Pierluigi Ferrandini • Director of Percoco - Il primo mostro d’Italia
“Horrendous acts are like short-circuits which help you to realise the entire system is malfunctioning”
- The Bari-born director spoke to us about his debut feature film about the man behind the first ever Italian family massacre of the 20th century and the chilling ten days following his crime
The first ever perpetrator of a family massacre in Italian history was called Franco Percoco. He was 26 years old, and he came from Bari. It was 1956, in the years of the economic boom, and Pierluigi Ferrandini’s debut feature film Percoco - Il primo mostro d’Italia [+see also:
interview: Pierluigi Ferrandini
film profile] tells us all about it, screening as it is within the ItaliaFilmFest competition of the 14th Bif&st - Bari International Film&Tv Festival. We chatted with the director about his film, which is based upon Marcello Introna’s book Percoco.
Cineuropa: The book tells the story of Percoco from when he was a teenager, but you focus on the ten days which followed the crime. Why is this?
Pierluigi Ferrandini: The book spans a ten-year time-period. But ultimately, what’s really striking is the fact that this boy, in addition to having killed his father, mother and brother, then lived with their bodies for ten days while having the time of his life. They were the ten days which confirmed Franco Percoco’s monstrous nature. I decided to explore a true crime with rigorous accuracy, reproducing everything faithfully, to the point of obsession. I was able to access the trial records and the crime scene photos, which you see at the end of the film.
Who was Franco Percoco, really?
Franco Percoco wasn’t born a monster and he didn’t die a monster. He lived the life of a normal boy until he was 26, then he committed a horrific massacre, but immediately afterwards he turned up at his trial wearing a black armband. The first words he uttered to the police when they handcuffed him were “help me”, as if he’d been possessed, and then abandoned by a monster once those ten days had passed. He was given a life sentence, but he was released from prison after just 23 years for good behaviour. He then lived in Turin for another 21 years as an office worker, and he also got married.
Percoco’s story speaks to us on a deeper level because it’s the tale of a boy crushed by heavy social pressure, not just from his family. An economic boom was underway, society was really pulling itself together after the disaster of the war. Percoco’s story is current in the same way that the mistakes any boy, society or family might make are current: it’s a story where everyone loses.
The film is also a snapshot of the middle classes in those times, and its hypocrisies.
One important theme in the film, which reflects the ideology of the time, is concealment. Percoco hides his parents’ bodies from society, and I chose to hide them from the viewers, so that we can place ourselves in the minds of a boy who’s still trying to understand what he’s done. He would have had a variety of options open to him: turning himself in or going on the run and trying to start a new life elsewhere, but he chose evil as his salvation. Even Percoco’s parents hid their own Down syndrome son, just like they hid the fact that their eldest son, Vittorio, was in prison: in all the eight years he was locked up, they never once went to visit him. Concealment is the real scourge of the middle classes.
How did you go about working with your lead actor Gianluca Vicari?
I tried to reproduce a live feed of those nine nights and ten days when Percoco was cohabiting with his monster, and it was important to me that his ambiguous nature shone through, that the viewer felt the full force of his inner conflict. So we worked physically on freezing the upper section of his face. He has a glassy expression in almost all of the film. Gianluca’s face is split in two: there’s a frozen section (his eyes) and a mobile section (his mouth, which tells lies).
Percoco’s dichotomy is also reflected in the film’s aesthetic.
I was intent on creating an outside world and an inner one. The house is his tumulus in which evil lurks, like a cancer. All the materials inside the house (the dark wood, the wall hangings) absorb the light; the outer materials reflect the economic boom; they’re metallic, varnished. The internal shots inside the house are motionless, asphyxiating; the geometry is oppressive. I created a gentler sense of movement outside.
Your film is anything but didactic. Did you ever sense this might be a risk, or that it might leave viewers dissatisfied?
It’s a snapshot which verges on sterile, I try not to take a position, there aren’t any explanations, flashbacks, prologues or epilogues, no in-depth analyses of secondary motivations. I wanted to give an impression of real life, with all its inconsistencies. I could have created situations which made it perfectly clear who the father was, and the mother; why his girlfriend behaved in a certain way, but I wanted to give viewers the impression that I was shedding a bit of light on Percoco, on the moment he turned into a monster. Behind the story of a monster there’s always a little lesson to be learned; his horrendous acts are like an exploding boil, and this short-circuiting helps you to realise the entire system is malfunctioning.
(Translated from Italian)
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