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Costanza Quatriglio • Director of Just Like My Son

"The film's narrative structure reflects my own journey of knowledge"


- We caught up with the Italian filmmaker Costanza Quatriglio, whose film Just Like My Son screened in competition at the Zagreb Film Festival, after world-premiering in Locarno

Costanza Quatriglio  • Director of Just Like My Son
(© MIA)

We caught up with the Italian filmmaker Costanza Quatriglio, whose film Just Like My Son [+see also:
film review
interview: Costanza Quatriglio
film profile
screened in competition at the Zagreb Film Festival, after world-premiering in Locarno.

Cineuropa: How did you come in touch with the Hazara people, and when and how did you decide to make this fiction film with non-professional actors?
Costanza Quatriglio:
When I decided to tell the story of Ismail and his mother, I was still unaware that the diaspora of a persecuted people would come into it.

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In 2005 I was filming the documentary The World on Their Shoulders, which focuses on the lives of numerous unaccompanied minors, and that is how I met Jan [Mohammad Jan Azad, who also collaborated on the script], a Hazara boy who lived in a child-care family house in Rome and had no news about his mother since he was very young. I knew he was from Afghanistan and that he had escaped the civil war and the Taliban. Through Jan, I met other Hazara boys, but none of them ever spoke to me explicitly about persecution against their people. It was only years later, in 2010, after Jan told me he had found his mother and decided to make a fiction film to tell the story, that I learned about the massacres and ethnic cleansing attempts.

The film's narrative structure therefore reflects my own knowledge journey, from one individual's intimate and private story to the history of an entire people. A broadening of both my perspective and knowledge.

I casted with Laura Muccino all over the world. We looked for both professional actors and people working in that field of culture. We got audition tapes back from every continent and that's how we met the poet Basir Ahang, who lives in Italy, and Dawood Yousefi.

They based their work on the physical and emotional memory of the feelings I talk about in the film, they see it as a reflection of their own stories. This was the film’s point of departure and strength with Basir and Dawood: both of them recognised their own generation’s story in the film. Before going on set, we held rehearsals and training sessions for months. Because they both needed to take on the passion of the character's way of thinking.

How was it to work with the non-professionals and professionals together? How did you put these two sides together?
In order to invent a coherent world, you need to work very carefully. On the one hand, professional actors need to be in harmony with non-professional actors. And Tihana Lazovic, who plays the role of Nina, was very good at that. On the other hand, the film doesn't adopt a naturalistic approach and I would never say that Basir and Dawood are playing themselves. It’s only when Ismail is traveling in the film, that the camera records the moments when Basir Ahang experiences strong feelings. It’s at that point in the film that life enters the film and vice versa, such as in the mass scenes in which Ismail mixes with his people, becoming a part of them.

In which locations did you shoot the film, and how did you pick those locations? 
The film was shot in Italy, Trieste, and Iran, in a few areas where the Hazara people live.

Trieste is a city in which many cultures and languages have traditionally mixed, and is one of the arrival points for migrants coming through the Balkans. It’s a city that has closely experienced the effects of war and the contradictions of a Europe that still suffers from open wounds.

I chose Iran because Ismail is travelling towards his refugee people in countries that neighbour Afghanistan and I wanted to include older generations in the film, as well as numerous Hazara men and women, in whom our protagonist recognises himself. A bit like a journey back through his ancestry.

What were the biggest challenges during the production?
There have been so many challenges that it's hard to say. Production-wise, the biggest was shooting in Iran. I was told that no Italian film has been shot there since 1976 (The Desert of the Tartars by Valerio Zurlini) and we had to wait almost a year to get the necessary permissions.

The biggest challenge, from the point of view of feelings, was shooting the group scenes in Iran, because they were very emotional: all the women and men gave their most authentic feelings to the film, with love and generosity.

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