An innocent perspective
All my recent films are set in the 70s; Pasolini, an Italian crime (o.t. Pasolini, un delitto italiano), The Hundred Steps (o.t. I cento passi), and most of The Best of Youth (o.t. La meglio gioventù) were set in those years which I consider the years of preparation, the 'lab' where contemporary Italy was conceived. This time, I wanted to focus on the present based on one of the phenomena we are all confronted with nowadays: the irruption of immigrants in our lives —for it has changed the shape of our cities and the structure of our social fabric. I wanted to describe our ability —or not— to deal with their presence, so I asked Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli to help me develop this idea. We thought it was meant to take an 'innnocent' angle, the perspective of someone whose view of immigrants is not influenced by any racist or pseudo-humanitarian bias, nor tainted by any ideology. That is why the main character is a teenager, that is, a child, someone who does not have any prejudices yet and therefore is completely malleable. Sandro being in this critical phase of his growth, he wonders about sex, about the future, about who his parents really are. He starts having opinions and refusing to take things as they are —or are not— told by the others.
Cohabitation and integration
Sandro sees immigrants at school and he sees them work at the factory, but it is as if they were part of the tools, an appendix of chain-work and school benches. We eventually notice what his relationship with his classmate Samuel hints at, that, is, a certain rivalry. Cohabitating with foreigners clearly does not imply that there is any cultural integration. What happens when the son of a small businessman is drowning in the sea and loses all hope to be rescued until a boat full of clandestine immigrants picks him up? How to describe them and avoid the usual television clichés —the boats, the cops, and the charities? How to really show what this journey is like, what risks these exiles take and the dynamics implied by their forced promiscuity? Obviously, I do not even try to pretend to be one of them and therefore to be able to convey their impressions better than they would. My perspective will always be exterior, as is Sandro's, for the boy shares a moment of their lives but it does not —and will never— make him one of them.
My inspirations. Well, there was, amongst others, Maria Pace Ottieri's book (from which I also borrowed the title), Migranti by Claudio Camarca, an essay by Giuseppe Mantovani called Intercultura... and cinema itself of course. The film implicitely echoes Roberto Rossellini's Germany, year zero and Vittorio De Sica's The Children are Watching Us. The boy's final stroll in Milan's 'little Korea' is a horizontal version of little Edmund's more vertical itinerary in Germany, year zero, just before he jumps. Like in The Best of Youth, I alluded to Truffaut —by using the music Georges Delerue composed for The Soft Skin— because few authors have been able to show on the screen how fragile adolescents are and film the trauma of this shift towards maturity the way he did.
The main character
We has several good candidates for the main part, the role of Sandro. If you are willing to guide them, kids are always great actors. However, I reckon Matteo Gadola had an extra quality, something I am not even sure I should try to define —lest it should weigh on him like a great expectation and keep him from doing what is fair to let him do, which is what any other adolescent does: listen to music, spend time at the playstation, and hang out with friends. Still, Matteo Gadola has the moral disposition of an adult, and not just any adult (I know many grown-ups with no moral quality whatsoever), but a proper adult who accepts responsibilities for what he undertakes. Matteo is reliable and has great dignity. At no point did he behave like a kid, throw a tantrum or hide behind the ingenuousness of his age. As a work partner, he is serious, thorough, and very demanding with himself. This could sound like the portrait of a child-monster, but it is not at all the case: Matteo is a cheerful, sociable kid with great wit and verve. He is fantastic to work with.
I decided at the very beginning that I wanted little music. As much as I understand its extraordinary homogenising potential, I thought it was important to emphasize actual sounds: the traffic, the factory, the creaking of the wood, the wind, the air, the lulling sea. I resisted the temptation to choose 'ethnic' world music —it seemed too obvious. Instead, I used the music of other films, such as Truffaut's The Soft Skin (music by Georges Delerue) and Jane Campion's The Piano Lesson (music by Michael Nyman). There is also a song by Eros Ramazzotti which is in fact crucial for the narrative: Alina hums it in the boat and it guides Sandro in the empty factory, like Doris Day's voice in The Man Who Knew Too Much by Hitchcock. Ramazzotti is very famous outside Italy, so it is completely plausible for a Romanian girl to know all the lyrics.The idea to use this song came while shooting. I asked little Esther to sing it to herself as if these simple notes translated all the illusions which made her leave her country to go to Italy.
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