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LECCE 2019

Leonardo D’Agostini • Director of The Champion

“Wanting to please at all costs can make you do the wrong thing”


- Director Leonardo D’Agostini talks to us about his first work, The Champion, world-premiered at the Lecce European Film Festival

Leonardo D’Agostini  • Director of The Champion

Produced by the golden boys of Italian cinema, Matteo Rovere and Sydney Sibilia, The Champion [+see also:
film review
interview: Leonardo D’Agostini
film profile
, the first feature film by Leonardo D'Agostini is an accomplished, bittersweet comedy on how to manage success. It centres on a young striker who’s a rich, spoiled troublemaker to boot (Andrea Carpenzano), who’s assigned a tutor in the form of a withdrawn and tormented teacher (Stefano Accorsi) by the Club’s chairman. We chatted to the director about his movie at the 20th Lecce European Film Festival, where it premiered worldwide.

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Cineuropa: The film is set in the world of football, but it covers many other topics: friendship, father-son relationships, managing success … What was your initial inspiration?
Leonardo D'Agostini: Football is a really important backdrop for the story, but it’s really a film about friendship. The story came about because we were intrigued by the character of a boy from the outskirts of Rome who was a rock star of sorts, as footballers often are, and we liked the idea of immersing someone like us - a teacher - into that crazy, self-indulgent world. Our initial inspiration was Mario Balotelli. We then realised that many of these footballers have similar traits, similar family set-ups and have taken similar paths in life. What’s different is where they end up, rather than where they started out.

Were you inspired by one newspaper article in particular?
Antonella Lattanzi
and I wrote the story almost five years ago. We’d read about Balotelli, who’s known for being an excellent player, but also for his turbulent lifestyle. At the time, he played for Milan; the Club was losing patience and eventually decided to bring in a tutor. The tutor in the article was a bodyguard, but what I was drawn to was the idea of a boy, a little over twenty and at the top of his game, with a really complex character; full of affective, emotional and cultural gaps. Someone who is so alone that he constantly seeks out the company of others; who needs to have people around him. We thought to ourselves, maybe this is why he gets into one scrape after the other: because he wants to please other people.

Then he meets the teacher…
This is a player who is paid millions each year, and, in order to protect his investment – not for any humanitarian reason, of course - the Club chairman takes a punt and assigns him this teacher, who, for his own reasons, is at the other end of the spectrum; he no longer expects anything out of life. The boy is alone without realising it, while the teacher is alone out of choice. It’s the meeting between these two types of loneliness that triggers something off. They’re forced to spend time together and with time their relationship grows; it becomes an exchange. Even Valerio understands this and subsequently overcomes his own mental blocks as a result of meeting this boy. 

How did you go about researching the people who surround these mega-spoiled footballers?
We read so many biographies, which are full of anecdotes. Also, Antonella is the daughter of two teachers: her mum actually taught Antonio Cassano (another ex-player notorious for his bad behaviour, ndr). Other than that, we just thought about the general social dynamics of boys whose teenage years are complicated. Wanting to please at all costs can make you do the wrong thing – this is a universal fact which we transposed into a different world; one of money and fame, where these mistakes are very often tolerated and put down to personality. 

Lastly, the stadium scene: you successfully recreated a credible football match on screen.
That was the most complicated sequence of the whole film. It’s very difficult to recreate Serie A, a war machine which generates and costs millions upon millions. We had to find a high-level partner who could credibly double up as Roma, which in the end was Pisa Calcio, a Serie C team comprising exceptional professional footballers. We owe them a lot in terms of the quality of the football scenes. From a technical point of view, it was even more complicated: we shot the terraces, the indoor areas, the changing rooms and the corridors at the Stadio Olimpico, while the pitch was filmed in Pisa. We then used digital effects to combine the two, bringing the Pisa pitch into the Stadio Olimpico. And Carpenzano playing a Serie A footballer...? That’s yet another example of the magic of film.

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(Translated from Italian)

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