He: 'I couldn't have forgotten you, you are unforgettable'.
He: (whispering, the microphone barely catching the words): "So, the day after I met you, I said to myself: 'Oh God, what if she could be Alithea…'".
She (looks at him as one would look at a lover who has just shown up at the door with a bouquet of roses)
He: "Then there was a beautiful moment when you called, after a very short while, you meant that you had read the script in one go, and you said: 'Yes, I will do it'".
The first moments, those that decree the birth of a work, a film, are often beautiful and poetic (then the lawyers come into play and the magic fades), but it is rare to see a correspondence of amorous senses as brazen as that between George Miller, Australian, 77 years old, author of the Mad Max trilogy (soon to be a pentalogy) and Tilda Swinton, 62, British, starring – along with compatriot Idris Elba – in 3000 Years of Waiting (to be seen in early 2023), which Miller directed between one Australian desert jaunt and another (Furiosa, with Anya Taylor-Joy, is almost ready).
A fairy tale for adults
Alithea, "container of many things", in the words of Tilda Swinton, who usually chooses them with great care, is a professor of narratology with a classical name (it means "truth") who speaks dead languages (flawless ancient Greek), whom the viewer meets – suit, glasses and bob cut – in Istanbul where she attends a literary conference.
An expert in the art of storytelling, she seems self-confident, not least because she knows so much in her field, and yet… "My name is Alithea. My story is true. I am a solitary creature by nature. I have no children, no siblings, no parents. I once had a husband,' is the side note she writes about herself. And it is a note that resonates with the story of Katherine Matilda Swinton, born – third child and only female – into a family of high lineage and long military tradition.
"To love means not to fuck the other's loneliness. And to prevent the other from fucking yours' she told us years ago and, when we meet her again today to talk about this 'new chapter in my reflection – it's a whole novel I'm writing about loneliness, I've added a flower in the bouquet', she confirms that the only way to try to tell 'one of the great taboos of western society', could only be a fairy tale.
A tale for adults, and with philosophy. Alithea in Istanbul makes an incautious purchase, a beautiful coloured bottle that looks like it has passed through many hands. She polishes it (with an electric toothbrush, it makes practical sense) and, surprised, but not so surprised, ends up unleashing a jinn, a genie, who first struggles to adapt to the size of the hotel room (we are at the Pera Palas, in the room that housed Agatha Christie while she was writing Murder on the Orient Express), then reassesses her language preferences and her own oversize dimensions, puts on the hotel dressing gown to cover her shame, and that is where the fun begins: dialogue, storytelling, the antidote to loneliness.
Seeing through words
"There comes a time when we confuse what we have seen with what we have been told, what we have witnessed with what we know, what we know with what we have read (…) it is strange, all the stories that one hears and sees in the course of a lifetime in the cinema, on television, in the theatre, in newspapers, in novels, all accumulate and get mixed up. It's amazing how most people still know what really happened to them'.
This is Javier Marías, A Heart So White, but it could also be George Miller who – when asked to go back with his memory to the first moment when the desire to tell and voluntarily lose sight of what really happened was born in him – leads the reporter back to his "1950s, when as children, my brother and I – this was before TV – listened to a vinyl of The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde, produced by Orson Welles: it was wonderful, I am sure we put it on the record player at least a thousand times. From that tale I got the basic political notions, the idea of what a heroic gesture is and where justice lies: it's all in there and it's thanks to that record that I learnt to dream. The prince who deprives himself of his golden cover to help those in need eventually asks the swallow to stay an extra night to help him, and the swallow, even though he has to go to Egypt, join the flock, save himself from the coming winter, eventually stays. And it dies of cold".
Every story has its rules and the stories of the jinn are no different: Alithea has the right, indeed the obligation, to make three wishes. The scholar does not fall for it: wishing is dangerous, better to stay in known territory. In order to convince the protagonist of a film that is "the cinematic equivalent of an illuminated manuscript in medieval Latin kept in a safe and only accessible to accredited scholars and, at the same time, has the innocent, colourful exuberance of Christmas films of 30 or 40 years ago" (so the Guardian critic), the jinn has an infallible strategy: to tell his own story, 3000 years of longing – originally conceived by Antonia Susan Byatt in the novella Il genio nell'occhio dell'usignolo (Einaudi publishes it in Italy) – through the Middle East, from the meeting between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba to the court intrigues of the Ottoman Empire. During her lectures, Alithea talked about them, but also about modern gods like Batman and Superman, explained how the new myths and those of the ancient world, the Old Testament, the Thousand and One Nights and Marvel can eventually be put in the same box.
