Padre Padrone

Italy 1977, 115 mins
Directors: Paolo Taviani, Vittorio Taviani

Padre Padrone, a Sardinian-set true story about a young shepherd’s rebellion against his tyrannical father and the seventh feature from brothers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, is based on an autobiographical novel by linguist Gavino Ledda. It tells of the author’s struggle to educate himself after being plucked out of school and set to work at the age of six.

Given that the film was made (on 16mm) for Italian state broadcaster RAI, the brothers had not expected Padre Padrone to make it to the 1977 Cannes film festival. So when it ended up not only in competition but actually prevailing over the likes of Wim Wenders’s The American Friend, Theo Angelopoulos’s The Hunters, Ettore Scola’s A Special Day and Robert Altman’s 3 Women, they were as surprised as anyone. Much was made of Roberto Rossellini’s role as jury president in the final decision. The Tavianis had been inspired to become filmmakers after viewing Rossellini’s Paisà as teenagers three decades earlier, so it felt particularly fitting. Padre Padrone was to prove the Tavianis’ breakthrough.

Padre Padrone opens with an extraordinary sequence in which the real Gavino Ledda is shown sharpening a stick outside a school classroom before handing it over to the actor playing his father Efisio (Taviani regular Omero Antonutti, a dead ringer for British actor Julian Glover). Efisio then enters the classroom to march the six-year-old Gavino (Fabrizio Forte) away. As the film progresses, we follow the protagonist (played as a young man by Saverio Marconi) through adolescence, a failed attempt to emigrate to Germany and then on to his military service. The latter experience proves to be the turning point – an opportunity to finally break free from his father’s suffocating grip. With the encouragement of fellow conscript Cesare (a young Nanni Moretti, fresh from directing his first feature, 1976’s I Am Self Sufficient), Gavino starts to develop an all-consuming interest in language. In one scene, he and Cesare find themselves driving tanks across a field, practising Latin with each other across the airwaves.

Padre Padrone’s formal playfulness is reminiscent of the mid/late-60s films of Pier Paolo Pasolini, especially Hawks and Sparrows (1966). As with that film, sound and music are used in a boldly unconventional way (in one scene, we hear the inner thoughts of children in Gavino’s class; in another, a goat warning that it’s about to defecate as it’s being milked). In a 1979 interview with Aldo Tassone, Paolo Taviani points out: ‘Sound is even more important in Padre Padrone than our other works because the film tells of the passage from silence to sound, to words.’ Scholar of Italian film Millicent Marcus reinforces this: ‘Because sound is what frees Gavino from his predicament, it should come as no surprise that sound is also the Tavianis’ primary means of cinematic liberation from realist codes.’
Pasquale Iannone, Sight and Sound, September 2016

A contemporary review
Padre Padrone is both a naturalistic folk tale about the power of knowledge, and a stylised, almost Brechtian tract about dominance and control, youth and age. By combining information about his own culture with an understanding of Italian, and finally by acquiring degrees in the world outside, Sardinian shepherd Gavino Ledda achieves the inevitable: mastery over his father and master. Efisio is broken by the predictable impact of age, but more by being robbed of an heir who builds on skills he has imparted. Gavino choses to be an observer, a writer who does not work with his hands, and in so doing rejects the life-style of his forefathers.

In a lyrical adaptation of Ledda’s own book, the Taviani brothers preserve a balance between Gavino’s individual history and a universal plight. His father symbolises all fathers and masters. He removes Gavino from school, obligatory by law, and justifies his action in terms of the higher law of necessity: the threat of poverty. The father is the boy’s link to nature and work, exemplifying nature’s caprice in his relationship with his son: the alternation of harvest and killing frost. The stylisation of action and gestures emphasises the cyclical nature of events: Gavino is left on the mountain, escapes, is waylaid, beaten and sent back; the alternating caresses and beatings of his father are frozen into mime.

Music becomes a language, a way for Gavino to think on his own, to connect with community through folk songs, and compensate for his father’s loss of face in business dealings by playing for the rich men who have bested him. Personal emotion is shown in the context of custom and becomes ritual, as when the boys take leave of their mothers and girlfriends and are dramatically given locks of their hair. Death gives way to regeneration: a funeral provides the opportunity for the isolated young to plot their escape to Germany.

