A dance of death, part 2

Paolo Virzì on Human Capital, Italian culture and this year's Oscar submissions.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Human Capital (Il Capitale Umano) director Paolo Virzì in New York
Human Capital (Il Capitale Umano) director Paolo Virzì in New York Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences yesterday announced the Oscar shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film. Paula van der Oest's Accused (Netherlands); Giorgi Ovashvili's Corn Island (Georgia); Ruben Östlund's Force Majeure (Sweden); Pawel Pawlikowski's Ida (Poland); Andrey Zvyagintsev's Leviathan (Russia); Alberto Arvelo's The Liberator (Venezuela); Zaza Urushadze's Tangerines (Estonia); Abderrahmane Sissako's Timbuktu (Mauritania); and Damian Szifron's Wild Tales (Argentina) are the nine films. Earlier this month, Human Capital (Il Capitale Umano) director Paolo Virzì and I discussed Slavoj Žižek's reading of Kierkegaard, an old theatre in the Como backyard of George Clooney and Giorgio Armani, Sebastião Salgado's Genesis photography exhibition, what's coming up next with Francesca Archibugi, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Micaela Ramazzotti and the responsibility of having his film as Italy's Oscar submission.

Fabrizio Bentivoglio as Dino with Valeria Bruni Tedeschi as Carla: "It is disappearing into another kind of landscape."
Fabrizio Bentivoglio as Dino with Valeria Bruni Tedeschi as Carla: "It is disappearing into another kind of landscape."

Anne-Katrin Titze: What do you have planned? What's coming next?

Paolo Virzì: I am preparing a new one and am in pre-production.

AKT: Will it be a mix or are you fully going back to comedy?

PV: A mix of tragedy and comedy with two actresses in the principal roles. One is Valeria Bruni Tedeschi again and the other is [Virzi's wife] Micaela Ramazzotti. We are going to shoot the movie next spring. The two women run away from a center for mental diseases.

AKT: Is it based on a novel?

PV: No, it's an original idea by me. I wrote a screenplay with a great filmmaker and a writer herself, Francesca Archibugi. She is a great friend of mine and we had fun writing the script together. I had the desire to share the writing of this with a woman.

AKT: A hint of Thelma And Louise?

PV: It doesn't end that way.

AKT: I noticed one change in Human Capital that you made from the novel. It's a cultural thing. In the novel, in Connecticut, the rich wife wants to resurrect an abandoned movie theatre.

Honey director Valeria Golino as Roberta: "Honey is beautiful. Very mature."
Honey director Valeria Golino as Roberta: "Honey is beautiful. Very mature."

PV: Yes, she was an actress in New York and she wants to restore this abandoned movie theatre. The professor is a professor at a film school and they have plans together of elemental movies to watch, which is just an excuse to spend time together.

AKT: You changed it in your film into an actual stage theatre.

PV: Yeah, because it describes better our national soul, which is the opera, the melodrama, Pirandello, this tradition. There is a discussion about that in the movie.

AKT: That wonderful hellish board meeting. Anybody who has ever been to one will recognise someone in there. Live theatre in small towns is something very typical of a European idea of culture.

PV: At the same time it's tragic, because a city like Como, where the theatre is actually located… Como is one of the richest cities in the country. Around there are the villas of people like George Clooney, Giorgio Armani and the Versace family. And at the same time, in this rich wealthy city, there is only one theatre - and that is abandoned. Carla [Bruni Tedeschi in Human Capital] tries to explain to her husband that there are no more theatres in our country. This building, I think, is something that tells what happened to our identity, our dreams, our richness.

We are Italian. We are not the country of hedge funds. We have other kinds of beauty, of stories. It particularly hurt me, that part of our country. It's tragic. We passed through a very bad moment. Now, we have to absolutely change our destiny, our future, what we can be as a country, as a people. What we said is that Brianza is like Connecticut - they have the same discomfort of the privileged. It's a model of life that doesn't work anymore, that has no future. I like to do this not with a political statement but in the film delivered by a plot of a noir.

