‘There’s Still Tomorrow’ director Paola Cortellesi talks success, toxic relationships and hope

LONDON — Actor Paola Cortellesi has long been a staple on the Italian pop culture scene, mostly known for her work as a comedian. Then she turned to directing and her first feature movie, “There’s Still Tomorrow,” took Italy by storm.

The black-and-white film about an ordinary woman trapped in a toxic marriage in post-World War II Italy opened in October. The low-key drama resonated with women from all walks of life, even overtaking the global hit “Barbie” at the Italian box offices.

After its whirlwind success at home, the movie launched internationally and opens in the United Kingdom on Friday. Cortellesi was in London earlier in the week to promote “C’e’ Ancora Domani,” as the movie is titled in Italian, in which she also stars in the lead role.

With a bright smile contrasting her elegant black suit, white shirt and hoop-like black glasses, Cortellesi, 50, stopped by The Associated Press to chat about her unexpected success.

“Thankfully, the camera is high, so you don’t see my double chin,” she joked as she sat down.

Her signature mix of fun and serious talk soon became apparent as Cortellesi confessed she didn’t have high expectations for the film — monochrome cinematography and old-fashioned storylines are not popular at the box office these days.

But there was something especially captivating in the drama unfolding on the screen between Delia — the main character in “There’s Still Tomorrow,” played by Cortellesi — and that of her husband Ivano, played by Valerio Mastandrea.

“We heard of queues outside the cinema, something that never happens,” Cortellesi said. “My friends started sending me pictures from all over Italy of people queuing. I heard of sold-outs.”

As the revenue numbers soared, Cortellesi’s interactions with the audiences at the end of the screenings brought even more satisfaction.

“They wanted to talk, to tell me a little about the story that had touched them and how this story could be about them,” she said.

The movie’s Delia is physically assaulted by her husband but Cortellesi also brings other kinds of abuse to light — verbal, psychological and financial — and depicts how a victim is often isolated by an abuser as a way of denigrating them further.

Modern audiences have connected with the movie, she said, because the traits of a toxic relationship are recognizably the same nearly 80 years later.

“The dynamics repeat themselves. They are the constants,” she said. “Often women do not report abuse because they are not economically independent, they would not know what to do.”

It is the contemporary parallels of this tragedy that Cortellesi believes made the movie a success. A woman in an abusive relationship could maybe consider running away from this situation, but it’s not easy, especially if she has children.

“We must also understand that it’s very complicated,” Cortellesi says.

She says not only women but men, too, respond to her movie. On the day of its release in Italy, Cortellesi recounts how she was greeting the audience after a later showing and met an older man in the crowd.

“He told me, ‘I’m watching it for the second time.’ So I told him that’s not possible … it just opened today,” she recounted. “He said, ‘I was at the show before, now I’m back. I found a seat and I’m watching it again.’”

Like Delia in the movie, Cortellesi is a mother. One time, as she was reading a children’s book about women’s rights to her 11-year-old, Laura, she recalls her daughter’s reaction.

“She didn’t know that women had practically no rights before and so she asked me incredulously, talking about divorce, talking about abortion, talking about the vote, talking about whatever, she said ‘No, but why? Really?’ and it was wonderful to see her so amazed,” recalls the director.

“We must fight, be aware of our rights and fight to defend them,” Cortellesi added.

In taking her movie around the world, Cortellesi says she is learning how the subject of women’s rights affects people in different countries in different ways — in some places, women have been emancipated longer than in Italy.

Her moment of hope?

Cortellesi said she read about young girls, as they were leaving the movie theater after seeing her film, commenting that they want to “practice freedom.”

“Their own freedom and that of others others,” she said, smiling.

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