Archaeology, love and art in the film “La Nuvola e Issìone”

Pino Casolaro and Corinna Guerra introduce their short film, La Nuvola e Issìone, which was produced by the University of Foggia and will be shown at Objects in Motion: Material Culture in Transition. Casolaro, who directed the film and co-wrote the script, is an experienced actor and director in Italy. Guerra, who co-authored the script, is a post-doctoral researcher at the Società Napoletana di Storia Patria in Naples and is also affiliated to UCL and Bari.

In Pompeii, the ancient town destroyed by a huge volcanic eruption in 79 AD, the impression of a young woman’s breast appeared in 1772 at the “Villa of Diomede”: one of the lives interrupted by the Mount Vesuvius disaster. In the successive century, it became a famous cast all over Europe, but then this fascinating archaeological find suddenly disappeared.

"View of the Villa of M. Arrius Diomedes" in Pompeii by T.Bradley, 1846. Credit: Ancestry Images.

“View of the Villa of M. Arrius Diomedes” in Pompeii by T.Bradley, 1846. Credit: Ancestry Images.

The breast was not just a material object for archeological investigation; on the contrary, it changed its nature and meaning according to the era or the context in which it was considered. From antiquity to the present day novelists, scientists, archeologists and others have written about it in very different ways.

The Frenchman Théophile Gautier was inspired by it to write a novel entitled Arria Marcella in 1852, an example of the fantastic Pompeian trend in literature. In Gautier’s pages we meet the past in the form of Arria, a woman who lived in ancient Pompeii, and the present in Octavien, a modern man who travelled to Italy. In fact, during his visit to the Pompeii excavations Octavien lives out a love story with the “woman of the breast” in a dreamlike atmosphere.

The short documentary movie La Nuvola e Issìone is a product of the project “L’antiquité face à face. Il Grand Tour, il Mezzogiorno d’Italia e l’esperienza del classico”. The project was directed by Professor Giovanni Cipriani at the Department of Humanities of the University of Foggia (Italy) and financed by Fondazione Caripuglia. As actors worked on Mount Vesuvius and at the Pompeii excavations, it was approved by MIBACT, Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali, Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Pompei, Ercolano e Stabia.

The movie attempts to put together different views of the Pompeii cast by merging a solid documentary approach with the tools of fiction. The outcome is a hybrid film, written by a historian of science and an actor with the supervision of researchers in Latin literature.

The screenplay by Corinna Guerra and Pino Casolaro, the latter of whom is also the filmmaker, consists of an original plot merged with literary quotations – mainly from French productions (to quote some of them: F. R. de Chateaubriand, Viaggio in Italia; Th. Gautier, Arria Marcella; A. Dumas, Corricolo). Particular attention was paid to the soundtrack, which is based on the famous opera “L’ultimo giorno di Pompei” (The last day of Pompeii) by the composer Giovanni  Pacini.

The movie offers a mixture of antiquity and modernity, with all of the complications of shooting in a modern summertime Pompeii full of tourists from all over the world. Thanks to the recent reopening of the “Villa degli Amorini Dorati”, the movie crew could work in one of the most beautiful locations there. The plot is a brave attempt to put together the history of archaeology in the Pompeii ruins, travel literature including mainly Grand Tour writings, Italian opera, cinematic fiction and documentary.

The newly-reopened Casa degli Amorini Dorati in Pompeii. Credit: OpenPompeii.

The newly-reopened Casa degli Amorini Dorati in Pompeii. Credit: OpenPompeii.

As a consequence of the rich interdisciplinarity of the work, we wish to give the audience the opportunity to reflect on many different topics, not least:

  • How a love for art (and/or the past) can enliven lifeless objects as in the myth of Pygmalion;
  • How love for art (and/or the past) can erase our sense of time. (In Pompeii, a 19th-century man from a novel can coexist with a modern cinema crew or with a young woman from Roman antiquity with no real contradictions.);
  • That a dreamlike experience cannot continue forever, so an unnatural love like that of Octavien’s must end (The novel concludes with the homecoming of “Arria” to a ruined Pompeii.);
  • That love for the past can occasions our rebirth. (In the movie, the relationship between the actor and his wife gains new life through the love born between Arria Marcella and the dreamer Octavien.)

While the project “L’antiquité face à face” expected a multimedia product such as a DVD with literary texts read by an actor, we were excited by the idea of a short documentary film shot in Pompeii with an original screenplay, and have found it useful for a wider audience.

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