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Do you think you and I are saints? An Interview with Cristiana Dell’Anna: Gomorrah Season 2

Written for Film and TV Now Aug 2016 (Available here)

With Gomorrah’s second season finally upon us, and with the Savastano clan in disrepair, the criminal empire of Naples is changing hands and making way for new faces. We will come to know fringe characters in more depth and be introduced to the relatives and relations of those we are acquainted with already.

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Expanding the universe of this Neapolitan underworld, the second series has many more female characters central to the story but don’t expect it too be any softer. “Women are portrayed just like men: brutally ruthless!” explains Cristiana Dell’Anna, one of the newer cast members who I was able to ask a few questions recently, about this series and the morally complicated character she plays in the show.

There were few female characters introduced in the first series and though most were voiceless trophies of their criminal partners, one of the most interesting breaks from stereotype was Lady Imma, the wife of Don Pietro Savastano. As captured in a decadent family oil painting, she stood beside her husband and supported him in his reign, but once imprisoned it was Genny – their spoilt and somewhat naive son – that was going to take over the clan. This was when Lady Imma started playing the game, a pretender to the throne herself she began to give orders as though from Pietro, preventing a takeover by Ciro and toughening up her son so that he was ready to fill the role of his father.

At the end of season 1 Lady Imma was killed, her death ordered by Ciro ‘The Immortal’ – whom she had always been suspicious of. Call it women’s intuition. This left a void of powerful female characters in Gomorrah, one that would soon be filled, and many times over.

When Don Salvator Conte returns to his hometown, the remaining members of the Savastano clan, the survivors, come together to form a mutually beneficial democracy: The Alliance. One such member is Scianel, sister of Zecchinetta who was the first to be killed by the alley kids, in what would be a rise of reactionary chaos. No stranger to this game, Scianel is hardened, an intimidating presence who seems to be permanently repressing rage. We will come to know Scianel through visits to her son in prison, with a reluctant daughter-in-law that she practically holds captive in a neighbouring room, as well as her frequent visits to a clothing store.

It is here that we first meet Patrizia. A clerk and personal shopper for Scianel who knows to be respectful and stay in favour. As it turns out she has her own ties to the underground – “Patrizia happens to be born in the wrong family. She is the niece of Don Pietro’s right hand, Malammore, who recruits her to work for the Savastano clan, giving her no choice” Cristiana explains. Patrizia is perhaps the closest we have to an audience surrogate, she has a life independent of the crime syndicate and she is reluctant when her uncle finds her a job as the eyes and ears for Don Pietro. As with most, money holds some allure but Patrizia’s motivation seems a little more unclear, perhaps through her connections she knows that there is no point fighting, that her fate has been decided.

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Gomorrah has a whiplash inducing pace, jumping forward through time characters will change suddenly, their loyalties will shift along with their manner and demeanour. In the case of Patrizia, we are able to see a more gradual change as the dark side of the city will get it’s hooks in her and reveal what she is capable of. Cristiana continues, “She is brave and very intelligent, and will soon find out she has the skills to become a dangerous criminal, capable of scheming and ready to betray her own blood.”

One of the shows defining features is its relentless brutality. No-one is safe from the horrors of mindless violence and no time is spared to mourn. There is a moral dividing line that separates those involved from those on the outside, but this line is blurred in the case of Patrizia. I asked Cristiana if it is difficult to get into the mind of someone morally questionable – “Do you think you and I are saints? would you say you are unquestionably good? Or am I? All the time, unconditionally? Of course not!” Explaining that her process is intimately personal, and delicate, it is this grounding of the darkness in all of us that seems to come out in the complex inner-workings of Patrizia. The religious comparison is fitting, considering the ubiquity of Christianity in Naples and the hypocrisy that it is constantly highlighting.

The gritty unforgiving world of Gomorrah is based in reality, adapted from the expose of the same name and written for the screen by its author Robert Saviano. It was this renowned book that Cristiana returned to for her research but also the memories and stories that she would hear about crime in Naples when she was younger. But it still goes on today and Saviano has spent years since the books release under protection. It is this pervasive element of the crime syndicate in Naples that is captured so well in Gomorrah, the threat is so inescapable and unpredictable that the tension never lets up.

Cristiana acknowledges that the story is the most important part of the show and that the characters are servants to the narration. “The real protagonist in both seasons is ‘the system’. The cruelty of the system, how spread around the world it is. How unaware of this power we all are.” Asked about the future of Patrizia, Cristiana references this cruel and volatile system “I will be there. But you know, I could be shot in the first episode… who knows!”

The first and second season of Gomorrah are available on Blu-Ray and DVD now and plans for the third and fourth seasons have already been set in motion.

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Birth Experiences

Written for NCT’s The Stork July 2015

After finding out we were having a baby 6 months into the pregnancy, we put together a birthing plan and read everything we could to prevent any more surprises – all the good that did…

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I say ‘we’. Nicole did all the hard work. I was there to offer love and support, to be a calming presence. So when she awoke one night feeling nauseous and the midwife advised over the phone to get some sleep, I led by example whilst she lay restless. Some brownie points lost there.

A week had passed since our due date so the bags were ready by the door and we had ourselves a plan. Once I was awake and making myself useful it became a matter of waiting it out. Warned that many people rush in too early and find themselves waiting at the hospital for hours– we thought it best to wait it in the comfort of home.

