«The documentary approach is what interests us the most in terms of filmmaking. What reality gives you just cant be
reenacted.» An interview with Tizza Covi & Rainer Frimmel.
You just finished your third full-length film, La Pivellina, which is also your first fictional work. A few of the elements and characters in Babooska appear again. To be precise, you
crossed a thin line in the direction of fiction. What moved you to move toward fiction and still stay close to reality?
TIZZA COVI: The documentary approach is what interests us the most in terms of filmmaking. What reality gives you just cant be
reenacted. Still, with documentary film we came to a place where not being able to directly affect whats happening bothered
us. The second factor was the fact that in both films, Babooska and La Pivellina, we worked with people who were wonderfully natural and had no problem at all with a camera being nearby.
Is the fictitious story in La Pivellina based on fact?
TIZZA COVI: I wrote the screenplay. We started with telling a story that shows how our protagonists live, though not in purely documentary
I should also say that in Italy, a great many children of this age are abandoned, not just newborns. Unfortunately, thats
a current problem.
How did Patty become the protagonist of La Pivellina?
TIZZA COVI: Weve known Patty for a long time, and we think her voice and behavior resemble those of Anna Magnani, who we adore.
She has an explosive personality, though she did a lot to hold herself back during shooting.
RAINER FRIMMEL: Id like to add that the two main protagonists are extremely strong together: I dont think that any couple could
be more different than Walter and Patrizia. Of course, that aspect fascinated us too.
TIZZA COVI: Patty was happy to appear in the film. On top of that we shot in winter, a time when nothings happening in the circus
business. This was a welcome change of pace during a time which is normally dead for them. We lived with them in their trailer,
played cards or dice at night or went to the pizzeria. Carnies who work outdoors dont have much to do in winter: getting
their trailers ready for the summer, rehearsing and improving their acts, otherwise the shoot filled up a period of nothing
It doesnt seem that there was a screenplay with set dialogues. What was the basis for shooting, what did you do to prepare?
TIZZA COVI: We wrote the story with an extremely concrete beginning and an extremely concrete ending. The dialogues werent written
down. An hour before shooting started I talked to Patty, Tairo or Walter, told them which scenes we had planned and what would
have to be in the conversation. How they formulated their lines and the order was left up to them. One difficulty that we
didnt expect was in the middle of the film, when we would have liked to include some real, documentary-style elements
from their everyday routine. We shot some beautiful moments that strayed too far from the story of the little girl.
You have to imagine the screenplay as a 30-page outline of the plot, which then underwent radical change in the course of
shooting. We were extremely grateful to the Ministry of Education, Art and Culture for giving us this freedom and trust and
accepting the screenplay without concrete dialogue. Having this kind of freedom to change things during shooting because you
have a spontaneous impression that it works better that way, in my opinion thats the most fun you can have when making
Its common knowledge that shooting with children isnt so easy. How difficult was working with such a young girl?
TIZZA COVI: Asia was almost two years old during shooting. I have to start by saying that our style of shooting has nothing to do with
a classic film crew. Rainer operates the camera, I take care of the sound and the clapboard. We arent in any way scary
for children. And kids need time, of course. In the first weeks of shooting she would never have gone to sleep with me or
Patty in the trailer. I took a great deal of time with her, until she fell asleep in my arms, and then with Patty in the trailer,
and then she went to sleep there every time. When we picked up the camera or the sound equipment we didnt change so
much that she would have noticed. Our working style is probably the best for shooting with children.
RAINER FRIMMEL: What was decisive for working with Asia so well was the fact that her parents trusted us completely. They left their child
in our hands and were glad to see that we took good care of her. It makes shooting much easier when the parents arent
there. Of course, a great deal happened spontaneously. Telling her exactly what to do doesnt work at that age. Instead,
you have to adapt the situation in light of how she feels at the moment. The main problem with the little girl was that she
never went to sleep before two in the morning, and then she slept until early afternoon, of course. Since we were shooting
in winter and it got dark early, that became a bit of a problem, and we tried to change her rhythm a little. A number of times
we would have liked to shoot earlier, but waking a child up doesnt work, because then theyre in a bad mood.
When you take a closer look at the themes, the film has something to tell about having to grow up fast that Asia has
to deal with being abandoned, and Tairo was alone at a very young age and its also about different generations
TIZZA COVI: Another part of the film thats very important to us involves sticking together. The fact that theyre quick to
help each other in the world they live in, that helping each other is a matter of course. Showing this other type of society
was important to us.
RAINER FRIMMEL: And childhood is another important aspect. In Tairos case his childhood and being abandoned. He was officially
given up after his parents divorce, but he was only three at the time and had to stand on his own two feet at an early
age. This is also a kind of abandonment that you have to deal with, but he still managed to find a substitute family in this
microcosm. How you put your own little world together, where you feel at home, that was a theme.
In your Italy the weathers never nice, the surroundings seem pretty dreary, and at the same time you sense a calm simplicity
in life and a humorous narrative style.
TIZZA COVI: The image of nice weather in Italys a cliché; winters in Rome are terrible, and it rains all the time. Were just
trying to show Italy in a more realistic way.
RAINER FRIMMEL: But making a depressing film was not our intention at all.
