Sunday 24 July 2016


Photo of Catino and its Lombard tower - Courtesy of Giorgio Clementi

With its two castle ruins and an impressive Langobard-era watch tower that dominates this section of the Tiber Valley, there is probably not a more evocative hill town in the Bassa Sabina than Poggio Catino. Our love affair with this jewel of a town began in March of 2012 with our first visit there. We had the great fortune to be taken on a walking tour of the town with renowned photographer Giorgio Clementi. If you are interested to read my original post concerning our visit with Giorgio, here is the link.

Since our original escorted history walk with Giorgio we have had the pleasure of  visiting Poggio Catino many times, and no matter how often I visit, my original fascination with and appreciation for the town has never diminished... 

But is not just the town's look that is enchanting... I have to say it is the town's "view" and the delicious things that you can eat and drink while you enjoy Poggio Catino's view of the Tiber Valley that make this town so special. 

Bar C’è, besides serving some of the best food in the regionI had the best fish I have ever eaten in my life outside of Japan hereand very generous drinks, has perhaps the best panoramic view of the Tiber valley of any restaurant in the Bassa Sabina. When there is no Orata (gilt-head sea bream) or Tuna on the menu I always opt for their pasta all'Amatriciana, a traditional Sabine recipe. Bar C’è's pizza is also amazing... I would have to say that some of my happiest moments here in Italy have been made while I have been eating and drinking with friends here. 

View of Catino\s Castle and pentagonal Lombard watchtower - Courtesy of Giorgio Clementi

Yes, Poggio Catino and sleepy smaller Catinothe older original section of town perched on vertiginous edge of a limestone karst formation cliffseem idyllic to the eye of the casual visitor. However, there is a bloody dark history that courses like a forgotten, ancient, underground river through the stones beneath the breathtaking views and tasty offerings of the bar.

Aperitivo time at Bar C’è Catino

 Not 100 paces from my favourite place to drink an Aperol Spritz is the main gate of Catino. Just inside the gate is a large door that leads to a room in which a grizzly assassination took place. The bloody remains of Pierluigi di Sant'Eustachio, the hated Duke of Poggio Catino, who was hacked to pieces by his unhappy subjects in that room, were displayed for weeks in a metal cage just outside the gate in a spot on the wall in plain view from where now stands the client-filled bar.  

But even more famous than this grizzly historical event is the mystery of La Dama Biancathe White Lady... a female skeleton discovered in 1933, chained to a wall and sealed up in a stone chamber in Poggio Catino's Palazzo Olgiati.

La Dama Bianca is a true enigma. No historical records concerning this event have been found. Various theories as to who this unfortunate person was exist, but no one knows for sure... Was she a Colonna prirtransoner or hostage held and then cruelly killed by their enemies the Orsini who ruled Poggio Catino between 1484 and 1525? Or was she an inconvenient wife or mistress of some ruthless castelan? Whoever she was, La Dama Bianca's skeletal remains, her iron chains, the terracotta oil lamp and water jug that were walled in with her and even a section of the castle walls that surrounded her were carefully removed and transferred to the Museum of Criminology in Rome. She is the first display to welcome you after you have paid your 2 euro entrance fee.

Scriptwriter Manuelle Grilli, Director Manuel Montanari, and actor Geronimo Brengola

In 2014, a young filmmaker and director from Poggio Catino named Manuel Montenari, with the support of the Comune of Poggio Catino and the collaboration of the local youth committee, created a short historical drama, a fictional account of the mystery, called La Dama.

The script for the film was written by Manuele Grilli. Our friend, Giorgio Clementi, worked as Director of Photography, while the editing was handled by the film's Executive Producer, Fabrizio Fazio. 

Director Manuel Montanari and Directory of Photography, Giorgio Clementi hard at work - Photo courtesy of Manuele Grilli  

This film offers one of the explanations of the who, when and why of the Dama Bianca. The story takes place during a time when the Colonna and Orsini, two bitter rivals among the leading noble houses of renaissance Italy, were involved in a prolonged bloody feud. A beautiful young Colonna noblewoman held captive by the Orsini ruler of Poggio Catino falls prey to the jealousy of the ambitious mistress of the Castelan when the Castelan falls in love with the victim. The short was filmed in several locations in and around Poggio Catino and Catino using local amateur actors.

The film was launched in Poggio Catino on August 15, 2014. The success of this first film sparked interest in making another historical short film based on an even bloodier, and this time well-documented, dark episode in the history of Poggio Catino: the story of the rise and fall of La BelvaThe Beast, in Englishthe tyrannical Pierluigi di Sant'Eustachio, oras he demanded to be knownAeloisius Secundus Dux Catini. 

Mock up of the promotional poster for La Belva - Courtesy of Manuele Grilli

As you can guess by the title, Pierluigi di Sant'Eustachio was in no way a sympathetic character. It is said that he came to rule the castles and lands of Poggio Catino, Catino and Tancia through the murder of his father, followed by the murder of one brother and the imprisonment of another. Once he had established his absolute rule over his territory, he exercised his power to the extreme, confiscating the lands and goods of his richer vassals at whim, and forcefully kidnapping and having his way with any woman or girl in his territory that he took a fancy to. There was no resisting him. Those that tried to stand up to him were beaten up, imprisoned, or often outright killed. Things got so bad that eventually a large part of the population of his lands fled across his borders to Poggio Mirteto and other neighbouring towns to save themselves.

A scene from La Belva filmed at Sant'Agostino Church - Courtesy Giorgio Clementi

I first found out about this second film project by chance in October 2014. A friend of mine and I were taking a walk around Poggio Catino trying to build up an appetite for a lovely pasta lunch at Bar C'è. We were exploring an area of Poggio Catino's old castle, looking for the spot where La Dama Bianca had been discovered, when we bumped into Manuele Grilli, just outside the Comune office. This was a happy coincidence for a number of reasons as we discovered, through talking about La Dama, that not only did we have a number of friends and acquaintances in common, including Giorgio Clementi and Manuel Montanari, but that Manuele had been another key collaborator in the La Dama project, as he had written the screenplay.

Manuele Grilli, showing us the section of the Castle wall where the Dama Bianca was found in 1933

Manuele very kindly took my friend and I on a tour through the Comune offices, which in fact is what is left of the noble residence inside the old castle. Among the sumptuously frescoed and decorated rooms there were many that had been used as a film set for La Dama, some that were even still being used to store a number of the props from the filming.

Ceramic props for La Dama

Manuele and I exchanged contact information and "friended" each other on Facebook. In subsequent messages he told me about the upcoming second film project. I told him that I would be interested in writing something about the film for my blog... Then Manuele asked me if I might be interested in a small part of the cast.

Of course I was intrigued with the idea. It was a lovely gesture on Manuele's part, but I didn't really think too much about it until May of this year whenout of the blueI received a message from Manuele asking if I was still interested in being involved. 

Article in Il Messagero newspaper about the filming of La Belva 4 may 2016

Well how could I pass up an opportunity like this? Long story short, what I thought would be an "extra" part, turned out to be a speaking part... Due to a scheduling conflict, the original person who had agreed to play my role had to duck out... Instead of a native Italian speaker, a Canadian with a very questionable Italian accent, took the role of a father whose young daughter was taken away forcibly by La Belva's evil henchmen, because, "Il Conte ha bisogno di donne questa sera!"

It felt a little strange parachuting into the cast towards the latter part of the filming, but everyone was very welcoming... It turns out that many in the cast were friends of friends, so I was not a totally unknown commodity. Everyone was friendly.

I participated in an afternoon of rehearsals in which I met the people who I would be doing my scenes with: Daniela Schiavona, who played the role of my lovely wife, 

Hamming it up in a selfie with my lovely "wife" Daniela

Sofia Placidi, who played the role of my beautiful, and therefore ultimately unfortunate daughter,

Me and my "daughter" Sofia on set on the last day of filming at the church of Sant'Agostino - Courtesy of Giorgio Clementi

and Michele Manili, who played La Belva's most evil evil henchman. 

Michele Manili,  a.k.a. Guardia X, at right - Photo courtesy of Giorgio Clementi

It sure was an eye opener being on set. Putting together a production like this takes an awful lot of work, patience, and especially time. There is a lot of waiting around...

By the time I got involved in the filming, most of the scenes had already been shot in the previous weeks. The three scenes that I was involved with were filmed just outside the castle walls in Poggio Catino, and down in the countryside below the hill town beside the venerable Chiesa di Sant'Agostino. 

The speaking scene that I did was filmed, along with a number of others, at night in the dark, in and around the Poggio Catino's castle walls. We all met in the comune office where we each changed into our costumes and then went for make up. 

