Violetta, Get Out of the Orchard!

in 43rd Moscow International Film Festival

by Darya Amialkovich

There’s a party. The beautiful Mariagrazia Ardengo performs a sensual and impetuous “dance of liberation.” She invites her son, young Michele. At first, the reticent young man joins his mother’s game. But when a third person, Mariagrazia’s lover Leo, joins the dance, the woman instantly switches to him, leaving her son behind. The camera captures the emotions of all three, and the drama unfolding before our eyes is breathtaking.

In Leonardo Guerra Seragnoli’s The Time of Indifference (Gli Indifferenti, 2020), the emotions between the characters play out loud. This adaptation of Alberto Moravia’s novel of the same name puts an all-time relevant story – the story of one Italian family’s ruin – into a modern context.

Rome, 2020s. Mariagrazia (performed by Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) is chasing after her youth, love, and former luxury. Her lover, Leo, tricks and cheats her out of her last property, the penthouse where her family lives. Mariagrazia has two children: her son Michele, who has just returned from St. Petersburg, and her daughter Carla, who recently celebrated her eighteenth birthday. The heroine proposes to her lover: she agrees to sell her apartment, if Leo is with her.

There seems to be too much passion in this story for the “indifferent,” too much attraction. Triangles happen between almost all the characters. Mariagrazia-Leo -Michele: the son adores his mother and attempts, although in vain, to stop her obsession with her lover. Leo-Mariagrazia-Carla: as it turns out, Leo is not only interested in the apartment but also in his “stepdaughter”, for whom he’s developed a secret passion. And then there is the widow’s friend, Lisa, who cannot hide her attraction for young Michele. In this story, everyone is chasing one another, and, of course, the money, which grants one either success, freedom, or in some cases – status.

Seragnoli recounts the drama of Western European civilization in a classical way, using a single family as an example. The luxury, privilege, and carelessness that seemingly should stay on this “ship” forever are about to go to the heroes of the new reality.

“I don’t want to be a beggar because then no one would want you at all”, Mariagrazia tells her psychologist over the phone. She spends endless amounts of money, the subway ride feels unbearably disgusting to her, and she sees her daughter’s desire to become a professional streamer in the future as utter nonsense. She is the queen of life and wants to stay that way, no matter what.

Her son Michele hates Leo, but the carefree life is clearly to his liking. He pawns his watch, squanders his money in the slot machines, gets angry, sad, but cannot find a way out of his situation.

In this family, it turns out, only two people actually work: a manipulative manager Leo, who is scheming a deal with the apartment, and the young Carla – an organizer of online broadcasts. The girl is a streamer, a stalker in virtual reality, and her business is about to take off.

Everyone’s success in this story is hanging on by a thread, and it’s not even clear how this dolce vita could be sustained until now. A black maid works in the house, Mariagrazia owes her money for a few months’ work. “You see how I live after my husband’s death”, she says, offering the maid to move in with them because she has no money to pay her. But such a solution to the problem is just an excuse.

Leonardo Guerra Seragnoli gives the unfolding story a flavor of an ancient and partly Russian drama. Outside the windows one sees Rome, and the apartments of Mariagrazia and her friend Lisa abound in luxuries. Russian romance sounds in the house on one of the fateful evenings. “Russian is now everywhere”, says Leo praising Michele’s language on his return from St. Petersburg. The apartment itself should go to the Russians after the sale. These signs of Russian presence – capital, influence, culture – are a sign of the times and a reference, among other things, to Russian classics. Madam General Mariagrazia herself, in her frenzy and “blindness,” is similar to the landowner Lyubov Ranevskaya from Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard.” The same passionate desire to keep the old world and indifference in the face of imminent catastrophe  – the sale of her beloved cherry orchard – is evident.

However, apart from the emotional breakdown, there is a lot of sexuality in Seragnoli’s film. Almost every character has their dance. Mariagrazia is impulsive and even somewhat wild, Michele is tender, Carla is restrained and sensual. Leo dances to jazz in his apartment with images of ancient male torsos on the walls. It is the image of the masculine king of the party.

And while everyone wants something they can’t get. Lisa looks longingly at young Michele, whose mood can change. Michele longs for his mother’s love. Mariagrazia is obsessed with Leo, and the scene of her either masturbating or petting with her lover before signing the contract to sell the apartment is pathetic and tragic. Leo is anxious about the young Carla.

The former world of Western European civilization is exhausting itself, thinning out. Inebriated, it is unwilling to acknowledge the changes coming, even the changes that have already arrived. The bills will have to be paid, digital fun is not only a fad but also a means of making money. And yes, masculinity no longer rules the ball. The shocks of the earthquake that periodically distract the characters is a direct metaphor for the destruction of their world’s foundations.

Important detail: Leonardo Guerra Seragnoli’s adaptation of Alberto Moravia’s novel “Gli Indifferenti” is not the first. In 1964 Francesco Maselli (Gli sbandati, Fai in fretta ad uccidermi… ho freddo!, Il sospetto) made a film based on the work of the Italian writer and journalist. Claudia Cardinale played Carla in the film, American actor Rod Steiger played Leo. In Maselli’s interpretation, Carla caves into Leo’s desire and gives herself over to the past. “You and I have no power to change anything”, she tells Michele of her indifference to what will happen to her. She and her brother become like their predecessors.

Leonardo Guerra Seragnoli’s version turns over the “hourglass” and changes the ending, fixing the will to live in the new generation. The youngest in the family, Carla, turns out to be the person who can change things.

In an instant, she cuts the proud knot of established addictions. She informs her mother, who is going to a costume party as a Spanish grande dame, that “Leo is not coming.” Her brother puts on a Harlequin mask; Lisa, either as a Russian landlady or something more straightforward, follows Mariagrazia. Giuseppe Verdi’s “’La Traviata” plays in the apartment. Without uttering a word, the company leaves for the ball as if disappearing from the scene of life. One is tempted to add, Violetta (the protagonist of La Traviata, who sacrificed everything for love), get out of the orchard!

The maid and the young Carla, the new mistresses of life, remain in the house.

Darya Amialkovich
Edited by Savina Petkova