Gianna Nannini: “Never compromise yourself, remain who you are”

Gianna Nannini: “Never compromise yourself, remain who you are”

In 2016 Gianna Nannini, the queen of Italian rock, decided to tell her story in a book. With frankness, with a tough attitude, in an autobiography which right from the title summarizes his attitude and her sincerity in laying herself bare: “My cocks”. That book also ends on the bedside table of an old friend of hers: the director Cinzia TH Torrini, Tuscan like her, artist like her, who was introduced to her as a child by her mother.

Two enterprising mothers from the 70s who introduce their daughters to each other, seeing something they have in common. Half a century later, the bond between the two turns into a certificate of trust. Gianna relies on her friend Cinzia to transform her memories into a biographical film that tells a fragment of his life. The most turbulent one, that of the youthful years, of the psychological confusion and then of the search for one's true identity, human and artistic, away from home.

“Sei nell'anima”, directed by Torrini, reconstructs the youthful years of an icon of Italian music. It tells of Gianna Nannini's escape to Germany, the complicated relationship with the recording industry and the saving one with music. Nannini took an active part in the making of the film, helping the interpreter Letizia Toni to transform into her, especially from a vocal point of view.

How did the idea for the film come about?

The film was born during the COVID period, when Cinzia approached me and told me that she would like to make a film about me. That period was a unique opportunity for her and her team of screenwriters to tackle me, because I am always on the move, often untraceable. Instead, during the pandemic I had to stay at home, I couldn't escape. So every day I took my nice glass of white wine and sat in front of the PC screen and for hours I answered their questions about those years, telling anecdotes. If I didn't remember something, we quickly called Mara Maionchi and she completed my memories of that period.

Was there ever a plan to make a documentary instead of a fiction film?

A documentary film? For this type of story? No, what a drag! Much better to tell it in an interview at this point! No, the film deals with a really complicated period of my life and I think it works better that way.

Our hope, mine and Cinzia's, is that it is a story that can be appreciated even in distant countries, where perhaps they don't even know me, but where even today there are young people who face similar difficulties.

You and Cinzia have known each other for many years, right? Trusting her with your film must have been reassuring.

Yes, we dated a lot in our youth, we've known each other our whole lives. I remember that in 1983 Cinzia and I met often, because she was studying at the Munich Academy. She has helped me on a couple of difficult occasions.

This was the time when I suffered from asthma and was given a lot of medicine to treat it, but I kept having attacks. At a certain point I went to see this show by Pina Bausch in Munich and I had a very strong asthma attack. Nobody did anything, nobody called an ambulance. It was Cinzia who found me. I was purple, on the floor. She took me to the hospital.

What is very striking about the film is the absence of reticence, the sincerity with which you tell everything: the loves, the drugs, the psychotic crises…

I didn't want to be self-referential, I wanted to communicate with others. I believe that around the age of 30 we all, more or less, face a crisis. In my book “Cazzi mie” I had already done this opening exercise, I had understood how to tell many passages of my experience with sincerity.

The film talks about your fears as a young person, the fear of madness. Do you always feel that fear?

No. As a young man I finished high school a year early and convinced my father to send me to Bologna, then I moved to Milan, commuting to Pisa. I decided to attend psychiatry courses and I was very struck by a lesson in which the teacher brought a patient into the classroom, pointed her out and told us: “this is hysterical”. I took notes but I was in front of this patient and I felt so mortified… From that experience I wrote a song, “Maria Paola”. I was talking about this woman excluded from society, locked up in a psychiatric hospital, who at the end of the lesson looks at us and says: “but you're not writing that I'm crazy, eh?”

Later, with Antonietta Bernardoni, in Modena, I took courses and interacted with patients and doctors. It was the period of Basaglia, of anti-psychiatry. It was easy to see a little of yourself in what you treated in patients. It was a topic that I was passionate about but worried me enormously, because the more I studied, the more I saw that reality and the more I realized that when you have problems of this type, you are prey. Anyone can hurt you, take advantage of you. Madness allows others to control you.

In the film we see a very difficult personal moment recounted. Even today, many artists, like you then, suffer the psychological pressure of a suffocating recording and media world, so much so that they take breaks and make public announcements in this regard. But then nothing has changed?

I had a really bad time with the obsession with the record company's hit. How do you ask an artist to artificially create a hit song? A hit, in itself, is a miracle, it's something beautiful that happens without planning, right? Instead it was continuous: make a hit, come up with a hit, a hit, a hit… that pressure ate me inside. A very dark period began, but then I managed to get out of it and find the answers within myself. After that everything became brighter, easier. And finally, when I was no longer under pressure, the hits came one after the other.

In “You Are in the Soul” your character has a mantra, the phrase “Never compromise yourself, remain who you are”.

It's a phrase by Janis Joplin that I feel close to me and I use so often that I now consider it mine. When I arrived in Milan I didn't even know who Janis Joplin was. They told me I looked like her, so I went looking around in a record shop and bought some of her records. I also purchased her biography in English, even though I actually understood little of the language. However, it was enough for me to understand what united us: our coming from the province, our humble origins, our relationship with our parents and our relationship with music, which helps fight one's insecurities.

What was it like seeing your story told in the film?

I had already seen some clips of the film but when I saw myself again last night, on the big screen, I must say that I felt a very strong emotion.

It's complicated for me and my family to see each other again. My father couldn't see it all, the 1983 part was too strong for him. I can't imagine what it's like for Letizia to see each other again, knowing that people will make comparisons.

When you saw yourself played by Letizia Toni, what did you think? Did you find yourself there?

For a long time I thought that the film wouldn't be made, because they would never be able to find someone capable of playing me as I was at that age. The first findings seemed to prove me right, I saw mostly caricatures of myself at the time. Cinzia auditioned two thousand girls. Only when she found Letizia did she come to me, in person, to show her to me. She and management were close to a final decision, but they wanted to know what I thought.

I think I saw her play me for the first time in a film clip set in Germany. I looked at those images together with my daughter. When I saw her playing me I had shivers, I instantly understood that she was the right one, I was moved. My daughter also became animated, she saw a resemblance. I immediately said to Cinzia: “for me she is the right one”. She took photos of me, she wanted to capture my reaction.

Have you come into contact with Letizia? Did she ask you for advice?

Yes, we spoke, especially to focus on the singing part. She sang everything apart from the live audio, like the one at Festivalbar. From the beginning she sang well, then she was followed by a teacher. When she was well advanced, we met in Germany and I helped her refine the timbre of her voice, that hoarse tone of hers.

In the film at a certain point your character says that happiness is a glass of wine, a piano and a motorbike in the garden. Does it correspond to the truth? What relationship do you have with two wheels today?

The motorcycle is finally in the garage today. At 16 I had my dad buy me a motorbike that I could ride. I looked forward to reaching the age necessary to be able to do so. Nowadays I use it less, but I still have that bike, my first bike, in the garage, every now and then I clean it, fix it, bring it back to its original state.

“You Are in the Soul” will be available on Netflix on May 2, 2024.

photo: Netflix