A lyrical apologue tailored to Toni Servillo
by Gabriele Barcaro
- Interview with the Neapolitan director who talks about the genesis of his sixth feature Gorbaciof, and describes his influences and quest for an unadorned style
Cineuropa: How did the idea for Gorbaciof [+see also:
interview: Stefano Incerti
film profile] come about?
Stefano Incerti: In 2003 I read an article about a shady teller who worked in a prison in the north, who stole money deposited by the prisoners’ relatives, and used it to gamble at casinos. The idea offered the chance to present a character never before seen on film. I then thought of relocating the story to Naples, and wrote the film with Diego De Silva.
How did the screenplay change from 2003 to today?
In the beginning, there was a Neapolitan woman instead of a Chinese woman, so there was a lot more dialogue, but the screenplay seemed too orthodox, it didn’t have the spark we were looking for. Then, when Toni Servillo boarded the project he compelled us to delve deeper.
The result is an almost mute film…
Yes, the film doesn’t need dialogue, its communication lies in gestures and looks, not words. Today, film increasingly resembles filmed theatre or television shows, full of dialogue and off-camera narration. I wanted to get back to the origins of cinema, which didn’t need to use words as shortcuts to express emotions and psychology.
How much did choosing Servillo count in the film’s development?
Besides stimulating the writing phase, the character Gorbaciof is tailored around him. Shooting, we could allow ourselves ellipses and omissions that would have been unthinkable with other actors. From the point of view of production, however, despite the fact that he’s one of our greatest and best-known actors, his presence wasn’t enough to give the film an immediate impulse. If a film is almost mute, with little dialogue, in Neapolitan, and it’s a Chinese co-production to boot, it’s much harder to develop it. Although it’s a low-budget HD film, we needed the synergy of five producers for Gorbaciof.
In speaking of your inspirations (and aspirations), you’ve mention an “approach that is not at all Italian [but] similar to Eastern European and Asian cinema.” Can you expand on that?
I can give you an example of a film I saw recently, Jerzy Skolimowski’s Four Nights with Anna [+see also:
film profile], a very silent film that, curiously enough, I found to be very similar to my film. More generally, I’m referring to how suggestive Asian cinema can be without, however, losing itself in the context. I didn’t want to ignore the city in Gorbaciof – a Naples that to me, seeing as how I live there, is a little like New York of the last 1970s, where you can buy a gun for just a few Euros. My goal wasn’t to paint a portrait, but a lyrical apologoue, promoting to protagonists two characters that elsewhere would have been little more than extras.
Stylistically speaking, there is absolutely no grandstanding. Why is that?
It was a very sparse approach that was achieved with some difficulty, because simplicity requires effort. I believe that each story requires a different way of being told, and a style that adheres to the story. In this case, I did away with dollies and the Steadycam, and preferred for the camera to be at the service of the actors, without squashing them.
Were you surprised by the film’s great reception by the international press at Venice?
I hoped for it, but I didn’t expect such a great success. Right after Venice the film went to Toronto, and following the great reviews began its foreign sales: France, England, Australia and New Zealand, with negotiations in Spain and Germany as well. In any case, my films have always done better outside of Italy. Here, they were distributed on few prints and in bad moments. Gorbaciof is the first to come out at the height of the film season.
A few days ago the film was also at the Festival of Italian Cinema at Annecy. What do you think of events such as these?
Any event that helps get Italian films abroad is good because it can whet distributors’ curiosity. At the same time, my previous film Complici del silenzio [+see also:
film profile] screened at an analogous festival in Stockholm, and they tell me it went over really well. We must aim more for international sales, yet I think producers are the first not to believe in the films. There is a lack of an aggressive strategy.