by Chelsea Fung
A woman who suspects her lover of losing interest in the relationship, and moving on to another, fights through her suspicions and emotions to keep him in her life, and on the phone. In Edoardo Ponti’s Human Voice, derived from Jean Cocteau’s play Human Voice, he casts his Mother, Sophia Loren, center stage to play the role of a woman enduring a heartbreaking phone call.
Originally set in France, Edoardo sets his stage in Naples in 1950 and adds another woman to the mix, Angela’s housekeeper, along with a couple language incongruities. These minor language obstacles serve as a glimpse into the character’s backgrounds and shed light on the relationship discrepancies.
It has always been a dream of his mother’s to star in Human Voice and Edoardo graciously makes that dream come true, while incorporating his extensive experience from all angles of the camera. Edoardo is also graciously spreading his wealth of knowledge, which will be available online in 2015 through takehollywood.com where he has spent nearly a decade interviewing film industry professionals.
Edoardo you’ve acted, written and directed, which would you say are you drawn to the most?
Directing is my passion. I think acting definitely informs that part of me that is a director. In order to be a complete 360 degree director it is very important to know all aspects, especially to know how vulnerable the position is, but also how to understand how a director can truly help an actor. I think that a problem as a director is that they like to hear them speak very often what they say can be totally useless to an actor. They have what they want in their own head and sometimes it’s the simplest of instructions that can help an actor.
Sometimes no instruction at all, maybe just a certain look. There are many other things an actor might need.
If you do act and you’re fortunate enough to act you grow to be more in-tune to what that means. As far as writing is concerned, even though I don’t write everything I do, I think that writing is important because as you write you can see the scene in your mind. It’s a great way into the scene. What is dangerous and the risk you run is that if you write everything you direct you become a writer who directs, as opposed to a director, and they’re two different things. When writer ends up directing a film the best version of the film is what they’ve written. When in fact the best version of the film more often than not is not what is written. It’s the combination of the script and the blueprint. But everything that happens set with the actors, with design, with the camera moves, that contributes, enriches and elevates what is on the page.
Often when you write the script, it becomes too precious about what you’ve written. You’re trying to replicate that. The role of the director is to take it, what is written, and digest it and make it into real life, that action elevates it.
How did you digest Jean Cocteau’s Human Voice and make it your own?
It’s a very complex answer because it addresses all of the changes and concerns I had going in. On the level of the text and my initial concern about how to present this piece before a contemporary audience and especially to a contemporary female audience, it was very important to me to present the woman who in the original text, from the get go she has resigned herself she will never go back with this man. What that tends to do is create a monotonous kind of a feeling because the character is stuck and spinning her own wheels in the pain and suffering, but it’s not going anywhere.
The first thing that I did was delay a sense of resignation and show a character who is going through a hard time with her man, clearly her man had left her but she was going to find a way to get him back. It’s only half way through the film in our version that the relationship crumbles and gives way to the pain, disappointment and resignation in the end.
The invention and introduction to the housekeeper is something that doesn’t exist in Jean Cocteau’s play. Associated with that, the important thing was to translate from French to Neapolitan Italian. It lends itself to a certain fragility. Changing the language, it totally strengthens the woman. Language plays a big part in this version, the two lovers are from a different part of the country, she’s Neapolitan and he’s from the north very often he doesn’t understand what he’s saying. Not only are they not in sync emotionally, they’re not in sync linguistically. It creates a dynamic almost where she is in superiority because she’s teaching him words he doesn’t even understand which creates a dynamic that isn’t even in Jean Cocteau’s original play.
The other aspect that was important was that the play takes 30 minutes in real time. Thirty minutes in the life of the woman. Here, in my version, in order to diversify stylistically but also lighting wise the experience of the conversation this conversation takes place over four and a half hours where we begin when she is still trying to fight for him in this golden romantic sort of hue where the fishers start to show and the disappointment starts to emerge the sun is set and you have this blueish light when the affair emerges so does the night. So you have this expressionistic feel of what is happening inside of her also in the room. This in a way Roberto Rossellini made a film version of this, which is one of the most famous versions, but it was a filmed version of the play. This was the first version of adapting, shaping and modifying it for the medium of film. Hence, the flashbacks and we’ve all been in these conversations where people break up with you. Whether you like it or not your mind throws you images of happier times from the heart. Those flashbacks, six frames, three seconds, are the happy times that infiltrate her mind as she is having this conversation.
What was your initial inspiration to do Human Voice, why now?
Human Voice was a text that my mother always wanted to do. The initiative to do it now, like this, in Naples in 1950 under those terms were mine. This happened because of the success of another short I did in Italy: The Night Shift Belongs To The Stars. It did well critically and commercially.
One of the reasons why my mother didn’t do Human Voice in her career was because it was only 30 minutes, so it would either have to be developed into a feature or add two other shorter pieces to it; both of these alternatives didn’t do it justice because they don’t serve the original text. After my success, I told my mother lets do it the way that it was intended, as a short. For me, a short is not a stepping stone to a feature. It’s what it is, a beginning, a middle and an end. Like a play is a play, a novel is a novel and a short story is a short story. Filmmakers can do both. That doesn’t mean that one leads to another. One is different from another and all of my career, I will be doing both.
Directing your Mother, Sophia Loren, as the lead and having to see her break down as the phone call goes on did you have any reservations?
We shot the film in 11 days and we rehearsed prior for 6 weeks. The process of finding the character, the voice, the emotionality is a process that took a long time, which what is great working with an actor like my mother, she’s a racehorse, you set obstacles and you set high obstacles and see if she can reach that high.
For example, the moment where she throws the vanity is a moment that I created in rehearsal. I told her one of the traps of the Human Voice is to have a woman who is sniveling from the beginning. I told her from the beginning ‘if you want to get him back the last thing that the man wants to hear on the phone is her crying because he will just hang up and say “okay this is over,”’ you have to fight crying. Of course you are emotional and we have the privilege of seeing you, but over the phone, the voice, you have to be strong.
That’s why we’re more emotional watching her because she’s fighting. As an audience, because of this holding it in, I felt that the dam needed to break. It’s a spike of energy. I told her to try to do that, lose control for two seconds, so we can see exactly emotionally where you are. I told her theoretically, I showed her how to wipe everything, she didn’t do it until we were actually shooting and the powder flying everywhere this is an homage to Dangerous Liaison in Glenn Close, she also hit makeup and it goes all over the place. A small homage, because I didn’t want it to go too far.
What are you working on now?
I don’t like to go into what I’m working on now because it is a bit of a secret garden.
I can understand that, tell me about your style of filmmaking. Did your upbringing contribute to that at all?
I think that the most important thing that I’ve learned is that my parents are never fully integrated into the film industry, they’ve always been a little on the outside looking in. I didn’t grow up on sets. I grew up at school, we had as much as possible a normal upbringing, which is a blessing.
If we did meet people, what stayed with me, what’s important, is that one tends to beautify people due to their achievements the truth is that they’re just people. What we have in common is that we’re on the same path of creativity. The only difference is that they made be ahead of you, but we’re on the same path and if we know that then it gives people who are starting the dream of achieving. The road that you’re walking on today is the same that someone was walking ten years ago, that is what I learned being raised around it.
What is your advice to your fellow filmmakers?
One thing I’ve been doing for the past 8 years is takehollywood.com, which launches in January I personally interviewed close to 100 actors, directors, casting directors, agents all about the craft of acting, which will all be available online. That is my way of sharing my understanding of the craft in the industry.