5 Questions With “Le Pupille” Director Alice Rohrwacher!

There is always something interesting about taking a piece of history and making your own mark on it. In “Le Pupille”, writer/director Alice Rorhwacher did just that, weaving an interesting and fresh take on a very special letter between friends. Set in an Italian Catholic orphanage, this is a story about many things; love, sacrifice, celebration, hardship, and so much more. Who better to explain the nuances of the film than Alice Rohrwacher herself! A big thank you to Alice for speaking about the film!

Q: Tell us more about your film.  How did it come to be? 

Alice Rohrwacher: Everything came together because of Alfonso Cuarón! This film is the result of our meeting and, in a way, our relationship, because it wouldn’t exist if he hadn’t called me in the middle of the pandemic to ask me if I wanted to write a story about Christmas. He had this idea to tell stories through short films in various parts of the world, stories which were related to holidays, and specifically, in my case, to Christmas.

Q: What was the overall message of the film that you were trying to convey?

Alice: It was inspired by the Italian novelist Elsa Morante who sent a letter to her friend, Goffredo Fofi, to describe a chaotic dinner scene at Christmas that revolves around a special cake. Everything in the film came from this letter but I wanted to add how it arrived at the orphanage, because the letter doesn’t tell us that. I thought that the cake could be a gift which was brought to the orphanage, and that it should have a specific motive. In this case, it is a highly superficial one – love. At a time of war, when you should only ask for what’s important, Miss Rosa (played by Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) brings this huge cake, all for love. I liked all of these layers, the idea that something superficial is very important, the idea that it’s a gift with a motive behind it. I felt that it all perfectly meshed together as in a texture, in a fabric, representing a picture of what Christmas means to me. It’s lighthearted, playful and with a touch of irony, which also applies to the way we shot the scenes and the ways in which the girls act.

Q: What was the biggest takeaway from making the film?

Alice: Before we started filming, we cast these 17 young girls without knowing who would play the main character of Serafina, but they all had such expressive eyes, which was essential for the story. ‘Pupil’ means eyes, but, in Latin, it also means ‘little girl’, so they all had to embody that double meaning. This was during COVID, so once we had our acting troupe selected, we spent several weeks together rehearsing and letting all the girls try each role. They didn’t necessarily know who the protagonist was, as they all had a chance to experience the story from many perspectives. We were also shooting on film so we didn’t have the luxury of many digital takes, so teaching them the importance of conserving film and making the most of every scene was a wonderful way to learn about the industry and making a movie. It was such a fun and memorable time for me as they all rehearsed together in so many variations and really became a little family.  It wasn’t until they saw the film on the screen that they fully understood Serafina’s journey.

Q: What was the biggest challenge in making this film?

Alice: I must admit that there’s sort of an ezyme in my head that makes me forget the bad things, I can only remember the good things! [Laughs]. It was hard to shoot some scenes in this film like the one with the children singing while the chimney sweep carries the cake and the dog has to be there, but the main recollection I have is the joy of making it. It must be the same enzyme that runs in women’s blood when they give birth. They forget about the pain of delivering a baby and they focus on the joy of actually holding the baby. Perhaps, what I can say is, that the hardest thing was working during the pandemic, as it happened with many other productions. It was difficult because we had to be very mindful. We were scared that the girls might fall ill or get infected. So when somebody sneezed or coughed we were so scared. Some girls had to skip some scenes because they had to quarantine and we needed to make sure there were no COVID cases around, so it was more of a healthcare struggle, trying to be healthy for 10 days and finish the shooting. 

Q:  What is next for you?

Alice: The next film I’m working on is a tragic but also funny story. It’s my attempt at telling a story that’s about all of our selves. It’s about a great sorrow but it tries to do so in a fun way. In a cheerful way almost. I met amazing actors like Josh O’Connor, Isabella Rossellini, and my sister also has a role here. I also worked with non-actors here. I tried to blend in people here who in normal life would never meet up, but they do meet each other in the movie.

Thanks so much to Alice for taking the time out to speak with us! Be sure to check out Le Pupille on Disney+, and take a look at our presentation of the film!

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