New interview with Italian director Matteo Scarfò

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The director had already been in competition at the Indiecinema Film Festival with the short film “Pale Blue Dot: A Tale of Two Stargazer”, we interviewed him again, since this year he is instead participating with the short “Ricordati di santificare le feste” and with the feature film “L’ultimo sole della notte”

On Sunday 23th June at 9pm, at the now well-established Capitoline headquarters of the Bottega dell’Attore in San Lorenzo, Via dei Volsci 3, the now typical Indiecinema evening is scheduled to be dedicated entirely to genre cinema. For the Third Edition of the Indiecinema Film Festival, among others, two Italian short films in competition will be screened: When Buying a Fine Murder by Gabriele Tacchi and Ricordati di santificare le feste by Matteo Scarfò.
The latter will be represented in the theater by the actor Pierre Bresolin. But the director himself, Matteò Scarfò, is no stranger to our competition…. and this year he is also participating in the Feature Film Competition with one of his previous works, The L’ultimo sole della notte, which we revamped for the occasion. There are two reasons, therefore, to interview him once again!

A constant presence at Indiecinema Film Festival

Our conversation, Matteo, follows another one which took place during the second edition of the Indiecinema Film Festival, when your other short film “Pale Blue Dot: A Tale of Two Stargazer” obtained a Special Mention for Make-up and Special Effects, very emotional since yours is a science fiction work. How would you like to comment, meanwhile, on this recognition and the other awards that the short has collected so far?

I’m obviously very flattered. When you make a short film you don’t expect to win awards but in some way you hope for it, not so much out of vanity but because it is one of the meanings that can be given to one’s own work and that of the many people who collaborated on the films. It means that people saw it and appreciated it, found some qualities and decided to leave recognition for those qualities.

Proceeding a bit at a crawl, this new edition of the festival hosts two works you previously created: a short and a long one. Giving precedence this time to the feature film, how did your debut film “L’ultimo sole della notte” come about? And how challenging was it production-wise?

First of all I must say that the genesis was very long. It was even 2011 and I was reading a cornerstone of social science fiction which is Condominio (High-Rise) by James Ballard. Then a few visions began to swirl in my head, linked above all to the context where I grew up, that is, a piece of Calabria where one could find these beautiful but at the same time disturbing landscapes because the presence of man had left an alienating mark. But then the man had disappeared from certain places and so you had this sense of loneliness almost like De Chirico. These landscapes with the vestiges of modern man have left their mark on me. I imagined a vision opposite to that of Ozymandias from Shelley‘s poetry, there the ruins of a sovereign remained in imperishable despair, here those of the common man. So Ballard seemed congenial to me for describing the lifeless life of modern landscapes and so I took inspiration from that novel of his and from Concrete Island for a completely new story about the post-apocalypse. As far as production is concerned, it was difficult, there’s no denying it. Fortunately we had a team of excellent and dedicated people, with a very solid profession behind them, who carried out the work of a crew of 50 people… in 10! But going on that set, as tiring as it was, was a joy and I would do it again 100 times. Recreating a post-apocalyptic world needed particular precautions, but I think we chose an original, very humanistic and social path.

Genre cinema and always functional performers

In your feature film, L’ultimo sole della notte, we also appreciated the way of relating to challenging genres, on a representative level, but with total economy and drawing on a profilmic that already seems to suggest a lot. The desolation of certain environments, their natural “post-apocalyptic” appeal, is something to be framed only in terms of the dystopia you intended to tell or it is also possible to paraphrase a present which, especially in Italy, has seen quite a few speculations in the past and environmental devastation?

There was certainly a desire to also narrate this empty and banal present in Italy and perhaps in the Western world in general. Only the post-apocalyptic genre came to mind to relate to the present. Then the settings, as you know, were almost all real, we found a post-atomic scenario in the house, man doesn’t need the atomic bomb to annihilate himself. It can do so easily by annulling souls and consciences, reducing the common man to a consumer puppet interested only in his own things and money.

How did the casting of the film happen?

I had the protagonist in mind since writing, and it had to be Andrea Lupia, with whom so far we have shared an artistic and human experience that I will always carry with me. Instead for the others I found the actors in Calabria, like Danilo Rotundo or Lucia Cristofaro, but also in Rome, Alessandra Mortelliti and Claudia Fratarcangeli, and in Potenza, Giovanni Andriuoli. Good actors who gave everything they could for the film. But above all I chose among those who also inspired me due to their kindness, ironic spirit and normality. If it’s going to be a difficult set, you don’t want to share it with an arrogant asshole. If anything, you want to create a small family of friends, with whom you can share a part of your life and let this also be an experience for everyone.

Matteo’s “factory” and his cinematic models

More generally, we have noticed that you like to take certain performers and crew members with you from one job to another. Moving on to the short film that we are presenting in competition this year, “Ricordati di santificare le feste”, how was such a crackling cast assembled, which also draws from the theater as in the case of Pierre Bresolin?

Well, Pierre, besides being a friend and a gentleman, is also a great actor. It came naturally to me to call him to play the part of the parent of a demonic creature who is unfazed by anything. As for the others, however, I knew Andrea Lupia very well, present in the feature film, and Indri Shiroka with whom we shared various stages and more. Indri and Andrea, due to their innate and spontaneous comedy, were just to be paired together. They have a natural comedic talent, they manage to create absurd situations even outside of the film. That type of irony must be used in a film, it has a very strong potential if well directed. Then there was Al Bettini as the demon. He had to do everything under a very heavy mask in the middle of summer. And Elena Console in the surreal role of Pierre’s wife.

The tradition of dark comedy in the British world, the proliferation of grotesque and satirical horror in Álex de la Iglesia’s Spain… in the Italian panorama something like “Ricordati di santificare le feste” appears unusual and this is also why we liked it. What can you tell us about the particular portion of the cinematic imagination that the short explores?

In addition to the dark comedies you mentioned, one of my thoughts was: where does Italian comedy begin? Perhaps from the regional differences of “commedia dell’arte”? Here, ours is a comedy that has often made use of regional differences, of contrasts between the north, center and south. I thought but if we put the classic comic character from the north and the one from the south together, in a horror film, what happens? I am very pleased with the reference to de la Iglesia, a genius of the contrast between horror and grotesque.

Looking at the future

In an edition of the festival that has already seen us address the relationship between comic register and religion in the excellent documentary “Una risata ci salverà“, this work of yours also contains some irreverent and salacious ideas, see the quote from Padre Pio. So how did you relate to religious discourse?

There is an absolutely grotesque aspect of religion, I remember when I was little these paintings with Jesus holding a huge heart in his hand, or the large statues of Padre Pio everywhere, how can you not also think of an irreverent way to all this ? And I don’t speak as an atheist, I have my own spirituality, but it is certainly not that of a sideshow or images of speaking saints made with artificial intelligence or archaic dogmas.

Finally, how is your career as an independent filmmaker progressing now?

I don’t know if it’s continuing because every time I find myself on the razor’s edge. Every time I think about something, a light bulb goes on that illuminates the enormous problems that lie ahead. Now I have just finished a science fiction film called Esistenza Zero, we are in post production after two years of work. It is perhaps the ideal second chapter of a possible trilogy, not linked in its episodes, where with science fiction I try to look towards the present. It talks about cyborgs and transhumanism, about technology and utopias, about alternative digital worlds, about when and how we can tell if something is real or not. And then of the fact that this is the world we have, the only one, where we should try to find solutions by also looking at others, and not closing ourselves in our little selfishness.

Picture of Stefano Coccia

Stefano Coccia