The prominent Italian cinema director Daniele Lucchetti has produced Codice Carla (The Carla Code), a documentary on Carla Fracci which will be shown in Italian cinemas from tomorrow, 13 November 2023, before passing to streaming services and eventually television. The international version will be distributed next year.
This is not a documentary that follows her life in sequence, but it looks at aspects of all performers' lives as illustrated and explained by hers.
Codice Carla is not a film “about” Carla Fracci, but it was the tale of the connections that formed her character that stimulated my curiosity. The questions I asked myself while going through her biography and repertoire made me want to construct a ‘prismatic portrait' that concerns her and her career, but also of other artists who through their bodies make art.
[Disclosure: Carlo Orlandi and I are the Historical Advisors on the film.]
The film is divided into chapters, rather like a handbook for performers.
Just as different dancers execute the same steps but create their own particular interpretation, jazz trumpeter Enrico Rava talks about improvisation around notes. There are many interesting observations from Alessandra Ferri – in one section she talks about how physical pain disappears during a performance – who is dancing in her sixties as Fracci did. Marina Abramović talks about – well, what else? – ‘performance'. Jeremy Irons, who admired Fracci greatly, explains how gestures can arrive instinctively during a performance making each one unique, and how Fracci possessed the special capability to communicate with the spectators furthest away.
Carolyn Carlson – another great admirer, who created works for Fracci – even gives a mini-performance as she talks about losing yourself while dancing. There are contributions from ballet dancers Roberto Bolle, Eleonora Abbagnato, and Gaia Straccamore, but also Chiara Bersani from the world of experimental theatre and contemporary dance, who has the brittle bone condition osteogenesis imperfecta (she is just short of a metre in height), who explains, and shows, that there are other ways of seeing beauty. Here Lucchetti's editing and use of music is eye-opening as the camera moves from her slowly moving body to music from Swan Lake, before dissolving to Fracci and Jacques d'Amboise in the ballet.
Fracci's son, Francesco Menegatti has a rational, analytic way of talking about his mother and how he had to share her with the world. It is Francesco who mentions the ‘code'. Luisa Graziadei who was taken on by the family when she was 18 to look after Francesco, and never left, describes how the young Francesco was taken to Australia where he attended school, and was already in New York as a baby when Fracci was a regular with American Ballet Theatre – she was determined to have him as close to her as her performing schedule would allow. Most touching of all is Fracci's husband, the director (“and type of manager” says Francesco) who was interviewed for the film just a few months after her death in 2021. He still tiptoes around the house in the morning, afraid to wake her up… and the wardrobes are full of her ‘Fracci-white' clothes. A sequence of death scenes to Thom Yorke's electronic soundscape throws a big emotional punch. Yorke is the film's music advisor and editor, and his soundtrack playing under well-known clips with Fracci throws them under a new light, highlighting the expressiveness of Carla Fracci the actress.
This is a film dedicated to those who tell stories with their bodies. Or to those who like to sit in the half-light of a theatre or cinema to be overwhelmed by the courage and generosity of actors, dancers, artists in every capacity, to the rhythm of music, words, and colour.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.