Roughly 10 women in a town in Sardinia still wear the traditional dresses they made as adolescents. These hand-embroidered garments are reversible, with the elaborately decorated side worn during major life events and a plain side worn on a daily basis. Filmmaker Andrea Pecora‘s Desula captures the detailed creation of these dresses and the stories of some of the women who wear them. I spoke with her about the process.
How did you learn about the women of Desulo?
My grandfather was born in the village of Desulo in the middle of Barbagia, a very rural and isolated area in the center of Sardinia. Almost every summer I used to go with him and my family to visit his sister, who died two years ago at the age of 94. She used to wear the dress as well.
Do they really wear only one dress for a lifetime?
The dress is an essential part of the social code. The baby girls, in their first days of life, already wear the costume. Growing older, of course, they change it, but somehow it is always the same dress in the sense [that] the code embroideries are permanent. The richest women might have two: one for everyday life, similar to the dress you see in the film, and one for special events. The poorer wear a double-faced dress: on one side more rich, on the other less so. The dress changes color depending on the events. It’s more red and beautiful when they get married, darker red when bad things happen to them—the loss of a child, for example—and black if they become a widow.
When do they start making their dress?
All the women of the village learn to spin the wool, use the loom, weave wool, and embroider when they are little girls. So almost all of them were able to make their own dress while growing into adults. Right now around 10 women still wear the traditional dress everyday.
How long does it usually take to make one dress?
Around one year, more or less.
What do they wear when they need to wash the dress?
They might keep a working dress they use for very hard activities or when nobody sees them.
Is a dress dyed for different stages of life (marriage, mourning, etc.)?
Yes, the dress is a code to express the condition of the woman at a particular period. The interesting thing is that, [unlike] the black of mourning, the dark red can be reversed by using natural substances to dye the wool. For example, in case they mourn the loss of a child and then become pregnant again, women might decide to bring the dress back to a light red color to express joy for the birth of a new child.
What is it about this particular tradition that inspired you to make the film?
I guess the main reason I decided to make the film is that I realized how exceptional and unique it is to find such an old tradition in a western European country, and because there are few ladies still alive who follow a tradition that is bound to disappear in the next few years.
Can you tell me a little bit more about the narrator of the piece?
I wrote the script, but I decided to find a professional theater actress from Sardinia to give voice to these ladies. I spoke to them, and the text is [written] as if one of them could [explain] the sense of what I captured and found important about their world.
Was there a reason you chose to focus on one particular story?
It seemed to me it was important to give a strong sense of intimacy and a stronger link with the viewer—telling one story but still telling the story of an entire community.
What are you working on next?
Aside from my passion to develop documentaries, my professional career as a commercial director/art director/CGI supervisor brought me to Milan in May 2015 to open a new company, Revolution Department, where we produce animation/2-D/3-D projects. My biggest wish: that Desula is a short piece of a bigger project.
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