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“Quando si ama qualcuno lo si ama per qualcun altro”: Francesca Comencini’s Retelling of Svevo’s Zeno


In her 2001 film based on two chapters of Italo Svevo’s La coscienza di Zeno, Le parole di mio padre, Francesca Comencini combines a realistic mise-en-scène with an oneiric and turbulent filmic syntax, presenting Zeno Cosini’s relationship with his dying father and his involvement with the Malfenti family after his father’s death. The essay explores the use of filmic enunciation, rather than linear narrative, to depict Zeno’s relationships with Giovanni, Ada, Alberta and Augusta Malfenti, and their relationships with each other. It argues that such a technique, which employs minimal dialogue, intense use of close-ups, darkness and blurring – and is comparable to the non-commercial style theorized by Lyotard as “acinema” – allows the director to focus on all the characters (and not simply Zeno), specifically as regards the struggle with the father figure and the related struggles of artistic expression and the negotiation of familial and erotic love.

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