La stoffa dei sogni at LIFF: shaking up Shakespeare

As part of Leeds International Film Festival, Gianfranco Cabiddu’s creative adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest was shown to fans and students alike – Arts writer Emma Prentice discusses it’s merits.

As part of Leeds International Film Festival, LivItaly and the School of English organised a screening of the Italian film La stoffa dei sogni (The Stuff of Dreams) on 7th November at the Vue in The Light. The director Gianfranco Cabiddu also generously gave up some of his time to do a Q+A the following day where he revealed some behind-the-scenes tales and discussed his inspiration for the film, which facilitated some lively debates. La stoffa dei sogni was well received and was attended by both English and Italian speakers.

The film is essentially an adaptation of ‘the Tempest’, however, similar to Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ Gianfranco used the structure of a ‘play-within-a-play’, or in this case a ‘play-within-a-film’, making the film a unique and ingenious take on a well-known story.

“successfully conveys the story with a mixture of humour, romance and drama”

The film begins with a storm; a boat transporting prisoners and a family theatre group of stowaways is overturned. The family, along with some of the prisoners, wash up on the island of Asinara (the Italian equivalent of Alcatraz). Desperate for their freedom, three of the prisoners force the family to disguise them as part of their theatre group. Unsure what and who to believe, the governor of the island makes them act out a play of ‘the Tempest’ in order to discover who are the actors and who are the criminals.

La stoffa dei sogni takes place on the beautiful island of Asinara, a national park located off the north-western tip of Sardinia. However, from the First World War up until 1997 this island was used as a high security prison, and is portrayed as such in the film. For the eleven weeks of shooting, the island virtually became a ‘prison’ for the cast and crew, as this remote island had no restaurants, hotels, or even phone access. Gianfranco admitted that for the first week of filming this was a difficult adjustment, however, they quickly adapted and enjoyed working with such a beautiful landscape. In fact, one of the actors, who was travelling back and forth from Sardinia to Asinara every day for filming, came down with a serious case of FOMO when he realised how much fun the cast and crew were having, so he decided to stay put on the island himself for the last few weeks of filming.

In the Q+A, Gianfranco brought up the fact that many young people today perhaps find Shakespearean plays heavy and unappealing. His intention in this film was to make Shakespeare’s ‘the Tempest’ more accessible, whilst still paying homage to this great work. In the film, one of the prisoners (disguised as an actor) argues with the theatre manager that the script of ‘the Tempest’ should be changed into more accessible language in order for the criminals to be able to act in their roles more convincingly and avoid imprisonment. However, the theatre manager contends that it is debauchery to change such a respected work as one of Shakespeare’s plays. This point of contention is particularly interesting and relevant as it brings to light the continual debates as to whether Shakespeare’s language is perhaps too inaccessible for his works to be taught comprehensively in schools and universities. It was interesting to see how the initial Italian translation of ‘the Tempest’ used language which was equally as inaccessible as the English.

Taking on theatre was something Gianfranco avoided for a long time. He feared the actuality of theatre, opting for film which could be more manufactured. However, inspired by his mentor, Italian comedian Eduardo Felipe, who translated ‘the Tempest’, he decided to tackle his fear by way of compromise; he would direct a play within a film. The theatrical aspects of this film are impressive and the make-do stage, costumes and props add to the humour of the play.

“brings to light the continual debates as to whether Shakespeare’s language is perhaps too inaccessible for his works to be taught comprehensively in schools and universities”

The cast is talented and diverse and includes some well-known Italian actors, such as Sergio Rubini and Renato Carpentieri, as well as some emerging faces. The cast successfully conveys the story with a mixture of humour, romance and drama and the camera work is cleverly carried out. I found the filming of the boat in the storm was so effective that I couldn’t help but feel a bit sea sick myself.

Audiences should not be put off by the fact that this film is not in English, but embrace the chance to experience a different culture, whilst enjoying an adaptation of a well-known plot. Chances to meet the director of films are rare and incredibly special, so special thanks go to Gianfranco Cabiddu and also the School of English and LivItaly for putting on such a successful event.  

Leeds International Film Festival continues until 16th November 2017.

Emma Prentice

(Image courtesy of RB Casting)