Some autobiographical notes…
In my previous blog, entitled A New Thing, I stated that in each of my films there are some autobiographical elements present, some “pieces of my life”. This is the extent of the direct influence that my personal experience has on my artistic work, but I never, until now, wrote autobiographical notes, this is a new thing for me and this is why I probably decided to write a blog entitled THE LAST that will contain a lot of autobiographical elements.
People often write about situations or fields where they are better than everybody else, where they are first. This is normal and fair, of course, but sometimes it could be very helpful in understanding the reality of eventual merit if we bring our memory back to many situations where we were worst than everybody else, to situations where we were the last ones.
The Last One (Gli Ultimi) is the title of a very beautiful Italian film made in 1962. This film’s screenplay was written by Padre David Maria Turoldo who also directed the film and who was my friend and one of my early mentors. The film depicts the situation, between 1930 and 1950, of the very poor rural community of Friuli, the part of Italy where Turoldo and I were born.
There is a lot in this amazing film and we should remember that when it was screened in Udine in 1962 many viewers felt very offended; it happened because they didn’t want to be identified with the “last ones” described in the film. Of course they misunderstood the film; the reality of Friuli in 1962 was incredibly better than in the 1930s, and the film was clearly giving merit to the people of Friuli for the progress they achieved.
When I watched the film I didn’t feel offended; to the contrary, I was proud of the progress that Friulians made in those years.
I believe that, if and when evaluating the facts of our life, we should not be afraid to recognize that in many situations we were the last ones, we should instead be very grateful and proud if from the last place we progressed to better situations.
In this blog, I will make a list of the several situations where I was the last and how I reacted to every one of them. Here is the First Chapter:
The Last of Three Children
I was born last of three children. I can say, about the relationship with my family, that I’m proud of few things: of my daughter, of having been close, on a daily basis (by phone only because I was in another country), to my sister Ugolina in her last few months of life, and of what I did for my father and my mother when my father came back from Brazil after never seen or heard from him in 33 years.
These were my parents and this was their love story.
When I was six months old, my father separated from my mother and left Italy for Brazil.
It was 1947 and the war had just ended, fascism had fallen and, for my father, all this was not easy.
It happened in 1946. My mother already had my sister Ugolina and my brother Roberto; with a son and a daughter, in those very troubled times, she was not looking to have other kids.
One day, my mother was walking in the city and had her palm “read” by a Gipsy lady. The Gipsy lady told her that she would have had one more kid. My mother was very surprised and, maybe, not really happy but the lady told her not to complain because she will have a son and that son would have been her fortune.
My father, the doctor Ugo Pischiutta, was the brother of Pio Pischiutta. Pio had been the first fascist martyr in Italy who died in 1921 at seventeen years of age. It is still not clear if he was killed by the antifascists or if he died in combat killed by friendly fire. One street in Udine, the city of the Pischiutta family and where I was born, was dedicated to Pio Pischiutta.
My father was younger than Pio and logically he venerated his brother and was active in the fascist party. With the fall of fascism my father lost the very good job he had and his social position.
This is when my father left for Brazil. I was six months old; the family he left behind was composed of my mother, my mother’s parents, my grandmother’s sister, my brother, my sister and me. My mother was alone with three old people and three children to support, on a small teacher’s salary.
I saw my father again when I was four: he returned from Brazil with a beautiful young woman, an elegant car and lots of money.
He asked to meet his three children (my brother Roberto was eight and my sister Ugolina was ten).
We met at my aunt’s house, my father’s sister.
What I remember about the meeting was that my father was a beautiful man and he was dressed very elegantly.
These were his words during the meeting: “I called you to ask if you prefer to live a brilliant life with your father or a miserable life with your mother.”
It was 1951 and we were really poor: I wore clothes and shoes previously used by my brother, and food was rationed and we had to do everything on a tight budget. Nevertheless, we loved our mother and our response was that we preferred to live with her the life that was possible for us.
For many years that followed, we never heard or received any letters from my father. Many stories were told to me by different people, some probably true others probably false. My life continued, and my career in cinema and theatre developed.
In 1980 I was in Friuli, in Northern Italy, and I was shooting the movie The Comoedia, the most important film of my career up to that moment.
Anyone who knows about making movies, knows that making an international film – shot in North Italy and in New York – as a director and producer is not easy. Every minute of the day I was surrounded by actors and technical people. I didn’t have a minute for myself during the shoot.
At noon, one day, I was in my office with several other people: the secretary told me that there was a phone call for me, something very personal. I took the call but I was bothered because I was in the midst of many other things. A woman’s voice from the other end of the line told me: “I am a social worker and I have an old man here, a gentleman, a man who had a lot in his life but now he has nothing. When he arrived, he was wearing a very elegant blue coat… of many years ago.
