Maura Delpero • Director of Maternal
"“Hogars” have an amplifying effect, they’re places where the consequences of motherhood can be observed in all their virulence"
- We sat down with Italian filmmaker Maura Delpero to discuss her first fiction film, Maternal, which was screened in competition at the Locarno Film Festival
Maura Delpero’s Maternal [+see also:
interview: Maura Delpero
film profile], battling it out in the International Competition of the Locarno Film Festival, is set in a “hogar”, a home for teenage mothers run by Italian nuns. Here, in this refuge, disconnected from the world outside, the stories of three women intertwine: those of Lu and Fati, both teenage mothers, and that of Sister Paola, who has just arrived from Italy to take her vows.
Cineuropa: Where did the idea for the film come from?
Maura Delpero: All of my films are born out of a personal urge of mine, an instinctive attraction I feel towards a subject which I want to gain a greater understand of and which drives me down the road of research. Motherhood is a question which raises its head in all women’s lives. It’s an overwhelming event which radically changes life as we know it, and which is fraught with all the usual difficulties involved in negotiating unchartered territory.
It was these very difficulties of both a psychological and a social nature that I wanted to bring to light in my film; the conflicting emotions that can be triggered by such an intense and all-consuming experience: joy over the new life, but at the same time, nostalgia for what’s been left behind.
Why did you choose to centre your research around a “hogar”?
Because “hogars” have an amplifying effect. They’re places where the consequences of motherhood can be observed in all their virulence. Whatsmore, in a religious hogar, the emotional “short circuit” which takes place between adolescence and motherhood turns out to be even more explosive, as these girls are confronted with women who’ve chosen not to become mothers, on a daily basis. A “hogar” is also a static place, isolated from the outside world, where these young mothers feel protected but also imprisoned, and the immobility of this refuge amplifies their inner conflict to an even greater extent.
What was your inspiration for the screenplay?
It was the direct experience I had, which lasted about 4 years, in various Argentine “hogars”, both secular and religious. In my role as a teacher, I entered into these places offering training courses for mothers, which meant I wasn’t seen as an invading foreign body. I was accepted within these communities. The screenplay flowed quite naturally out of this experience, inspired by the daily reality I shared with my “students”.
Why the move from documentary film to fiction?
For me, it was a natural and organic progression, moving from a form of documentary film with hints of fiction to a fiction film with a documentarian soul. I start with a real place, such as a “hogar”, and then proceed to tell a fictional story based around it. I also had a strong desire to work with actors, to get to know their craft, which, during this first experience, I thoroughly enjoyed.
This duality of documentary and fiction is also reflected in your choice of actresses. Why did you choose two non-professional actresses for the roles of the two teenage mothers and a professional actress for Sister Paola?
Sister Paola’s character had to go on a complex and very subtle emotional journey, and she had to be very believable. For that reason, I decided that the best option was to entrust the role to a professional actress. But, for the young mothers, the most important element they need to convey was the incandescence of their lives, their unstoppable teenage exuberance, which I wanted to capture in all its spontaneity. As far as I could see, the acting process was a real psychoanalytic journey for them, which, in the case of Agustina Malale (Lu), helped her to face up to her past as a child who grew up in a“hogar”, and to her present as a mother who is still in a “hogar”.
How does motherhood, the real protagonist of the film, affect the three main characters?
It forces them to change and to shift their emotional focus away from themselves, which is also helped by the time they spend with one another. When unreliable mother Lu realises that she might genuinely be separated from her daughter, she suddenly transforms into a lioness who fights to protect her cub; the responsible but unaffectionate Fati discovers the joy of giving love as a result of the care she receives from Sister Paola; and the latter understands that all-consuming love, which she seeks in God, also exists on Earth, in the form of the unconditional love that a mother feels for her child.
In this “hogar”, there’s a total absence of male characters. What connection do the children feel with the idea of a model Christian family?
Male figures are absent just as they’re absent in the real “hogars” which inspired the film. But little Michael has an important role to play in reassuring his mum, who’s worried about not being able to provide him with a “model family”. Thanks to her little boy, she’s able to develop a new way of thinking that’s free from prejudice: if there’s love, well then that, in and of itself, will make for a model family.
(Translated from Italian)
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.