“A genre film is like a fairy tale: it never stops being relevant”
by Vittoria Scarpa
- Roman director Stefano Sollima, fresh from the extraordinary success of Gomorra - the TV series, has just released his second film, Suburra
A gangster flick that weaves between politics and the underworld in Rome, set against the backdrop of the Vatican, VIP parties and the beaches of Ostia. We’re talking about Stefano Sollima’s new film Suburra [+see also:
interview: Stefano Sollima
film profile], the director’s second foray into the world of cinema following on from Acab [+see also:
interview: Stefano Sollima
film profile] and the extraordinary success he has enjoyed with his Gomorrah and Romanzo criminale TV series. Suburra is also set to be made into a TV series, to be produced and distributed by Netflix. Due to be released in cinemas on 14 October, Sollima talked to the press about his new film in Rome.
How did you approach this ugly, dirty and evil Rome?
Using De Cataldo and Bonini’s book. When I read the drafts, I found the book highly modern and relevant, and I really liked the title, because it shifted the plot almost two thousand years into the past, evoked a co-existence of powers that has always existed. I started working on transposing the book to film before it was published. Then we found ourselves shooting the film in the midst of the judicial storm that hit Rome, but I never followed the news.
The film takes place over the seven days leading up to the pre-announced Apocalypse, which weave together three powers: of the Vatican, politics and the real world. How did this structure come about?
They are the seven days that precede the simultaneous fall of political and spiritual power: an apocalyptic premise. Just seven days in which to pass a law and make sure that this huge building speculation is engaged in by three powers that are not normally associated with one another. Also, I thought it would be nice to portray Rome underwater, give a bleaker view of it than usual, with flooded streets and exploding sewer covers…
At a time when Rome is in the throes of chaos, leading to the resignation of its mayor, your film is highly topical.
Truth be told, I started working on it two and a half years ago. It’s the genre element that makes the story less like a news report and more allegoric. It’s perfectly normal that we should find ourselves in this situation today, just like we could end up back here in twenty years, because it’s a story about a city and power. Using genre, in this case the gangster movie genre, makes the project international because it uses certain stylistic devices. Like Gomorrah, the story has universal appeal. A genre film is like a fairy tale, it never stops being relevant.
The film also has the traits of an urban western, with its classic style, strength and symbolism.
Perhaps you get this impression because we used wide shots, capturing both the character and the world that character represents, each of which has its own dominant colour and specific atmosphere, in the same frame. Even the story itself is more diluted, based on the encounters between characters. The film has less characters than the book, precisely because I wanted to focus on those that were most emblematic.
Claudio Amendola’s character, Samurai, is less obvious, but also the one you’re most afraid of, because you could run into him anywhere. How did you think him up?
The advantage of portraying almost exclusively negative characters is that it forces you to focus on the human being behind the character. It seemed reductive for the bad guy to act in an unpleasant way, I imagined a normal person who has a role in the story for what he does, not for what he is. The scene with his mother makes him more human. What guided us in constructing each individual character was our search for the truth.
In the film you don’t see a single policeman or magistrate… Why no positive hero?
It would have been simpler dramatically speaking to have an external point of view linking the various worlds. But I thought it would be more interesting to allow each character to show us his own world. It’s not an ethical approach, which makes the story simpler and forces the viewer to step in and out of different worlds without having a narrator introduce them.
Could you say that all in all, as it caused a reaction, the film is optimistic?
I wouldn’t say optimistic, progressive perhaps. It’s a rather frantic story, about the end of an era, and it had to end with the dawning of a new one. Powers that are usually considered set in stone and invincible are dismantled by characters from the outside, small grains of sand who obstruct a much larger mechanism to the point of bringing it to a grinding halt. In this sense, the film is anarchic.
(Translated from Italian)