TIZZA COVI: And one of the best things that can be done with the way we work is situation comedy. There are some tragic events that suddenly
turn funny because of a certain line or joke. Thats possible when the dialogues arent written down precisely beforehand.
But the magic circus elements appear frequently in the gray everyday routine, such as the magician with the red balls.
RAINER FRIMMEL: We didnt want to leave these elements out this time. Im thinking of our visit to the circus owned by Tairos
father, or the magician with the red balls, or the trick with the paper bag. They all involve disappearing. All at once the
balls gone, but you can still hear it fall into the bag. In the case of the foreign guest worker they meet on the playground,
the balls disappear and then reappear someplace else. That can be seen as a reference to the little girl, who suddenly appears
in Pattys life, and then disappears again. At the same time, we consciously left the storys end completely open.
In a purely technical sense, you have lots of experience with filming inside a trailer.
RAINER FRIMMEL: Of course, there are a lot of difficulties involved with shooting under these conditions that you have to be ready for at
any time. Once again, we shot on Super-16 mm, though with a handheld camera this time.
TIZZA COVI: Rainer built a great abdominal support so that the camera isnt so heavy to hold and he can move easily while shooting.
In La Pivellina the camerawork turned out great because the camera hardly ever jiggles and everything seems so smooth.
RAINER FRIMMEL: The major advantage with a handheld camera is that youre a lot faster and dont lose any time setting up a tripod
or with framing. But at the same time, as I said before, there are some difficulties involved: We only use the available light,
which means that sometimes our only light source is a single bulb, and when the power supplys spotty, the intensity
of the light can vary suddenly.
TIZZA COVI: Although were quality fanatics, in the final analysis the quality of the content is more important than the technical
Rainer Frimmel: Wed never use artificial light because we always want to be as close to the reality as possible. Whether
a face is perfectly lit isnt as important to us, on the contrary, in a trailer that would mean that somethings
not right, which is why we dont do anything in that direction. The camera in La Pivellina is a lot more mobile than in Babooska, where we had lots of static and long takes. Ever since we made Babooska, weve
decided that we wanted a camera that moves more and a faster rhythm in our next film.
TIZZA COVI: But we still use our style with long takes during which something can develop. We still have few cuts and lots of scenes that
last only a minute or thirty seconds for a fiction film.
RAINER FRIMMEL:Shooting style also involves personal development. For Thats All we filmed everything from a tripod. You move a step
forward with every film, though you still maintain your own style, and you try out new things.
Has working in this micro-constellation proven to be the best way in terms of the crew, technically and the budget?
TIZZA COVI: We had a production budget of about 100,000, and with three prints and postproduction it amounted to about 150,000.
Larger budgets always take away a certain amount of freedom, which we need. Working according to a detailed plan isnt
natural for us, and that would also destroy our enjoyment of filmmaking. Our work style is also based on the interplay of
a number of factors?a certain enthusiasm and spirit of cooperation is created among the crew, and that carries us along.
For our next project well be working with a young and extremely talented actor at the Burgtheater?Philipp Hochmair?who
has made a number of concessions because hes aware of the kind of budget we have to make do with. That also generates
a special kind of energy that might not have been possible if our work together were purely business.
RAINER FRIMMEL: One time that we really suffer because of the small budget is during postproduction, when we have to do without certain things
with this great material, we cant afford as much time as wed like to have in the sound studio, or producing the
best possible version of a print isnt possible. A film shouldnt fail because of its budget, and it shouldnt
be judged on that basis either. We would like to be able to continue working in this way, and we dont consider large
budgets to be essential for us. Not having to make do with less during postproduction would be a nice change.
The fact that not all the details were specified in the screenplay probably made editing even more important.
TIZZA COVI: We had more footage than with our previous films, about 20 hours in all, which is still a relatively small amount for a fiction
film. I do the editing.
RAINER FRIMMEL: You have to think consistently when editing. Tizzas great at that, and she can throw some things out that I cant.
Im a collector.
TIZZA COVI: During editing we had to drop a lot of beautiful and really successful things because they moved too far away from the story.
I hope we dont repeat this mistake with the next film, weve learned that you have to stick close to the story
at all times. But we did allow ourselves little detours?like the history lesson and the collection of wax figures.
RAINER FRIMMEL: That also involves the history of Italy, where not all associations with Mussolini are negative. The collection of wax figures
shows Mussolinis last meeting.
Will Cannes help the films exploitation significantly?
TIZZA COVI: We have no idea what that will be like. Were extremely pleased about it, because as filmmakers were always hoping
to find an audience or at least get noticed.
RAINER FRIMMEL: A major festival is, of course, a nice goal to have worked toward.
TIZZA COVI: Im already thinking about our next project. But thank God, Rainer does more promotion work with the films after theyre
finished. Were different enough that we complement each other excellently. In my opinion, the most interesting things
are the ones that are happening and not the ones that have already happened. For a long time now, Rainer has wanted to make
a film about Vienna, but thats extremely difficult because there are already so many different perspectives of the city
and finding a new approach isnt easy.
We originally wanted to make the film about Vienna before La Pivellina. But then the screenplay was finished in a month, we
submitted it in September, and after that it took less than a year and a half until the film premiered. The other film has
matured in the meantime.
Interview: Karin Schiefer