Italy has a lot more than pizza and spaghetti, as the organisers of Cine Italiano hope to show. Hong Kong's fourth Italian film festival opened this week with eight carefully selected films, including Leopardi, The Invisible Boy and An Italian Name. Young Post sat down with An Italian Name director Francesca Archibugi to discuss the making of her film.
Young Post: What attracted you to the idea of making an Italian version of the 2012 French film What's In a Name?
Francesca Archibugi: I watched the French film, and fell in love with it right away. The fact that all the drama unfolded around a dinner party made it perfect to adapt to the Italian context and add in new elements.
Italian families are always discussing politics, and it's a huge source of conflict because their views are quite polarised. The provocation, the hypocrisy ... they're all very dynamic tensions to explore.
YP: So how does An Italian Name compare with What's in a Name?
FA: The structure's obviously the same, with the dinner party and the conflict over the naming of a couple's baby. But the dialogue and personalities of the characters are totally different. This is a very character-centric film, so it changes completely with a change of character.
YP: How were the comedic elements incorporated into the film? Were they improvised?
FA: The humour was all thought out before, but I'm glad the audience thinks it was spontaneous. It's hard to have improvisation in film, because we're not theatre. It's not live. Everything is edited with the director's input. But before filming, we had several weeks of rehearsal, where we did controlled improvisation. In the end, the actors gave me the result I wanted.
YP: Can you describe how you work with the actors?
FA: A director is like a psychiatrist. I have to explain every single aspect of the scene very specifically to the actors. When they hold a phone, I have to show them how high I want them to hold it, and by how much the phone should tilt. I need to know them very well. Sometimes, I cheat and tell them a different situation from what's actually happening because I know they'll react in a certain way. We're so close to a point that it's almost love.
The biggest lesson I've learned from decades of directing is that you need to take care of your actors, make them comfortable around you so you can bring out the best in them. Many male actors think it's humiliating to be controlled by a woman, so I pretend that I'm "lower" than them, to make them feel that they are protected instead of controlled. As I said, a director has to be a psychiatrist.
YP: What was your biggest challenge making the film?
FA: The movie itself is quite simple, because it mainly takes place in a home. The hardest thing was to keep it interesting. I had to add different elements all the time to stop the audience falling asleep.
YP: Would you change anything?
FA: Agh, many things. That's why I don't like to watch my movies, because every time I do, I want to change everything. But it's hard to pinpoint a specific thing; it's just an atmosphere or the length of certain scenes that could've been changed to produce a better overall effect.
YP: What makes a film great to you?
FA: If it tells the truth. If the director's intuition is sharp in perceiving humans, and portraying that in the film.
YP: Any funny stories you can share from the set?
FA: We were filming this aerial scene, and I wanted a train to pass by. We don't have a huge budget like Hollywood films to order a train to go by, so all we could do was wait. We were using a drone, so we stationed people all around to tell us when they spotted a train. Finally, after an hour, the train came, and after we filmed it, it was like scoring the winning goal in a football match. Valeria Golino was so happy she just hugged this random chubby guy who was just a passerby. And she's a huge actress in Italy, like Andy Lau in Hong Kong, so that was funny.
YP: How important are film festivals like Cine Italiano?
FA: They're almost essential if we want to be known abroad. It's important to spread movies of different language and genres, even if they aren't commercially released. Italian filmmakers need more investors. The government just isn't interested.