Valeria Golino has been reading, writing, drinking coffee, acting, and thinking about Fellini. Her impressive debut feature, “Honey,” opened in New York last Friday and expands to Los Angeles this weekend, but she’s in need of inspiration for her next film. “I need my ‘8 ½,'” Golino said in a recent interview.
It just so happens Fellini’s assistant director on that film was the Italian Lina Wertmüller, the first woman nominated for the Academy Award in directing (for “Seven Beauties”) That was 1976. Since then, the list of Italian female filmmakers has not exactly blossomed. Of the films screened by the Film Society of Lincoln Center in the New Italian Cinema series last year, three out of eleven had female directors — not enough to fill one page of Silvio Berlusconi’s little black book.
You may recognize Golino and her curly locks from “Rainman,” “Frida,” “Hot Shots,” or even “Big Top Pee Wee.” The prolific Italian actress has transitioned behind the camera quite effortlessly: “Honey” is a beautifully complicated look at a woman and the intimate May-December friendship that brings about her transformation. The film’s unique hook involves the character Irene, aka Miele (Jasmine Trinca), smuggling barbiturates from Mexico in order to assist the fatally ill with their deaths, but its soul is all intimacy and identity.
“She’s more intimate with the old man than with anyone else,” Golino said, referencing a supporting character played by Carlo Cecchi. “He sees her. They see each other…there is a fracture in her.” This fracturing is evident in the many reflective surfaces flooding the screen: seascapes, glass and mirrors. As Irene dives into the shiny sea for her daily swim, the music from her ear buds muffles as if we are going under, too. In one exemplary shot from the film, Irene toys with a young man through a window at a blue-lit club, slowly pressing her lips to the thick glass, dragging on his outstretched cigarette, and exhaling fantasy smoke in his face. Like her old man, she doesn’t sleep with him. It’s the sexiest moment in the movie.
Golino has no interest in casting herself in her own movies, as many actors-turned-directors do. “I’m not interested in me,” she explained. “Do I like it when people are interested in me? Absolutely, I’m an actress…I could have never filmed myself the way I filmed Jasmine [Trinca], to just look at her, really look at her…there are filters of yourself, you hate this or you like this or you do this. You don’t want a pain in the ass on your hands! I want a beautiful thing that I can film!”
And a beautiful thing she is. Even serving a woman poison in a wine glass, Trinca oozes sex. It’s as if to say: In Italy, we live sexy, we die sexy. Perhaps this is Golino’s greatest triumph as a director — she’s written a strong female character who is incidentally attractive, and not because of any male character’s particular needs. Trinca, with her cropped hair and loose tanks, her incognito trips on a Mexican tour bus to buy veterinary barbiturates and her trysts with married men in RVs, is just plain cool.
Golino’s advice to young filmmakers? “Make it with as little money as possible, be free, find a way to take a little from here and a little from there.” She secured tracks for next to nothing from Thom Yorke and David Byrne through mutual friends, and she knew the two main actors socially. She and co-screenwriter Francesco Marciano had both Trinca and co-star Carlo Cecchi in mind while writing. Though they auditioned other actors, these ones “were already living in my imagination…they had already crept in, like cats. Like cats they sat down and they were in.”
Golino made the film over the course of two and a half years. A film about assisted suicide turned out to be a tough sell to potential backers. “They said, ‘You’re an actress! Why don’t you make a comedy?'” Her tone turned solemn, and suddenly she leaned in. “The saddest thing I’m going to say today is this,” she said. “There’s nothing to fight. The big issues have gone. Now it’s like”—she clapped her hands—”are you in the market? You have nothing to fight for if not that very thing.” With a twinkle in her eye and a bounce to her curls, Valeria Golino might be just the woman for the job.
Browse critics’ reactions to “Honey” in the Criticwire Network.