Tonino Guerra – Look and See

The great writer Castaneda, a Peruvian man living in America or so, had written several books about a holy man, some sort of peculiar magician Indios. Castaneda mentioned that he wanted to show the difference that there may be between looking and seeing.

Now, I have read those books but I don’t even recall them as very interesting. They were writings concerning more on the internal construction of a person’s journey.
No, now I’m talking to screenwriters, and to directors and I say: to better explain the difference between looking and seeing, I tell you what happened to me ten days ago when I was in Pennabilli. I was with Mrs. Ronconi (the lady who often realizes fountains or other with me) and I was coming down from the petrified garden of Bassio when I saw on the left side of my car, near the road, a green bench.
Because I knew it was an iron bench I’ve asked to myself: “Why is it green?”
Anyway I stopped, got out and went near this bench.
At that moment, first I looked, then I saw. I mean, I went deeper, I started to see that this bench, next to the road, was abandoned. No one had been sitting on it.
In the past, in front of it, there was a restaurant or something. Perhaps the old people stopped there to watch the cars passing by.
It has become green because the moss slowly covered it.
So it was a matter of understanding it, to see it meant to understand its loneliness, it uselessness.
Then what did I do?
I sat on the bench to make it feel useful, to tell it: “Look, you are still useful”.

This was a gesture on my part, a way to explain what I’m looking for or what any scriptwriter or director should look for to really understand something.

Another example.
I was in Moscow when a documentary director came to visit me. He was fifty-five or sixty years old and he had a thin beard, humble eyes, a sweet person to meet.
A small preamble. I have a weakness for “Old Believers”. During the 16th Century the Patriarch Nikon wanted to revise the religious gestures practiced by the orthodox believers who had moved away from the Greeks and from the original religious rites.
But many Russians, both near Moscow and all the way to Siberia, have kept many movements (for example they cross themselves three times) and old beliefs and for this reason they are known as Old Believers.
Now however they are spread over Siberia. They probably didn’t even have a bishop until the 18th century because they had moved away from everyone else.
When I saw the first images I really liked them, they were by this young director and I noticed that they were full of life. The “Old Believers” were full of escapes, bodies that had been caught by the wind. They were full of fear, with their wonderful thin beards and I was simply looking.
When the director had gone I started to understand that I was seeing and I actually wrote in the little book I carry around the following words: “Figures who are already a prayer.”
With this phrase, with these words I understood that I was going deeper.


Tonino Guerra, poet and writer of international fame, was born in Santarcangelo di Romagna the 16th of March 1920.

In the early 50s he moved to Rome, where he started his dazzling career as screenwriter.

He stayed in the capital until 1984, when he returned to Romagna. After a short period back in his hometown, he choosed to live in Pennabilli, in the Montefeltro area.

He began composing verses in his local dialect during his imprisonment in the concentration camp of Troisdorf in Germany, and part of those poems are collected in his first book “Scribbles” of 1946, signed by Antonio Guerra with a preface by Carlo Bo. The following collection “Bu”, with an introduction by Gianfranco Contini, marks a turning point in Italian poetry and projects him among the great poets. In the series “The Tokens” from Einaudi and curated by Elio Vittorini, and in 1952 he pubblished “The story of Fortunato”.

His first screenplays are for the movies: “Piece of the Sky”, of Aglauco Casadio in 1957 and “Men and wolves”, from Giuseppe De Santis, in 1956. From that moment he has been working with the greatest directors of our time, including Elio Petri, Franco Guess, Vittorio De Sica, Damiano Damiani, Mauro Bolognini, Mario Monicelli, Franco Giraldi, Alberto Lattuada, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, Marco Bellocchio, Francesco Rosi, Federico Fellini, Theo Angelopoulos, Andrei Tarkovsky, Michelangelo Antonioni. With Antonioni he made in 1959 “The adventure” and he started an artistic collaboration that continued until the end. Last work together was the episode “The wire of dangerous things” in the film “Eros” presented at the Venice Film Festival in 2004.

In 1973 comes “Amarcord”, Academy Award winner, first screenplay written for Federico Fellini; and for whom he also made “And the Ship Sails” in 1983, “Ginger and Fred” in 1985. With Fellini he also worked on the preparation of screenplays “Orchestra Rehearsal” and “Casanova”.

His screenplays meet even television, which sees him collaborate in theater and television dramas to some other screenplays. Meanwhile he continues his poetic and literary activities that also embraces the theater: its production is very extended, for which he gathered significant awards, including the Pirandello Prize.

The collection “I Bu” (Rizzoli, 1972), cured by Gianfranco Contini, represents a turning point for the dialect poetry that acquires great dignity and it becomes included in the language of poetry with no more distinctions nor categorizations. With him it opens the new season of Neodialettali, which takes leave from all forms of municipalism. He published with Bompiani, Rizzoli and, in 1981, with “Honey” he starts the season of the poems published by Maggioli Publisher from Santarcangelo, from which were reprinted also his previous collections and stories.

He is a complete artist and he devoted himself also to painting, sculpture and artistic conception. He made equipment, installations, exhibitions, parks, fountains, in which he transfers his boundless creativity and genius.
Crowning his fruitful career, full of many prestigious awards, there is the De Sica Prize and the European Film Academy Awards conferred by the European Film Academy, in December 2002. In the same year the President of the Republic appointed him Knight Grand Cross of the order of Merit of the Italian Republic. He is repeatedly awarded for advertising spots that he created in recent years, and his famous motto on optimism has been imitated many times. In November 2004 he received an award as Best European screenwriter, in Strasbourg, the capital of the new Europe, by the Union of European Screenwriters.

In 2010, of his 90th birthday, he received the David di Donatello for his career. On 10th November 2010 he was awarded by the University of Bologna with Sigillum Magnum.

He died at aged 92, in Santarcangelo the 21st of March 2012, coinciding with the celebration of World Poetry Day established by UNESCO. His ashes were set in the rock, above his “House of the almonds trees”, in a position that allows to admire the valley in Pennabilli, the village where he lived the last 25 years and talking of which he said “this is the place in which you can find yourself”.
Edited by Rita Giannini, official biographer of “Maestro War”

• 26 January 2015

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