This man is your father, he is here with us, in Friuli, and he wants to get together with his wife. It has no other interests; if his wife doesn’t want to reunite with him, he’s determined to kill himself. What should I do?”
This is the phone call I received during filming.
I replied that my mother was quiet now and that my father never wrote a letter in the last 33 years. I also told her that I heard many stories about my father and that I don’t know him. Before organizing a meeting with my mother I had to be sure who my father really was. I told her to give me a few days and I promised that I would call her with my decision.
I do not deny that the call had shocked me. First, I asked all the people who were in the office to go out for a while. Then, I called my brother and my sister. I informed them of the call. My brother said that he had no interest in meeting my father, my sister told me to keep her informed and that, if funds were needed to help our father she, like me, was willing to pay.
Considering all the things I had heard about my father, some not so beautiful and reassuring, before deciding to have him meet my mother I thought I needed to know more about him. So, I did what I had never done: I contacted the only detective agency in town and asked for a report on everything my father had done in the last 33 years. the Agency asked me three days to produce a report. Three days later, they told me that they know very little: they found out that when he was a military man in Italy he spent a night in prison because he returned late back at the barracks. They also informed me of the business he had in Brazil: he had owned a big restaurant where all the Italians were eating for free and a very large extension of land that would have required huge capital to develop anything on it. Aside from that, the detectives told me that it was against Italian law to investigate someone’s criminal past in another country.
So, to make it short, I called the social worker back and told her I was ready to meet my father in a coffee shop in the city. The appointment was fixed; I went to the appointment with my wife Olga.
It was two in the afternoon, the coffee place was very large and there were about 100 patrons inside. I arrived 15 minutes ahead of time. I sat at a table in front of the entrance door.
When I last met my father I was four years old; now, I was 33 and I didn’t know if I was going to recognize him. I looked with interest at every old man who came in. After a few minutes, my father arrived wearing his blue coat. Nice coat but definitely old. He was carrying a walking stick and it was evident that he had glaucoma. I approached him and asked if he was Ugo? He replied ‘Yes, I am your father, where is Lina?’.
Lina was the name of my mother. Before bringing him to her, I wanted to talk to him and be sure that he wouldn’t represent problems for my mother. So we sat down for a coffee and I introduced him to my wife. We talked for a while without telling each other any important things. I saw that he was a true gentleman and I was impressed by his sense of humour. I decided to let him meet my mother and brought my car to the coffee shop’s door. My mother was at home, about 20 km away. At some point on our journey, my father asked me to stop the car; we were in front of a barber’s shop. My father told me that when a gentleman goes to meet a lady, he first shaves. So my wife and I waited outside the barber’s shop and then we took him to meet my mother. They met for the first time in 29 years. We left them alone to talk to each other. I was pleased to see that my mother was happy and that, for my father, everything was very normal and clear.
Meanwhile, my production manager and some actors came by my house because, as I said before, all this happened while I was in the middle of production with my film The Comoedia. I told everyone the story and they were all happy. We opened a bottle of sparkling wine and raised a toast to the “newlyweds”.
Here are my parents, together again at home in Italy:
And this is how my father and mother came back together and kept each other company for the last few years until his death.
My father suffered from emphysema and, close to the end of his life, I took him to the hospital. He used to drink a bottle of wine every day with my mother while playing cards. Like me, he smoked a lot and, as a young man, he also was a swimmer. I remember the day after a severe emphysema crisis I went to see him at the hospital. When I arrived he told me to close the door and, from under the mattress, he took out a pack of cigarettes and lit one, in the hospital! That was my father; my production manager, Giorgio Murru, who had become his friend during the film, called him the Mega President.
For three years, we were together and I often visited my father and mother. In the meantime, my mother had prepared all the necessary documents for my father’s pension and had completely solved her financial situation. So they lived quietly and kept each other company.
My life and my career went on: my film The Comoedia had been a great success and came in third at the New York Film Festival among 3,800 other films. The time had come for me to emigrate to America.
I remember my father’s reaction very well when I told him I would leave: “I can’t tell you to stay. When I, years ago, decided to leave, I left. If now is your time, I can only give you my best wishes”.
This is when I left and went to Canada. I kept in touch with my parents; we were on the phone once a week. Three years later, my father died a victim to his last emphysema crisis. My mother, Dr. Prof. Lina Maria Gardi, died much later in 2002. After my father’s death I stayed in touch with my mother until the very end. My father had been dead for two years when my mother called me very angrily one day because she found a big bouquet of red roses on my father’s grave. She was jealous. These were my parents and this was their love story.
1. My film The Comoedia on Amazon: HERE
2. My film Untimo Incontro A Venezia on Amazon: HERE
3. Documentary Bruno Pischiutta, Film Director on Amazon: HERE
4. More info about my past and upcoming films: HERE