Academic journal article Italica

Exiled Childhood. Framing Traumas in Cristina Comencini's Don't Tell

Academic journal article Italica

Exiled Childhood. Framing Traumas in Cristina Comencini's Don't Tell

Article excerpt

Abstract: The present paper proposes an analysis of Don't Tell (La bestia nel cuore), Cristina Comencini's 2005 film on the topic of child abuse, a self-adaptation of her eponymous novel. After a general introduction to Comencini's work, the analysis focuses on the film's formal aspects enhancing the visualization of the protagonist's traumatic past. Don't Tell is the narration of a distorted personal history with blanks which needs to be turned into a narrative memory.

Keywords: Italian cinema, trauma fiction, child abuse, Cristina Comencini; Don't Tell (La bestia nel cuore), self-adaptation.

O. Working with Words and Images

Looking at Cristina Comencini's cinematographic production, critics such as Flavia Laviosa and Tiziana Jacoponi have rightfully emphasized Comencini's gendered approach, but haven't explicitly connected her films to those by the handful of other Italian woman directors, such as her sister Francesca or Francesca Archibugi. Reminiscent of Luigi Comencini's fate, other critics have refrained from positioning Cristina's work within contemporary Italian or even European film on account of being comedies, disregarding the often dramatic undertone of her films. (1) Following Gian Piero Brunetta's pessimistic view on the film production of the 90s, it could be argued that Comencini's films were released "at all costs" ("ad ogni costo" 576), merely to fill a creative void in Italian film. More recent studies, however, such as Italian Cinema. New Directions (Hope, 2005), have revealed the emergence of a new aesthetics as well as of new auteurs, and the rediscovery of genre films. Surprisingly, Comencini's work is not mentioned, despite the fact that her production clearly bears the characteristics of the implicit "cinematic genre of filmic autobiography," as proposed by Clodagh Brook. In her article "Screening the Autobiographical" (Hope 27-52), Brook describes the implicit autobiographical component as the depiction of social and generational groupings, combined with references to the process of filmmaking, which culminate in Don't Tell. (2)

At this point, it might be more interesting to study Comencini's films from the angle of "cineletteratura" (Jacoponi 2007) or the adaptation from literature to film. Strictly speaking, Comencini's film work counts five adaptations: The End Is Known (La fine e nota 1992) and Follow Your Heart (Va dove ti porta il cuore 1996), respectively based on Geoffrey Holiday Hall's 1949 novel and on Susanna Tamaro's 1994 bestseller, her own translation of Don't Tell (2004-2005), to which I shall return shortly, the film drawing on her play Two Games (Due partite 2009), and When The Night (Quando la notte 2011), a polemical adaptation of her 2009 novel. In a broader sense, however, "cineletteratura" could be regarded as the thematic and narratological continuity between literature and her film. In the case of Comencini, her literary as well as her cinematographic production reassess generational groupings through the representation of the often problematic identity of female characters, adults and children. Central to her stories are their struggle with life-changing events, love-related problems and taboos, determined by a traumatic past. Comencini's characters seem "to be possessed by an image or an event" (Miller 4-5) to which they don't have direct access and which causes not only a non-"specific set of physical manifestations," but also a series of "repeated, uncontrollable and incalculable effects" (1). The impact of such a trauma, which underlies the narration, is that of belatedness precisely because the trauma is not (yet) encoded into memory (Caruth 1995: 153). The distorted recollection, however, needs to be turned into a narrative memory, so that repressed memories and recollections can be reintegrated into the personal history of the subject.

1. Don't Tell, an Exception that Proves the Rule (Un)usual Topics

At first sight, Don't Tell, which had received several awards at the 2005 Film Festival of Venice and had been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006, could be seen as an atypical film within Comencini's production, since, in contrast to her previous films, the narrative point switches from the perspective through the child's eyes to that of an adult. …

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