Giovanni Veronesi • Director
“A film from the people at the bottom”
- New feature length film by the man behind Manuale d'amore opened the eighth Rome Film Festival. A portrait of 40 years of Italian history through the eyes of an everyday man
“I had entered a routine. A director, at a certain point, needs to knock on doors. This is how I ended up meeting people who listened to another part of me.” This is how Giovanni Veronesi explains how he switched gears, going from the three Manual of Love box-office hits and the thousands of variations of female-male relationships, to a portrait of forty years of Italian history as seen through the eyes of an everyday man, from a friendship with De Laurentiis (Filmauro) to an alliance with Procacci (Fandango). Chosen to open the eighth Rome International Film Festival (November 8-17), The Fifth Wheel stars Ernesto (Elio Germano), a simple and honest man. Through various episodes of his life and his many jobs (carpenter, nursery cook, mover, driver, film extra), we are taken through the crucial elements of Italian history, from the 1970s to today: the murder of Moro, the Italian victory at the world cup, the destruction of a socialist ideal, and the accession to power of Berlusconi. Vices and virtues of Italian society are also brought up: fake competitions, the arrogance of power, lack of sanity, emancipated women without scruples, with an incursion into the cursed Roman school of the 1980s. The cast includes Alessandra Mastronardi, Ricky Memphis, Virginia Raffaele, Alessandro Haber and Sergio Rubini. The film will be coming out on November 14 in Italian movie theatres, distributed by Warner in 350 cinemas.
Cineuropa: A different film from previous comedies. A more ambitious piece of work, which recalls Italian comedy with its bittersweet tone. What kind of reaction are you awaiting from the public?
Giovanni Veronesi: You are right. This is the first film I make where no one cheats on someone else. I chose to take a different route in a moment in which, when it comes to comedy, the Italian market has stagnated with two or three styles, just because those work. Procacci endorsed the project and gave me faith. I could not have made this kind of film with De Laurentiis. People who have seen it have laughed a lot. I am expecting a popular reaction to the film. It is a pop film, even if you might expect a lighter piece of work. But I have not stepped away from entertainment, irony, sarcasm. I would tire of telling things in a different way.
How did you work on the memoirs by Ernesto Fioretti, the man who inspired your film?
Like a dressmaker: sewing his memories together and putting them in chronological order. It is a film in which I hardly invent anything: 90% of what we see actually happened. I had known Ernesto for years. He is a Roman production driver in his sixties. We were in a car going towards Fabriano, where I was collecting a prize. After taking a break at the Autogrill, he told me: “Giovà, we ate worse than when I was a nursery cook.” “You were a nursery cook?” I was surprised. The rest of the journey was spent with him telling me his life, the story of a simple soldier, of an honest man who remained true to his principles and to his wife. This is where the idea for the film came from. A film from those at the bottom. The only way to tell the story of Italy in the last few decades was to let her be the background to a common person.
One of the most emblematic scenes is the one where Ernesto sees the posters with Berlusconi running for election, and he tries to imitate his smile. Is The Fifth Wheel also a political film?
Elio did a great job with the screenplay. He made it clear that it was neither a parody nor a critical film. In that moment, after Tangentopoli, that man smiling from the posters was something very particular, whether it was right or wrong. That man brought the promise of miracles. He said, “don’t worry, I’ll take care of it,” and Ernesto, in that moment, needed a miracle. Berlusconi did not win thanks to the rich, who if anything were jealous of him, but because he touched the people. The character of Ricky Memphis asks himself why those on the left did not come up with this, the progressives were busy putting all those women into politics. Today, we know what really happened, but at the time, it really was something new. There is no ideology. Even when it comes to politics, what is shown is shown through the eyes of a simple man.
(Translated from Italian)
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