The Mediterranean

By Evans, J Greg | American Cinematographer, May 1984 | Go to article overview

The Mediterranean


Evans, J Greg, American Cinematographer


"... A film should reflect its financial support," says director Yan Nascimbene. "A small budget production should not try to imitate the style of a large production; on the other hand, it can cover areas which remain untouched by large productions."

In The Mediterranean, first-time director, Yan Nascimbene, weaves a complex and often haunting tale of a man's obsession with the present. As caretakers of a secluded ranch house, Joan, his wife, spends her time writing and thinking about the past and the time she and Paul spent falling in love by the Mediterranean, while Paul tries desperately to hold onto the here and now. He cannot let what they have simply dissolve into a handful of clouded memories. Slowly at first, he begins to take photographs of his wife and child; but as his hold on the present slips further and further away, his frenzy builds. He begins collecting their discarded objects and tape recording their every moment while continuing to take more and more pictures as he frantically tries to capture the present and hold it forever.

Soon the small isolated ranch house is covered with photos, clumps of which hang disjointed from the walls, hundreds of others cluttering the floors and furniture. The frenzied whir of a camera echos through the empty house and over the objects and pictures that to Paul represent his life with Joan, not realizing it is but a dead and distorted image of it. We move towards the panicked clicking where Paul has trapped his wife in the corner; and as she writhes and squirms as though she were being physically assaulted, Paul frantically snaps picture after picture in a final desperate attempt to make time stand still.

The Mediterranean started out in the winter of 1980 as a short story that Nascimbene was convinced would become just another one of his unpublished works. A friend read the story, commented on its visual imagery, and encouraged Nascimbene to transform the story into a film script. Despite his inexperience with filmmaking, Nascimbene had very concrete ideas about how he felt the film should work and, as he so aptly puts it, "... the timing was right. I had been fantasizing about it for a long time, and the chance finally seemed worth it."

In the spring of 1981, momentum for The Mediterranean was quickly moving ahead. The story was now a script and using his own money (some $40,000 for principal photography), Nascimbene was eager to move the project ahead. He contacted cinematographer, John V. Fante. "Van's first statement to me," recalls Fante, "was that he was going to spend only $40,000 to make a feature film. Without blinking too many eyes I said that I could shoot the film for that much but that he wouldn't be able to finish it."

Undaunted by this, Nascimbene decided that he would go ahead and shoot the film in the summer and cross the bridge of additional finances when he came to it. Serving as line producer for the production in addition to his role as cinematographer, Fante set out to assemble the crew and equipment that would be needed for the filming that summer. "This film was a new challenge," recalls Fante, "because what it did was present what I'd always wanted to do which was work as director of photography on a feature and structure the organization so that it was the way I needed it to be." Besides his recent work as effects cameraman for The Right Stuff, Fante has also worked as cinematographer and editor on many short films, most notably Hardware Wars and Porklips Now. The Mediterranean was Fante's first feature length film as cinematographer. He is currently working on the upcoming 2010.

As the summer approached and things began falling into place with the cast, the crew, and the location, Nascimbene became more eager than ever to prove one of his main convictions about film, that complex ideas need not translate into big budgets. So in the last days of July 1981, less than a year after its original inception, Nascimbene, Fante, the cast, and a crew of six (excluding the cook), assembled at the isolated ranch some three hours from San Francisco to begin filming The Mediterranean. …

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