Nicole powered through and I stood idly by for near 6 hours before the contractions became more regular and intense. Arriving at the hospital we crossed the path of a new family who looked to us with a knowing smile.

We were in Triage at 6am, the few nurses there were very casual, too calm, they had seen this a thousand times before. We were moved into a small adjoining side room where a young nurse asked questions to a now groaning and breathless Nicole, pacing around the room . The next nurse laid Nicole down to examine our progress when she shot us a look of surprise: we might have to have the baby here – in this small unequipped side room.

Nicole manages to find enough breath to muster the words “pain relief”. Evidently it was too late. I start to panic a little though I daren’t show it as I know how precious Nicole can be and how low her pain threshold is.

I held close to the nurse and Nicole as she was rushed to the ward in a wheelchair, ‎now safely in the care of the mid-wife and with the promised god-send of Gas and Air. Clamped down in-between her teeth I watched Nicole transform, I witnessed her eyes widen, her pain dissipate as she finally relaxed. This meant that I could relax. Until the pushing began.

Nothing is harder than seeing the person you love in pain, knowing that you are powerless and there is nothing you can do to help. I became Nicole’s stress ball as she clenched my hand and gave her first push. “He has his father’s hair”, the words of the mid-wife as I steal the first look at my son with a full head of jet black hair. A few pushes later and finally we were all together. I was truly humbled by how Nicole had handled everything.

We were in the delivery room for around two hours – turns out Nicole was already fully dilated when we arrived. After cutting the cord and taking in the sight of my new family, I was then handed my son whilst some reparations were made.  I was uneasy, nervous but overcome with a sense of pride, and as I sat there with him for around half an hour, all my concerns dissolved and his eventual calmness transferred to me.

On our way out of the hospital the next morning we pass a quiet, heavily pregnant woman beside her doting, helpless partner. We wish them luck and the cycle continues.

The Message in the Medium

Seeing that there was a 35mm screening of Casablanca in the local independent theatre, I suited up and dragged a couple of friends along, insisting that they dress up to respect the film. I did not regret this decision when we walked into the auditorium to find a silver haired audience all in finest regale. Unlike the rest of the audience, who would mouth the words along and laugh together in expectation, my guests hadn’t seen the film before and so they were understandably devastated when in the dying moments of the film, Humphrey Bogart poised on the runway, the picture burned hot white and split across on the screen. I had only seen something like this in Gremlins 2: The New Batch.

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The projectionist came down to explain that a lot of restoration had to be done to get the print to work in the first place and that it was now irretrievable. A collective groan escaped the crowd, and as my friends sat there sullen, saying that we would need to find it online, an elderly gentleman wearing a wide grin leant over from the row behind. “A lot of films used to end like that when I was your age. You know, it happened when I watched this film! And we didn’t have a way of finding out what happened..”. In one fell swoop the romanticism had been restored by this mystical figure. This was truly a spectacle. (more…)

HTTYD2 or: How I Learned to Train My Dragon and Love the Bomb

I sit nervously waiting with three other journalists in a suite of the Soho Hotel. Having just seen a preview of How to Train Your Dragon 2 we await writer/ director Dean Deblois for a roundtable interview. This is immediately before an interview with Cressida Cowell, the author of the series of books from which the films were inspired. We make some stilted conversation when I learn that these professional writers are all in fact parents. I was not a parent at this particular juncture and so felt that they already had a deeper connection with the film, this along with the publications they represent: one writes for a literary magazine aimed at young and aspiring authors, one an esteemed nature magazine, and the other writes about families… or something. My focus is elsewhere at this point as I can’t shake the feeling that I don’t belong here. I seem to echo their own bafflement when I tell them I’m writing for the RAF… “I guess they like things that fly”.

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Look how happy everyone is…

How to Train Your Dragon, I realise whilst watching the night before the event, has a strong anti-war message. Not only that, it uses planelike symbols as the threat – spraying fire onto the village where civilians live. Maybe the anxiety is kicking in but the message is definitely there. I admire the film for this reason though I could do without this feeling, knowing that I am attending this event as the villain. (more…)

Christmas Survival Guide

Written for TotalJobs Dec 2014

Tis the season to be jolly. Or to try and be jolly at least… against the odds. It is more likely the season to be stressful, as everyone takes on the mad-dash panic of last-minute gift buying and food shopping, and as they prepare to see the people they usually love but this time of year tolerate.xmas

Now let’s spare a moment for those working over Christmas, for those who will suffer the wrath of never-ending customers enduring this annual stress. They need someone to take it out on and reliably it will be those of you simply trying to help. So here is some help for you: a Christmas survival guide based on the advice of those who have experienced the frontline for themselves. (more…)

My Job Isn’t Like That! Scientist

Written for TotalJobs June 2014

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The icon of the scientist brings to mind an image that has been built and maintained by all types of media. We’re used to seeing a stern-faced, spectacled man in a white coat carrying a clipboard and looking important, but this doesn’t really tell us much about what they do.

Science breaks down into many disciplines, each of which has their own focus and specialities – so it is no wonder that the image many of us are used to seeing on screen may not accurately capture what a scientist’s job really entails. Here is a list of some of the more fantastical myths about what the scientist does and how they compare to reality. (more…)