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Davide Barletti, Lorenzo Conte • Directors

“The ultimate class war portrayed through the eyes of children”


- Cineuropa chatted to David Barletti and Lorenzo Conte at Bif&st about their most recent feature-length film, The War of Bumpkins, in Italian theatres on 27 April

Davide Barletti, Lorenzo Conte • Directors
Directors Davide Barletti (left) and Lorenzo Conte

After its debut at the Rome Film Fest in 2016 and its international premiere at Rotterdam, The War of Bumpkins [+see also:
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is doing the rounds at film festivals and exhibitions around the globe, including Beijing, Buenos Aires, New York, Copenhagen, Monaco and Moscow. It’s due to be released in Italy on 27 April and will be distributed by Ismaele Film. We spoke to directors Davide Barletti and Lorenzo Conte at the eighth Bif&st in Bari, where the film is currently competing in the Opere prime e seconde (First and Second Works) section.

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Cineuropa: How did you discover D’Amicis’ book? And how did you go about making a film adaptation?
Lorenzo Conte: We were working on another project that wasn’t going anywhere when our screenwriter at the time, Marco Saura, recommended Carlo D’Amicis’ book La guerra dei cafoni. We read it and fell in love immediately. We decided to meet the writer, and it was love at first sight. Carlo put himself at the mercy of the story, something that rarely happens, as writers tend to be protective of their work. From that point in time, we began transforming the novel into a film, with the development phase lasting six years. Torrematta is essentially a fictional place in Salento; however, the book has more obvious roots in reality. The book features adults, even though they are hidden from view somewhat; there are roads, a police station… Bit by bit we gradually removed the more realistic elements of the book and set the tale in a more magical setting, suspended from reality, a fairy tale. In the film, we pushed the characters and places to the extremes of reality.

And you completely removed the adults…
LC: There was already a theme of presence-absence running through the book. Some of the adults’ roles were more clearly defined, whereas others were a bit more nebulous. A bit like Charlie Brown, in which only the legs of the adults are visible, while the kids are shown at a different height. We pondered the idea of them simply being absent from the film adaptation, in order to give the entire stage to the children and make everything a bit more universal and out of this world. As a viewer, you initially ask yourself: but where do these children sleep, how do they eat, where are they getting petrol for their mopeds? But then you stop because ultimately it’s irrelevant. The absence of adults ended up being one of the film’s strengths, as the children became the focal point of the story.
Davide Barletti: It’s also worth pointing out that when you’re a teenager and you experience those never-ending summers, adults definitely disappear from view somewhat. A teenager’s world is so wonderful precisely because they aren’t around; it’s a free world, not one full of systems and structures. There are, however, some rules in the film, an almost primordial order to things, inasmuch as the film begins with a scene in which the war between the opposing sides begins at the dawn of time. For us, removing the adults gave these characters the freedom to live.

The film is almost exclusively spoken in dialect. Is the same true for the book?
DB: Yes, but with a more Tarantino-Salentina inflection. We went through a long process of casting for the film; we saw up to 800 boys and girls in order to find the 22 protagonists that I would describe as forces of nature. We decided not to limit ourselves by choosing an entire cast from Lecce or Bari, for example. Instead, we chose faces that we thought were most suited to the story we were trying to tell. It was through this process that a certain particularity to the film came about - a polyphony of dialects. If you close your eyes and listen to the film, you hear dialects from all over Puglia. It was a bold operation, and we are very proud of it.

Is this war between the upper classes and the bumpkins set in the 1970s also a commentary on the transformation of the country?
LC: It could be seen as a metaphor for the ultimate class struggle, as seen from a child’s point of view. These days, everything has changed, the terminology, the setting, but the injustice has potentially increased. The gulf between the rich and the poor still exists. We put this story into the hands of children specifically to strip it of the classic elements of ideological films or 1970s politics. There is no explicit reference to particular conflicts or the anni di piombo (Years of Lead) in the film. There’s no televised news shown or reference made to communist party manifestos. It’s the story of historical change, but above all it’s a story about education. It’s a cross-sectional film.

In the end, it’s only the cafona (lit. bumpkin) girl who dares to look beyond the horizon…
DB: War tends to be masculine. Mela represents the desire to escape structured roles. Our challenge was to make a film for young people that included some larger element of reflection. The eternal struggle between those with everything and those with nothing followed a particular pattern up until the summer of 1975. On one side were the elite and on the other side the bumpkins. In the film, there comes a moment in which the cards are shuffled, and as prophesised by Pasolini, the polarised distinction between the two sides fades with the arrival of the petty bourgeoisie and national television. The discovery of adulthood also features; the turmoil endured when leaving behind a certain phase of life, and the freedom of breaking the mould.

(Translated from Italian by Beatrice Guarneri)

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