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LOCARNO 2019 Filmmakers of the Present

Davide Maldi • Director of The Young Observant

“With my works, I always begin by studying an ancient rite, which I then try to transpose into modern-day society”


- We interviewed Davide Maldi to discuss his latest film The Young Observant, which follows a group of hospitality and catering school students enrolled on a difficult course

Davide Maldi • Director of The Young Observant

We met with Davide Maldi, director of the documentary The Young Observant [+see also:
film review
interview: Davide Maldi
film profile
, which is competing in the Filmmakers of the Present section of the Locarno Film Festival this year. Our conversation quickly turned to his protagonists, the research and observation process that was involved in making the documentary, as well as exploring the themes of adolescence, discipline and work.

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Cineuropa: Your film follows Luca Tufano and his classmates, who are students at a prestigious hospitality and catering school, and the difficult course they’ve embarked upon. Why is it important to tell this story today?
Davide Maldi:
I wanted to find a real context in which a teenage boy would be obliged to grow up quickly by immediately learning a trade. This catering institute seemed the best place for me to base myself, because the waiting profession is governed by rules and discipline, all in the name of serving the customer. It seemed unusual to me to learn the rules of the world of work at just fourteen years old. Luca comes from a small village in the mountains, he’s a wild and free spirit and I chose him as a protagonist because I thought that his particular experience of the course would help me give a better account of the difficulties involved in learning this profession at such a young age.

Discipline and rigour are central features of the film. What do these two words mean to you in today’s world, especially with regard to youngsters?
Discipline and rigour are strong and rather austere words in today’s context, and far removed from everyday life. In the film, the schoolteacher demands discipline and rigour because these qualities are at the very heart of this particular profession, and he’s direct and honest with his pupils. He doesn’t mess the adolescent around; on the contrary he treats him like an adult and makes sure he takes responsibility for himself, for his successes and his failures, because the life that awaits him outside will be gruelling.

What was your directorial approach on set? How long did you follow your subjects for and how did you win their trust?
I spent a lot of time in the school without filming, just watching the lessons unfold. I waited a while so as to be sure. I wanted to make a film using a particular directing style and aesthetic so as to convey a similar rigour to that demanded by the school and the profession. The viewer lives this story through Luca’s experience. I always put myself on the side of the students, developing a relationship of trust and complicity with them, which then allowed us to work together in harmony. I tried to get the point across that I wasn’t a teacher and that I wasn’t there to judge whether they were cut out for the course or for life beyond it.

What were the main obstacles you encountered while making the film, from a technical and a human point of view?
To be honest, setting the film in an educational institution made the process a lot easier. I tend to work alone, which makes moving around and working in such a confined space far easier. I always felt like I had everything under control, which was also helped by the lengthy preparations carried out beforehand. The real difficulty was keeping human relationships alive and well, with Luca and his classmates for example; understanding their language and respecting their codes.

Which other themes would you like to tackle in future, through film?
With my works, I always begin by studying an ancient rite, which I then try to transpose into modern-day society. I like to combine supernatural elements with reality. I don’t see myself as a traditional documentary-maker: I like to be in control of what I’m doing, whilst also leaving the door open to the unexpected. In the future, I’d like to make a science fiction film; a subtle, educated science fiction film with a strong basis in reality.

Are you working on any other projects at the moment?
The Young Observant is intended as the second chapter of a trilogy on adolescence, which began with my previous film, Frastuono, and which will continue with another, more structured work, again seen through the eyes and experience of a boy and exploring a familiar kind of failure. I’ve started looking into how and where I’m going to develop the project, but it’s still early days.

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