Italian director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino first made a splash in Locarno in 2010 when his atmospheric short “Diarchia,” starring Louis Garrel, Riccardo Scamarcio and Alba Rohrwacher, scooped the Leopard of Tomorrow prize and went on to earn an honorable mention at Sundance. His feature debut, “Antonia,” was an intimate portrait of Italian poet Antonia Pozzi who, like the director, grew up in upper crust Milanese society. He’s back with “Beckett,” the English-language thriller that will open the Swiss fest toplining John David Washington as an “American tourist hunted by unknown people” amid political turbulence in Greece. It’s a Netflix Original that will drop globally on the platform on Aug. 13. Cito Filomarino spoke to Variety about his transition into directing genre fare for a global audience
It doesn’t happen often that an Italian director goes from making an art movie about a poet to a manhunt thriller with a Hollywood star. How did that happen?
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I did not experience it that much as a transition. I love many things about cinema, and I love many different filmmakers and the idea of being able to tell different types of stories. When the opportunity came along to make a film about Antonia Pozzi, the poet, it resonated with me and I thought: ‘Okay what is the best angle to go about this? And came up with that very intimate portrait. In parallel to this I have always loved, let’s say, manhunt thrillers, and political thrillers before I even knew Antonia Pozzi existed. And I always dreamed that I could make my own version of that.
Then there is also the reality that some movies are more practical, more realistic to put together as first features. What I mean is I didn’t really feel the transition in my approach, my angle, my take, my taste. I apply that equally whether it’s a poet or a tourist hunted by unknown people in a foreign country.
How did you come up with the story?
I had this idea of adapting a book that was a sort of manhunt thriller into a movie, and when the book was not available the idea came along to just create a new story based on my personal specific passion for the genre. So it stems from various pieces of inspiration. From material that was literature, movies, graphic novels. The first thing I put together was a sort of Frankenstein monster of the things I wanted to put in the story. More or less what sort of general tone. The tone was the first thing I had to figure out and the general movement of the story. Then with the support of my producers [including Luca Guadagnino] I came across [screenwriter] Kevin Rice. I’d read something that he’d written that used genre in a very different way, with very tangible characters. He responded to what I wrote in that sort of draft of a story. I like the idea of our different backgrounds merging for the idea of making this genre film, with a specific angle which ended up being the angle of character.
How did you get such an amazing cast that besides Washington also includes Alicia Vikander?
First off it was crucial to have access to their representation and to these people themselves. That comes of course from the work of my producers. But I would say the most important element is the page. These actors would not have met with me if they hadn’t liked what they read.
Specifically I have to say what fun the first meeting was that I had with John David Washington. He told me: ‘I love this character.’ That’s why I also shared my first feature with him and he spent a lot of time talking to me about why he liked it, which is exclusively character. The conversation started from the work itself. I imagine the main reason John David wanted to make this movie is he liked the opportunity. We had plenty of subsequent conversations developing the character.
Why did you set the film in Greece?
I don’t want to spoil too much, but there is definitely political intrigue in the backdrop. In order for that to be in any way believable we needed the context of a country going through a difficult time, to say the least. As much as I am inspired by fiction, I also make it a very strong point to seek inspiration from the real world. While the story is completely fictional, we imagined the film to be set in the years when in Greece people were literally occupying streets and squares to protest. Then of course a manhunt film is in many ways a kind of road movie. And if you want to portray the sheer distance that is being covered, one way is to have a variety of different landscapes. I definitely wanted to find a place that was not very seen or known in international cinema. Mainland Greece is not very filmed in international cinema and it offers an immensely beautiful, very dramatic variety of landscapes from mountains and rivers to ancient cities and modern cities. It’s got so much to discover!
Talk to me about working once again with cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, who is Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s regular collaborator.
“Antonia” was the first movie he shot out of Thailand, so a great friendship and collaboration continued. In this film, the point is that there is a sort of matrix that references American genre movies, let’s say. But it is contaminated, in the positive sense, by the cinema let’s say of Michael Powell, I’m thinking “49th Parallel,” of Costa Gavras, I’m thinking “Z,” or “Missing,” of Hitchcock, of course. At the same way Sayombhu comes with his baggage, with his very specific taste.
But in terms of the framing I make a point not to be too specifically inspired by cinema. I prefer to look at photography. So I collected a humungous amount of images and printed them all over my office in Athens. A fun thing Say and I did together when we were talking about prepping a scene and we needed ideas: we would just look at the wall!
How does it feel to be back in Locarno?
I have a special relationship with this festival. To put it quite simply I started existing as a filmmaker there. Therefore it was a sort of baptism. And now the idea that my first truly international film can be the opening film on the biggest screen in Europe, with thousands of people attending. It feels like a blessing, something that is very reassuring to me. It makes me feel like what I’m trying to do is coherent at least and appreciated in a context that I feel is central to cinema today.
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