Paolo Genovese is one of the most successful Italian film director of comedies. He graduated in business administration and at first he started working in TV commercials. His major box office hits including Immaturi, Tutta colpa di Freud and his newest Have you ever been into the Moon. Today, while enjoying an aperitif with me in the Roman Piazza Campo de Fiori, he tells us about his wonderful career.
Paolo, how did you begin your directing career?
I always had the passion to tell stories and when I was 14 I asked my parent for a special gift which was a video camera. It was extremely rare at that time, in the early 80’s and I was filming little shorts by myself, but I wasn’t thinking of become a professional director at that time. It came much later for a lot of reasons.
After graduating, I did a master class in marketing and I started working in publicity with an American Production Company where I had the chance to spend a lot of time on set, gaining experience and meeting people in the movie business. Then I had the chance to film my own short movies, with the help of some friends. About 20 years ago , I had already directed with the short “Piccole cose di valore non quantificabile” with Luca Miniero that won many awards around the world. We were invited by 3 important producers to direct our first feature called “Neapolitan Enchantment” that did well at the box office and won the David di Donatello, Golden globe and Nastro D’argendo. After that we realized we were ready to start a career in movies.
What is the first rule that you learned at the beginning of your career?
Well, I didn’t go to a specific school for directing so it’s hard to tell you a rule. I believe that technical rules are important and you need to know them in order to follow them or break them. So studying is very important but, as a rule itself, I could say that to me, besides technique, it is fundamental to have always a strong idea of the story, besides the subject. Today it is almost impossible to shoot a movie with a subject that hasn’t already been used, so the only thing that we can do is to tell that subject from a new and different perspective.
Did you choose comedy or did it choose you?
I chose comedy because I think that it is the most noble genre that exists and the most complete so that it can embrace a narrative completely. Although we have to make a distinction between comedy and comic movies because they often get confused. The Christmas Movie for instance is a comic genre, which is truly noble because it has to make you laugh, and it is never easy. In the comedy instead it is not fundamental to make you laugh, but the most important thing is to tell the story through an emotion and an identification, possibly by making the audience smile. Besides that, I believe that comedy is much more complex of a filmmaker’s film in which the bravura of the director is to make a picture of reality as it really is. In comedy we have one more step: we have to find a key to tell the story in an ironic way so we have to create a representation of reality which becomes a paradigm of your story. For this reason it is not a coincidence that ofthe last three Italian Oscars, 2 of them were comedies. Mediterraneo by Gabriele Salvadores and Life is beautiful by Roberto Benigni, in which he delivered a delicate and dramatic subject like the Shoah to millions of people using irony. That’s also why comedy has such a big responsibility, because it’s easily welcomed into people’s homes. With Comedy we can say anything.
In Have you ever been to the Moon there is a phrase that struck me as true: ‘Sometimes in life you do many things to pretend, for fear of reality.’ Why do you think we’re so afraid of reality?
I believe deeply that what we all do is defend ourselves from reality. Reality brings us so many ideas and so many stimuli for which basically we are not ready, so it is quite natural to create a wall, a veil to protect us from reality, which is not necessarily wrong. It is human nature.
Often your characters collide over love and friendship, even between different worlds. Is it possible today to combine two different worlds?
Well, I find that in any of our events there is a mediation to be done, an attempt to bring together different worlds and, without getting to differences exaggerated as in movies, north-south, wealth-poverty, I find that the essence of each individual is very personal and unique, and any type of contact or relationship with the outside is a measuring oneself with something different. Even the closest things are different. The family, which is a meeting between two people who are different and who were not born to be together, should be the innermost core and more homogenous that exists, but in reality it is not. A family needs to smooth the edges, somehow accept compromises all the time, must accept the other and then you absolutely can and should co-exist, because if you think otherness came with the person with whom you share your life, just imagine in the rest. I find that everything is different from us and therefore we must all relate to improve.
I know that you adore New York and go there often is for pleasure and for work. What do you love in the Big Apple?
