Pierpaolo de Mejo is a young movies director and actor, born into a family of artists, his father in fact is Carlo de Mejo, actor active in cinema since the second half of the sixties (he took part, among others movies, in Pasolini’s Theorem), son of the great actress Alida Valli and Oscar de Mejo, jazz composer.
Pierpaolo collaborated on a documentary, selected in the Classics section of Cannes 2021, about his grandmother together with the cinematographic director Domenico Verdasca and the support of the actress Giovanna Mezzogiorno, the narrator in the documentary „Alida“, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Italian diva, in spite of herself.
Yes, because Alida Valli was a shy, reserved woman, she loved her work, art, but not worldliness.
If today Alida were alive and had 20-30-40-50 years old, she would not have a social profile and would be reluctant to interview. But that’s probably not the reason because of Alida Valli was partly forgotten, even though it represents a significative piece of cinema history and also of History itself, as a witness of the Istrian exodus, as she was born in Pula on May 31, 1921: in this sense the documentary shows a complete picture and never seen before the life of a young and beautiful girl of Pula, who quickly became one of the most famous and beloved actresses of Italian and international cinema.
Alida Valli in fact carrying with her the memory of her Istrian origins, but above all it was and perhaps still is felt as non-Italian, the first reason why it is almost unknown to many people. The second reason, is linked to prejudice and ideology: the chronicle of that time, after the fall of fascism, decided Alida Valli as Mussolini’s lover, a slander from which the actress has always defended.
Alida Valli is little remembered not because she was reserved, protective towards her affections and independent, as her grandson Pierpaolo de Mejo rightly points out; other actresses have also been, Italian and not, such as Greta Garbo, Silvana Mangano, Claudia Cardinale, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Romy Schneider, but Alida Valli pays the price of being born in Pula and the juxtaposition of her name to Mussolini’s, as well as to the famous murder of Wilma Montesi, which at the time caused a great sensation, as her partner, Piero Piccioni, a famous jazz musician, was unfairly involved in the affair in the media.
The historical context and the political and news subtext have weighed heavily on the image of the altera and humble actress with noble origins, compromising the power of remembrance.
However, thanks to this documentary that brings together so much precious material (diaries, letters, unpublished films, testimonies), and to the commitment of the director and Pierpaolo de Mejo who in common with his grandmother has shyness, a beautiful, tormented, ironic, sensibility, intensity, versatile, credible in dramatic and lyrical films such as Visconti‘s masterpiece Senso, passing through the distressing and desperate Il grido by Antonioni, the existential and precarious La prima notte di quiete, by Zurlini, Novecento by Bertolucci, the mythological and tragic Edipo re by Pasolini, the sentimental and melodramatic Miracles do not repeat themselves twice, Winter will make you come back, based on a fact that really happened, the transposition of the book written by Bernanos, The dialogues of the camerlitane and Eugenia Grandet by Balzac and La grande strada azzurra (written by Solinas) directed by Pontecorvo, up to thrillers such as the spy masterpiece The Third Man by Orson Welles, The Paradine case by Hitchcock and the horror movies La casa dell’esorcismo, Lisa e il diavolo, Eyes without a face, Inferno and Suspiria.
Alida Valli, starting from the films of the so-called decò comedy, (or white phones) movies in vogue in the Thirties and Forties, from Il feroce Saladino by Bonnard, La casa del peccato, Mille lire al mese, and Oltre l’amore by Gallone, Piccolo mondo antico by Soldati, from Camerini, Mattoli and Alessandrini’s movies, was the protagonist of Italian and international cinema in the most varied guise, demonstrating that she loves the challenges and also the most petty and diabolical characters, as well as to fall perfectly into the drama both that and life on social and sentimental and existential, and in comedy.
She did not become the Italian Ingrid Bergman as the Hollywood producer Selznick hoped, Alida Valli became Alida Valli: elegant, photogenic, insufferable to the tax and very Italian, so much so that in 2004, Croatia decided to reward her as a great Croatian artist, she rejected the award affirming: ‚I was born Italian and I want to die Italian.
