RECAP: Seguidilla of the Femminiello

Following on from Friday’s screening of Seguidilla of the Femminiello, we catch up with director, Pafo Gallieri, to learn more about the inspiration behind the film. 

Pafo said: “After watching a few productions of Carmen online, I started to read about the history of the opera and how scholars had interpreted it. In the opening chapter of George Bizet: Carmen by Susan McClary, the linguist Peter Robinson explains the story as a battle between the sexes, in which a woman is the enemy from the start.

“The battle is for the ownership of her body. Robinson describes two ‘exotic anecdotes’ threaded through the story. First is the notion of ‘uncivilised’ incarnated by the gypsy woman, Carmen, living an untamed life, at the fringes of society, amongst violent and superstitious forces. She is a femme fatale that casts her love spell on the otherwise rational and square Don Jose. He is the second element on which the story relies. 

“His values of rationality, order and control make him the living embodiment of the advancements of French civilisation. As noted by McClay, the body of Carmen is set on a perpetual motion; her contagious rhythm draws attention, arousing desire. Her melody, the Habanera, with its ascending and descending scales, seduces and frustrates while it “plays with our expectations not only by lingering but also by reciting in irregular triplets that strain against the beat”.

“The common perception of Carmen is as a feminist. Overall she is fighting for control of her body and championing the female right to pleasure. Personally, I see a tale of gender liberation in this opera, as Judith Butler wrote: “gender is real only to the extent that it is performed”. I see in Carmen a proto ‘gender bender’. She is female in the way that she attracts the male gaze, and male in the way that she objectifies men as tools for her pleasure. This kind of duality inspired me to make a movie about the Neapolitan Femminielli.”

“Choosing this topic is an attempt to promote an inclusive approach towards the depiction of gender politics tout-court. I think that the wild and colored body of Carmen has a lot in common with those that belong to the Neapolitan Femminielli: the unique, Parthenopean, ancient manifestations of the so-called third gender. Both Carmen and the Neapolitan Femminielli are erotic beings that challenge traditional social norms. Carmen lives with gypsies on the mountains while the Neapolitan Femminielli live in little alleyways in the historical neighborhood of Quartieri Spagnoli. They are all characters that live on the outskirts of mainstream society because they want to live their lives authentically and as they choose.”

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