Julien Paolini • Director of The Raïs of Palermo
"It tells the story of the first non-Sicilian boss of the Cosa nostra"
- We talked to the filmmaker, who is also co-director of production company La Réserve, to discuss his new project at the Cinemed Meetings
Created in 2018 by the trio Julien Paolini (writer-director), Syrus Shahidi (writer-actor) and Clément Lecomte (business affairs), French production company La Réserve begun its activity with Amare Amaro [+see also:
film profile]. After this well-received first feature film (winner of the Grand Prix du polar in Cognac in 2018, presented at Taormina, Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Villerupt and Vancouver; recently bought by Amazon Prime Video Italy) shot in Sicily, the Franco-Italian filmmaker Julien Paolini was present at the 43rd Montpellier Mediterranean Film Festival where he pitched (alongside Syrus Shahidi, with whom he wrote the script) for the development grant of the Cinemed Meetings (read the news) his second feature film project: The Raïs of Palermo.
Cineuropa: The Raïs of Palermo is a mafia story set against the background of migration. Where did this idea come from?
Julien Paolini: I’ve always adored commercial auteur cinema that mixed the spectacular and political engagement, a reflection about the world. Having lived through the migration crisis in Palermo a little bit, and having always loved the fascinating universe of mafia stories, I fantasised about this film for a long time. At the beginning of the migration crisis, I realised that the topic wasn’t very well-known; it is a lot better known today and I think that audiences are ready to welcome this type of film, like Blood Diamond was at the time, the kind of film that revealed the hidden side of trafficking.
Le Raïs de Palerme tells the story of the first non-Sicilian boss of the Cosa nostra. Brahim, a tuna fisherman, a leader, is about to be promoted after 20 years of good and loyal service: he can become the deputy chief of the mafia family that rules over the historical centre of Palermo, a family which collaborates with the Nigeria mafia. But he will have to choose: either he kills his brother, who slept with the wife of one of the Sicilian men who works with him, or he loses the opportunity to climb the ladder in the hierarchy of the Cosa nostra. Such is the dilemma that this Raïs of Palermo, in a moment of transition for the Cosa nostra as the traffic of migrants has become the most lucrative business. Indeed Brahim is a Sicilian by adoption only: he first worked in Nice for the Cosa Nostra, in a kind of still-active French Connection, then hid in Sicily. He is a very precious collaborator, one of the best soldiers for the Cosa nostra, because he speaks Arabic and knows the inner workings of the ports.
You integrated the Cosa nera, which is the Nigeria mafia, in the story.
It is the first time that a non-Italian organisation has been classified as a mafia organisation. It is quite recent and symbolically very strong. The Cosa nera is basically two organisations and the one we talk about in this film in the Black Axe, which works as a subcontractor for the Cosa nostra in the domains of prostitution and drug trafficking. The Cosa nera is very faithful and very disciplined, but it is taking more and more space in Europe.
How far ahead is the project?
We are in the early stages of casting and hope to be able to enter financing very soon. There is now a generation of French actors who carry the flag of a more mixed France, with North African origins like the character of the Raïs of Palermo, so many talents who burn up the screen, that we actually have several solid leads for the role that we’re really excited about. Our idea is also to be minority producers on the film, to work with a senior producer and to place ourselves in dialogue when it will be logical to do so, depending on the financing plan. The main actor we are considering has preferences and he also wants to be involved in the production of the film. But these are very recent conversations, and the precise strategy remains to be confirmed.
What about an eventual co-production with Italy?
We currently have the support of the Puglia region through Scirocco Films, a young company which just produced Oltre il confine by Alessandro Valenti. After that, it will depend a lot on the delegate producer which we are currently looking for and on which there isn’t a definitive agreement yet. But there will be an Italian production, that is certain, knowing that in terms of language, the film will be 60% in French and 40% in Italian. If everything goes well, filming could take place in the autumn of 2022 or winter 2022-2023. Because as was the case in Amare Amaro, we are showing another Sicilu, with more somber and dusky skies.
What are La Réserve’s other projects ?
We are in talks with Netflix on the horror thriller Ether. With Le Raïs de Palerme, these are the two projects we’re focussing on at the moment, because we are a small company.
(Translated from French)
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