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BLACK NIGHTS 2021 First Feature Competition

Francesco Sossai • Director of Other Cannibals

“The idea was for the film not to enhance the beauty of the surroundings, but rather create the images as ruggedly as possible”

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- The Italian director mixes the topic of cannibalism with friendship and self-determination in his Black Nights-winning debut feature

Francesco Sossai • Director of Other Cannibals

This year's Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival hosted the screening of the first feature by Italian director Francesco Sossai. Other Cannibals [+see also:
film review
interview: Francesco Sossai
film profile
]
is an intimate, black-and-white drama about two singular protagonists and provides an original outlook on the theme of cannibalism. We spoke to the director about his inspiration, his characters and the visual concept of the movie, which walked away from the gathering with the Best First Feature Film Award (see the news).

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Cineuropa: Where did the inspiration for the story come from?
Francesco Sossai:
I made a short-form mockumentary in 2013-2014 about cannibalism, starring the same actor we see in Other Cannibals. With the feature, I wanted to look at the topic from another perspective. The inspiration came to me from an encounter I had, when I went back to the area of my hometown in Italy. One night, in a restaurant, I saw two guys speaking to each other. They were very close but still seemed not to know each other that well. Without knowing what they had said, I imagined what they could have spoken about and that they might have wanted to do something special. I felt at the same time a discomfort and a fascination for them. The story started from that scene and developed slowly from there.

How did you proceed to develop the characters?
Both of the main characters had to have something metaphysical and, at the same time, be grounded in reality. Fausto is the restless type: he is inspired by the Faust in Pushkin's scene, who asks the demon to intervene because he is bored. Ivan is like one of Dostoevsky's characters: he has extreme ideas around which he builds a conceptual framework of thoughts. They both resemble people I have met in my area. They are characters “in limbo” who never achieved anything and are stuck in their way of life.

How did you find your protagonists?
The film mixes professional and non-professional actors. A lot of them are people from my own town. As for the two main characters, I have known Walter Giroldini, who plays the role of Fausto, for 15 years. He is a non-professional actor but did performances during concerts. He has always fascinated me with his energetic and simultaneously disturbing demeanour. We became friends, eventually. We previously worked together on my short film, and I saw what he was able to do. Together, we developed his role for this film. In the case of Diego Pagotto, who plays Ivan, I met him while I was working as an assistant director on another movie. I was fascinated by his face and charisma. He has done a lot of films in Italy. I wanted to show him from a more fragile perspective, however. We spent a long time preparing the relationship between the two characters, since this is what the feature is based on. I liked the fact that they both have very different features in terms of their faces and bodies.

Was there any room for improvisation, or did you have a strictly controlled script?
It was a combination of both. I developed the script, then we started rehearsing and integrated things that came up during this process into the script. Then we came back to the actors with a new script. The most important thing was that the actors had to be able to feel free in their movements; this is why the camera had to move freely as well.

What were the most important aspects of the visual concept for the film?
With the black and white, I wanted to achieve a certain contradiction between the almost documentary-like approach and the fictional part of the film. The movie had to feel like a western, like the films that the protagonist Fausto likes to watch. We used the handheld camera mostly for practical reasons, since it allowed me to follow each of the characters and to shift the perspective when Ivan arrives in town. Moreover, I wanted to avoid depicting the place in an overly idyllic way. The idea was for the film not to enhance the beauty of the surroundings, but rather create the images as ruggedly as possible.

The scene with the slaughtering of the pig is very symbolic. Why was it important for you to show it?
I wanted to include a reality check for the fantasy world of the characters, and also for that of the audience. I have witnessed this practice since I was a kid, and it is still something stomach-churning to see, for me. It feels like the ghost of something that is disappearing from our lives. It's about death and our relationship with death. I wanted to portray it in the simplest way possible, as if you were walking through the countryside and happened to see it. It is a contrast with another aspect – a tradition – that’s disappearing: the men’s choir. Those same men are able to do both things.

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