Look, every time I go there are two things that fascinate me: The first is that in New York you have the distinct feeling that there is creativity everywhere; I mean, you get inspired from many things and you really have the feeling that you can really make it there. You’re in the heart of the world. In Rome, which is my city and I love, it seems that it is not entirely original and everything is stuck. At least that’s my feeling. The other thing I like about New York is that everything changes quickly, but it seems that everything remains always the same. When we return, even after time, you feel that you always find the good old New York, and even if the stores have changed, the places have changed and people are different, you never have the feeling of betrayal. On the other hand there are places where you come back after 10 years and all has changed and you feel betrayed because you do not recognize the place anymore.
Living there for some years now I fully share this feeling. Every time I go back. “Blame Freud”, wonderful film, you shot it there. What effect did working in the city most beloved by directors have on you?
Look, when I started doing this work, I jokingly had two dreams: to make a film on an island of Greece and shoot a film in New York and, after “Immature” was shot in Palos, I missed New York that, very simply, I think it is the cinematic “imaginary” with which each director has grown up. And I’ll tell you that it did not have to be shot there, because the story of the girl who returns home could take place anywhere , but it is a choice that I wished for deeply, requiring much more effort for the production. After all this work we do for the stimuli and going to film in New York stimulated me a lot and it was wonderful. Wherever we put the camera was immediately cinema. In Rome, where you put the camera is soon a parking lot!
And the American dream … Did you ever think about it?
Lately I have proposed, in an ever more robust way, to make a film in the US, and perhaps as an experience it could happen, but honestly, I’m not one of those who is enthusiastic about the idea, for two reasons: first, the figure of director in America is very different from that of the director in Italy, I feel my most. In Italy you’re like a craftsman, you roll up your sleeves and follow the whole creative process of working, as in my case I follow from the subject to the screenplay to directing the assembly, while also ensuring that the poster does not have typos on film. And this is a way of working. In America there is a division, a much clearer division of labor ; the script is a compartment, directing is another and in the assembly the producer always intervenes. It’s an industry and, as such, is organized in a much more rigid way. I really like the artisanal atmosphere there is crafted in Italy, which sets us apart. The second reason, the most important, is that to make an international film you should not go to film in America. The international film can be made when your story becomes international and has something to say to everyone, a little bit ‘as it happened with the stories of our neorealism that worked around the world because it got to people. Unfortunately, after a certain point we stopped, apart from Sorrentino apart. If you look hard today the film world is dominated by stories of Chinese, Thais, Mexicans. Look at “Birdman” Inarritu who, wisely telling the stories of his a reality belonging to his culture, has conquered Hollywood without ever imitating it.
Why do you think in Italy you can not go in that direction?
Probably it is a cultural problem. We have no culture of cinema, cultureof images; it is not taught in school, they do not talk about cinema. But beyond this, I noticed in the last election campaign, we talked about everything, but no one has talked about culture, also to attract votes! No one spoke of costumes in musical theater, literature. It is not an issue that interests fucking anyone! And it’s bad because when a country abandons the culture, it begins to drift.
Many young people today try the road abroad, especially in America. What would you recommend to a young filmmaker or actor?
Honestly there are too many variables to be able to give the right advice. Sincerely, for example, to the actors who want to work in Italy, I would suggest they study in Italy. For those who direct I find that contact with an American school is interesting, but not for lack of technique here in Italy, not to find work, but because what you take home is enthusiasm to do well, which unfortunately we are losing here . Learning to film and do a ‘shot is simple, anyone can do it, but probably confronting yourself with young people from different cultures with different ideas, expands your reach. But, unless the choice is to remain abroad, to work in Italy you must remain here.
Do you imagine or wouldyou like to take your measure with a genre film in the future?
As I said comedy is so vast that you can make a hundredcomedies, each one different . There is the horror comedy, black comedy, the British comedy, screwball comedy, moving comedy. Having said that, excluding a spy story that I will gladly leave to others, maybe yes, a I would gladly do a drama tomorrow .
After New York, Paris and Greece, where will your future engagements bring you?
Until a few weeks ago I would have said “on an island in the Mediterranean”, but maybe I’ll change the destination and we’ll stay into an apartment in Rome!
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