it’s about a Depression-era unhappily married ingénue who goes to the movies to watch the same film over and over again to escape her miserable life, until the film’s main character walks off the screen and what was a black and white dream becomes real…). “I knew someone like that, an obsessive-compulsive person…” dad says.

Eugenia was my father’s mother’s aunt. I never had the chance to look at pictures of her. I like to think she was petite, controversially boyish-looking for her era, maybe with asymmetrical eyebrows (like those ones of evil movie characters) but still intrinsically sensual.

They say she was precocious for her age. Some others say she was a prodigy. Her family aspected great things from her, even though that would just mean marrying a suitable man of good fortune.

By the time she became old enough to embrace the philosophy of nihilist European writers, the world was experiencing what was then the greatest invention of all: CINEMA.

Movie theatres were filled with what was then la crème de la crème of Florentine society. I would have liked to know what was the first picture Eugenia has ever seen, because that day, the day in which she stepped into a movie house for the first time, something spectacular must have happened. That day marked what was to become her passion, obsession and ultimately madness.

I don’t know what it is, this feeling. It’s Stendhal’s syndrome, maybe. A repulsion to reality after having experienced something of colossal beauty. It was probably just a moment of absolute limpidness. They say it’s natural to become mad as soon as the truth laughs in your face. A lightning bolt.

Eugenia became soon a cinephile. She couldn’t help herself. She would spend her days in picture houses stepping from one movie to the other, often watching the same one repeatedly, feeding herself with lavished silver images, starving herself from the rest of the world, like a junky. Once you get locked in drug addiction, the tendency is to push it even further. One obviously does it because the dullness of life is unbearable. There’s something incredibly gloomy and romantic about it. Lastly, why should it be wrong? Isn’t life about making oneself happy? It doesn’t matter how. Morals weren’t definitely her problem regardless.

Seasons changed, fashion changed, political circumstances changed. Eugenia, unaffected by it all, was now an habitué of movie theatres, so much that they didn’t let her pay for the tickets anymore. It was pointless.

She was quite infamous in town, everybody knew she was a lunatic, a pagan. She had the devil inside. Even the priest had lost faith because of her, he had abandoned his functions and moved back in the countryside, with his lover.

Eugenia didn’t appreciate social gatherings, she hardly ever spoke to her sisters. She would mostly communicate with grimaces, if she had to. Occasionally, she would show up in some café downtown and make a scene. She was popular for showing up drunk and jump on tea tables to dance barefoot. At that point, someone would bring her back home where her mother would be waiting crying, or pretending to.

One day, she found out she was pregnant. Her mother fainted, or pretended to. “It’s a disgrace, it’s a disgrace! What have I done wrong, dear Lord? What have I done?” her father would say frantically while walking up and down the baroque living room, booze in hand, “Who is going to marry you? Who? Charlie Chaplin?”.

Eugenia never married. As a matter of fact, she had no idea of who the father of her baby was, not that she cared. Actually, Charlie Chaplin wasn’t really her type, she must have preferred someone more virile and adventurous, maybe Douglas Fairbanks, or Rudolph Valentino.

Sound in films was already the norm. Eugenia remained silent for the rest of her life. She continued watching movies, neglecting everything else. Obsession, running through blood like poison.

Apparently, her daughter Gilda had inherited the same kind of obsessive compulsive behaviour. She was an avid reader, a book eater. She, in turn, had a son too, whom one day left to move to the promised land, America. It is said he has become a religious fanatic and has joined the Mormon Church.

Quelle nuit!

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Monday 01:23 am: Finally back in my studio from what was an eventful week.

Sometimes I do feel like I’m 100 years old; that’s due to my crescendo ability to continuously attract events and situations, of any sort, that lead me to notable case scenarios. After all, situations make stories.

“She always wanted to be a story”, that’s what a scriptwriter friend wrote about my alter-ego in one of his shorts; we hear the “cowboys’ death bell” as she was reciting a verse from Sylvia Plath’s Complete Poetry Anthology, she leans to kiss her lover but they accidentally pull on something, a rope. Swish as nooses ride up their necks strangling them to death. The whole thing comes actually from a dream.

Gaze up to the sky. Cigarette. Dramatic look. City lights. Metro. Line 9. Line 13. Dramatic look. Just because…

I ask myself why I can’t keep my thoughts straight.

I write as bad as I think.

But then, there is CINEMA. It’s a very pleasant way to waste your life.

Rue Champollion, 75005 Paris

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Cold fact: Paris has more movies showing at any one time than any other city in the world.  Cinema addicts come to Paris just to go to the movies! That may be because of the proliferation of tiny, independent cinemas.

Once upon a time…

There was a mythical place, between the Sorbonne and Notre Dame, where cinephiles reunite.

It’s an alley that welcomes some (if not most) of the greatest independent cinemas in Paris (if not the world). Three to be exact.

LE CHAMPO – ESPACE JAQUES-TATI

This arthouse cinema opened in 1938. Today, the two main screens replace what was once a bookshop and later a cabaret theatre. Home of important figures in the French cinema history, also described by Francois Truffaut as his “second university”.

The upstairs screen has a curious projection system: the projector is situated above the screen and depends on a periscope and a mirror at the rear of the theatre.

The program is quite vast and qualitative. Anything from German expressionism, Italian neorealism, dogme 95, film noir, new Hollywood, new wave, no wave, I’d say any sort of wave.

Also, there is a slightly shy guy with glasses at the box-office, working alongside with a woman who seems to be his mother (she’s in charge of checking the tickets at the screen’s entrance).  I surprised them a few times commenting on how people leave the auditorium, guessing, as a game, if they’ve been moved by the film or not, if so in which way, if they are a comedy or drama types. They are so adorable I never dared to speak with them, I feel it would ruin the fun.

REFLET MEDICIS 

Opened in 1964;  it shows all kind of classics and indie movies but with a particular attention to international releases of difficult programmation (less than 10 copies) as well as hosting small film festivals from all around.

(They also have their own monthly magazine).

There’s a wooden bench just outside the door, which is a magnet for absent-minded curiously dressed old people I’d love to photograph.

FILMOTHEQUE DU QUARTIER LATIN

Opened in 1966; this two screens cinema (screen Marilyn in red and screen Audrey in blue) is also the house of international festivals, retrospectives and restored classics with a shameless favouritism for Italian cinema (anything from neorealism, commedia all’italiana, giallo to spaghetti western).

It’s illegal how cozy the peluche seats are in the Audrey screen. Just the other night I was there to watch a funny Alberto Sordi movie, there was this woman, sitting next to me, who could not stop giggling. I feared the worse, for her.

If only I could light in a cigarette, I would love these cinemas a little bit more.