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ZURICH 2019

Andrea Di Stefano • Director of The Informer

“Criminals love to talk about themselves”

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- Following the lead of Andrea Di Stefano, the director of The Informer, Cineuropa delved right into the Polish criminal underworld of New York

Andrea Di Stefano  • Director of The Informer

The British crime-thriller The Informer [+see also:
trailer
interview: Andrea Di Stefano
film profile
]
, directed by Rome-born Andrea Di Stefano, and starring Joel Kinnaman, Rosamund Pike and Clive Owen, as well as Mug [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Małgorzata Szumowska
film profile
]
’s Mateusz Kościukiewicz, was presented at the Zurich Film Festival as part of the Gala Premieres. Based on the novel Three Seconds, it swaps Sweden for the Polish mafia. We talked to the director to find out more.

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Cineuropa: You decided to concentrate on Polish organised crime, not to mention relocating the story to New York. Why so many changes?
Andrea Di Stefano:
It was originally set in Sweden, but with Joel [Kinnaman, born in Stockholm], I just thought he was the best choice. In my superficial vision of Polish people, he looked Polish enough [laughs]. Polish criminals from Greenpoint were always very present, and thanks to that, I was able to cast the people I love. I was so fascinated by their skills and always encouraged them to improvise. When I feel there is talent, I let them run free. I am making my next film in Poland, too [an untitled Jan Karski project], and even though I don’t speak the language, when something feels that organic, I don’t have a problem with it. It’s funny because once I’d yelled, “Cut”, someone would translate their lines for me, and what can I say? We needed these Polish swear words sometimes.

Joel Kinnaman’s character, Pete Koslow, doesn’t really talk about himself. You find out about him through other people.
If someone talks a lot about his past, they are usually just lying. So to have someone else provide the information, like some kind of Greek chorus, is much more effective. To me, the fact that he is fighting against these three giants – the FBI, the Polish criminal underworld and the NYPD – almost turned him into a mythological creature, but it was important to keep things real. I talked to many people who actually deal with informants on a daily basis, and most of the things that found their way into the script come from their stories. I spoke to the agent who retired before we made the film – he was the guy who basically arrested all the Gambino crew. These people, they have terrible jobs. Sometimes they become affectionate towards the informers, but if they need to make a choice, they don’t hesitate. It’s hard for us to comprehend, but they are extremely devoted. They don’t become millionaires from it, and yet every time they leave the house, they don’t know if they will ever come back.

It seems like these are not such secretive worlds after all.
You would be surprised at how criminals love to talk about themselves. They love cinema, and each and every one of them is convinced that what they see on the screen is nothing compared to what they live through every day, praying for someone to come along and listen. I will be democratic in this statement: they are all the same in that regard, from the killers of Escobar to the Italian mafia.

The informer I spoke to was of Ukrainian origins. These people feel misplaced, and they want to be seen. So they get together, and once they get to drive that Mercedes, they feel like they exist. But once all of this “I am strong, I am a criminal” bullshit wears off, they tell you the truth. He was able to admit that the people he sent to prison were the only friends he had ever had. Not to mention the fact that he had to give up that lifestyle, which is what they value the most. It’s this feeling of being like a lion in the African savannah.

You introduce Pete once he has already turned. And being a “snitch” is not that hard, because no one really seems that sympathetic on the other side.
In the beginning, I wanted to make his choice more difficult. But when I started to study the criminal world, I realised that we were falling prey to the rule that tells you that you must sympathise with everybody. I don’t believe that. I met some of these guys, and when you see that look in their eyes, you know you wouldn’t miss any of them. His character didn’t choose that world – he found himself in great need. If you go to prison and you are not part of a gang, you need to join one; otherwise, you are at risk.

Given that your previous film was Escobar: Paradise Lost [+see also:
film review
trailer
making of
film profile
]
, where does your interest in the criminal underworld even come from?
I hate action movies; I never go to see them, and I don’t like the violence itself. In this film, I had only one car crash, and I still took it out. At the end, I was able to go to Sing Sing thanks to Deputy Superintendent Lesley Malin. I cried on the phone, and she let me spend three days there. Everything you see in the film is inspired by that visit. I am not interested in choreographing action sequences. But stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, trying to save themselves – that’s different.

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