Interview with Michele Senesi, an emergent Italian director

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The filmmaker from Marche’s region in Italy is once again protagonist of the Feature Film Competition, after the Special Mention obtained in the first edition for “Bumba Atomika”, with his second movie “Il Cerchio delle Lumache”.

Michele Senesi can be really defined as an “aficionado” of Indiecinema Film Festival. After all, his Bumba Atomika, during the first edition, had obtained a flattering Special Mention in the context of the Maurizio Principato Award to the best soundtrack, «for the disruptive effect of the anthology of songs attributable to the Marche underground, with first row the hard rock with high ethyl content of Kurnalcool».

An amazing rock soundtrack and endless surprises also in this second fiction feature film of his, Il Cerchio delle Lumache, which, however, adds to the usual production autarchy once again different aesthetic and narrative solutions, which were therefore worth investigating directly with the author…

The adventurous birth of an unconventional film project

Right from the initial caption, which incidentally states “film declared of no cultural, urban, landscape, tourist and territorial interest – produced without any institutional contribution and support”, the ironic tones and the underlying irreverence of the operation emerge… even towards the Italian cultural and cinematographic establishment, if you wish. What can you add about it?

Well, you know, if you win an announcement from the film commission or something similar, you’re forced to write lines like “film declared of cultural, urban, landscape, tourist interest, blablabla…”. If you are denied funds twice, you feel compelled to report it anyway. But I don’t hold a grudge.

And now the question from which nobody can avoid, apparently, in press conferences as in interviews: how did the idea come about?

And now the answer from which no one can escape:
“First of all, thank you for the question.”
The idea comes from multiple needs and materials. As a young man I was the victim of many major road accidents, on two and four wheels, and I volunteered in the Red Cross (not simultaneously). These events have given me a certain annoyance towards films, action or otherwise, but with a realistic/realistic attitude, in which amazing road accidents are shown from which the hero of the moment comes out in a flash without even the need for a cervical collar, as if nothing had happened. It doesn’t work like that, trust me.
So I wanted to create something quite unique and definitive in this sense; In fact, during the screenplay phase I also requested professional medical advice. To this were added other previous ideas that I had marked down over the years and which were then modeled on a thousand-feuille of pains accumulated in a short period of time ranging from those of local news to more intimate events. Almost a self-therapy, as indeed art often is. Finally, of course, the idea was chosen and modeled on the resources and budget available. The title of the film is only the latest child in a series of similar but different proposals on which we have been reflecting for more time.

Alice Piergiacomi e Francesca Fiodelmondo, working on the “psychedelic dog”

“Slow” cinema & Indie Rock à gogo

Compared to “Bumba Atomika”, your debut film, it seems to us that “Il Cerchio delle Lumache” once again proposes something deafening, unusual for Italian cinema, however directing the heart of the research towards other directions: time, for example. With crazy time dilations, dreamlike segments, short windows – in flashbacks – on the past of the main characters, plus the immobility to which the protagonist himself is forced for a long time. So is this one of the keystones, with the snail putting the “slow” seal on all of this?

It happens to me very often – as it should be working in the context of independence (and therefore asking for help and support from many people) – at the same time supporting other independents, bands, artists, young people who need a hand. I practically always accept as long as the project contains an interesting challenge, so that I can grow too. This is to say that even by studying tenaciously, you need to work a lot on practice to understand how “the morality of the game” works; you never stop learning. If I have a producer, just spank me (but pay me). But if I work in complete independence, I also use the projects I create to experiment, understand and feel the pulse of many things.
After Bumba Atomika, its rhythm and its infinite editing cuts, I wanted to do something totally different, get out of my comfort zone and try to understand, in relation to the story I want to tell, how much I can dilate and keep the pace for a long time. I was quite terrified to explore something very new to me, but now I definitely have clearer ideas and I can play it better on that side as well. Then, in the face of the calm pace, there is still, I believe, my aptitude for alternating contrasting rhythms and moods. In fact, practically every melò scene is contrasted with a grotesque one, without which I think it would have been an extremely sad, almost suicidal product.
Another thing I wanted to do was give the film a cut that treasured my more than a decade of work in the field of video advertising for companies; therefore an aesthetic, glossy aspect, with mention of social networks and their capillarity. A choice that is not as free as it may appear; after all, there are scattered clues in the film that hint at the fact that the protagonist does exactly the same job as me and all the delirium is an amplified and distorted consequence and external reflection of what he has inside.

