Melancholy is pleasant to live with

FRAMES OF REFERENCE Bernice Rubens, the author, talks to the psychotherapist Martin Lloyd Elliott about the film that changed her life

BR: I saw it at the right moment. It didn't change me as much as confirm me. Which I think is just as important. I'd already started writing and making documentary films. My main concern was the inability of people to communicate with each other.

Federico Fellini's La Strada confirmed all that in me and all my fears of not being able to communicate. I'm pretty articulate but I use language as a cover and as a protection against real confrontation. The real confrontation is to do with silence, no t with words, and this film articulated the most beautiful and poignant silence that confirmed in me the longing to talk to someone silently. The feelings are so poignant, so deep, so painfully inexpressible.

MLE: Had your sense of being unable to articulate what you really felt always been there?

BR: No I wasn't even aware of it. I think to myself occasionally why am I talking so much? What am I hiding? Why can't I not say things?

Is this why you love music?

Yes. Music is a much greater turn on to me than words. I would sooner have been a musician than a writer any day. And I think it is the music aspect of La Strada, saying exactly what the characters couldn't say to each other, which was so beautiful. It was a personal confirmation of what I feared was my problem of being too articulate. The kind of articulateness that conceals, that protects, that postpones a real confrontation.

So what was your articulateness protecting?

The inability to be myself and not to show myself. To forgive myself I suppose. Isn't that what growing up is all about, learning to forgive oneself? You know, the guilt one carries.

The guilt for being who one is or for not being good enough?

Being a woman of my age and a Jew, one is a survivor. If you have that sense of survival, you also have the sense of guilt and the inability to forgive oneself for having survived. My great joy is to shut up. I live alone and I think I've done that from choice because I can indulge in my own silences and play the cello.

How does your memory of La Strada connect with guilt?

I saw in him the guilt of how he behaved towards her; there was an area of him which knew it was cruel. He was driven by his own circumstances, and he was probably not even aware of them. Until the very end when he hears that tune and he is absolutely overwhelmed by it, without understanding it, but in his gut he knows it. He's got to die of grief. People do die of broken hearts, whatever they say.

What were your circumstances at the time you saw the film?

They were not pertinent. I am by nature disposed to melancholy. Whether I was married, not married, children, no children, there was this disposition. Whatever happened - I had a good marriage - I saw the blackness of it all the time. That's where I dwelt, and that was the colour of La Strada for me.

This sounds like depression.

No.

You don't see it as the same as melancholy?

No, they are not necessarily connected.

Did your perception of your own melancholic disposition change as a result of seeing melancholy almost celebrated in the film?

It made it valid. It was all right to be like this because Anthony Quinn was, and Giulietta Masina was, and they were stars. So when I say the film confirmed many of my own inadequacies, it also celebrated them.

And made them more acceptable?

Yes. Melancholy is a disposition which is quite pleasant to live with, I find.

How so?

I'm used to it. you can also have moments of great euphoria without being manic.

How does love fit in?

It takes on the same colour I suppose. When I am loving, I am aware always of the losing.

Did you see that in the film?

The girl was disposed to melancholy. But I don't think either of them would have seen loss at the same time as possible joy. He never saw the joy until she had gone. Giulietta operates on a dimension that we don't understand. You could see her face of joy and orgasmic freedom when she was beating that drum. But she was dwelling somewhere else.

Did you relate to that?

Oh yes. But I'm interested in how people operate, especially what I cannot understand.

That was the aspect of La Strada that interested me too. There was a common denominator between Giulietta and Basehart. They could speak through his music and her drumming, which was why the loss was so terrible, and her grief when he died was inconsolable. The film's whole feeling is beyond words.

Yes, It is music.

Were you already passionate about music?

Yes. All my life.

Did you use music to escape from words?

I don't know. I prefer music to words. It's a bigger turn on for me. I would sooner listen to chamber music than read Donne, whom I love. But then I read poems aloud and that's music too.

Was music therefore a way of not protecting yourself, of being vulnerable, of exposing yourself to who you were beyond words?

No. In a way I suppose it is hiding still. It gives me even more opportunity for ambiguity and ambivalence than words do. It wasn't until the end of the filmthat I knew the music was the star, that it was speaking for everybody who hadn't been able to open their mouths on anything that mattered.

Did the film relieve the pressure to articulate your feelings?

Not consciously, but an accumulated impression must in time have had that effect. Every time I see La Strada it is further confirmation of what I saw in it originally. This film said to me, "Bernice, it's not your fault."

I wonder if you would have found this answer elsewhere?

We don't acknowledge things if we can't afford to accommodate them. I think my mind and my body were right for La Strada when I saw it. This film related to my natural disposition. So whenever I see La Strada it tears my heart out.

Does it make you cry?

Inside I cry, yes.

Do you cry for yourself?

No, for possibility of loss. That's what tears are about aren't they?

What about love?

It is the loss of the talent for loving that worries one as one gets older.

And death?

If I'm working on a novel I'm immortal, because God wouldn't have the audacity to take me mid sentence. But when I'm not working I'm death conscious. Which is why I write almost all the time. I'm preparing for death, but I don't want to die so I don't think about it. I want my children to survive me. That's what matters. I'll go in my own good time, mid sentence. And I hope it will be a good one.

Has La Strada ever popped into your head for no apparent reason, and suddenly it all makes sense?

Yes, quite often I think of the scene where they're busking and she has this wide eyed look of such joy when she sees him break out of his chains. Like it's the first time she's seen it and it's magic for her. Then when she hears Richard Basehart play for the first time and she wonders at it. She thinks that she's entered heaven.

And you know that feeling.

Yes, I get it when I hear music.

So really you are a musician who happens to write.

I think I'm a musician who is a bad cellist and a moderately good writer.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
books
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Go figure: Matt Parker, wearing the binary code scarf knitted by his mother
comedy Mathematician is using comedy nights to teach and preach sums
Arts and Entertainment
Ryan Gosling in 'Drive'
filmReview: Ryan Gosling is still there, but it's a very different film
Arts and Entertainment
Urban explorer: Rose Rouse has documented her walks around Harlesden, and the people that she’s encountered along the way
books Rouse's new book discusses her four-year tour of Harlesden
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Franco Zeffirelli's production of 'Aida' at Milan's famed La Scala opera house
operaLegendary opera director in battle with theatre over sale of one of his 'greatest' productions
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Juergen Wolf won the Young Masters Art Prize 2014 with his mixed media painting on wood, 'Untitled'
art
Arts and Entertainment
Iron Man and Captain America in a scene from
filmThe upcoming 'Black Panther' film will feature a solo black male lead, while a female superhero will take centre stage in 'Captain Marvel'
Arts and Entertainment
The Imperial War Museum, pictured, has campaigned to display copyrighted works during the First World War centenary
art
Arts and Entertainment
American Horror Story veteran Sarah Paulson plays conjoined twins Dot and Bette Tattler
tvReview: Yes, it’s depraved for the most part but strangely enough it has heart to it
Arts and Entertainment
The mind behind Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin
books

Will explain back story to fictional kingdom Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Dorothy in Return to Oz

film Unintentionally terrifying children's movies to get you howling (in fear, tears or laughter)
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robert James-Collier as under-butler Thomas

TVLady Edith and Thomas show sad signs of the time
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Dad's Army cast hit the big screen

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge

books
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning?
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

    Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

    Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities