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“A generation held hostage by violence”

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Annarita Zambrano • Director

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- CANNES 2017: We met up with Annarita Zambrano, the only female Italian director at Cannes, whose film, After the War, is screening in the Un Certain Regard section

Annarita Zambrano  • Director
(© F Silvestre de Sacy/Festival de Cannes)

Annarita Zambrano is the only female Italian director at the 70th Cannes Film Festival and is presenting her film, After the War [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Annarita Zambrano
film profile
]
, in the Un Certain Regard section. The film tells the story of a former terrorist sentenced to life in prison, seeking refuge in France thanks to the Mitterrand doctrine. Produced in France by Cinéma Defacto and Sensito Films, with a budget of around €3 million, it later gained the support of two Italian co-producers, Movimento Film and I Wonder Pictures.

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Cineuropa: Is this a political film or a personal story?
Annarita Zambrano:
The film definitely slots into a wider political context, but it’s also a commentary on the human being. I wanted to make a film about a small, personal event that stumbles into a larger historical context. A private event that became public. How to go on living when everyone has already made up his or her mind about you...

Were you inspired by anyone in particular for the main character?
Not directly, but the character could very well have been a real person.

He’s not a pathetic character or a loser, but someone with integrity, charisma and coherence. What kind of work was done on the screenplay?
I had no intention whatsoever of judging the main character; I poured as much love into him as I could, regardless of whether he is guilty or not. He’s an antihero, just like the characters in Scorsese’s and Haneke’s films. The good and the bad sides of a character make them interesting. I wanted to paint a portrait of a human being, and I found myself identifying with the main character, as well as with the journalist who interviews him.

Terrorism is still an open wound for Italy.
We thought about making a film that would serve as a revisitation of a certain era and the Mitterrand doctrine. A guilty party is a guilty party, but our country has never wanted to resolve the issue, and these people haven’t ever truly faced their responsibilities. They were dangling by a thread. The film is not intended as a judgement; it’s more of a commentary on guilt, humanity and politics. It’s a reflection on those who don’t want to make decisions. It’s about the state’s reasoning compared with human reason. The guilt that falls onto those left behind is evident not just in classical culture – Antigone, for example – but also in Catholic culture, and it affects a lot of Italians, myself included.

You didn’t live through that period of time directly yourself, though…
I was six years old when Aldo Moro was killed. I witnessed the build-up of a violent climate through the eyes of a child. Even though I didn’t personally experience that particular moment in time, I tried to give my interpretation of a topic that many people feel personally connected to, making it both private and impenetrable subject matter. I don’t have an explanation for terrorism, but I do think that it’s important to try to understand. Young people have the right to protest, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to murdering people. But somehow, protesting has become synonymous with killing. An entire generation has been taken hostage by violence.

How did you go about choosing the actors for the two main characters, Giuseppe Battiston and the young Charlotte Cétaire?
Charlotte’s silence struck me. As an actor, you need to know how to perform a moment of silence. She’s a very tenacious and rebellious dancer. She’s not particularly interested in a career as an actress. Battiston comes from a dramatic theatre background, even though Italian cinema casts him in those brilliant comedies. I wanted to create an anti-romantic type with his character, in direct contrast with the terrorist’s fascination with Che Guevara. His character is reminiscent of Orson Welles with his presence occupying so much space – physical space as well as the mental space of his daughter Viola.

You live in Paris. Is there a link between the terrorism of the 1970s and the Islamic terrorism of today?
I live on the same street as the Bataclan, and it was traumatic for all of us. We’re waking up from our closed society. We sense the war that threatens us. And you know it’s serious when violence becomes so trivialised and normalised. The French are tackling terrorism in the best possible way. They’re not holding back from stepping out of the house and living their lives.

After the War has two souls, an Italian soul and a French soul.
I made my first few films in France, but my first feature-length movie, this film, is Italian. A director without their own country only has half the number of ideas and things to talk about; you can’t pull an artist away from their roots. I want to make films in Italy, but at the same time, I owe a lot to France. It taught me to be dignified as an auteur, to work better than others in order to compete with them.

The film was initially a French production, and Italy got involved at a later stage.
It started in France thanks to the CNC’s advance on receipts. It took me six years of my life, six years of work. Italy followed at a later date, and without my country I wouldn’t have been able to finish the film. But in Italy, particularly with a woman’s directorial debut, you expect intimate or personal stories; during the writing phase, no one was interested. The French system works; it’s based on distribution, which allows you to shoot a film with a bit more security.

(Translated from Italian by Beatrice Guarneri)

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