Finally, [SPOILER ALERT! GO TO THE NEXT QUESTION IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM] I had created the concept many, many years ago and at the time it was something quite new and original. But in the meantime a whole series of titles have come out (Buried, Haze, 127 Hours, for example) such as to make it almost a sub-genre. Sub-genre which however has rules: a skilled person, with the possibility of communicating, stuck in a narrow place where no one passes. And very easy work on tension. In order to experiment with something new, I decided to do exactly the opposite by overturning the genre: an incapacitated person, without the possibility of communicating, stuck in a spacious place where countless distracted people pass by, who “do not look well”. Working on delirium.

In addition to the inevitable references to social media, more than anything else to their distorted use, the soundtrack is like “Bumba Atomika” an essential trademark. “Fuxia come Gesù” and other songs certainly do not go unnoticed. How did you find, choose, insert them this time?

I love working on soundtracks. You must know that many ideas come to me during concerts, so much so that it often happened that I went to the band after the live to tell them that sooner or later I would have inserted one of their pieces into a film, sometimes even a specific piece. Maybe after years and years. And it happened in Il Cerchio delle Lumache (in this case with Family Portrait). Also in Bumba. Then I know what I want and then I go looking for the right band for that narrative moment. Often among groups I already know or like. I have long wanted to work with the Camillas that I have seen “a thousand” times live, there were many suitable pieces and that I have always wanted to use. They gave me three. Some have contacted me directly and I almost never say no; I found in their songs what I needed (Tica). I had also seen the Roman band Cobol Pongide (who gave me two unpublished works) live and for the “retrogaming” part it was the obvious choice. As well as Wolves Negvi. In that area of ​​the film I needed a summer hit, but I didn’t want a real summer hit but a summer hit according to my brain, so I thought about them, I listened to their discography again and then the choice fell on Fucsia come Gesù ( sometimes reported as Fuxia come Gesù) also because of my recurring taste in playing with symbols and taboos. A “quite Senesi” piece. If I have any doubts, I call Vanni Fabbri (La Tosse Grassa) who has “strong doses of” musical skills and therefore always manages to offer me stimulating names or ideas.
We had Beethoven performed and we recorded it live, by the hand of Mattia Rugiano, the only piece played specifically. I wanted it and I thought about it from the early stages of production. Finally came Nicola Boari (eclectic artist, his monograph on Wakamatsu released in bookstores in Italy) and his Spettro Rec. which with its container sites of international bands solved all the noise/ambient part for me with musicians from all over Europe . Thank you.
Here too, as you may have noticed, it is a continuous and somewhat crazy leap from one genre to another. All a little ground up and cut with an ax because Ėjzenštejn taught us that way.

The actress Valentina Lauducci

From casting to the other challenges of an independent film

And the cast, on the other hand, how does it come out?

With actors I always consider myself lucky. I had already worked with the protagonist, Mauro Negri, and he gets better and better; that of an actor is his profession, in Milan. I wanted him but this time he said no (like the woman I love). Then, some time later, he called me to let me know that he was getting married and if I could give him a wedding photo shoot.
Environment with low light, the general disorder is lightly illuminated by a table lamp, a boy seen from behind, Michele, is sitting at the computer. The cell phone rings, Michele moves away from the computer by sliding the office chair on its wheels, grabs the cell phone and answers.
MAURO (voice off the phone):
You know, I’m getting married blablabla
Hem, you know Mauro, I’ll shoot the film in a while
MAURO (voice off the phone):
Ah, is it a trap?
So I got Mauro, by barter.
Valentina Lauducci, crazy and adorable, I knew her by reputation, she is a talented actress and artist, she can play anything and I first “tested” her in a short film shot back-to-back to the film (Natale a Visso). And then gladly confirmed.
Finally Mascia Antonelli, the most difficult choice. His character has changed since the first draft of the script. Initially it had a different, trivial character design, I don’t know why my brain conceived it like this. Then in the casting phase I started to have doubts and that character became more delicate and “sacred”, I didn’t want the viewer to be distracted by taking him where I didn’t want to. I thought a lot about who to contact until I thought of the very young companion – whom I knew very little – of a dear friend. A rookie. A risk, because for the main characters I always try to win experienced figures. But I’m delighted with the choice made, Mascia pierces the screen and ended up on the movie posters.

