How to Visualize the Earth's Natural Elements: Edoardo de Angelis on 'The Vice of Hope'
“In one shot, we calculated that we moved, actors and the camera, 1.5 kilometers from the beginning to the end of the shot.”
An acclaimed new voice in Italian cinema, Edoardo De Angelis (Indivisible) started out with the idea to tell a story about a lawless world next to the river Volturno in Italy. He's now made a film where the camera flows ceaselessly around the characters, just like that river. The Vice of Hope follows the protagonist Maria as she trafficks surrogate mothers, women down and out on their luck, and often immigrants, along the Volturno river.
“This area to me is the emblem of Italy today…it’s a land that's mixed, like our blood," described de Angelis in the Q&A following the TIFF premiere, "Those want to prevent others from having the desire to arrive here have to accept it, because you can’t stop other people’s desire to move." In addition to the setting of the film being used as a symbol of the modern face of Italy in a shifting world, the film revolves around the symbolism of birth, and to play the protagonist, he cast the mother of his own child: the talented Italian actress Pina Turco.
De Angelis and Turco sat down with No Film School after the premiere at TIFF 2018 to talk about the unusual visual style of the film, coming up with the story based on a very real place, and how working together on set with structure and severity “can be one of the highest forms of love.”
No Film School: The Vice of Hope is a film that employs a lot of symbolism, the symbol of birth, for example, but it’s also a film that is depicting a very specific place—the lawless area in Italy called Castel Volturno. Eduardo, how did you first come up with the idea for the film?
Edoardo de Angelis: I was looking for a way to the eternal story of the birth of a child, and I went back to Castel Volturno and there I contacted the primordial elements: air, fire, water, and wind.
NFS: What was it about those elements that you found in this place, along the Volturno, that made you want to include them in the script?
De Angelis: I came across human beings who lived in conditions, were fleeing from wars, from famine, from professional failures, and I saw a world that was populated with desperate human beings who had given up on their future, who didn't have everything, and who were selling their bodies. When they couldn't sell their bodies, they would sell the bodies of the children that they generated.
I imagined a woman fighting to rebuild, fighting this society and heralding a new society, starting from herself and the baby that she has inside of her, a clean society and a society that was more respectful of human life.
NFS: Once you had envisioned this female protagonist, how did you decide to cast Pina? How did the two of you find working together?
De Angelis: The film came about around the time that I met this woman and together we decided to build a family, which is the primordial nucleus. A family that needed to follow rules, properly building a social structure. I thought it was fitting that the main character of the film had the same body, voice, and pain as the woman I was creating this family with, her body, her voice, her beauty, and her pain.
Pina Turco: Well, initially we entered into a great deal of conflict. We were at loggerheads, especially prior to the prep work that we did. At first, I was opposed to the severity that I experienced with Eduardo, a man I had known under totally different conditions, situations, a different context. He manifested a certain toughness, a certain severity that I had not known before. I was surprised and petrified, and it was only after a long preparation, a long period of time, that I understood his point of view more in depth. Once we got into the shooting of the film, I understood that this can be one of the highest forms of love, which is structure and severity.
NFS: Speaking of severity and structure, I was thinking about the imagery in the film and noticed there was constant movement, with only brief moments where the camera is static. What was the visual strategy you wanted for the film?
De Angelis: The visual strategy for the film that I employed required a number of devices that were necessary. It was essential to my style to convey what I wanted to say. The movement, the static sequences punctuated the movements, camera movements in some scenes...
My gamble from a visual standpoint was to create a world in which you can immerse yourself without actually perceiving extraneous elements that are represented. In order to accomplish this, it took us a long time and I had to observe the natural landscape. That was the first phase of our pre-production.
The second phase was to get together with the DP in order to research technical devices, some existing, some not existing, that were necessary to bring about this vision and to create this sensation of immersion into the story. The film essentially is a story that follows the flow of the river, the way it moves, the direction, the feed, going from the river flowing into the sea. We used a stabilizer device, which we have used before in other films, with photography being slightly out of focus at the edges of the corners, and they created a sense of envelopment. We decided to use them in order to let the events happen in front of the camera, let them unfold freely, liberally, and let the other characters live these events without interfering with them.
We set up some long takes with the idea that they would not be broken up through editing. Every scene has a beginning and an end. We were in these locations and often we didn't know where the scene would end. We would know where we would start, but we wouldn't know exactly where we'd end. So, in one scene, one shot, we calculated that we moved, actors and the camera, 1.5 kilometers from the beginning to the end of the shot.