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BERLIN 2019 Competition

Roberto Saviano • Author

“The more they want me to keep silent, the more I talk”

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- BERLIN 2019: Cineuropa met up with Italian author Roberto Saviano to discuss Piranhas, the newest adaptation of one of his novels

Roberto Saviano  • Author

World-premiering in the Berlinale’s main competition, Claudio Giovannesi’s Piranhas [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Roberto Saviano
film profile
]
is based on the novel of the same name by Roberto Saviano, who co-wrote the script with the director and Maurizio Braucci. Living under police protection since 2006, this time around, the author of the global phenomenon Gomorrah [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Domenico Procacci
interview: Jean Labadie
interview: Matteo Garrone
film profile
]
decided to focus on six boys from Naples who slowly join the ranks of organised crime. 

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Cineuropa: Among other changes, in the film, your underage characters seem much more vulnerable and sweeter than they are in the book. Why?
Roberto Saviano:
 It’s interesting to hear that because in the books, we see them as children – sleeping with a gun under their pillow in this tiny room next to their parents. I myself saw many dead bodies as a child, but I wasn’t afraid – it made you feel like a grown-up. I must have seen dozens of them. We had this game with my friends, trying to guess what they had eaten before. If you are shot in the belly, you can smell it. If you were shot in the face, it meant you betrayed someone; if you were shot in the head, it meant that you were respected. In the film, we try to show them growing up. We decided to focus on this specific moment because that’s when they make their choice, which is irreversible – there is no going back. 

Nobody stands in their way. In the case of Nicola [played by Francesco Di Napoli], his mother accepts his new “occupation” without any visible hesitation. Is that what you wanted to highlight?
There are no grown-ups in this world. There is no state, no institution – nothing. In certain areas, that’s just the way it is. But when you think about what counts for a father or a mother when it comes to their children nowadays, it’s all about whether they can earn money. That’s the proof that they are finally “making it”, and this is the reason why his mother stays silent – he is bringing money home. We chose not to show any fathers in order to emphasise the complete lack of authority and role models. We are talking about a district where there aren’t any possibilities, a place where you can’t get a mortgage to buy a flat, a place where you don’t go to school, because it doesn’t guarantee you will get a job later on. And it’s a place where the average pay is €50 per week, if you’re lucky, and €25 if you’re not. It doesn’t matter whether you are a mechanic, a pizza boy or a barber. 

Do you think that social media has changed the mafia? In Piranhas, we see these boys posting photos and learning how to load guns by watching tutorials on YouTube.
It’s really the Camorra 2.0. Before, the rule was that you should be known and respected locally, and be completely unknown outside of your sphere of influence. Nowadays, if you are not on social networks, you don’t exist. They prefer leaving traces for the police to investigate later, rather than not be on Facebook, for instance. There are three things that these kids care about: cash, followers and the way they look. This scene where they look up a tutorial and learn how to use a gun is true – it really happens. They share similar links, and then post the videos of the actual shootings on WhatsApp.

You wrote Gomorrah in 2006. Has anything changed since then, apart from your own situation?
I don’t know, but what I know for a fact is that the general awareness has grown. And that’s partly the reason why I am so hated by everybody. I’m also hated in Germany – I have been telling journalists that the mafia exists here as well, but they don’t seem to want to hear it. My ambition was to spread the word – that’s why I’m here, and that’s why I am writing these books. But it wasn’t worth it, and I realised it too late. Now, I feed on a sentiment that’s not quite so noble: revenge. The more they want me to keep silent, the more I talk.

When you live under protection, you’re not living any more. It’s not a privilege; it’s a drama. I can’t wait for it to end. When I go back to Naples, I spend my time in jail talking to people and in courthouses attending trials. I miss walking freely on the streets. That being said, I am lucky – unlike [murdered journalists] Daphne Caruana Galizia and Jan Kuciak. I was born in 1979, and I remember that some journalists were arrested in Greece – there were huge demonstrations. Now, the same has happened in Turkey, and there only seems to be limited solidarity.

Another film shown at the festival, Agnieszka Holland’s Mr. Jones [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Agnieszka Holland
film profile
]
, shows a journalist who is killed for exposing the truth in the 1930s, but not before being widely discredited first. Is that something you experienced as well?
It’s happening to me every minute of my life. The problem is that in some of these countries, newspapers are closing down, and persuading someone to advertise there is better than offering full pages for reports on your own enemies. Normally, what happens is that they prefer to discredit people after they are dead. There was a priest that I loved very much, and when he died, the mafia accused him of being a paedophile. I find myself stuck between two forces: I have a death sentence hanging over me, and yet there are so many people who think I am an impostor. They go: “If you are really so dangerous, why haven’t they killed you already?” Before his murder in Palermo, judge Giovanni Falcone said something on public television that I remember very well: “Italy is the happy country in which to be credible you have to be killed first.”

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