Even in technical roles, starting from effects, there are presences that stand out, including people who had already participated in your film debut and/or who actively work, with their works, to enliven the picture of independent productions Italian. See Federico Sfascia’s “cameo”. Is the one that accompanies you in these enterprises in some ways a small “factory”?

No, unfortunately not. There are many recurring figures, true, but they are professionals with their work, and it makes me increasingly difficult to get involved in projects like this, without any pay. It’s unfair, and I feel bad about it, even if we always try to give each other a hand and reciprocate when there are projects with budgets. So there isn’t a real “factory” (in the past I was part of various collectives, but too many heads lead to too many compromises and sometimes to a decrease in freedom of expression) but a production company, PALONEROfilm which is the guarantee of a narrative universe coherent and very personal. Then there are very fixed figures: Martina Colorio, geek genius, generous, tireless, who is a sort of artistic half of me who manages to materialize in a graphic, IT and digital effects key everything that crosses my mind. If a factory can be made by two people, then it is. And Sfascia, yes, a generous friend with whom I often collaborate, as much as I can.
His cameo was unexpected, he showed up as an “extra” when we were shooting the crowd scene and I obviously gave him that part. In addition to being a good director and a monstrous cartoonist, the “filthy” also acts well.
Federico Flamini, sound engineer, and Noemi Montironi, make-up artist, are other central figures who continue to help me, and towards whom I am deeply grateful, such as Erika Ferranti (Bumba Atomika‘s Berna B) who proposed herself for a minor role (and who am I I to deny him?). Many of the other actors and extras are figures I’ve worked with in the past. But above all, Il Cerchio delle Lumache exists thanks to two new entries, Francesca Fiordelmondo and Alice Piergiacomi, two very young students of the Academy of Fine Arts, who have shouldered the mountain of production by doing everything and becoming the central part of running a end of the work. I think their importance can be guessed from the credits (beautiful, made by the aforementioned Martina).

We already know, having discussed it several times, how much effort these two films cost. So what did it mean for you to make cinema in such autarkic ways? And how do you evaluate, more generally, the possibility of making independent films now in Italy?

First there is a fact to be acknowledged; A lot has changed from the first film to this one. Now “everyone” makes films (films, not cinema), they are often rich, have money and equipment and there is an overproduction of titles. Sending one’s work around is exponentially more difficult than in the past, bordering on frustration, so much so that one often wonders if the game is worth the candle. Despite the cinema crisis, there is very little space for experimental, innovative, disturbing projects or projects that do not possess a healthy conciliatory nature of rhetorical progressivism. And often the funds donated are only for that type of work and creative. Demotivation is huge. Is it worth investing time, energy, resources, people’s involvement for something that practically no one might see?
Making a self-production or an independent film of this kind today is the most crystalline artistic and punk act that can exist, that is, making something that eats up an enormous amount of time and resources, for necessity alone, to reconfirm the place you feel yours, for self-therapy, to express yourself. All the rest is a greedy and slobbering market, compromise and the search for easy fame, begging for likes and followers.
Then the speech is easy; pure indie or self-production gives you the possibility to push the pedal as much as you want, tell what you want, not caring about everything, even the public, believing firmly in your idea, that it is free, crazy, out of format and time ( like this movie which clocks in at an hour). This is how art (and everything) is born and evolves. It’s beautiful. No one can censor you, prevent you from expressing yourself, silence you. But obviously you pay the price in terms of visibility, diffusion, qualitative performance and ambition of the story told. I would really like to work in a large production, but even very low budget products make me feel alive, they motivate me to go forward, they give me unforgettable moments of life, so that’s good. I believe man is born to build something that makes him feel alive and in the right place; it’s difficult, frustrating and everything but I am when I can “build” stories and universes. And on set, any set, I’m still alive.

Stefano Coccia

Michele Senesi with the famous Italian singer Ruggero de i Timidi!
Stefano Coccia

Stefano Coccia

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