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Fabrizio Maltese • Director of I fiori persi and Visage(s) d’Afrique

"I fiori persi was born out of a personal tragedy, set against the backdrop of a collective tragedy: Covid"

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- We met with the photographer-director, who is currently finishing post-production on his two projects, which were shot in Luxembourg, Mauritania and Italy

Fabrizio Maltese • Director of I fiori persi and Visage(s) d’Afrique
(© Kris Dewitte)

After the Californian desert expanses of California Dreaming [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
(2019) and their Moroccan counterparts in 50 Days in the Desert [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
(2016), filmmaker Fabrizio Maltese is reaffirming the attraction he feels for notions of emptiness, absence and isolation, not to mention quests for identity. His two new documentaries which are currently being finalised - I fiori persi and Visage(s) d’Afrique - fell into his lap unexpectedly. They’re allowing for the continuation of what the author calls his "journey of the soul" which he first embarked upon over twenty years ago, when leaving Italy, his country of origin…

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Cineuropa: It’s been a year since you resumed filming on the documentary Visage(s) d’Afrique (working title) which the Luxembourg director Pol Cruchten was supposed to direct before his sudden death in 2019. What made you want to continue this adventure?
Fabrizio Maltese: Pol Cruchten asked me to helm photography on Visage(s) d'Afrique after seeing my film California Dreaming. He said he was impressed by my natural and respectful approach towards subjects, and the way I shot the desert. I was incredibly surprised and flattered. This project was different to his other documentaries. After the shock of his death, various people made their voices heard, pointing out that I was the natural choice to keep Pol’s memory alive and to pay tribute to him. I hesitated… He was the colossus of Luxembourg film! But after some thought, I accepted: Pol and I had talked about the project so much during the pre-production phase and I didn’t want his enthusiasm to be lost. If I was going to take up this challenge, I wanted a co-screenwriter of the calibre of Stephan Roelants by my side, to help me ensure the film’s accuracy. Together with editor Qutaiba Barhamji, we immediately formed a functional and tightly knit three-person writing team. I am so grateful to the producers Jeanne Geiben and Vincent Quénault who supported me as the new director of this strong project.

Talk to us about the personal relationship you’ve since developed with Mauritania.
This film is a journey in search of someone who is no longer there and of someone else who, through their absence, wants to introduce us to, wants us to become familiar with and wants us to tell the story of their land, Mauritania. This journey across an unknown land becomes a metaphor, the desert becomes a symbolic place of emptiness and absence and confronts the traveller/director with his/her own solitude and with the reasons which led him/her to accept this quest. The journey has no specific aim; it becomes an aim in and of itself.

What is Abderrahmane Sissako’s involvement in the project? 
This film was born out of Pol and Abderrahmane’s first meeting and their desire to develop a project together. Once I’d picked up the reins, I met Abderrahmane in Paris and then in Nouakchott to discuss how I wanted to proceed. He followed the different phases of filming either directly or through members of the Mauritanian team that he’d made available to us. Without his kindness, the shooting process would have been harder.

How did you deal with the slowdowns brought about by the health crisis?
We quickly realised that, for this film, we needed to be sat around the editing table, sharing emotions and exchanging ideas. After consulting with the production team and taking all the necessary precautions, we decided to work together in my cutting room.

Film Fund Luxembourg has just confirmed it will invest €129,979 in your fifth documentary I fiori persi. What can you tell us about it?
The genesis of this project was rather unique. It was born out of some footage I’d shot to create a private memento of a very difficult time in my life. I had no intention of turning it into a film. The crux of the story is based on some footage which I shot in Italy during the first lockdown, once my father had returned to the family home following two months in hospital, a home which suddenly felt too big and unfamiliar. We’re going to add a prologue and maybe an epilogue in order to give the story better context, and to ensure it’s easy to understand and universal. The film is produced by my company Joli Rideau Media, in association with Melusine Productions.

This is also the first film you’ve shot entirely in Italian, marking your return to the Lazio region... Viterbo is your birth town. Does this mean we can expect an emphatically autobiographical tale?
I fiori persi was born out of a personal tragedy, set against the backdrop of a collective tragedy: Covid. At the beginning of March, my father needed to be operated on. I left for Italy immediately and found myself in full lockdown, in a country racked with fear and which I no longer recognised, trying to console my parents… You might say that this film is the next step in the “soul journey” that I first embarked upon a long time ago, when I left Italy over 23 years ago, which Visage(s) d'Afrique is one stage of. It marks my return to the place of my birth. It’s an ode to love, a lifeline thrown into the sea of distress and a portrait of a man who has become a survivor in spite of himself.

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(Translated from French)

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