Sole a Catinelle: Q&A with Costume Designer Marina Roberti

Marina Roberti is the costume designer of the Italian box office hit Sole a Catinelle. She has worked in the US with the likes of Milena Canonero, Sandy Powell and Dante Ferretti…

How did you become a costume designer?

When I was a kid I was a bumbler at school. I spent all the time drawing and reading. My parents were kind of worried so they decided to enroll me at a fashion college in Turin, my home town. During my last school year they took us to Rome to visit the National Film School. Next year I decided to try and join the school. I thought I could never make it but I did and so I started attending the costume course.

Piero Tosi (costume designer of Il Gattopardo) was one of your teachers in Rome. What did you learn from him?

The most important thing he taught me is the process behind the creation of a costume. One day, during a class, he was talking about his education in Florence, stressing how important culture had been for his generation – Zeffirelli and Visconti came from Florence too – and how, before designing an era costume, you need to know a lot of many other things. He used to say: “Before making a costume you should even know which kind of flower goes into which kind of pot”. I like this story very much because I think this is the right way to approach the design of a costume: it has to be an element of a cultural and social context. I always tell my assistants, sometimes in ‘scaring’ tones: “You cannot choose even a tie, if you don’t bear in mind the big picture, the story you’re going to tell”. This is what makes our work so fascinating. The costume has to be storytelling, it has to be saturated with what’s going on or what was going on around it. It’s not only a matter of aesthetics but of the way you act, think and move. “Take the tube and never get tired of looking at people!”, Piero always told us. According to him reality always exceeds imagination. And if you dress a character like that person you met on the street right before, exactly the same way, it probably won’t be realistic on the screen.

Sole a catinelle_Suit full_Image credit Medusa Film

How was working with the director?

His suggestions were fundamental to understand the style of the story. Gennaro (Gennaro Nunziante) had been very clear about what he wanted. The movie had to be funny and well packaged. Unfortunately, In Italy many think that comedies don’t deserve quality; there’s a tendency to underestimate the audiences which, on the contrary, react very well to quality. It was the first time I worked in a comedy. Scriptwriting happened on set in the morning. There was, of course, an original screenplay but almost every morning Checco (Checco Zalone is the leading character) and Gennaro changed the lines, invented new ones and also costume needs changed under the wire. A good exercise in fast creativity! It was an everyday challenge.

Did you make some research? Who or what inspired your work?

I observed very carefully places I pass by every day but that doesn’t belong to me. This is the hard work about making a contemporary movie, while in period dramas time distance helps to keep the mind clear. We’re living in a society with many parallel worlds. I mean, they’re close in a physical sense but distant in their cultural and aesthetical references. I use lot of Internet and magazines to make my researches, but the most useful thing is always going where people you’re telling about are. It’s a sort of urban safari, or at least that is what my boyfriend calls it. And he’s been the designated victim of them for years. I can remember many exciting safaris in places I’d never visited myself. For example, recently I’ve been in Calabria, in the south of Italy. There, me and my assistant spent lots of hours in the only bar in town (with big scandal from the locals who don’t like seeing women in public places), strolling in local markets and visiting private houses. We really absorbed the local style, their way of dressing, their choices, their codes, and as a result I changed everything I had in mind. Same thing with The Secret of Sahara. It was 1986 and when we went in Morocco to shoot, seeing people and their habits, living under their sky, with the sun and the chill of the night, it made me comprehend I had understood nothing about them. I had looked through images of the place for months but I hadn’t seen how and why costumes were actually used. What we wear is more than a play of surfaces.

Checco Zalone seems to be fashion-conscious in the movie and yet his style seems to be slightly out of place and out of time. How did you work on the characters in general?

The worlds we were portraying were basically three: the medium class, those who work for a living, those who can live without working and those who try to live in a world they don’t belong. The appearance of the high-bourgeois is made of details, very expensive ones, worn with an artificially constructed understatement. Gennaro asked me to pay attention in particular to the mother of the kid miraculously healed by Checco, because she had to represent that fake understatement so hard to show for it is the result of an artificial scruffiness. So I enjoyed mixing Prada, h&m and vintage clothes. For Checco I researched the ss2013 fashion shows which proposed a colourful man. And Checco, especially when he wants to look like the wealthy people he’s on holiday with, tries to follow the latest fashion. But his taste doesn’t help him to adapt fashion to his body, and the general effect is that of a caricature, which is in line with the film style.

Can you tell us something about these looks:

Sole a catinelle_Blue blazer mid_Image credit Medusa Film

Here the reference was Lapo Elkan. I bought some items from his collection Italia Indipendent and I used them also for the official poster. I think those who love fashion cannot but love Lapo Elkan and his risky looks. They seemed perfect to stress how elegance is always something about who’s wearing what.

Sole a catinelle_Red t-shirt Che 1_Image credit Medusa Film

This is a coupe de theatre, a funny joke. Here Checco is interpreting understatement his way, without being a snob but more in the sense of a “leftist” attitude and, as always happens to him, he falls into kitsch.

Sole a catinelle_Tree shirt top_Image credit Medusa Film

Checco’s father had to wear collar and tie the whole year for work. So when he wore polo shirts and bermuda shorts it meant: holiday time! Same in the movie.

What are you working on right now?

I recently worked in another comedy and I’m finishing a film by Francesco Munzi (director of Saimir). Since 2006 I work for a production who organizes big global events. I’m having a lot of fun even if it’s not cinema. In the end it’s always about the show and making dreams come true, isn’t it?

Interview by Silvia Vacirca

Silvia took a PhD in Film Studies in Bologna with a thesis on set design, then worked for Versace and Max Mara. She writes about fashion HERE (or anywhere she’s allowed to). She’s a voracious observer of Clothes, especially those on Film.

© 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.