AKT: It amazes me that the abandoned theatre in Como is real. There is a hotel at Lake Como, called Villa Serbelloni, that I love. The building of that old palace hotel itself has so much spirit of place. In the corridors you expect to run into Thomas Mann and his children. Literature seemed to be floating in the air every time I stayed there. In your film you show that kind of spirit disappearing.

Matilde Gioli as Serena: "The three young people are under the domination of their parents and of society."
Matilde Gioli as Serena: "The three young people are under the domination of their parents and of society."

PV: It is disappearing into another kind of landscape. That of small little cottages, American style. The place where the real estate agent [Dino played by Fabrizio Bentivoglio] lives. Which is a little like American Beauty. There is the private school for privileged people. They wear regimental ties like in American colleges, even if they are Catholic with a priest as director. Money knows no borders, so we live in the same big huge suburb of privilege.

AKT: Speaking of global changes and because we are sitting here at Bryant Park - did you get a chance to see the Sebastião Salgado Genesis exhibition at the ICP [International Center for Photography] right across from here? Elements of nature and culture are disappearing, if we don't watch out.

PV: Avenue of the Americas and 43rd Street, that's right here. Thank you. [Paolo pockets the ICP card I gave him] In Italy in the richest area of our country, there are ancient small villages, usually on top of a hill, surrounded by vineyards. Now, some of those villages are abandoned. They are fully restored because there are European funds doing this, but nobody lives there anymore. They all move to the suburbs American-style or Switzerland-style. It's impressive how the landscape describes a new world that doesn't suggest a good way of living. It changes the way to belong to a territory.

They don't think it's beautiful anymore to live in a house built in the middle ages but they prefer to stay in a cottage built five years ago with a swimming pool. These are places full of dark stories. A neighbor killing the other neighbor. Our media covered the story a few years ago. The sorry of a family, husband and wife with a very clean house, flowers and garden and a dog. And one day, they assassinated the family of neighbors, because they were too noisy.

Valeria Bruni Tedeschi as Carla with Fabrizio Gifuni as Giovanni: "Maybe it is something in the story which is a thriller but at the same time suggests something that touches on the discomfort of society."
Valeria Bruni Tedeschi as Carla with Fabrizio Gifuni as Giovanni: "Maybe it is something in the story which is a thriller but at the same time suggests something that touches on the discomfort of society."

AKT: That reminds me of Slavoj Žižek's reading of Kierkegaard. To properly love thy neighbor, you have to treat them as if they were already dead. "Don't bother me," is the great commandment of our time. On another note, congratulations for being the Italian submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

PV [laughing]: There are so many countries. So many good movies.

AKT: I agree. I spoke to four of the filmmakers in the Best Foreign Language Film category so far. The Dardennes for Belgium. Did you see Two Days, One Night?

PV: Of course!

AKT: Also Saint Laurent for France, and I did features about the entries for Poland and Germany.

PV: Ida, yes. What was the German entry?

AKT: Beloved Sisters about Schiller's love life.

PV: I also saw Force Majeure, Wild Tales and the Russian one [Leviathan].

AKT: Last year, I spoke with Paolo Sorrentino before The Great Beauty won the Oscar.

PV: And I am risking my life. You know, my country, they are waiting for another award. I have to explain that it's not that easy. Now, we like being proud of something like movie making, which is something that was not very well considered in the last decade. So it's very funny how the national media are pushing me. So I have to postpone work on my next movie and follow this national desire.

Giovanni Anzaldo as Luca Ambrosini
Giovanni Anzaldo as Luca Ambrosini

In part 1, transforming Stephen Amidon's Connecticut into a small fictional town near Milan, the significance of Carmelo Bene's Nostra Signora dei Turchi and working with actors/directors Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Valeria Golino, Fabrizio Bentivoglio and Luigi Lo Cascio.

Human Capital (Il Capitale Umano) opens in the US on January 14, 2015.

Sebastião Salgado’s exhibition Genesis, curated by Lélia Wanick Salgado, is currently at the ICP in New York through January 11, 2015, and his work is featured in Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado's Oscar shortlisted documentary The Salt Of The Earth (Le Sel De La Terre).

The five nominations for Best Foreign Language Film will be announced on January 15, 2015.

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