So if you ask Tilda Swinton when her – admittedly precocious – imagination began to work, she will answer: "There was no particular time or story, but there was a figure who told the stories, my grandmother, a great storyteller. My brother and I listened to hundreds of fairy tales told by her, and it is true that children love to hear the same stories repeated a thousand times – and we were no different – but she had a capacity to make them more beautiful each time, and she never bored us. She could read us the phone book and we would be enchanted. And she would do this especially before going to bed: my grandmother gave us beautiful dreams for years. She would add sensory details, what the weather was like, what colours were like, what smells were like, she taught us to see through words, and I think she influenced many of my future choices'. Tilda Swinton soon transferred that experience of the senses into her life and work: she was 26 when she made her debut in Derek Jarman's Caravaggio; thus the former pupil of West Heat, a selective school for girls in Kent, attended in those same years by Diana Spencer, became part of a dirty, colourful and unruly world that in those years made England look like a beacon ("Derek's was a creative workshop where we were all filmmakers, the actress, the costume designer, the set designer: together we contributed to a common project").
Narro ergo sum
'Everything can be narrated. You just have to put one word behind another'. It is Javier Marías again, and Tilda-Alithea has something to say about this too: 'It is a mistake to think that narratology is only about fiction, we are all storytelling creatures, homo narrans rather than sapiens. We need stories all the time, in 15 minutes I'll be telling another one to some of his colleagues,' explains the artist, who in the performance Embodying Pasolini, in Rome and (just completed) in Paris, took on the roles of a dozen Pasolini characters, from Anna Magnani in Mamma Roma to the teenagers in Salò.
"And what we learnt in two years of pandemic is that all the narratives we believed in, like our fragile certainties, collapsed. We had to assume: 'maybe I won't get married at the end of the summer', 'maybe I won't go to America to visit my son'. And sometimes they have been replaced by terrible narratives: 'I want to be with my father when he dies' and instead it will not be so and he will only die in hospital from covid. We have all experienced the trauma of the collapse of the big narratives and having to settle for only the small, everyday ones – 'I have to go to the shop down the street' – but that trauma has made us realise the extent to which we are addicted to them, because they give us a sense of perspective, they take us inside ourselves or away from us. And then there are people all over the world who have missed the cinema, who – without more stories – have felt poorer and lonelier… The world evolves and if I showed my grandmother this film today and tried to explain to her what it is rationally, she would tell me that what we have done is not special effects, but magic. Our mythology has changed, and that's what strikes me: that the more we know about the past and about ourselves, the more the mystery deepens. Before, we used to explain natural phenomena, seasons, lightning with gods, today we know that black holes are real, but we can barely get close to their true nature. We have to go in search of new mythologies to explain them'.
Falling in love with genius
No certainty, no truth to cling to in the eternal flow of time, then? "One, an all-female one, is the one indicated by Alithea. I know real academics who have chosen to live like her, have barred certain areas of their lives to devote themselves entirely to their work, we know it is possible, especially at certain times. That's not what I did, and in the end even the character I play understands that he can no longer be at peace with that decision, because his loneliness does not exhaust the story. He understands that there is more to life and he realises this by talking to the jinn, falling in love with his speech. So what does he do? He calls for chaos, uncertainty, turmoil. He finally expresses his desire. He asks to lose control."
He will do it. And it will be beautiful. Who says genes don't exist?
Written by Michael Zippo
Michael Zippo, passionate Webmaster and Publisher, stands out for his versatility in online dissemination. Through his blog, he explores topics ranging from celebrity net worth to celebrity net worth. to business dynamics, the economy, and developments in IT and programming. His professional presence on LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-zippo-9136441b1/ - is a reflection of his dedication to the industry, while managing platforms such as EmergeSocial.NET and theworldtimes.org highlights his expertise in creating informative and timely content. Involved in significant projects such as python.engineering, Michael offers a unique experience in the digital world, inviting the public to explore the many facets online with him.