Dafne is a film about a young woman with Down Syndrome. The film starts off on a medium close of Dafne (Carolina Raspanti) tying her shoes. It is immediately apparent in her bright, red hair that she is a unique, vibrant person. The camera then switches to a medium close up of Dafne’s mother waiting for her. It is one of the only scenes we see the mother in. The rest of the film shows how Dafne and her father (Antonio Piovanelli) deal with the loss of her mother.
Dafne seems to always be in a hurry. She keeps saying “Arrivo, arrivo” (“I’m coming, I’m coming”). She is very driven and always on the move, as well as honest and authentic. Her father does not deal with the loss of the mother very well. It was clear the mother did most of the care taking; now Dafne has to take over. She has to grow up. Her father suffers in silence, but Dafne expresses her storm of emotions. They are foils to each other. Dafne refuses to take the sedatives that her father gives her. “I want to cry,” she shouts at him.
Shortly before the screening of Dafne I was able to interview the director, Federico Bondi. It was an honor to talk to him because I could see that his love for filmmaking, his actors and storytelling is the most important aspect to him.
What is the film based on? What were you influenced by?
“I did not have clear references for the film. My specialty is documentaries, so that is where my approach comes from. I was looking for the simplest way to serve the story and to arrive at the core of the scene. That is what is important to me. It is a very character driven story and I worked with non-professional actors, so I was also very influenced by my actors.”
How did you find your actress, Carolina Raspanti, and how was it to work with her?
“I met her because I saw an autobiographical book she wrote, so I approached her. I gave her an outline of the script, but as I started working with her the script and the story transformed. I wanted the story to serve her and not the other way around. The figure of the father also grew a lot from what I had written originally.”
Was there a lot of improvisation?
“Yes. Carolina never read the script. I did not even tell her the whole story of the film. Before we starting shooting I told her about the scene and gave her the words briefly. She had a very good memory, but of course a lot of the dialogue changed. And then the other challenge was how to get her to act. The most important thing I needed to do was to always give her the intention of the scene, the objective. I can give you an example. There was a scene where she needed to look surprised. So I thought to myself, how can I surprise her? I put a little note inside a vase. It was a note from her best childhood friend saying how much he likes her. So she found the piece of paper inside the vase and she was shocked. There was another scene where she had to cry. So I asked myself how I could make her cry. Of course I can’t just tell her to cry. So before shooting, as we got in the car, I told her “Whatever happens, do not sing.” Then I put on a song that reminded her of her first love from a long time ago.”
And how did you know about that?
“Well we became friends throughout the process. She told me a lot about her life. And she cried when she heard the song. And also the scene of the film where her co-workers had the surprise party for her was an actual surprise for her. She never knew what was going to happen next and that was fundamental. Carolina is very open with her emotions, very pure. I had to always follow my impulse. That was the technique.”
So then what is your approach as a director with professional actors?
“The approach is always the same. You have to have trust. That is the most important thing. And listening. I have to listen to them and they have to listen to me. But as a director I love to be surprised on set. So I always like to leave the door open for new things to come in and am open to changes. The most exciting moments on set are the moments that are not planned. They are the most natural and pure. For example, there was a moment in Dafne where I was angry with the actors. It’s too long to explain why I was angry, but the actors were very upset as well. And Carolina had an expression of such sadness and disappointment, so I immediately wanted to capture it. I could not have predicted that moment. And these are the moments I look for, and it is not easy with all the cameras and forty people on set, but it is what makes the work beautiful.”
Dafne and her father seem to be foils to each other. They have some difficulties surviving together without the mother. In the end there is some hope. What needs to change between them?
“Yes, so their equilibrium is destroyed and the rest of the film deals with them trying to find a new equilibrium and reinvent themselves. So the walk they take is a metaphor of how to get to that new state.”
It’s very funny how Dafne talks to her father.
“Brava! Yes, the father of Carolina is very funny in real life. She makes fun of him all the time and he makes fun of her. The father in the movie became a lot more authentic than I had originally written him, and also more complex.”
Who has to take care of who now that the mother is gone?
“The film is about an old, tired father and his daughter who take each other by the hand. They need to find a balance. It’s a film about our limits and our resources. It’s not a film about down syndrome or acceptance.”
Yes, because in the film it does not make a difference that Dafne has Down Syndrome.
“Yes. Brava. It’s merely about her life. The fact that she has Down Syndrome is just on the side.”
I loved the scene when Dafne refuses to take the medicine from her father and says “No, I want to cry”.
“You know, it’s funny, because Carolina always wanted to see me cry. On set she always told me that I have to cry because she wanted to see me liberated. I was always nervous. When I am tired I get a vain on my forehead and she was looking at my vain in shock. I was exhausted, but I promised her that when the whole film is done I will cry. So after our first screening she called me. She did not ask how it went or if the audience liked the film. She only asked me: “Did you cry”? And I said: “No, what do you mean?” She got mad and said: “Don’t you remember that you promised me you would cry?” She asked if I remembered the scene where she throws away the pills that would keep her from crying and that I needed pills that would get me to cry instead. It was beautiful. She did not care about the success of the film or if people liked it, she only cares about friends and human relations. Work is very important to her because of the people she meets.”
Yes, I loved the scene where she says she likes to work at the supermarket because she likes to create things, like the labels.
“Yes, that is something Carolina said actually. It wasn’t written in the script.”
And she also has a lot of strength. I think there is a lot we can actually learn from her.
“She is an example for all of us. We became good friends, which is something that does not happen often after film sets. It was an important experience for us and also for her. She became a lot more mature by doing the film.”
Thank you for making this film. We should all learn a little from Dafne. She only listens to her gut and abides by her own rules. She does not care what is considered “right” or “wrong” and lets her emotions free. What a beautiful and important film. Do you have any other projects coming up?
“There are two, three directions that I could go in now, but I have to still choose.”
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