"La Donnaccia" filmed in Cairano in 1963
La Donnaccia (The Prostitute)
It is a neorealist adventure that takes place in Cairano, one of the poorest and most isolated places in the Mezzogiorno, where the whole town takes part in the preparations and interpretation of the movie, La Donnaccia. Filmed during the summer of 1963, it is the story of a young prostitute, Mariarosa (played by Dominique Boschero, a French-Italian actress of extraordinary beauty), who is forced to return to her native town from Switzerland. In Cairano, she initially turns the monotonous quietness of the town upside down, but then redeems herself and starts a new life in her village, which in the meantime has become still poorer as a result of mass migrations.
It is a story that in a way anticipates and brings to our mind "Bocca di Rosa", one of the most famous songs of Fabrizio de Andrè (as pointed out by Paolo Speranza, the author of studies on the film).
The story and the main character of the film represent the red line of a film that, alternating between tragedy and comedy, tackles all the crucial problems of the South of that time: from emigration to the heritage of the farmers' fights; from the condition of women to the slow and painful transition of an archaic world of peasants to a partial modernity that is also full of contradictions. The director, Silvio Siano, is a man from Castellammare di Stabia, who had already directed a number of movies of various genres (action, drama, comedy). He is also the coauthor of the script, together with two intellectuals from Irpinia: journalist Camillo Marino and attorney Pasquale Stiso. Some years earlier, Marino together with Pier Paolo Pasolini and Giacomo D'Onofrio had founded the magazine "Cinemasud" and the neorealist film festival "Laceno D'Oro". Stiso, a sensitive and refined poet and painter, was a member of the provincial council of the Italian Communist Party and a past mayor of Andretta, a town near Cairano.
Among the Italo-French troupe were some excellent actors of the Neapolitan School (Aldo Bufi Landi, one of the main characters, and Giacomo Furia, a famous supporting actor of Totò and Peppino De Filippo's movies), some beginners (Laura De Marchi, Gianni Dei), one of the most well-know actor-directors of the time in France, Georges Riviere, and two very young and beautiful actresses: Lucille Saint Simon and Dominique Boschero, who played the main character. Boschero was considered by the specialized media of the time one of the more promising foreign actresses at Cinecittà. Nobody in Cairano has forgotten her, not even the many that were forced to emigrate to Belgium or Turin on one of those trains of the sun and hope that were packed like sardines, as in the last scene of the movie.
And they, the men and women of 1963 Cairano, were up to the challenge. The first reaction of the townspeople when the troupe arrived in the town, with their equipment loaded on mules, was one of curiosity mixed with surprise. The women, in particular, demonstrated a not too well hidden diffidence towards the beautiful "foreign" actresses. Then, thanks also to the intervention of the parish priest and the mayor, the genuine hospitality of the town took over. The result was extraordinary: the movie "La Donnaccia", is an expression of genuine neorealism and of true concern with the Southern Question. The movie did not get the success it deserved in Italy (contrary to what happened in France), because the heavy hand of the censors, who forbid the movie to those under 18 years of age, and the title itself had a negative effect on its distribution.
However, that title was necessary, actually it could not be substituted with another one. It purposely plays with a semantic ambivalence: la donnaccia is not so much poor Mariarosa, who at times is even childlike, but the barren and poor highlands of the Formicoso, as they were called by the peasants of Alta Irpinia, and as reported by Francesco De Sanctis in the description of his famous election campaign trip a century earlier. Even the very severe censors of the Catholic Center of Cinematography, however, acknowledged the effectiveness of the non-professional Cairano actors: "Good acting" - they write in the weekly Segnalazioni Cinematografiche - "especially some of the actors interpreting minor roles". Even more telling recognitions came from France, where the influential Revue du Cinema stated: "The documentary part is convincing".
"La Donnaccia" was, however, not just a passioned tribute to the canons of the original Neorealism, such as De Sica's "Bicycle Thief" and Visconti's "The Earth Trembles". The active role played by the people in the movie, in a desolate and depressed location like Cairano, represented for the local population an exceptional occasion to come in contact with one of the most advanced forms of production and culture, the movie industry. From this interaction would come a less restricted view of the world, and a better sense of their identity and, at the same time, of their contradictions. So much so that the young people of the town will often hear their fathers and grandfathers telling the story of an experience that, as time goes by, becomes more and more a legend.
On June 27 1997, in a midsummer evening, that dream became reality. In Cairano's townsquare there was a "Cinema Paradiso"-like atmosphere. Everyone was there, with their chairs, many with their babies in arms, to witness after 34 years the new beginning of "La Donnaccia". The restoration of the film (finally done by the owners of the Cinema Nuovo di Lioni) even moved Walter Veltroni, the Minister of Culture of the time, to contribute. It was the result of the joint initiative of the Province of Avellino and the Municipality of Cairano, and of the appeal made by numerous intellectuals of Irpinia. First among them was Ettore Scola, a director born in Trevico, another mountain town of Irpinia slightly bigger than Cairano, who is one of the Masters of world cinema.
Another figure of the neorealist adventure filmed the event in the square: Domenico Paolercio, born in nearby Andretta, who had been the director of photography of the movie. As he arrived in town, he could not hold back his emotions: his stupendous stills of the film, in black and white, were beautifully displayed on the walls of Cairano and captured the curiosity and admiration of inhabitants and visitors alike. This was repeated everywhere the exhibition of the stills was held, from the old Borbon Jail in Avellino to the Candriano Castle in Torella dei Lombardi, in the summer of 2001, during the Award that is held every ten years in honor of another extraordinary director from Irpinia, Sergio Leone.
When "La Donnaccia" was filmed, Cairano had little more than 500 inhabitants, as it does now. However, in that evening of July 27 1997 there were at least twice as many people in the square. And on July 30 of the following year, with Camillo Marino again as the guest of honor, there were about 2000 people from every corner of Irpinia.
These were two memorable evenings of culture and of rediscovered memories. This is because "La Donnaccia" is still a courageous and telling document of very difficult times for the remote areas of Irpinia and the "bone" of the South, as Manlio Doria has called it. It is a document that the local administration and the entire community of Cairano intend to protect and make known, starting with the most immediate objectives: to publish a catalog of the film stills edited by Domenico Paolercio and Paolo Speranza; to expand and organize the exhibit of the film stills; to screen the film to students and others, in Irpinia and wherever groups of Cairanesi live, both in Italy and in foreign countries, such as in Belgium. This will be done with the active contribution of Franco Dragone, a Cairanese native who has made a name for himself in the world as a movie and theater director and producer.