As residencies go, Marco Calvani’s time in Provincetown has been productive and reflective. It culminated with a fund-raiser at the Mary Heaton Vorse House on Thursday, Sept. 17, presented by the Provincetown Arts Society and the Palette Fund, where Calvani was interviewed by Terrence Meck, and his film, The View From Up Here, was screened. Both the interview and short film are available to stream online, thanks to Live From Provincetown.
A native of the Tuscan city of Prato, in Italy, Calvani began his career as an actor in his teens and became a successful playwright and theater director based in Rome before shifting his base of operations to New York City.
It was there, at the legendary Actors Studio, where Calvani was a member of the playwrights/directors unit, that he wrote the one-act play The View From Up Here, which Estelle Parsons directed. It’s the story of two tenants in an apartment building, one a recent Middle Eastern refugee and the other a xenophobic neighbor pretending to be the welcome wagon. The tension between the two women is palpable, and surface civility eventually erodes, exposing raw emotions.
Calvani was asked to direct a film adaptation of his play, which became the 2017 short subject of the same name, starring Melissa Leo and Leïla Bekhti, winning accolades on the festival circuit. Leo, an Oscar-winner for The Fighter, plays the neighbor, and Bekhti, a French actress with Algerian roots, plays the refugee.
“I always wanted to make movies,” Calvani says, sitting for a chat in the garden of the guest cottage of a friend, where he is staying while in Provincetown. “Somehow, life brought me to the theater. Somehow, I forgot I wanted to be a filmmaker.” He was first inspired to create films, he says, when he saw Jane Campion’s The Piano — three times. “It was such a powerful experience,” Calvani says. “I was blown away. I understood what I wanted to do in my life. I wanted to tell stories like that.” Other influences were the films of François Truffaut, especially The 400 Blows; the work of Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, who made A Separation; and the films of Pedro Almodóvar.
“Every movie of his has such a distinctive voice,” Calvani says of Almodóvar. “It’s a statement of freedom of expression.”
Freedom is indeed crucial to Almodóvar, an openly queer filmmaker who came to prominence after the end of Franco’s dictatorship in Spain.
Which brings Calvani to one of the scripts he’s currently working on, an interracial gay male romance set in Provincetown. “The movie is a meditation on racism in the gay community and the decadence of the American dream,” he says. “A five-day love story: two men meet, they fall in love.”
Calvani, who is gay, was inspired to write his first script or play with gay central characters during his Covid summer here. “When I came to Provincetown, I found it terribly cinematic,” he says. “The light is incredible, and there’s a loneliness to the landscape. Plus, it’s 2020: my work is always drenched in what’s politically relevant right now.”
But politics, for Calvani, tends to express itself through the intimate relations of his characters. And the atmosphere of sexual acceptance in Provincetown had an effect on him. “There’s something special about this place,” he says. “I’ve never seen anything like this in Europe. Even though I’ve been openly gay and never in the closet, I’ve always carried a dose of shame. I’m talking about deep-down shame. I wasn’t aware of it, of course. It comes from growing up in a Catholic country, with a Catholic education.”
It turns out that Provincetown, during a pandemic, was the perfect antidote. “It’s the silver lining,” Calvani says. “Because we’re not polluted by music and clubs and the usual reasons. I’ve never felt as much a part of the community. I’ve never felt so joyous for being gay than in these last few months.”
The View From Provincetown
The event: “A Conversation With Marco Calvani,” by the Palette Fund’s Terrence Meck, at the Mary Heaton Vorse House, including a full screening of The View From Up Here
The time/place: Available online on YouTube, as well as on Live From Provincetown’s Facebook page
The cost: Free