A spark of inspiration

The past and the future of Italian cinema according to Annalisa Insardà. From the vantage point of her career in dramatic arts, Calabrian actress Annalisa Insardà talks to us about Italy’s place in international cinema.

Annalisa, what led you to become an actress? 

My parents tell me that I wanted to be an actress since I was four years old. I don’t remember ever making a conscious choice to do it. I like to think that it was a passion I was born with. This would seem to be the case because I come from a tiny village in inland Calabria where there was no cinema when I was little. The nearest theater was a hundred kilometers away and beyond the reach of my parents. So when I was four years old in the ‘80s, the best I could do was watch cartoons. So I really don’t know where this desire, which became a need, comes from.    

What is the place of Italian cinema in the world today? What power and value does it offer?

Though it has had its ups and downs, Italian cinema has always had the power to inspire. This may not be the case for the contemporary industry, but the triumphs of our cinema are still a reference point for many filmmakers. The strength of Italian cinema is its honest examination of the human soul. It tries to honestly narrate life in all its hypocrisy and squalor. It is not a technological spectacle or futuristic; it is not sensationalistic (not all our cinema, of course!), and it intimately portrays interior worlds. When you give viewers a mirror, and they see their lives reflected, they have faith in you and trust you because they see themselves in your film.

Annalisa Insardà, photo by Francesco Marino

Would you say that Italy is a perfect natural cinematic set?

Italy, if viewed with loving and wise eyes, can be anything you want it to be. 

Why are so many international directors passionate about Italy?

All drama relies on conflict. Italy is a county of such sharp contrasts that sometimes subtlety is not an option. We have breathtakingly regal historical cities on an imperial scale where the vestiges of a splendid past live cheek-by-jowl with ugliness, unease, indolence, apathy, and a sense of abandonment that prevails when people’s quality of life does not match the promise of so much beauty. These human and environmental contradictions are cinematic in themselves; they are real conflicts, and consequently, anyone choosing to tell their stories will be passionate about them.        

Has Italian cinema contributed to world cinema, in your opinion, and how? 

Art, like life, is flat and sterile if it lacks inspiration. Inspiration is a spark that can transform into a scorching blaze. Everything starts with a spark; it lights up your mind and guides you to your destination. I believe that our cinema, in the form of Neorealism, was the spark that shone in the eyes of the greatest directors of all time and that they used to light up the paths they took.

Photo by Cinzia Pellin

From the arthouse cinema of Rossellini’s Neorealism to commedia all’italiana to cinepanettoni, what is the future of Italian cinema? 

I can’t be certain, but Covid showed me that the only future possible is the present and the cinema of the present is highly varied, ranging from extremely frivolous to deeply important.

Do you think our cinema remains one of the best ways for us to promote Italy’s excellence and beauty abroad?

Cinema is an immensely powerful tool. Films teach us so many new things. Or rather, artists have used film to teach us. It is the best way to get the point across quickly and incisively. The internet has opened up so many options too, so cinema now means more than films on the big screen but also platforms that can be accessed with one click. Will poetry suffer? Maybe. Will our collective imagination become fractured? Without a doubt. But, in my opinion, film will endure as a means of raising consciousness. 

Italian cinema remains central to Italian identity abroad. Tolstoy wrote, “If you want to be universal, start by painting your own village.” These days, more than ever before, in our multiethnic, globalized society, seeing glimpses of their own villages in films is not only a source of pride for our compatriots abroad but brings back memories, making the chords of their souls sing, and their eyes light up.

Cover photo by Alessandro Bachiorri