A window onto the drawing room of Italy
Italian film director Giuseppe Piccioni chose to return to his roots and reconnect with his homeland in his latest masterpiece, The Shadow of the Day (L’ombra del Giorno), completely filmed in the city of Ascoli Piceno.
Piccioni has directed 11 movies since 1987 and is among the most celebrated contemporary Italian directors. Thirty-five years after shooting his first film, Il grande Blek in Ascoli Piceno, Piccioni returns to his hometown, which, in this latest film, becomes the protagonist.
The Shadow of the Day is about life in provincial Italy after the promulgation of Mussolini’s racial laws in 1938. Luciano is a restaurateur who believes in the promises of fascism but, nonetheless, thinks he can still live by his own rules inside his business. However, everything changes when Anna, a girl with a dangerous secret, starts working at his restaurant.
Piccioni’s film centers around a troubled love story set against the backdrop of the fear, distrust, and claustrophobia of the fascist era.
Love stories in cinema must always deal with obstacles; the more obstacles they have, the more compelling they are. In my film, I captured the changes during the tumultuous period of fascism. In that era, the founding principles of civil coexistence and democracy, such as, for example, the free exchange of opinions and the right to express personal thoughts, were challenged and questioned.
Piccioni firmly believes that love is a feeling that cannot be controlled, but during the fascist regime, even the most basic human feelings were filtered through the lens of state ideology. As Piccioni confirmed:
Showing the feeling of love in my last movie was complicated. I wanted to represent two different sides of the same coin: experiencing the joys of love in a difficult time. On the one hand, it was getting hard to feel free to express ideas, opinions, and feelings other than those of the fascist regime. On the other hand, the seemingly good-natured face of fascism in a provincial town began to show its cracks with the introduction of racial laws.
Most of the movie takes place inside the famous Cafe Meletti in the main square in the heart of Ascoli Piceno, Piazza del Popolo. Piccioni transformed the café into a restaurant to film the core scenes. The restaurant’s window becomes the undisputed star of the movie, along with the main actors, Riccardo Scamarcio and Benedetta Porcaroli. Through that window, life flows, and fascism becomes more and more entrenched in the existence of a quiet town like Ascoli. Despite this, the protagonist never completely bends to the regime and remains almost paradoxically a symbol of anti-fascism and, thus, of tolerance. In this regard, Piccioni commented:
The movie’s main male character, Luciano, has always looked out the window of his restaurant with some indulgence because he is a “sui generis” fascist. He wants to live quietly and believes that fascism could bring something good. Luciano’s idea of the world begins to waver when a girl from that storefront asks for a job and brings a secret that will unhinge his world. He has something that makes him different from the fascists–he does not want to get ahead; he is content to work at the restaurant and live quietly.
The Shadow of the Day deals with several themes–love, racial hatred, fear, courage, and death, but it does so with extraordinary delicacy, never relying on shock value. There is never discomfort or excess. Piccioni says:
I have never been inclined to flashy effects or to shock the spectator. On the surface, the narrative seems to be carried out with simplicity, but that simplicity is actually the result of careful choices in the dialogue, the use of space, and the way of working with the actors. We are film directors because we make choices, not because we are behind the camera. Making choices means getting to the end of the film with as few regrets as possible. Among our choices, a strong focus on staging seems linear and classic, but it results from a lot of work and effort.
The town of Ascoli Piceno itself, with its main square, often called il salotto d’Italia (the drawing room of Italy) on account of its gracious but intimate character, could be considered the leading role in Shadow of the Day. As the film’s name suggests, the picturesque town has a shadow hanging over it, but it remains a feast for the eyes on the big screen. The director commented on Italy as a backdrop for cinema:
Italian cinema has an important role in helping to show the beauty of off-the-beaten-track places. I think this film does that beautifully. Choosing Ascoli Piceno as the filming location was a deliberate choice. I can firmly say that this town is one of the movie’s protagonists thanks to its unseen beauty and elegant and magnificent square that has meaning in the story. As Italians, we should never forget where we come from, from the Renaissance, for example. The beauty of this country’s architecture, painting, and art is stunning!
At the end of the interview, I asked Giuseppe Piccioni what his favorite of his own movies is:
Most people probably know me for Fuori dal Mondo (Not of This World, 1999) with Margherita Bui and Silvio Orlando. However, I always love the last movie I did last because it is what I feel on my skin. Generally speaking, I would say that all of my films represent me perfectly, for better or worse!
Piccioni confirmed that he is working on a new movie and has already started writing the script. We are confident that this new movie will be as beautiful as the rest of his oeuvre, so we just have to wait patiently while enjoying all his previous film masterpieces.
Cover photo: Riccardo Scamarcio (Luciano) and Benedetta Porcaroli (Anna)
Images provided by Giuseppe Piccioni