1 When did you decide and why to make a documentary about your grandmother Alida Valli?
Actually I have to thank the director Domenico Verdesca who helped and supported me in this beautiful and tiring job, because I was afraid of being too emotionally involved and not giving my contributions in an objective way. I think the time had come to dedicate a documentary to my grandmother to make her better known to cinema enthusiasts and not, by making my grandmother’s private archive available to the movie director. Many still don’t know her, I don’t think she has been done “justice” Alida Valli represents a piece of history of Italian cinema and her professional life, in my opinion, should be told; not because she is my grandmother of course, and without going into the strictly personal sphere, in gossip, a dimension that my grandmother has always kept out of the spotlight.
2 Do you think he managed to have the right „detachment“ or did he feel extremely involved in making it?
Thanks to the film director and Giovanna Mezzogiorno who lent her voice to the story, I think so. Initially I thought I was too into history, then I had the right detachment also thanks to the other important personalities who are present in the documentary, precious testimonies of sacred monsters of Italian and international cinema such as Charlotte Rampling, Vanessa Redgrave, Piero Tosi, Bernardo Bertolucci, Dario Argento, Margarethe von Trotta, Lilia Silvi, Carla Gravina, Roberto Benigni, Bernard Bertolucci… I believe that an excellent job has been achieved with VeniceFilm and Kublai Film in association with the Istituto Luce Cinecittà and Fenix Entertainment in collaboration with Rai Cinema.
3 Do you think that Italian cinema honors your grandmother’s memory?
Honestly, I think not! (he smiles)
4 Why should young people especially know it in your opinion?
Because Alida Valli is the history of our cinema, she has also been successful abroad, she took part in important films, to discover her shyness often and unfortunately mistaken for grumpiness and snobbishness, for her independence, for her not wanting to be treated like a diva to be exploited by the Hollywood industry. In fact, in order not to be crushed by that „system“, she preferred to pay a very high penalty. In America she had filmed The Paradine Case with Gregory Peck and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, also proving herself as a noir actress.
5 Would Alida Valli like today’s cinema?
Yes, I think so, my grandmother was very curious. It is no coincidence that you have made many films, all different from each other. I think about La prima notte di quiete with Zurlini, the horror Suspiria and Inferno with Dario Argento, Il grido with Antonioni, Chereau’s blood red orchid, another horror in Italy, The house of exorcism, starting from the so-called white telephone cinema up to Pasolini’s Edipo re. She had a lot of fun competing with different genres.
6 Three films starring your grandmother who, in your opinion, have made the history of cinema?
Let’s immediately say Senso by Visconti because it should always be mentioned, in order not to upset anyone, Novecento by Bertolucci and a film that few people know but which is considered one of the best horror films in the history of cinema, or the French Eyes without face by Georges Franju, a modern deals with the theme of futuristic science and which has paved the way for many others, where my grandmother plays the role of a „bad“.
7 What was her greatest cinematic talent as a grandmother? And human, which then also acts as a corroborator for acting?
Instinctively, I would say photogenic and magnetic look, those icy eyes that pierce the screen, but if I think about it, I say consistency and seriousness. The great ability to maintain concentration for the entire duration of the shoot, by virtue of the fact that as you know, sometimes the last scene is shot directly and then the first, there are breaks, etc … Here Alida never lost her concentration and a sense of proportion. From the human point of view I would say dignity, temperament and confidentiality.
8 Although your grandmother did everything to demystify her image, do you, watching your films and at that time, consider you a diva?
Certainly in reference to my concept of a diva, or, paradoxically, an antidiva, an actress who does everything to keep private individuals out of her acting career. A mysterious and fascinating woman who does not take herself too seriously, self-deprecating, not grumpy, especially with journalists, as you might think. A woman who did not like worldliness, nor going to the parties that are often part of this work. She defended his private life and her affections from her.
9 You are also involved in cinema, what are you specifically dedicated to and what are your goals?
I’ve studied directing and screenwriting at the University, I worked with my father in the theater, I founded a theater company that bears the name of my grandmother, I directed the film How I became Alida Valli and took part in a film, Black Star. I have always breathed art in my home, especially thanks and my father who passed on this passion to me.
10 A particular trait that you have in common with your grandmother?
I find myself in her look, in the depth of his eyes. I see her shyness and reserve which are also traits of my personality