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Interview: Gianni Amelio • Director

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“We need some tenderness to chase away our anxieties”

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- Multi-award-winning director Gianni Amelio talks about his latest film, Holding Hands, fresh from its international premiere at Bari’s Bif&st

Interview: Gianni Amelio • Director

At the heart of Holding Hands [+see also:
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interview: Gianni Amelio
film profile
]
(La tenerezza), the new film from Gianni Amelio, is a story of the turbulent emotions underlying the relationships between fathers and their children, brothers and sisters and husbands and wives, set in an unfamiliar Naples where prosperity can turn to tragedy and immigrants make up the fabric of daily life. Two days after its world premiere at Bif&st in Bari on 22 April, the film will now go on general release in Italy, distributed by 01.

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Cineuropa: The film both begins and ends with the trial of a suspected terrorist. The figure of the foreigner makes a number of appearances, and takes different forms. What impression would you like people to form from this?
Gianni Amelio: The idea of something that is so close to us, and that we often feel wary of, without knowing why. The most significant scene in this respect shows a physical gesture of rebellion at the expense of Elio Germano, when the street hawker comes up to offer him a cigarette lighter. When you're sitting in a bar, it's not unusual for twenty of them to come by in the space of an hour, and even if you want to help them, you can't help them all, because it isn’t right from a political point of view; it doesn’t solve the problem of immigration in our country and in Europe as a whole. I didn’t want to draw a picturesque image of our society, but to delve into the motivations of the characters and our own as viewers. I decided to introduce, on the one hand, a main character (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) who works as an interpreter for the Arabic-speaking community; she works with the Arab population and she picks up on things. On the other hand, we have the day-to-day experience of an issue to which politicians need to find some solution.

What is the “tenderness” that the film’s title refers to, in your opinion?
I still don’t know if it’s something you feel or something you do. The title came to me when I was thinking about the ending, about the stubbornness with which the character of Elena tries to get some kind of response from her father. It’s what we need to chase away our anxieties, now that we are trapped in a world where you never know what is about to happen. Elena’s mission in the film is to get her father to let her in, so perhaps she can save him, because Lorenzo is a very fragile person. There’s a reference in there to Bicycle Thieves, which has one of the most incredible final scenes in the entire history of cinema, when the little boy, out of courage and instinct, takes the hand of his humiliated father.

Renato Carpentieri takes on the role of the long-suffering protagonist, Lorenzo. How did you come to choose him and the rest of the cast?
I’ve been wanting to make another film with Renato Carpentieri for 27 years [ed: i.e. since Open Doors], because I think he’s an extraordinary actor, and from now on I’d like to make a film with him every year for another 27 years! I loved them. If I have one strength as a director, it’s having a good instinct for actors. Casting choices are crucial: your travelling companions are the ones who can make the journey a thing of beauty or a living nightmare. Micaela Ramazzotti and Elio Germano had a rapport that went beyond the script, for example in the Sunday lunch scene, when he feeds her without looking at her, because he knows his wife’s face so well he doesn’t need to look where he’s putting the teaspoon. It’s a scene that evokes intimacy and a physical closeness that embarrasses Lorenzo a bit, and I had no control over that because it was something they all came up with together.

The film is loosely based on the novel The Temptation to be Happy, by Lorenzo Marone. How did you find the adaptation process?
The novel is entirely focused on a character called Cesare, but he has nothing at all in common with Lorenzo, particularly in terms of his personality. In the book, he’s very confrontational, a kind of bully. I gave the character a certain angst that I feel myself and that I share with Renato, who is a contemporary of mine — a sort of aversion to advancing age. I think it’s unfair, and we should stop when we get to our best age, 45 for men and 35 for women, and just stay like that for the rest of our lives, but with the wisdom of age. The idea of ageing makes you resent the hastiness of other people: the daughter who frets over whether Lorenzo is taking his medicine is something that, if you don’t take it ironically, means you are old and no longer independent. Lorenzo irons his own shirts; I don’t iron them, but I’ve always washed them myself and it will cause me pain if I’m ever unable to do that.

Could we call it an autobiographical film, then?
There’s autobiography in things that aren’t obviously autobiographical. Anyone who claims that a work is autobiographical is lying; true autobiography goes off on tangents, it’s a little bit metaphorical and it introduces things that don’t entirely belong to us but reflect our fears and our fragility. Lorenzo’s feelings aren’t mine; they are what I believe a man who has just reached 70 feels in relation to his children.

(Translated from Italian)

international title: Holding Hands
original title: La tenerezza
country: Italy
year: 2017
directed by: Gianni Amelio
screenplay: Gianni Amelio
cast: Elio Germano, Micaela Ramazzotti, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Greta Scacchi, Renato Carpentieri, Maria Nazionale, Enzo Casertano
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