Leonardo Guerra Seragnoli on Adapting Alberto Moravia’s ‘The Time of Indifference’

In “The Time of Indifference,” Italian filmmaker Leonardo Guerra Seràgnoli adapts the 1929 novel by renowned author Alberto Moravia about a once wealthy family in decline but unable to give up the pretenses of appearance.

Transposed to modern-day Rome, the film retains the novel’s timeless story of a hapless widow whose devious and manipulative lover comes between her and her two increasingly wary children.

For Seràgnoli, the film was a return to the work of a writer he first read in high school. “I think since then Moravia has been with me throughout my life.”

Indeed, in his first film, “Last Summer,” Seràgnoli borrowed elements of Moravia’s 1945 novel “Agostino,” about a 13-year-old boy spending the summer at a seaside resort with his beautiful widowed mother. The film caught the attention of Carmen Llera, the late author’s wife. “She really loved my first film. She contacted me and said, ‘I would love to meet you.’”

The two became friends and during a conversation about Moravia and his work, Llera asked him what he would adapt today if he could. “Instinctively I said ‘Gli Indifferenti’ — ‘The Time of Indifference.’ Why? Because I think ‘Time of Indifference’ is still very contemporary. Plus, I fine that it depicts very well Italy in the way we have not evolved.”

Seràgnoli was excited about the idea of pushing the story forward some 90 years, transposing it to contemporary Italy, “and see what it carries with it and in what ways it has changed, how it can change. This was all purely an intellectual conversation that we had. And she said, ‘Why don’t you do it.’”

Seràgnoli’s familiarity with Moravia facilitated the endeavor. “Because the author has been adapted by so many masters of cinema, I felt a little bit of pressure, but at the same time I did feel that he was more of a companion, someone I always had on my side, so I always felt I could have a dialogue with him.”

The novel’s archetypical elements and the story’s sense of imminent calamity made it ideal for a modern re-telling, Seràgnoli explains. He notes that “the sense of being at the edge of a precipice, at the edge of something that is collapsing,” is very contemporary. “You don’t know exactly when it’s coming or how it’s coming, but you’re dancing on the edge. This feeling is very contemporary.

“The pandemic is another example. We thought we knew everything about medicine and science, but suddenly the world is back to being closed up in a house in panic.”

Seràgnoli notes that Moravia wrote the novel at the time of Mussolini when Italy was in the grip of fascism. “I felt that Italy was going in a circle. Not only in Italy but also in Europe there are extreme right movements. There is Trump, and personally I think Trump is a precipice. These things are happening. And this family is there looking inward and trying to save the day at any cost. This was present in the time of the novel and it’s still present now. I found it very interesting that it hasn’t changed much and that for me was the critical element.”

In casting his film, Seràgnoli initially thought of Valeria Bruni Tedeschi for the role of the troubled matron Mariagrazia, but thought he might be typecasting her in the role. “But in the end, no, no, she really embodies this character perfectly.”

The cast also includes Edoardo Pesce (“Dogman”) as Mariagrazia’s lover, Leo; Beatrice Grannò and Vincenzo Crea (“Children of the Night”) as her children, Carla and Michele; and Giovanna Mezzogiorno (“Vincere”) as Lisa, a family friend.

“Edoardo Pesce is an actor that I really love. I think he’s one of the boldest and strongest actors we have in Italy today.”

Seràgnoli knew Crea personally and thought he would be ideal for the part of the pampered son, while Grannò was the only actor he saw in a casting for the pivotal role of the daughter.

Finding the right cast was key in making a group of characters with few redeeming qualities not only palatable but also likeable, something the film achieves. “These actors were very courageous because they had to portray negative characters with all their ugliness. The line was very thin.”

The film also captures the irony and subtle humor inherent in the absurdity of characters desperately clinging to the unsustainable opulence that has defined their lives.

“As a viewer, it’s a little voyeuristic, it’s slightly morbid, slightly incestuous — you don’t know what they’re going to do next, so you want to know more.”

“The Time of Indifference” is produced by Indiana Production, Vision Distribution and Nightswim.

Seràgnoli is continuing his exploration of parent-child relationships on his next project, an intimate science fiction story about a father and son.

“It’s on the topic of fatherhood, sort of a response to motherhood, [the topic] of my first film, ‘Last Summer,’ but set in the near future. It’s an original story that I’m writing. It’s sort of based on the transhumanist movement.”

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