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A Story as True as a Movie

· Dario Fertilio Tells the Story of Saint Solange ·

“It’s a story difficult to stage,” the director admits. He feels the gaze of the nineteen-year-old girl on him, attentive, and he prefers to do away with the inspired air that he normally exhibits with actresses.

“There is too much material for a half-hour film. But fortunately so little is known about Saint Solange that no one will protest. So, here’s how I see it.” He had his fingers drawn up in a square in the air as if cutting out the frame.

“We open with the church of Saint Solange with the light of the sunset. Ninth century, little village, brings to mind history…gothic. Then we move to the inside, up to the saint’s altar and we linger a moment over the tomb. Immediately after, for not more than three seconds, we add the wooden statue from the museum in Bruges: Solange’s decapitated body with the head of Jesus in hand…this creates an atmosphere of expectation of some crime…or miracle…”

He glances at Denise and has the pleasant sensation of putting those dark brown eyes, grave and inquisitive, in his pocket.

“Here you come on the scene. The shepherdess of Villermont in the year 860, leading her family’s sheep out to pasture. I would want you to be dressed…I thought…like the girl in Bergman’s The Virgin Spring. If you’ve seen it…you haven’t seen it…however it’s the Medieval legend of rape, very dark, even if it’s not at all like this…So, you go out with the sheep, you are in the frame from a distance in the fields and then only for a split second one catches a glimpse of your beautiful face…but of course, it shows you with luminous thoughts. Bride of Christ…before you are Solange who listens in the stables, from the voices of the other shepherds, the story of the martyrdom of Saint Agnes, and then you decide to be like her. And then again you are seen in the fields, passing through and then stopping to help an elderly person, catching a play ball that got away from a child. Then you pray in the chapel that you have made for yourself among the brush, in your secret hideaway…you go into ecstasy, but it’s not something erotic…rather you are worried about something terrible that is going to happen to you.

“After this everything has to happen as quickly as possible, so as to not give the viewer time to reflect, the element of surprise keeps it from being absurd. The audience must first find horror and then wonder. When you meet Rainolfo in the forest for the first time, the son of the count who wants to possess you, you give him only a polite nod, without responding to his greetings and you move away. The second time, he asks you to marry him but you tell him you are promised to Christ, etc. The third time he follows you on his horse, furious, and grabs you and pulls across the saddle and then takes off in a gallop. We’ll make the horse falter so that you fall to the ground and escape. He catches up with you, in a fit of rage, and we film his sword raised in the air while he says the words, “If you won’t be mine, you will be no man’s.” Then your body falls to one side and we film it in such a way that one glimpses your rolling head. When you get up, you place your head back on your shoulders and repeat three times “Jesus”: the word has to be heard right away. Wonder in horror, that’s the effect we want. Then in the end you turn, like a ghost, and walk to your chapel, where you enter and disappear. Then there is a close-up, from the shoulders, of Rainulfo left alone after falling to his knees.”

The director here made nodded interrogatively at Denise, and then smiled. “I know,” he said, “it must seem so absurd to you. At your age…”

“No,” and Denise’s head shook, serious and intent just as before, “it’s a true story.”

“Yeah,” replied the director in the same tone as the beginning, “in the end we allay the tension by adding the scenes we filmed May 10, the day dedicated to the saint by the pilgrims who come to her tomb…But first, you understand, we need to halt the disbelief of the audience. The violent forest scenes, and then the decapitation and the miracle of Solange who put her head back on her shoulders, it all must have the air of horror…because people are ready to dive into that genre of film, you know, otherwise one would have to wonder…which reminds me, why did you say just now, “a true story?”

“That woman that we interviewed during the events of the pilgrimage…maybe that scene was cut…but she said the story of Solange was real. Because only a woman can understand the violence and the love for something…I don’t know, greater.”

“So what,” interjected the director’s voice, but immediately smiling, “is this some kind of feminist speech? The rape, etcetera, the violence toward women? Because I would have to tell you…”

“I don’t know,” Denise interrupted. “That woman said it was a true story. To me, though, the name Sol-ange makes me think of alone and angel.”

“Listen, Solange,” the director spouted and then instantly corrected, “I mean, Denise.” But then he had the painful sensation that the entire sense of the film was changed in a single moment. And he understood that the miracle of Solange no longer belonged to him. 

About the author

Dario Fertilio is a Dalmatian journalist and a writer born in Modena on October 9, 1949. At the age of twenty he began his journalism career as a reporter for the Corriere d’Informazione directed by Giovanni Spadolini, later becoming the cultural editor for the Corriere della sera. He is the author of monographs and other studies, and in 1998 founded the freedom committees (Libertates) with the Russian writer and activist Vladimir Bukovskij. It was a liberal movement for the defense of democracy and the free market, of federalism and subsidiarity. Fertilio was also a proponent in the “day of commemoration of the victims of Communism” that is celebrated November 7 each year. In October of 2014 he became the director of the thrice yearly magazine Il Dalmata. Among his works is L’ultima notte dei fratelli Cervi (Marsilio, 2012) that garnered the Aqui Storia prize for historical novels.

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