Today: July 23, 2024

Director Giovanni Veronesi: Cinema Italy

Paolo Sorrentino’s Oscar-winning The Great Beauty is shining the spotlight on Italian cinema across the globe, so it was fitting that last weekend Italian film took centre-stage in London for the fifth edition of the Cinema Made in Italy Festival, in South Kensington’s Ciné Lumière.

Organised by Istituto Luce – Cinecittà’s promotional arm – the festival boasted five days of screenings of Italian cinema’s latest gems: ten features, one documentary and Q&As with the directors after every screening. Highlights included Ettore Scola’s How Strange To Be Named Federico! (an affectionate tribute to Federico Fellini); Roberto Andò’s Viva La Libertà and Matteo Oleotto’s Zoran, My Nephew The Idiot; Winner of the Critics’ Week Public’s Prize at the 2013 Venice International Film Festival.

Last but not least, there was The Fifth Wheel (L’Ultima Ruot Del Caro), directed by Giovanni Veronesi and starring Elio Germano, one of Italy’s most gifted young actors and Winner of the Best Actor award at the 2010 Cannes International Film Festival for his role in La Nostra Vita. This bittersweet tale of the extraordinary moments in ordinary lives – epic in scope – is about an unlikely everyman hero, covering 40 years in the life of a hard-working average man for whom family, friends and football are more important than any of the political and social changes turning the country upside down. Elio Germano gives a heartfelt performance as the honest, dependable Ernesto. His marriage to his sweetheart, Angela, emboldens him to set up his own business but it’s his tight friendship with the ambitious Giacinto that opens the door of opportunity, and gives him a taste of how the other half live. Filmjuice’s Shelley Marsden caught up with The Fifth Wheel’s Tuscan director, famous for his 2011 hit Manuale D’Amore (Ages of Love) starring Robert De Niro and Monica Bellucci, as his latest offering was screened to an appreciative audience at Cinema Made in Italy…

Where did you get the idea for The Fifth Wheel?
It’s a true story, from start to finish. I didn’t make up a single part of it. I met this man who was a driver, Ernesto Fioretti, who would take me to and from the set when I was working on Manuale D’Amore. He told me things about his life, and at one point he said: “We’ve had worse food in here today than when I was working as a nursery cook.” I was like, “A nursery cook? Tell me about it.” And from there, he started telling me his life story, in bite-sized nuggets. I sewed all those pieces together, like a tailor, an Italian dressmaker – I hope I do as well as Dolce and Gabbana with my final product!

Why did you think this guy’s humble, working-class story would translate to the big screen?
Because it was like somebody from Scola’s films was talking. Somebody from one of those classic Italian comedies by Scola Monicelli. It was like he’d come straight out of one of their films, so I thought well look, maybe this could be a film that pays homage to that generation of great filmmakers. They don’t make that kind of film in Italy any more. Apart from directors like Daniele Luchetti, today’s Italian comedy is too silly, too slapstick.

Had you thought before about doing a ‘real’ comedy?
I had, yes, for a long time. This is different to my other films. I would never have attempted to tell the social and political history of Italy if not through the eyes of this average, honest, pure man. He sees everything that has happened to Italy in the last thirty years. I told that history with simplicity, because what he said, I wrote down and then brought to the screen. In fact, he gets screenwriting credits on this film. The words are his. We developed quite a wonderful collaborative relationship on the film – and in life.

Was it a challenge to portray your country – not just the life of a couple?
I loved the idea of having this apocalyptic framework of a devastated Italy in the 80s and 90s. Meeting Ernesto and what followed convinced me this was the perfect opportunity to do so. He’s a man of the people, one of the average Italians who was hit hardest with their salary of 1, 000 euros a month. In fact, we’re the tramps of Europe now.

Commercially, The Fifth Wheel didn’t do as well as your other films…
No. My past films have had a wider, more mass appeal than this one, let’s say. But that’s OK. I like to experiment in life, I’ve done a fantasy film, a Western, a historical movie… This is another experiment. I don’t want a ‘style’ – Manuale D’Amore isn’t my ‘style’ – it’s the kind of film that’s very easy, even formulaic, to make. What you see is what you get. This one is more complicated, with layers of meaning if you are that way inclined to see them.

How much do you think you’ll lose viewers who aren’t Italian with some of the politics?
I think Italy in the last thirty years has embarrassed itself so many times on the international stage that audiences get most of what’s going on, and the irony it’s portrayed with, even if they might miss some of the finer details. You have the big themes of nationalism, the failings of the country’s health system, Berlusconi, the Socialists – foreigners will get all of that.

It’s a pretty negative portrait of Italy – beautiful, but corrupt to the core!
I am very fond of my country. It’s a beautiful place, and that’s the best thing I can say… We are below zero in Italy right now. The 90s were terrible for us. We had a monarchy founded on taxes, instead of a republic founded on work, as the first article of our constitution states.

Ernesto’s friend Giacinto represents that corrupt side, but he’s a likeable guy…
But you know what, he’s the kind of person that made up the majority in the 90s and until not long ago. They followed whatever group or party would keep them secure. They followed the crowd.

Tell me about the scene in which Ernesto passes a huge manifesto of Berlusconi, and tries to emulate his smile – what’s that about?
In the end, people were so wrecked by events like Tangentopoli [a famous political scandal], that when they saw the image of this smiling man they said to themselves, what the hell does this guy have to smile about? But the average working man saw a possible chink of light, a way out, somebody that gave out a positive energy. When Ernesto saw this poster, he tried to copy the look. We know the disasters that came later with Mr Berlusconi, but at that moment in time, Ernesto had no clue.

Are things looking up in Italy – what’s the situation at present?
In 2000 it was a graveyard. Seriously. Now, who knows? With the new government, we can only hope. We’re attached to a drip of hope! The most important thing to many is that Berlusconi isn’t on the scene any more. He’s not the dictator of Italy any more. I’m not affiliated to any political party; I’m not so hardline and neither is this film.

What’s next for you?
I’m not sure… I do love comedy though. When I see people laughing at one of my movies, it’s the best feeling. But to make everybody laugh, you have to stay a little more superficial and less profound. When you’re in deep, reflective territory most people don’t get it. If you appeal to the masses, everyone enjoys what you do, and sometimes I like that, that easiness. But The Fifth Wheel was a great project to be a part of. And it’s moving and funny, too.

With The Great Beauty, the world’s attention is really on Italian cinema right now. Does that help the rest of you
I really hope the new government takes Sorrentino’s Oscar as an impetus to start embracing Italian culture in a way governments have consistently failed to do in the last two decades. Let’s hope so, but who knows? The chance is there – let’s show the next generation how important culture actually is to a healthy society.






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