Just like preparing a magic potion, when you tell a fairy tale in a film, you have to first look carefully for the right ingredients and then skilfully blend these together. The formula calls for geometric castles and impregnable rocks, enchanted forests and impassable peaks, weaving of centuries-old turning points and plots. Exceptional alchemy turns all of Italy into a film set featuring a winged transfiguration of stories and characters. It is a dizzying voyage and as such, visitors are asked to embrace films that give in to the flights of fancy of Boccaccio, Giambattista Basile and Umberto Eco, perhaps sitting around the imaginary fire that fuels the stories.
Nothing is left to chance: director Matteo Garrone went on a months-long journey himself looking for the ideal locations for Il racconto dei racconti – Tale of Tales. His dream is to create a highly valuable guide to art films. It is a map that leads to places distinguished by gems of nature and stunning architecture that serve as the sets for three short stories from the Cunto de li cunti (The Story of Stories) by Giambattista Basile, the keeper of popular fairy tales from the 1600s. A world is invented for each story, which immediately appears in a dream. We pick up only a part of his travel itinerary, the one that goes from Lazio to Apulia. Let's close our eyes and re-open them in the Sasseto Forest of Acquapendente in Alto Lazio. This enchanted forest is a suspended empire with rich vegetation, secular plants and interwoven branches, whilst the sky peeks through mocking at the impossibility of penetrating. It is not by chance that here is where the miracle of the Due Vecchie (Two Old Ladies) takes place. Dora's body, outraged by age, wakes up transformed into a marvellous youth who falls in love with the King of Roccaforte, Vincent Cassel. The inside of his castle is staged at Palazzo Chigi in Ariccia, and the outside, jutting out and challenging gravity, is the medieval castle in Roccascalegna, Abruzzo. The second chapter, La Pulce (The Flea), takes us on a tour of Apulia. The King of Altomonte, troubled by the microscopic insect, lives the conundrum of Federico II in the octagonal Castel del Monte in Andria, which is overrun by jugglers, tightrope walkers and wandering actors. The castle also serves as inspiration for Jean-Jacques Annaud in his drawing of the library for Il nome della rosa (The Name of the Rose) in the 'medieval' novel by Umberto Eco. Dipping once again into Basile's narrative reservoir, but almost half a century earlier, Francesco Rosi shooted C’era una volta (More than a Miracle). The Neapolitan setting is staged in places found in Lazio, Naples and Apulia. For example, Sophia Loren plays Isabella who lives in a land positioned between Tavoliere and Gravina di Puglia. Between Rome and Viterbo are the luxurious Monte Gelato Waterfalls, whose towns have the silhouettes of Bracciano and Borgo di Rota, both in the province of Rome. The film also invites viewers to the lofty Certosa di San Lorenzo in Padula, in the province of Salerno. And the Journey Carnet still has space to fill.
This isn’t France as suggested by the characters’ names, but Italy, where Richard Donner directed the cult 80s film Ladyhawke. Donner intertwines the mountains, valleys, churches and manors with the rush of a love poisoned by a curse. The story follows Captain Navarre (Rutger Hauer) and the falcon perched on his arm, which magically transforms into a radiant Michelle Pfeiffer at night. The pivotal moment of the story takes place in Abruzzo, amongst the sweeping expanses of high ground with the castles in sharp relief: the falcon is wounded on Campo Imperatore, a plateau where the wide open spaces have endless possibilities. The Falcon is healed by a hermit monk in the nearby Rocca Calascio, a stunning hand-shaped stone structure reaching up to the sky, given turrets for the film by the set designers. The view looks out over the Tirino valley and the Navelli plateau.
Director and actor Pier Paolo Pasolini is the last guide to a fairytale Italy, rediscovering his childhood through the playfulness and immodesty of writer Boccaccio’s collection of novellas, The Decameron. Pasolini brings The Decameron to cinema, creating a kind of poetic insightful film brought to life by the depth of a people moulded by their history, represented by their monuments and boundless in their beauty. The whole film is set in working-class Naples, but in reality Pasolini shoots the film in a variety of locations, giving us the opportunity to learn about gems like the medieval village of Casertavecchia in the province of Caserta, where Andreuccio (Ninetto Davoli) falls into a trap. And you don’t have to leave Caserta to walk through the village of Piedimonte di Casolla, where we enter the geometric gardens of Palazzo Cocozza in the company of Caterina di Valbona and Riccardo. The Amalfi coast displays the Church of Santissima Annunziata of Ravello like a diamond on an engagement ring. This setting has the feeling of being in Greece, and it’s here where Masetto gives himself to the nuns. Finally we come back to the poet Pasolini, in the tormented guise of Giotto’s pupil, grappling with a fresco in the Basilica di Santa Chiara in Naples, where he sighs and asks the question: “Why create a work of art when it’s so beautiful to just dream it?”