Gianni Amelio • Director
At the Venice Film Festival with The Missing Star
by Camillo de Marco
07/09/2006 - He may not have convinced all the critics, but he certainly won over the audience, which responded with lengthy applause to Gianni Amelio’s Italian film The Missing Star [trailer] (see article), in competition for the Golden Lion at Venice this year, eight years after his triumphant The Way We Laughed. Amelio is one of Italy’s most esteemed directors, above all for the sensitivity with which he treats his stories of everyday life.
Cineuropa: This is an existential road movie, a journey in discovering one’s self, through the unknown universe that is China, for Vincenzo, a worker in a recently abandoned factory who takes off in search of a Chinese steel mill with a dangerous defect, which he alone thinks he can fix.
Gianni Amelio: He is a man who needs to regain a lost groundedness. He has nothing left, he wants to know if he has a chance at a second life. So he invents a mechanical failure as a trick to convince himself that his new path is the right one.
I didn’t go to China to support the propaganda. Mine is the eternal story of the need to live, to not give up.
How did you find the country?
It was a very powerful experience. It is a country of incredible contrasts, from the science fiction that is Shanghai to the extremely poor countryside, where people live in favelas – however, I couldn’t use all the images depicting show this in the film. Today, China is suffocated by a harsh bureaucratic, dictatorial system, in which the worst of capitalism has rooted itself, to the detriment of workers’ lives. Wherever we shot, the skies were grey, cloudy, impenetrable, from the frighteningly high levels of pollution. We only saw the sun when we got to inner Mongolia.
You shot for nine weeks after three months of location scouting. What difficulties did you come up against?
The commission for film control, which we’ll call the censors, followed each and every version of the screenplay and there was always a functionary of theirs on set. They didn’t want us to shoot in the steel mills of Chongqing, one of the most terrifying places on earth, where women prepare food among poisonous miasmas and barefoot and abandoned children run around among the waste from the steel mill. They forbid me to film a small demonstration organised by students who were protesting against the pollution from the steel mill. But I can’t complain about how we were treated. The Chinese may knock you down, but then they help you get back up.