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Roberto De Paolis • Director

“Losing my virginity”


- CANNES 2017: At the age of 37, Rome native Roberto De Paolis has revealed his first film, Pure Hearts, at Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes

Roberto De Paolis • Director
(© Quinzaine des Réalisateurs / Guillaume Lutz)

Fear of the other, of difference — often bubbling over into anger and aggression — and, at the same time, the other as an object of desire, are the two poles between which Pure Hearts [+see also:
film review
interview: Roberto De Paolis
film profile
alternates. The feature debut of 37-year-old Italian director Roberto De Paolis, it was screened for the first time on 23 May as part of Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. The film’s young protagonists are Stefano (Simone Liberati, who we saw in The Furlough [+see also:
film profile
) and Agnese (Selene Caramazza). He is the typical boy from the wrong side of the tracks, born into a disadvantaged family and on friendly terms with criminals, but he’s trying to build a life for himself despite it all, working as an attendant at a car park next to a travellers’ camp. She has just turned 18 years old, the daughter of an overprotective mother (Barbora Bobulova). The film was produced by De Paolis himself along with Carla Altieri for Young Film, in association with Rai Cinema and with the support of the region of Lazio. It went on general release on 24 May, the day after its world premiere at Cannes, under the auspices of Cinema — the company of the director’s father, Valerio De Paolis, who is a graduate of the London International Film School and also a photographer and video artist.

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How did you approach this story, and how did you train yourself up to be able to take it on?
Roberto De Paolis: It’s been a very long process. Initially, I started to work on the screenplay with the writers, but we realised that we would be making too many assumptions, and we needed to see things for ourselves and go from there. I had no knowledge of this world of Catholic communities and Roma camps. We went to Tor Sapienza, some of the actors as well — Selene Caramazza, Simone Liberati, Edoardo Pesce who plays Stefano’s friend Lele... We spent time in two different communities, one Evangelical and one Catholic, in order to build up a clear picture of the character of Agnese, and we went to see those huge buildings on the Viale Morandi, where we learned how difficult it is for people to find work and how easily someone can fall into criminal activity. We also found a car park right next to a Roma camp, like the one you see in the film.

Is it difficult to portray Roma people while steering clear of stereotypes?
The Roma are very much in the background of the film; in any case, I went to the camp on Via Salviati and I got to know it fairly well. They are very open and welcoming people, although they will try to get a bit of money out of you. I wanted to understand what they might represent to Stefano. He’s afraid of ending up like them; in fact, his parents are ultimately evicted and they have to move to a caravan. For young Italian men in these areas who are out of work, the Roma are a kind of spectre, an apparition.

The film depicts an uncompromising Christianity and, at the same time, an open one, through the figure of the gregarious monk.
Often, cinema tends to judge the Church, whereas my intention was to try to get under its skin. I was lucky enough to be able to follow my instincts, and my fascination with that world suggested a challenge: presenting an open, modern and enlightened Church through the figure of the philosophical priest, more in tune with the teachings of Jesus than the dogmas of the clergy.

How did you choose the two lead actors?
Above all, I chose them because they are very good, and beyond that, because they were able to bring something of themselves to these characters. Despite the obvious differences, there’s an interplay between character and actor, and that’s the greatest asset.

How did it feel to be selected for Directors’ Fortnight?
We put a great many years of work into this film, apart from anything else because we weren’t satisfied with the initial screenplay and so we decided to continue working on it, which meant taking on a long and drawn-out creative challenge. Now the film is here at Cannes, and straight after that it will be arriving in cinemas. It’s the end of a long journey.

Why the title, “Pure Hearts”? What is “purity”, for you?
Pure Hearts can be interpreted in two different ways. Purity can be a positive thing, but there’s also a negative aspect to it. Agnese wants to remain totally untouched, and she shuts herself away in a community where everyone thinks the same way. Stefano, too, tries to protect the Roma’s land. Virginity is seen as the loss of a childish illusion of purity and perfection: the virginity of a body, of a territory, that you want to keep from mixing with foreign elements.

Why did you decide to film with a hand-held camera?
Simone improvised a great deal, and the hand-held camera was the best option because it can respond to the actors and their spontaneous movements.

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(Translated from Italian)

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