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Emanuele Crialese on His Autobiographical Coming-of-age Trans Film, L'immensità

Emanuele Crialese on His Autobiographical Coming-of-age Trans Film, L'immensità

Director Emanuele Crialese directing his film film L'immensità

The acclaimed director discusses why he decided to make this personal film now and what he hopes viewers learn from the story he tells.


At the Venice Film Festival this summer, Italian director Emanuele Crialese made headlines. However, many of those articles weren’t about his latest film, L’immensità, starring Oscar-winner Penélope Cruz, but about him and his identity.

Speaking to reporters in early September in Venice, the acclaimed director told reporters that the film was influenced by his own experiences growing up, explaining that he was assigned female at birth.

“I was born biologically a woman, but that does not mean that I don’t have in me a huge part [that’s] female character. That is probably the best part of me,” said Crialese, 57. “At a certain point, I had to make a choice ... of whether to live or to die. You don’t choose to make that sort of journey. You are born that way.”

And while media outlets claimed it was the first time he came out, Crialese told The Advocate ahead of the film’s Sundance showing that he’s been out since his early 20s. He said he wasn’t really thinking about explaining himself at the time because he was focused on discussing L’immensità. He even took to Instagram to explain he'd been out.

“This was not my ‘Hello, I want all your attention … I am now publicly saying that I am living as a trans [man],’” Crialese said. He said he made his first public statement about being a trans man decades ago when he was 24 on Italian public media.

His saving grace was film, he said. He left Italy after coming out and entered New York University. His friends, his girlfriends, and his fellow students knew he was transgender.

“I do feel that it's still intimate for me to be able to talk about it,” Crialese, who previously directed the award-winning film Respiro, said.

L’immensità is a raw look at family: the good, the bad, and the in-betweens. It’s set in 1970s Rome in a pretty well-off family. Cruz plays the mother of three children and the wife of a philandering, abusive man. Her oldest is Adri — who says his name is Andrea, a masculine Italian name, but who is still called Adriana by his family. Adri comes into his identity throughout the film. Longing to be recognized as his true self, he doesn’t find that support in his family. He finds support (and love) in a local girl named Sara. She’s Roma, part of a marginalized ethnic group that’s derogatorily called gypsies. Not knowing the words to describe himself, Adri says he’s from outer space. He’s an alien.

Crialese centers L’immensità on looking at family through a child’s eyes. In this case, it’s a trans child’s eyes. It’s that common experience of childhood that Crialese ties the film on to.

“We’ve all been living all that experience of being kids in a house with adults, mother or father or relevant adult,” Crialese explained.

In that house, he said, everyone knew there were rules that were to be followed. In the house, the masters are those adults. They dictate the children’s lives.

“The look [a child gives their parent] is a look of many, many things,” according to Crialese. “It’s a look of wonder, is the look of ‘she’s my hero, she’s my dear.’”

But the parent also punishes, he said: They can be anything.

Making the film, Crialese had to go back to those moments when people didn’t understand him. Previously, he said that L’immensità was always going to be his “next” film. But he found himself ready. He told The Advocate that after each previous film he’d say “maybe I’m ready,” but then another story came along, another film was made. It may have taken until now to be made, but Crialese shared that all of his films have focused on similar topics.

For this film, Crialese said he didn’t want to be redundant. It was the need to innovate with his own story that was challenging.

“That part was the part that scared me the most,” he said. “But I needed to face it, and I thought, If not now, when, and if not me, who?

In doing so, though, he had to separate himself from himself in a way.

“The first rule that I give to myself, which was really a masochistic rule, was detach yourself from the painful memory,” Crialese explained. “Recall that, but try to use metaphorical images, metaphorical scenes [to] transcend reality, which is something that I do quite naturally. When I’m making other films, I try to transcend the reality because reality is a little bit too boring for me.”

He didn’t want L’immensità to be a “too dramatic drama or too comedic comedy.”

“My main hope is that all the kids in us could kind of reconnect with that particular moment of our life, where we were kind of powerless, but full of superpowers, which are our imaginations, our fantasies.”

Luanna Giuliani as Adri and Penelope as his mother sitting on some steps. Adri is eating an ice cream while his mother smokes a cigarette.

Part of the process was also finding the perfect Adri. Instead of finding a trans boy to play him, Crialese chose a girl, Luanna Giuliani, who played sports that some would call masculine. The reason? He said he knows what it’s like to be going through processing your gender when you’re trans and young. He didn’t want to add more complexity by including the reality-twisting turn of being in a film and being a different person on-screen.

“It was respecting the freedom of a young kid to be whomever he wants to be,” Crialese said. “The worst time being me [was] from 11 to 18, 19. That was the time of pain, that was the time where you really don’t have a clue [about who you are]. Of course, I’m talking about myself as a kid of the ’70s.”

He continued, “I couldn’t simply cast a transgender kid … without asking myself every night, How would they cope with the after-screening with the image that I’m projecting to the world of him?”

For L’immensità, his creative legacy, Crialese wants to be remembered for his work as a person, invoking a 1984 Village Voice interview with James Baldwin.

“On this, I wish to live in a world where the most important thing to get for us and to really ask to the other is what kind of human being you are,” Crialese said.

He wondered if when kids talk about gender and talk about expressing it, maybe they’re trying to ask us, What is it being a human being?

“I kind of know, I kind of know what kind of human being I want people I hang out with to be and me [to be],” he said. “That’s a big question that I have for myself.”

Distributor Music Box Films is looking to release the film in May 2023. Along with Cruz and Giuliani, Vincenzo Amato, Patrizio Francioni, and Maria Chiara Goretti star in the film.

Watch the trailer for L’immensità below.

L'Immensità - Official Trailer

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