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Foreign Bodies to make spectators uncomfortable

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Mirko Locatelli • Director


- The idea came twenty years ago when screenwriter Giuditta Tarantelli shared the following idea with director husband Mirko Locatelli: a man holding a child inside a children’s hospital.

Mirko Locatelli • Director

The idea for Foreign Bodies [+see also:
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(I Corpi estranei) came twenty years ago when screenwriter Giuditta Tarantelli shared the following idea with director husband Mirko Locatelli: a man holding a child inside a children’s hospital. “We tried to build a story around this man,” the director explained. “We displaced the attention given to the child onto the father, in order to show his fragility. Because in a certain way, the real ill people in a children’s hospital are the parents.”

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Cineuropa: The father of the boy touched by the terrible illness is a rough man who gets to Milan in order to sit through a decisive surgery. How did you manage the exuberance of an actor like Filippo Timi?

Mirko Locatelli: This father is a man resistant to change. The more he resists, the more I have to find ways to make the film go forward. I knew how Timi is. All you need for that is to see him explode on stage. When I met him, I thought, goodness, what shall I do? But I made everything clear from the beginning with him. Filippo understood perfectly what we needed. One interesting thing in his work is the way in which he dealt with the child. When he cried in real life, he actually did have to come up with ways to calm him. When he found the key to that, that’s when everything became credible.

The direction of your second film stands out as filming gives no respite to its main character.

It was important for me that the actors understand that my direction would not be fragmented, I was not going to divide scenes into spaces or shots against shots. Everything would be built in sequences, and filming would take place at least within a metre of the characters. Places are discovered a moment after the character. Spectators are used to seeing characters enter. Places needed to be characters themselves, unwanted extras.

Did you film in a real hospital?

In a disused hall of a real hospital. The decorators recreated a children’s hospital’s oncology department, but you could really smell that hospital smell, all you needed to do was change floors and you were confronted with reality. The crying and children’s words speaking to each other are the result of sound mapping we did with real children in the hospital. All places in the film – the rooms, the corridors, the coffee machine – are dictated places, waiting spaces, uncomfortable ones. Timi moves around in this un-homely place. Even the main character’s car is being leant to him.

It is a film in which women are nowhere to be seen.

I like the idea of tackling a father’s crisis, with these fathers who are more brothers, who play Gameboys and teach their kids how to jump line at McDonald’s. We tried to tell the story of this man who is half mother, half father. Physically strong, but incapable of communicating. All that is feminine is covered up.

That’s right, the main character doesn’t express his pain. He is even unable to speak, with that guttural Perugia accent.

Antonio/Filippo Timi closed his pain off in a box. For me, the main thing was to look at this story with dignity. It would have been easy to fall into a pathetic genre. I preferred maintaining and compressing the actors’ performances. The young Jaouher Brahim had one entire year to prepare, starting like Filippo Timi from language, recuperating an Arabic he hardly spoke, and making his Italian “dirtier” to make it hesitant. Both keep a stiff upper lip, until they finally open up in the final goodbye.

The themes and the style from the film belong to another kind of cinema.

Yes, references are foreign rather than Italian. We looked to French and Belgian cinema. We were very interested in Bruno Dumont, Olivier Assayas and the Dardenne brothers. We were obviously influenced by them, but we tried to forge our own routes, in a continuous search. Each step defines who we are stylistically. And that changes as the film is shot.   

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