The Trial of Artemisia Gentileschi

Production Note  


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When Reality Trumps Fantasy

This film is the product of a singular desire: to tell the historical truth regarding the trial to vindicate Artemisia Gentileschi. This rape trail, for which Artemisia stood as witness against her rapist, is actually the first of its kind for which we have full testimony. Nevertheless, until now the world of cinema has never approached this subject with the respect deserved for the amount of contemporary historical documentation it offers. This fact has contributed to the creation of urban legends of various slants. On one hand there is the romantic myth of Artemisia Gentileschi as the first woman to accuse her rapist. On the other hand is the idea that a rape never occurred, and the relationship between the individuals was one of love and true passion. (The former legend is incorrect: the accuser was actually Artemisia's father; the latter legend is a terrible distortion of reality.)

The idea to create The Trial of Artemisia Gentileschi therefore began as a way to enliven a strict reconstruction of the trial. But while working on the adaptation and reading the testimonies and documentation, we realized that we would be capable of an even more stimulating enterprise: to give life to a dramatic narrative that was actually a historical document. And in effect The Trial of Artemisia Gentileschi cannot be seen as a mere dramatic work, but a type of docudrama. The viewer is under the impression that he is watching a dramatic film like any other, but he is really watching a faithful reconstruction of the trial. Only four of the film's scenes are invented: they are those that do not refer to an actual scene of the trial, but are mere connecting scenes that look into the Judge's personal life. The remainder of the film is the result of a process of elaboration faithful to the trial and which can be summed up in these terms: Every word spoken by actors playing Artemisia Gentileschi and Agostino Tassi in The Trial of Artemisia Gentileschi was uttered by each of these individuals during their trial in the early seventeenth century.

The reconstruction of the various phases of the trial (preliminary examination and debate in the courtroom) was extremely precise, to the point of maintaining the same verbal asymmetry that characterizes these types of trials. In an attempt to preserve the same coarse terms that the real-life characters used, the script has kept the words they used to discuss such a delicate subject: judges speak in seventeenthcentury Latin, while the defendants, witnesses and accusatory parites speak seventeenth-century Italian (vernacular). Artistic license is invoked in the script in only two ways to render it more interesting. The judicial body, actually composed of two magistrates, is converted into one single judge. This change allowed us to better illustrate to viewers the mechanism of gender stereotypes that dominated rape trials then (and which in many countries still dominates today). Some parts of the trial were moved earlier or later to allow the timing to assist the narrative. Apart from these two modifications, the docudrama effectively repeats the words of the protagonists and events they lived as recorded during the trial.

The most satisfying aspect of the film is that this docudrama works: it enamors the viewer just as a fictional story would. Quite a good result for a low budget autoproduced film.

Rosarita Gallo