So many films have come out of the Cannes Film Festival and that makes us all the happier. In 2020, Italian filmmaker Pietro Marcello delighted audiences and critics with his award-winning works Martin Eden. He will definitely do the same Scarlet fever, a powerful and often ethereal tale that made its world premiere as the opening film of the Directors’ Fortune 2022 in Cannes. His moving new work will be released at New York Films at Lincoln Center and the IFC Center on Friday, June 9, and will be showing in other major cities across the country in June and July.
Much like Johnny Depp’s new Cannes film wowed audiences this year, Scarlet fever caused a stir last year. It stars Raphaël Thiéry, Louis Garrel and newcomer Juliette Jouan. The story revolves around World War I veteran Raphaël (Thiéry) who returns from the front to find himself a widower and the father of a young daughter. He is raising the child Juliette (Jouan) in Normandy, but her loneliness seems to be all-encompassing. Juliette loves to sing and hopes for greater possibilities in her life. That hope may come in the form of a witch promising, “One day scarlet sails will drive them from their village.” How lovely that sounds.
It’s one of the many memorable plot points in Scarlet fever. The director opened up about the film in this exclusive MovieWeb interview.
An all around enchanting story
To understand the depth and richness Scarlet fever, You have to know more about director Pietro Marcello. A rare talent with exceptional cinematic realization, Scarlet fever is a passionate period fable based on a cherished 1923 novella. scarlet sails, by the Russian writer Alexander Grin.
“The real starting point – the main trigger – was the book itself,” explained Marcello. “I was very drawn to the parenting thing. Having a daughter, I immediately thought of the male character and his relationship with the daughter. But in relation to this particular moment in my life, I was in France for family reasons and it was at the very beginning of the pandemic. I was there for my daughter and I read this book that the French producer gave me to read. It was always a very personal film for me.”
The director’s strong emotional connection to the story is noteworthy. Scarlet fever is as sublime as it is fascinating. It’s also very different from the other films Marcello has done. “It’s primarily a film about caring for others,” he remarked.
A notable plot point is young Juliette’s encounter with a witch in the forest. This gives her hope for a different future. Can she really leave her village? Suddenly, a confident young pilot (Louis Garrel) literally falls out of the sky. Of course, Juliette never stops believing in the witch’s prophecy. The audience experiences a 20-year journey with Juliette and the story is rich in music, fantasy, history and folklore.
Pietro Marcello says Scarlet is a female film
When asked if his film is “feminist,” Marcello said he actually prefers to think of it as a “feminist film.” Much like most of his previous films have been masculine, here the director swings the creative pendulum the other way. Some might see it as an anti-patriarchal film, but at its core it is a magical-realistic drama.
“It was the first time for me to work in another country. Although France is culturally very different from Italy, it’s still very different,” noted Marcello. “I met with many different actresses in casting the role, but I finally found Juliette through an open call where I saw more than 1,000 actresses. Finding the right person was very important to me because every actor has their own specific take on life in the world.”
Not surprisingly, given the director’s vision and professional accomplishments, he admitted that the outing “revealed the competitive aspect of me, even though I’m not a particularly competitive person.” That determination shines through and through Scarlet fever.
It might have been daunting as far as the effective execution of Alexander Grin’s extraordinary book went, but Marcello was up to the challenge. He explained:
You know, it’s interesting to take a novel and make it modern. The novel tells a story that takes place in a very specific historical period of our film. We adjusted this to make it more modern. I am sure that in America, as in Italy, when one is better informed one brings a sense of care to the story.
“It’s a universal story,” Marcello added, “one that could have been told in both the United States and Italy.” It’s about the kind of archetypes that are common in other stories. I’m really interested in the essence of a film. That’s what I wanted to create here.”
Scarlet fever, presented by Kino Lorber, opens Friday, June 9 at Lincoln Center and IFC Center in New York City. It will expand to other major cities across the country in June and July.