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Award winning Italian actor Sergio Castellitto took his wife’s novel, Don’t Move, to make a film because he saw in the story what he calls “the labour of living life,” as a surgeon reflects on a past passionate and secret affair with a life-battered young woman, played by Penelope Cruz – who turned out to be different to what he expected, he tells Andrew L. Urban.

Sergio Castellitto comes to the phone and tells me his English “isn’t very good so I have Moira here to translate and help me out,” but he says it in accented yet fluent English. I assure him his English sounds very workable, and we ping pong about that for a moment before settling for a mix of direct and translated conversation. Other than the award winning comedy, Libero Burro, in 1999, Castellitto doesn’t usually direct, while he is a prolific actor, and with Don’t Move, he is adapting his wife Margaret’s novel. 

"the direction of the movie"

“Margaret wrote the novel over five years and I began to read the pages from the beginning,” he says, obviating the need for Moira’s translation. “Immediately I understood that in these pages there were many words, but also many images. I started to think about the movie from the first day. I wrote the first draft of the screenplay alone, because Margaret didn’t want to write the first draft with me. She told me it was important that as I was the director, I had to choose the direction of the movie.”

Castellitto followed the characters’ steps through the book, as his wife was writing it. “..as Timoteo sinks into an abyss of love, cowardice, and pity, and I was moved. By the poor, mistreated woman, by the well-to-do, solitary man, by the comatose young daughter. As I read of their vicissitudes, I was filled with pity for myself, as a man and as a father. And what shone forth most clearly in the story was the misery of the human condition, the labour of living life. And the poetry. That hint of the sublime and the ridiculous that makes life splendid.”

Castellitto wrote the screenplay without a single actor in mind, and when one of the producers suggested Penelope Cruz for the role of Italia (it was at that stage intended to be an Italian/Spanish co-production), he was “very frightened…of her beauty, of the glamour, of her status…” He had never thought of her. But he went to meet her, and he was quickly convinced “by her enthusiasm, her humility and her generosity. She adored the book and the script … she wasn’t the Penelope Cruz I had imagined. And she insisted on playing it in Italian.”

The story of Don’t Move is told in flashback, as Timoteo (Sergio Castellito), a surgeon, waits anxiously as his 16 year old daughter, Angela (Elena Perino) lies in the operating theatre after an accident, between life and death, in the very hospital where he works, under the care of a fellow surgeon. As he waits for Angela to regain consciousness – he hopes - Timoteo relives a secret, strange and haunting extramarital affair that coincided with Angela’s birth, with Italia (Penelope Cruz), a destitute, life-battered young woman he met by accident. And now it’s as if he wants to confess to Angela and find some redemption in the young girl’s survival.

"a love story"

“It’s first of all a love story,” says Castellitto, and it starts in the dark and goes towards the light, towards a strong spirituality. It’s also a portrait of a man of today … a coward who hasn’t got the courage to throw himself into this adventure, love… Italia is like his teacher…she is the one that teaches him. It’s when this man finds himself faced with another type of suffering, of the possibility of his daughter Angela, then he starts to understand that he has to learn to tell the truth.”

The central character in Don’t Move, Timoteo, is a surgeon “who wears a green scrub suit and rubber gloves so he can plunge into life without soiling his own living flesh,” as the author Margaret Mazzantini puts it. “This is very true,” says Castellitto, “Italia makes him take off those gloves.”

In the beginning, as he was preparing to make the film, Castellitto was filled with doubts. “I wondered whether I'd succeed, not just in telling the novel's story, but also in filling it with the same moral density. Could I film the thin line that divides good from evil, justice from iniquity? Could I film the overpowering of a woman without adding outrage? Could I film a man's criminal selfishness without condemning him?”

But once the shoot started, he “arrived on the set like every director, tired of imagining. Tired of notes and storyboards. I said, ‘Action’, and I watched what I'd dreamed, what I'd already seen countless times with my eyes closed. It was different - it's always different - but it was good like that. It wasn't easy to be both director and actor: the Kleenex around my shirt collar bothered me. For the rest, I must say that the story both destroyed me and guided me. I shouted, I trembled, I smoked like a fiend. And I was afraid of dying before I finished the film. And it was only when they poured champagne on me after the last take that I killed the fear I had of this movie, this touching story, this truth. Editing it was a delight: it was a question of removing the peel and squeezing out the juice.” 

Published November 11, 2004

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Sergio Castellitto



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