“I wanted to create a film that was out of time,” Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher says about her Oscar-nominated live action short, Disney+ Original Films’ Le Pupille. “That was classic, but also hand-made.”
Rohrwacher and the film’s producer, Oscar winner Alfonso Curarón, joined Deadline’s Contenders Film: The Nominees event to discuss their 37-minute film.
Indeed, there’s a touching throwback quality to the short, which is set at an all-girls Catholic orphanage during wartime 1940s. The nuns led by Madre Superiora Fiorabla (played by the director’s sister and longtime collaborator Alba Rohrwacher) emphasizes guilt and temptation. So, it’s a dilemma when the school is gifted a zuppe inglese cake for the girls, so much so that the nuns talk them out of indulging in it.
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One of the girls who is audacious about cutting a slice for herself is Serafina (Melissa Falasconi); Rohrwacher assembled her very young cast of 17 actresses from audition videos.
The set-up is reminiscent of Italian films of yore — think the emotional vibe of Cinema Paradiso filmmaker Giuseppe Tornatore (that pic winning Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars in 1990). For four-time Oscar-winning Roma and Gravity filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón, who produced the short, Rohrwacher’s style is more in the vein of “Pasolini or the brothers Taviani.”
Rohrwacher drew inspiration from a Christmastime letter writer Elsa Morante sent to her friend Goffredo Fofi detailing the fortunes of a zuppa inglese cake that wound up at a boarding school.
Cuarón became aware of Rohrwacher’s work after seeing her movie The Wonders, which won the 2014 Grand Jury Prize at Cannes. Le Pupille made its world premiere at last year’s Cannes. Rohrwacher was immediately top of mind for Cuarón when he conceived the idea to make a series of holiday films each centering on a different culture and “in a different language, honoring the point of view of the director,” he said.
“What is so specific about Alice is that she combines more classic elements with a more avant garde approach,” explains Cuarón, referring to using the orphan girls as a Greek choir, or tricking out the film with hand-made animation.
Says Rohrwacher: “We wanted to have small magical moments without any special effects being involved, but with natural effects.”
“I wanted to show the girls that you can have something magical without incredible things.”
Check out the panel video above.
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