Like “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Ghost World,” the Italian gem “Amanda” is unconventionally funny and dark. As in these films, there is a longing from the protagonist for a friendship that can fill the lonely void in their life, and together, these friendships add to their own fantastical realities. These are the onscreen worlds I like to immerse myself into.
“Amanda,” directed by first-time filmmaker Carolina Cavalli, is about a 24-year-old girl who intensely wants a best friend, and when she finds it in Rebecca, she tightly holds on. Amanda is quirky, with her inner darkness and sadness, but she also has a sense of wonder. When she meets Rebecca, her new best friend, she is similar to Amanda, who lives life to her own beat, but in a more destructive way. Amanda also finds kinship with an old horse that shares a loner quality to herself.
When I spoke with Carolina Cavalli about her film debut, she compared the Amanda character, played by the young talent Benedetta Porcaroli, to the grown-up versions of the storybook characters from her childhood, like Pippi Longstocking. Prior to directing, Carolina predominately worked as a screenwriter, and now that she knows what it’s like to bring her script to life on the screen, she is so excited to direct again. I can’t wait to see what she does next!
“Amanda” is now playing in the US in select theaters.
What was the inspiration for this film?
Looking back, I feel I was inspired by storybook characters from my youth, like Pippi Longstocking and Caroline. I was thinking about how these characters are going to become my age, and hope they don’t change too much and become assholes. In the end, I thought Amanda could have been this storybook character who grew up.
How did you find Benedetta Porcaroli for this role? What was it like working with her and developing the character with her?
This was my first film. I had never shot a short. I was a screenwriter, so I’m used to not working with actual people [laughs]. It can be a scary when you have to choose a person to play your character. You have to let go. The character becomes a person with a body and a face, and soon has its own traits of moving, walking and talking. I thought the best way to cast Amanda was with an audition.
And with Benedetta, it was a relief because when we saw each other, we immediately understood the character in the same way. This was a priority for me. I was very lucky to find her because she is an amazing actress. She is young, but she’s very experienced.
So we had the rehearsal, and we didn’t change the dialogue. We created the character around the dialogue. I thought that she added a lot of little things that developed the character, and we shared a lot of moments. I truly felt we were sharing the character completely.
Can you talk about Amanda and Rebecca’s friendship? It was intense!
I imagined a friendship between two girls who try to avoid the reality of their lives. Amanda is always trying to adopt her own concept of reality. She is not as brave as she intends to be. For me, friendship is the most intelligent human relationship and really gets you through numerous situations. It’s so precious, especially during your childhood and as a teenager. I always wanted “Amanda” to be a story about this kind of friendship that is like an antidote to isolation.
Can you talk about the choice of the more muted colors in the film?
We shot with a Luton and chose the colors before shooting. We shot the film with a color mask of the Luton, so I could see how I imagined the film from the beginning. The colors for me seemed to fit well with the location and the ambiance of the film. I wanted to get the feeling of something natural and empty, and to create a world that is ready for her to explore, a world that doesn’t seem super-welcoming, and a world to follow her on her missions with the horse, and finding a real person to become friends with. I thought it could be perfect if they had a real space to move, to create, to be natural, and empty.
I was also drawn in by the production design.
It was the production designer Martino Bonanomi’s first film as well, and we both were control freaks because of that. We prepared everything so well, and then we realized we had to improve a lot of things as we went on making the film. For my first time as a director, I felt it was important in who I chose to work with on the production. Because these people are also creators of the worlds in their own art. You cannot completely change that, you just have to share the experiences of bringing these worlds together.
Something I am proud of is who I chose to work with. For me, the set design was a very special experience. I simply like it. I like that, and I like the costumes, and I like working with actors. I really like working with images, and you don’t get to do that much when you are a screenwriter. You try to put little things in the script, but usually they don’t necessarily get on the screen, it’s not up to you.
It’s something I think of a lot. It gives you the satisfaction that you can control these images. It’s exciting that you get to do this, it gives you a lot of adrenaline. I’m addicted now and I really want to direct again. I didn’t know if it would be for me, but I found I love the experience of being on set.
What was the significance of the horse?
After our world premiere of the film in Venice, they asked me about the horse during the Q&A. The truth is that I really wanted to use a donkey, and not a horse. But I chose a horse that was more like a donkey, and was really old. You can’t necessarily see it, but he was getting along well with Benedetta. I wanted to find an animal that shared the same situation as her, being left behind by people. So I chose that horse and he was great. During a Q&A, somebody compared Amanda and the horse to the girl and the horse in “Fish Tank”. It shares a similar connection. I love that movie.
Me too! What do you hope people see in your film?
I always hope that they laugh. For me, it’s always a mystery when people are going to laugh, especially when you go to a different country. I don’t know if the humor will translate. I really want people to laugh at the film at the right time, it really makes me happy. I tend not to stay in the screenings, but of course, you hear when people laugh. It’s something you notice.
So excited for people to see this film!
It’s so strange, you make a little film in your home, and then it’s on the other side of the world, it’s exciting!