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Gabriele Salvatores

"My sun-filled thriller"


- A fearless boy challenges the adult world. Salvatores sets his latest film in the "southern hemisphere" during the hottest summer of the century

Gabriele Salvatores

Gabriele Salvatores' new film caused a feeding frenzy amongst film buyers at the European Film Market. Capitol, who are handling the international sales of this Italian (Colorado and Cattleya with Medusa and Tele+), Spanish (Alquimia), UK (The Producers Films) co-production, is set to make a killing.

Fortunately the film was also well received by the critics at the 9 a.m. screening and the positive atmosphere of the press conference for Io non ho paura [+see also:
interview: Gabriele Salvatores
film profile
, the only Italian title in competition in Berlin, was welcomed by all. A large part of the merit for that must go to the juvenile protagonists. The “definitely-not-scared” Giuseppe Cristiano, who deals with family crime and saves a young kidnap victim: Mattia Di Pierro, an introvert, who was given the not indifferent challenge of acting whilst stuck in a dark pit and covered with a blanket. Poor thing, even when the audience finally gets to see his little face, it's covered with dirt and grime, as he blinks against the fiercely blinding South Italian sun of Melfi in Basilicata.

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“I saw 540 children before hitting on the right ones,” reveals Salvatores. The director avoided using tricks and lies on the set: “Children are Little Buddhas until we ruin them. They have it all: the pain, distance, fear, joy... it is no coincidence that a synonym of “acting” is “to play”. Play is a terribly serious affair.”

The story that Niccolò Ammaniti conceived of after a trip to Puglia is very serious too. Puglia is a rather desolate expanse of dry and arid land without even the protective shade of a tree or bush, “how do kids spend their free time? what could happen here of a mysterious and secret nature?, Ammaniti asked himself. He answered the question by writing this thriller, told in the first person, that unfolds during a broiling hot summer. The summer when Michele finds a little boy in a hole in the ground - amazingly still alive. The summer when Michele also realises that the kidnapper is none other than his (Michele's) father!

Salvatores, what attracted you to Ammaniti’s book?
“For quite some time now I’ve been on the constant look out for filters that would allow me to portray reality whilst distancing myself from comedy and realism. My inspiration could be a videogame, an hallucinogen, a decayed tooth... this time around it was the point of view of a ten-year-old individual who forces me to set up the film camera at a height of 1.30 meters. That is a child’s perspective and that is what we all remember of our childhoods.”

A child psyches himself up by repeating a nursery rhyme or mantra, What does it mean for an adult not to be afraid?
“An ability to look into dark holes and corners, an ability to keep your eyes open regardless. Solidarity, disobedience. Right now, Italian society is expressing a sort of familiarity with reality and that is also reflected in films. I share Brecht’s opinion that that artists should always be one step ahead of the public. Unfortunately, in Italy we try to fulfil the public’s needs.”

When Michele asks what hungry people buy, the answer is: bread. Is this film also your personal statement against consumerism?
“Children and old people are outsiders in contemporary society because they don’t produce. Everything is focused on those who contribute to our collective well-being.”

Is that why you set this film in the ‘70s?
“There is an element of realism because in 1978, a law was passed that froze the assets of kidnap victims’ families. 1978 also saw an exponential growth in the number of kidnappings – 600 in all. However the chronological distance also makes this story into an archetypal metaphor.”

Do you think children should see this film?
“I asked myself that. My eight and nine-year-old nephews and nieces saw the film and were struck by what they’d seen. I know that when the trailer is screened in theatres, you can hear a pin drop – even when the audience is made up of roudy teens. So yes, I’d like for kids to see it.”

Is it challenging to make a thriller in brilliant daylight and just a handful of night scenes?
“Fear is not just linked to darkness. When you are nine years old, a cornfield reaches your chest and underneath anything could be lurking: animals, dry grass that cuts into your legs, holes... I believe that brilliant sunshine can also conceal terrible things.”

The South of Italy is your obsession and has been ever since you made Marrakech Express...
“If you look at the Earth from space, you see a slice of desert that divides the First from the Third World. I am incredibly drawn to what lies beneath that, where contrasts are stronger but more sincere. I like creating protagonists out of people who are anything but: regaling two little boys shots worthy of a John Wayne epic.”

The way you transformed Diego Abantantuono into an archetypal baddie is simply incredible...
“Diego showed his courage here. Courage to show everything that scares you: your belly, and your baldness. It’s important because we don’t have many actors of his age group who could play roles with such an impressive and significant physical presence.”

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(Translated from Italian)

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