After an extraordinary press conference at the Italian Cultural Institute of New York for the premiere of “Tale of Tales”, the newest film by Roman director Matteo Garrone, born in 1968, now one of the most successful Italian directors, we get to hear from him about his path to success and how he came across the story of this film. Hearing Matteo’s warm, polite voice is inspirational, his words expressing an inner calm and strong creativity which are reflected in his movies, (in the past on paintings, too) transmitting different hues of emotions, just like in his work.
Matteo, for those who don’t know, you’re a painter too. How did you go from art to cinema?
It was quite natural. I grew up around art and painting would feel like putting on canvass static films. A movie is a collection of static images rolling one after the other. I believe the composition of scenes has always been within me. They complement each other, both as visual arts. The funny thing is when I was younger I used to dream of exhibiting my paintings at the MoMA, and here I am with two of my films. I haven’t painted in a long time, but maybe in the future I’ll find that inspiration again.
Matteo, you’ve often mentioned improvisation with your actors. How much improvising can be done?
It’s always a sort of measured improvisation, and either way you always know where you’re starting from and where you’re going. Tale of Tales is a much more structured movie as opposed to my other movies, leaving little space for the unexpected. Yet I feel I was able to bring freshness and life to an otherwise potentially dead story, also for the immensity of the production machine, whose weight could have crushed me.
This is the first movie you direct in English. How did you manage to convey to the actors all the fine instructions as the director?
It’s actually been very easy, though my English isn’t perfect, I could tell if they were into the character and the scene or not. I may not pick up all the slight accent differences, but I definitely hear the intensity. In fact intensity was the challenge at first, I wasn’t sure I would be able to pick up on it but I did.
That’s a good question! The Embalmer was the first movie I made with an “official cinema” type of approach, so that marked the change from my previous more free and independent works I made with friends. The Embalmer had a much more defined screenplay, so for me it was like going from a free tale to a short novel, and the crew, too was a lot more numerous and complete.
Gomorra is a very complex film, made of many stories intertwining each other, offering the watcher an emotional experience, which is actually what I always want for my movies, including “Tale of Tales”. These two films have quite a lot in common, despite the fact that in Gomorra the language is more documentary-style, yet my approach is the same. I connect with the characters, I walk beside them without judgment, trying to convey images to tell the stories in a visual way, speaking of obsessions, desires, human weaknesses and flaws. Needless to say, the international success of Gomorra has allowed me to measure up to more complex works.
How did you connect with the works of Giambattista Basile, which Tale of Tales speaks about?
A friend recommended I read his works and I immediately fell in love. As a matter of fact, I’ve always been inclined to that genre, you could consider The Embalmer a modern tale by Basile, and that was before I started reading his literature. When I picked up his books in 2008 I fell in love with the humane aspect of the characters, with how reality and the supernatural are mingled, the comedy side mingling with the tragic or grotesque. I felt a closeness to this seemingly unknown author, whose work was brand new material.
It depends on the project. If I’m offered a project I fall in love with, I may direct it. It’d take longer for me to immerse into a culture that isn’t my own, but I believe I have the skills to adapt and take the challenge. I guess you could say Gomorra is in another language too, isn’t it? (laughing)
So yes, I could get into the American language and culture, but I would need a story and characters that impress me.
A goal Matteo still wants to achieve?
Honestly, I don’t have any. I love my job, it’s all I ever wanted to do. I can say I love to explore new genres and I’d like to do that with the same quality I put into my movies.
What is success to you?
As Pasolini said, success is the other side of persecution.
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