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
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
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.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected