Gianluca Matarrese • Director of The Last Chapter
“I wanted to convey the proximity and feeling of trust that Bernard and I shared”
by Teresa Vena
- VENICE 2021: The Italian director presents a highly intimate and touching portrait of a wounded and lonesome soul
Italian director Gianluca Matarrese has been based in France for decades. His new documentary, The Last Chapter [+see also:
interview: Gianluca Matarrese
film profile], premiered in the International Film Critics’ Week of this year's Venice Film Festival. In it, he follows what is presumably the last chapter in Bernard Guyonnet’s life. We talked to the director about his approach and his personal relationship with the protagonist.
Cineuropa: How did you get to know Bernard, and how long did you know him for before you had the idea to make the film?
Gianluca Matarrese: I got to know him in 2015/2016 via the classic dating apps. I was coming directly out of a relationship with a guy who was the same age as me. He would see a group of older men who had experienced HIV and AIDS directly or through friends, and as a reaction to this trauma, they devoted themselves, body and soul, to hardcore sex in the 1990s. When we split, I became interested in this world and met Bernard. I realised that, like many others, he carries around deep wounds from what he saw in the 1980s and 1990s, but wasn't used to expressing his emotions other than through sex. In the beginning, sex was our main connection point, but gradually our relationship changed and sex disappeared, also from in front of the camera. Bernard became more interested in my view of him.
How did you develop the concept for the film?
The movie developed gradually as I spent time with Bernard and while shooting. There are elements that are constructed, but mostly I wanted to capture his genuine reactions and emotions. One recurrent motif is the idea of confronting life and death at any given moment in the film. When you listen to Bernard, both are constantly present for him. I tried to show this visually as well, as at one point you see a cemetery and a cherry tree in bloom at the same time. I was lucky that Bernard had this plan of moving to a new house and that I was able to follow him at the beginning of this final chapter, which became an essential part of the film. Bernard often told me that he thought he would not leave any trace when he died, and actually I wanted to show him that this film is precisely the trace that he will leave.
Was it difficult to encourage him to share his past with you?
He had never shown these pictures or talked about these topics of loss with anyone else before. Sorting out his things for the move was an opportunity to do so. Even though he talks about it in quite an analytical way, it was clear that he carried around a trauma from it. There is so much pain and shame that is typical for the gay world when it comes to the trauma related to HIV and AIDS.
Were there any moments when you wanted to stop shooting or which were particularly difficult to film?
My previous film, which I shot between 2012 and 2017, was about how the financial crisis affected my own family and made it lose all of its 40 shoe shops that it had around Italy. It was very hard to be a member of this family and the director at the same time, but I found the necessary distance. This was an important exercise for me. Also, my years working for television and making reality shows helped me find my position as a director. I constantly search for the limits between reality and fiction, and can relate to authors such as Jonas Carpignano or Sean Baker.
You decided to concentrate on Bernard and your relationship with him, leaving out nearly everyone else.
I didn't want to make a TV series where Bernard would take on the role of a therapist, and all his past lovers would show up and talk about their experience with him, for example. My initial intention was to include some of them, actually, but eventually I decided to concentrate on my relationship with him. The third parties who appear in the film are some of the ladies he meets in the street or the concierge of the building he lives in.
How did you approach the aesthetic concept of the film?
It was clear that I wouldn't show up in front of Bernard with a team of several people, but rather alone, with a single camera. I wanted to convey the proximity and feeling of trust that Bernard and I shared. I wanted the camera to be immersive; it had to show a certain nervousness that I, myself, felt as well. It always had to be a symbol of my presence, also when I gradually wasn't being seen any more in the film itself.
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