Interviews

Giovanni Columbu about Su Re: 'Imagination in control'

Giovanni Columbu filmed the passion of Christ on Sardinia. This makes him part of a long tradition, from D.W. Griffith to Mel Gibson. The Sardinian director however prefers to compare himself to painters such as Giotto en Rafael. In contrast to most filmmakers, they made the figure of Christ timeless. Nominated for a Hivos Tiger Award.

In a nutshell

'The passion of Jesus Christ, told as a dream.'

First time

'I discovered so many new things that it was like being a first-time filmmaker again. After my first film, Arcipelaghi, I felt totally ready for the second. But now, after Su Re, I feel like I have yet to make my first film. Letting go of the aesthetic was my biggest discovery, for example, by including shaking images. Jesus upended all the contemporary values. By shaking the camera as he dies on the cross the images suggest an earthquake or a war film. That adds a dimension.'

Sardinia

'Nowadays, we have the tendency to take everything at face value. According to that approach the gospel takes place in Palestine almost 2,000 years ago. But situating it there means missing the universal message that defies the laws of time and space. In previous centuries, people had no trouble doing so. Painters like Giotto, Raphael and Brueghel shifted biblical stories to their own era, to their own environment. For example, in a Brueghel painting you can see a windmill opposite Calvary. Yes indeed, the age-old symbol for the Low Countries! And the figures depicted all wear traditional Flemish clothing. So, to me, it was logical to situate the passion of Christ on Sardinia, in a timeless period, without reference to the present.'

Jesus Christ

'Due to the problem I mentioned, there are few Jesus films that appeal to me. The best ones are those rare films that put their own twist on things like Pasolini's Il vangelo secondo Matteo or Jesus Christ Superstar. The four canonical gospels do not constitute an unequivocal story. Every evangelist has their own take on things with variations in the parallel passages. Rashomon, Akira Kurosawa's classic is structured in exactly the same way: four different versions of the same event. This repetition also occurs among 20th-century artists from Mondriaan to Warhol as well as in modern architecture and experimental literature. When I read the gospel, imagination rules. So it should also rule over every director who films the passion. The material just begs for own interpretations.'

Amateurs

'All the actors are amateurs that were recruited on Sardinia. That was a good experience. The island has a strong oral tradition, everyone is accustomed to telling stories and acting. The search for the lead took a long time though. Initially, we wanted a Jesus with a beautiful, delicate face as he is usually depicted in painting. That just didn't feel right because from my point of view Jesus has a strong yet sad appearance. We then gave the role of Jesus to the actor who was going to play Judas. All the pieces of the puzzle then fell into place.'

Bright Future

'First I want to bask in the glow of finishing Su Re. Then two or three film plans will battle it out for supremacy. At the moment, the story of a treasure hunt, a legend about elderly people who dive into a gaping chasm in the ground. A contemporary theme in a time in which we lock old people up in retirement homes. What do we, a society obsessed with utilitarianism, with people who are no longer useful?'

Su Re – Giovanni Columbu
za 2 15:30 Cinerama 4

This is an article from the Daily Tiger dated Friday 1 February 2013.
Photo: Bram Belloni
Text: Paul van de Graaf