Italian director, screenwriter and actress Giada Colagrande has directed a series of deeply intimate and passionate films since the release of her trio of debut short productions, between the late 1990s and the turn-of-the-century: Carnaval, Fetus – 4 brings death, and n.3. The intensely moving dramas set an impressive precedent for the auteur’s transfixing and poignant narrative style, continually offering tenderly heartrending and raw portrayals of life in contemporary Italian society – all through the lens of a sharply talented directorial eye.
Born in Italy’s southern region of Abruzzo, Colagrande studied in various countries around the world – Switzerland, Australia, as well as her native Italy – before moving to Rome at the age of twenty to make video art and documentaries on contemporary art, a decision influenced by her introduction to the work of American video artist Bill Viola in her teenage years. Colagrande’s crucial relocation drew her deeper into the world of art: from 1997 to 2000 she participated in the art project VOLUME, crafting a series of portraits on seven contemporary artists (including arte povera figure Jannis Kounellis and transgressive Italian sculptor Maurizio Savini) during which period she became ‘seduced by the narrative dimension’ before further engaging in filmic storytelling with her inaugural short productions. Soon after, Colagrande released her first directorial feature, Open My Heart (2001), a turbulently complex and strikingly evocative tale of the obsessional love between two sisters whose subversive and intense relationship evokes a labyrinth of ‘taboo’ themes – from incest to prostitution. The low-budget production which was partly funded by Colagrande’s grandmother and shot in only two locations, garnered Colagrande significant attention at international film festivals, including the Prix de l’avenir award at Festival Paris Cinema.
Within a subsequent four-year period, Colagrande directed and wrote her second feature, Before it Had a Name (2005), co-starring alongside her husband, academy award-nominated American actor Willem Dafoe. Colagrande’s slighter larger budget of $450,000 afforded her greater artistic freedom in her portrayal of the experience of a young Italian woman visiting her newly inherited, recently deceased lover’s estate in the New York countryside, with the hope of learning more about her enigmatic ex-paramour before becoming entangled in an affair with the property’s curious caretaker. It took another five years before audiences were presented with the release of her third feature, A Woman (2010), a psychological thriller depicting a young, love-strung woman who travels with her concubine to his home in the South of Italy, a journey which takes an unexpected turn when her obsession with the memories of her lover’s dead wife begin to engulf her -the gripping tale, also starring Willem Dafoe, garnered Colagrande the Controcampo Italiano Prize at the Venice Film Festival.
In 2012, Colagrande departed from her signature filmic depiction of tormented amorous liaisons with the release of a duo of contrasting projects: The Woman Dress, the third instalment of PRADA’s series of ongoing short films, The Miu Miu Women’s Tales, an esoterically impassioned dark tale of a young woman’s experience at the hands of three witches in a gloomy laboratory, where she undergoes the ultimate psychophysical metamorphosis. She also directed the feature-length documentary film, Bob Wilson’s Life & Death of Marina Abramovic, centering on the epic collaboration between performance artist Marina Abramovic, director Robert Wilson, singer and composer Antony Hegarty and performer Willem Dafoe to create a subversively experimental opera performance based on Marina Abramovic’s biography. The film possesses a deeply immersive quality in its incorporation of rehearsal footage and interviews with each of the artists, drawing an illuminatingly intimate portrait of the emotional whirlwind and surge of creative energy that goes into the production of such an ambitious, poetic work.
Colagrande extended her artistic collaboration with Marina Abramovic in her follow-up documentary, The Abramovic Method (2013), a deeply insightful production that explores the artist’s avant-garde, unique approach of intensifying the sense of connection between artist and audience by catalysing a mental and physical transformation for the participants, essentially highlighting the deep power of performative art. The popularity of the film has caused it to assume a meta-identity by facilitating the widespread awareness and practice of the method itself – it is currently on display in a variety of museums worldwide. Colagrande’s latest production, Padre (2016), sees the auteur return to her thriller-esque filmic predilection with the tale of a young girl in deep torment as a result of the death of her father and experiences supernatural contact with him through the medium of music, after which he offers her an invitation of initiation into the alternative dimension in which he resides.
Colagrande’s highly diverse directorial catalogue demonstrates a raw sensitivity and sharp authenticity in each production – from perspicuous documentaries to gloriously love-leaden romantic dramas and haunting thrillers – that pervades her films. Throughout her explorations of the various mediums in the cinematic genre, the auteur’s nuanced portrayals of the intricacies of various human experiences boldly shines through.