The talent, busy, and very patient Romina Rosati, our mapeup artist at work

I can't remember when we actually got started filming that evening, but we finished somewhere between three thirty and four in the morning. My scene was filmed nearer the end. 

A to H, my speaking scene, in which my daughter is kidnapped at knife-point - Courtesy of Manuele Grilli

In it two of La Belva's evil henchmen come to our house to take our daughter for a night with the Duke. My three short lines in Italian were:

"Vi prego! Dove la portate? Lasciatela stare!" 

Which  translates:

"I beg you. Where are you taking her? Leave her be!"

To this, Michele, the evil Guardia X draws a knife, pushes me to the ground, and hisses his response: 

"Il Conte ha bisogno di donne questa sera, e ringrazia il cielo che non ti uccida." 

Which  translates:

"The Count needs women tonight, and thank heaven that he does not kill you."

"...E ringrazia il cielo che non ti uccida!"

I don't know how many takes it took. Of course I screwed up my lines a number of times, and there was once or twice where Michele couldn't help laughing... Maybe it was my Canadian accent. Anyway, it was an experience.

I second scene I was involved in was when our daughter returns bruised, disheveled and in a terrible daze the morning after being raped by the duke. The camera was on a rolling track following Sofia as she stumbled barefoot toward Daniela and I. Sofia is so badly traumatised that she does not seem to recognise us. I take hold of her shoulders, look into her eyes and gently shake her while Daniela throws a shawl over Sofia's shoulders.

Photo courtesy of Giorgio Clementi

It was very interesting to see this scene through the camera after it was filmed. It is one thing to be an actor in the scene and see all the rest of the crew, the camera and camera man, the director, other actors in the background when you act the scene, and then when you see it as it was filmed, the framing, of course changes everything.

The director consults his notes

The last day of filming took place beside the grey stone walls of a country church called Sant'Agostino. A number of scenes were filmed there. The one I was involved in showed my family joining a number of other people leaving Poggio Catino for safety in Poggio Mirteto. 

Another scene involved a group of what was left of the leading citizens of Poggio Catino discussing what to do about the terrible situation. Two of them Ludovico and Manfredo agree to make one last ditch effort to reason with the Duke. Each of these men in turn is murdered... 

Photo of Ludovico's drowning courtesy of Giorgio Clementi

Ludovico is drowned in a butt of his own wine, and Manfredo is chocked to death while being force fed by one of La Belva's guards. 

Another key scene filmed that day involved the invitation of three of the remaining townspeople to dinner with the Duke. 

Giorgio Clementi takes some still shots during the scene when the three townspeople are invited to a poisoned dinner

On the menu for these three special guests were poisoned snails and mushrooms. The Duke had caught wind that there was a plot to assassinate him when the plotters were betrayed by an eavesdropping innkeeper. 
The plotters' plans are overheard by the evil innkeeper, a friend of the Duke

There are so many plot twists in this story, it is mind-boggling. I won't go any further into the details but suffice it to say, the betrayed plotters are forewarned and survive this attempt on their lives and, 

A toast! Snails anyone? How about those mushrooms, a special treat from my friend, the innkeeper? 
...with their help, La Belva gets what he deserves in the end. I still can't believe that so much of this story, the bloodiest bits anyway, occurred just a hundred paces from my favourite place for an aperitivo... You just don't know, do you?

If the stones of this castle wall could talk...

All in all, this was a wonderful experience for me. I so appreciate being included in this amazing project. Thank you Manuele Grilli (Director), Giorgio Clementi (Director of Photography), Fabrizio Fazio (Executive Producer and Cameraman), and all the cast and crew. You guys are the greatest! 

At the wrap party

I can't wait to see the launch of this film. It will premiere on August 15th, 2016 in Poggio Catino's main piazza. There will be DVDs with English language subtitles for sale... and a special menu of snails and mushrooms! 

Scherzo! Just kidding!  

The official promotional trailer (with English subtitles) for the film is now out! 

I am ready for my close up

And click this link below for
Though I appear in the film three times, 
9:05 is where my big moment with three lines in Italian starts.

There is also a 
Check out 5:30 where I screw up and swear in English 

I hear rumours that there is a third film in the works... I wonder if they need an extra...

Note: I would like to thank Manuele Grilli and the cast and crew, particularly Giorgio Clementi for the use of many of the photos included in this post.