Gianni Amelio • Director
by Camillo De Marco
17/04/2012 - 50s Algeria, ravaged by the war of independence, like the starving post-war Calabria. "The story of The First Man [trailer] is my story", says Gianni Amelio, who returns to cinema with his adaptation of the posthumous novel, unfinished and autobiographical, by Albert Camus, in which the French writer and philosopher retraces his childhood in his home country and talks about his return to Algiers in 1957 to rediscover the memory of his father, who died in the First World War. "I suspect that I was chosen to direct this film precisely because of my past. I share Camus’ childhood poverty, not having got to know my dad before I was older. Like him I was only raised by a mum and a very energetic grandma, as a child I worked summers and at school a teacher stepped in to help me". The director reflects: "Camus gave me a way to talk about autobiographical elements which I would otherwise not have had the courage to express ". So much that he wrote the film’s dialogues not basing them on those found in the novel but taking them from real events from his own family.
Much awaited in Cannes, chosen and then inexplicably refused in Venice, the film got its revenge in Toronto with the critics’ Fipresci award. Ambitious, poetic and moving, The First Man is perhaps the masterpiece of the sensitive director who won the Gran Prix in Cannes with The Stolen Children and the Golden Lion in Venice for The Way We Laughed. It’s a film which manages to bring together interiority and great political relevance. "I think that the observations on today’s world are quite clear, but I have to admit that when I make a film I don’t start calculating doses, this much of the past and this much of the present. I make a film using my insticts after having thought long and hard about it. I like films which bring out emotions: so that History has to pass through the story of a character. And The First Man is us, all of us".
The points of contact with the present are also those with the famous The Battle of Algiers by Gillo Pontecorvo. "That was a film which was made there and then, which the Algerian government wanted immediately after the revolution in order, rightly, to celebrate the victory. It’s a film which originates in news reporting and its strength lies in the timeliness with which this was reproduced on screen. I didn’t make a film about the Algerian War but about a war that s capable of dividing ethnic groups, a central question of our times. Some Algerian journalists have written that perhaps it’s the first film which accurately presents the two different positions, that of French Algeria and that of the Arab militants". Positions which were mediated by Camus’ thinking, he said "yes to revolution but no to terrorism".
Camus’ fraught relationship with the French Left could create other problems to the film’s distribution in France, due in October, right in the middle of the 50th anniversary of independence. "Negative reactions? I think and hope that after 50 years the wounds from the Algerian War have healed, although I fear that it might be considered as partisan".
The First Man was written and shot under the strict surveillance of the Noble prize-winning writer’s daughter: "Catherine had agreed with the production team that she would only give her assent after having seen the film. She was afraid that her father’s private life might have been misrepresented. Luckily she loved the film and wrote me a wonderful letter. She was also struck by the leading character, Jacques Gamblin,'I accepted him as my father after the first frame', she told me".
Great actors support Gamblin’s role. Maya Sansa, Catherine Sola, Denis Podalydès, Ulla Baugué, Nicolas Giraud, Abdelkarim Benhabouccha, Hachemi Abdelmalek. And then the little and brilliant Nino Jouglet. "During the auditions Sui provini non c'era intesa assoluta con i collaboratori francesi. Thousands had turned up, all accompanied by anxious parents. By chance we happened on Nino, a boy from Tolosa who was temporarily in Paris. I talked to him but he refused to answer. When I tried to take pictures of him he would look the other way. That is when I understood I had found Jacques".