The circularity of events and the suffocation of village life are brilliantly shown in the staged, sullen hysteria of the sexual episodes, individual but linked, all accompanied by the frightened breathing of furtive, unreleased passion: a lonely young shepherd ties up his mule and uses him sexually; younger boys use a chicken to masturbate; Gavino’s father and mother sit at the edge of a bed, then abruptly, as in a dance, couple.

Throughout, education is linked to power. Domination is based on a fusion of skills respected inside as well as outside the community. The physically stronger son can defy his father’s commands, but is still regarded as a parasite and a thief for failing to work with his hands. At the time of the final quarrel between Gavino and his father, his mother stands outside, singing to herself an eternal song which transcends the struggle. Without the physical strength to control his son, the father is undermined; but the son, no longer a shepherd, remains in the village he scorned, needing roots to nurture his talent, to become padre padrone over words.
Louise Sweet, Monthly Film Bulleting, November 1977

Directors: Paolo Taviani, Vittorio Taviani
Production Company: RAI
Executive Producer: Tonino Paoletti
Producer: Giuliani G. De Negri
Assistant Directors: Marco De Poli, Giampiero Cubeddu, Francesco Lizzani
Screenplay and dialogue: Paolo Taviani, Vittorio Taviani
Adaptation: Gavino Ledda
Original autobiographical novel by: Gavino Ledda
Photography: Mario Masini
Editor: Roberto Perpignani
Assistant Editors: Rita Triunveri, Vincenza Caruso
Set Decorator: Giovanni Sbarra
Costumes: Lina Nerli Taviani
Costumes Assistant: Giovanna De Poli
Music composed and conducted by: Egisto Macchi
Sound Recording: Giovanni Sardo
Sound Re-recording: Pietrantonio Federico, Adriano Taloni

Omero Antonutti (Efisio Ledda)
Saverio Marconi (Gavino Ledda)
Marcella Michelangeli (Gavino’s Mother)
Fabrizio Forte (Gavino, as a child)
Marino Cenna (Shepherd)
Nanni Moretti (Cesare)
Stanko Molnar (Sebastiano)
Gavino Ledda (himself)
Pierluigi Alvau
Giuseppino Angioni
Fabio Angioni
Giuseppe Brandino
Mario Cheri
Giuseppe Chessa Perle
Domenico Deriu
Pier Paolo Fauli
Mario Fulghesu
Antonio Garrucciu
Patrizia Giannichedda
Roberto Giannichedda
Vincenzo Giannichedda
Pietro Giordo
Antonello Gloriani
Costanzo Mela
Domenico Morganti
Luigi Muntoni
Giuseppina Perantoni
Cristina Piazza
Matteo Piu
Maria Immacolata Porcu
Cosimo Rodio
Marco Sanna
Stefano Satta
Mario Spissu
Salvatore Stangoli
Marco Unali

Italy 1977
115 mins
Digital 4K (restoration)

Restored by Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia – Cineteca Nazionale and by Cinecittà S.p.A. at the laboratory at Cinecittà S.p.A.

Elective Affinities Le affinità elettive
Thu 1 Feb 20:35 (+ intro by season curator Adrian Wootton); Wed 21 Feb 18:30
A Man for Burning (aka This Man is For Burning) Un uomo da bruciare
Fri 2 Feb 18:10; Sat 10 Feb 20:40
St. Michael Had a Rooster San Michele aveva un gallo
Sun 4 Feb 13:30; Mon 12 Feb 20:40
Allonsanfan Allonsanfàn
Wed 7 Feb 18:20; Sat 24 Feb 20:25
Sat 10 Feb 14:40; Sun 25 Feb 14:30
Padre Padrone
Sun 11 Feb 15:20; Thu 22 Feb 20:45
Wondrous Boccaccio Meraviglioso Boccaccio
Mon 19 Feb 18:45; Mon 26 Feb 20:40
You Laugh Tu ridi
Fri 23 Feb 18:10; Wed 28 Feb 20:50
Caesar Must Die Cesare deve morire
Sat 24 Feb 12:00; Thu 29 Feb 20:50

With thanks to
Carla Cattani, Livia Azzolini, Monica Moscato and Erika Allegrucci at Cinecittà.
Presented in collaboration with the Italian Embassy in London and the Italian Cultural Institute. Co-produced by Cinecittà, Rome.

Co-produced by
Cinecittà, Rome

The monograph Paolo & Vittorio Taviani, published by Cinecittà, and featuring an article by season curator Adrian Wootton, will be available during the season.

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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