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Paolo Virzì • Director

"The Leisure Seeker is a film about the freedom of choice"


- VENICE 2017: The Leisure Seeker, Paolo Virzì’s first film to be shot in the USA, is competing at the Venice Film Festival. The Tuscan director talked to the international press

Paolo Virzì • Director
(© La Biennale di Venezia - foto ASAC)

The Leisure Seeker [+see also:
film review
Q&A: Paolo Virzì
film profile
, in competition at the Venice Film Festival, is the first film by Paolo Virzì to be shot in the United States. Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland star in a story that sees them "fleeing" through America in an old camper-van. Produced by Indiana with Rai Cinema, the film has already been sold in 90 countries worldwide.

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How did you approach the American unconscious as an outsider?
Paolo Virzì: I have no intention of emigrating. I’m inherently linked to Italian cinema and I'm proud to be a part of the Italian filmmaking community. This project essentially came to life while I was playing around, born out of the affectionate insistence of my co-writing friends and producers at Indiana Production and Rai Cinema, who prompted me to write a script that was inspired by the very tempting, subversive and thought-provoking book, The Leisure Seeker, by Michael Zadoorian. I thought the film was feasible but was somewhat apprehensive as I consider my language and a familiar landscape to be my professional tools. I said that  I wanted Helen and Donald to star in the film almost as a means of protection, thinking they would never accept the offer. And then when they unexpectedly said yes, I couldn't pull out. I needed to make this film, bringing along my point of view, my cinema, and my crew. Knowing that Helen and Donald love Italy, Italian style and Italian cinema was very encouraging. I felt at home. It was as though I was shooting my own film, but in the United States on Route 1, which actually uses the same number as the Strada Statale 1 Aurelia, which I've traveled down so many times before between Rome and Livorno.

There are various elements of American culture in the film, however.
We wanted to use Hemingway, the Short Stories and the beat narrative (the elements behind so many on-the-road films) as narrative elements in order to give a sociological and cultural background to the characters originating from the book that inspired us. An intelligent and ironic book that rebels against the destiny of dying in hospital, separated from loved ones. It's also the tale of a very tacky, peculiar America, with Disneyland as the final destination. I like identification and empathy and we tried to bring the book somewhere closer to what we’re more familiar with. We moved the trip's itinerary to the East Coast and had the idea of a ​​retired professor who lives between the pages of the books he has loved and taught for so long. We also decided to make ​​Ella a complete glutton for life, despite it being miraculous that she’s still standing on two feet at all. While we were doing the location surveys we were surrounded by an electoral campaign that was igniting America in such a violent and aggressive way, and it seemed as if this personal story was reflecting the wider portrait of a changing America. We never imagined back then that Trump would actually win the election.

The theme of life coming to an end is certainly a very strong one.
I think it's wrong for filmmakers to identify one specific theme, but this story is inevitably to do with the question of having a choice in life up until that very last moment. Ella's choice, which may seem scandalous, but is shared by John, is very courageous and full of dignity. This is a film about the freedom to make choices together, against the opinion of your children, doctors and against a system, like the American one, that forces you to fork out all of your money on health insurance at the very end of your life. We didn’t want to take a particular political stance, but the idea of ​​rebellion seemed to be a very joyful and loving one, and in telling the story, we’ve been able to share Ella's choice with the world. For me, their finale is grand, triumphant and full of respect.

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(Translated from Italian)

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