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INTERVIEW/French director honors family roots in heartwarming claymation

02/14/2024 03:30 PM
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A scene from "No Dogs or Italians Allowed." File photo courtesy of Catchplay
A scene from "No Dogs or Italians Allowed." File photo courtesy of Catchplay

By Teng Pei-ju, CNA Staff reporter

French director Alain Ughetto delves into his family history and pays tribute to his late grandmother in the animated movie "No Dogs or Italians Allowed," one of the works selected for screening at the 2024 MyFrenchFilmFestival (MyFFF).

The claymation, which features real-life objects and Ughetto himself, can be watched by those who subscribe to MyFFF's partnered video-on-demand (VOD) platforms in Taiwan, including Catchplay, HamiVideo, and CHT MOD from Jan. 19 to Feb. 19.

The film, which had limited screenings during the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival in 2022, has also won several accolades, notably the Jury Award at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival. 

The film tells the story of the Ughetto family's migration from an impoverished Italian town to France in pursuit of a better life, as well as the discrimination they faced, through a heartwarming conversation between grandmother and grandson.

The Ughetto family lived through three wars -- both world wars and the Italian invasion of Libya in 1911 -- along with the Spanish Flu and oppression at the hands of the fascists, the director told CNA in a virtual interview.

Such narrative is not unique, given hundreds of other Italian migrant workers had similar experiences at that time, Ughetto said, adding that despite all the hardship and suffering, his family members continued to "stand tall and proud."

French Director Alain Ughetto. File photo courtesy of Pierre Gayte
French Director Alain Ughetto. File photo courtesy of Pierre Gayte

It took Ughetto approximately nine years to complete the movie, a process he described as time-consuming but very pleasurable.

By immersing himself in the project, Ughetto, now in his 70s, felt he was able to "bear witness" to the long journey made by his grandparents.

The director also sought to honor the limited memories he has of his late grandmother, Cesira, who passed away when he was 12, through the animated movie.

According to Ughetto, his grandmother, a lady who was always dressed in black, used to prepare Gruyere cheese pastry in the kitchen, and when it was ready, she would call him over to have a taste.

Seeing her grandson relish the pastry, Cesira's face would often brighten with a smile, the director said as he recounted those cherished memories.

In the movie, Cesira, a clay figure, is portrayed as a young and compassionate woman with unwavering perseverance as a "tribute" to her, Ughetto said.

He acknowledged, however, that the intimacy shared by him and Cesira in the film was somewhat "fictional" and an attempt to make up for what can no longer be experienced firsthand.

Reflecting on his commitment to claymation, the director said during his childhood he was fascinated by his father crafting little birds and mountains out of Babybel cheese for fun.

"I found it magical," he said, "So when I grew up, I wanted to do the same."

The twist to this inspiring anecdote is that Ughetto's father initially opposed his artistic pursuits and instead urged him to find a more stable career, according to the director.

Were it not for his "stubbornness," the director said, he would not have been able to craft "No Dogs or Italians Allowed," a story that holds profound meaning for him.

The movie project started with his curiosity about his Italian family name, and the mystery subsequently led Ughetto to embark on a quest for the truth across France and Italy, the director said.

"In my family, no one speaks Italian," he said of his parents, "No one does, really. It's just the name that is Italian," he added.

For him, it is paramount to find out more about one's roots. "Once you know where you come from, then you can look to the future in a more serene [and] optimistic way," Ughetto said.

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