Swide interviews Italian director Roberto Faenza to find out everything about one of the most talked-about movies of the year: how the project was born, the characters and the behind-the-scenes moments.
Swide talks with Italian director Roberto Faenza about one of the most talked-about movies of the year. Here is why the project was born, the profile of the main character and how the movie industries in Italy and United States work (the movie has been co-produced). In this delicate movie, Faenza reveals how to be different without feeling out of place and why pain and sorrow can be, eventually, useful in life.
Roberto, why did you choose to interpret a film version of Peter Cameron’s novel, “Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You”?
I saw the novel in a bookstore. I really liked the title, and while I was reading through the pages I found an “old friend” of mine, The young Holden Caulfield (by J.D. Salinger) who I have always wanted to bring on the silver screen. It is well known that Salinger never wanted to sell out the film rights for The Catcher in the Rye. When I started to work on the screenplay, I wrote a different version of the novel: I decided to place the action within contemporary times instead of 10 years ago and also to approach in depth the unease of James, the protagonist, which is not only typical teenager angst, but he is also empowered by the indignation towards a universe that is disolving into pieces.
The movie was shot over a few months in New York: can you tell us how the project was born and how did it go?
Shooting a movie entirely in New York is an adventure. There are so many hurdles to cope with, and tons of restrictions due to security reasons after September 11th. It is so difficult to film in New York that even the American studios usually film in Canada or somewhere else. It was hard, with many unexpected events, but it was also fun. I am actually recounting it all in a book published by Aliberti, “A day in America”. It’s a sort of journal that follows the film during the 18 months of production and recounts of a pretty-much unknown New York, with the Obama events in the background. I am talking about the star-system, the struggle of foreigners against Unions that don’t allow them to work in the U.S., the paranoid status of a city that still doesn’t perceive itself as safe. But it is also about the great fun of working with Oscar-winning actors, the efficiency of my troupe, emerging technologies. Mostly, I try to recount the very American stubbornness, the “never give up philosophy” and the willingness to keep looking to the future.
Roberto Faenza directing the protagonists
James Sveck is the protagonist of the movie – interpreted by Tony Regbo – a solitary, nonconformist teenager that doesn’t want to conform with social habits. Why did you pick him? What did you want to communicate through him?
When I pick an actor I always try to find similarities between the actor and the character he is representing. Toby is the exact carbon copy of how I imagined James Sveck to be as I was writing the screenplay. Ha has the same irony, same intelligence, same in depth personality. I also think that this attitude belongs to many teenagers. I am a movie director but I am also a professor and I always marvel at young people who are eager to live in a better world than the one they are experiencing.
The protagonist James Sveck, interpreted by Tony Regbo
James is considered a misfit even by his family, who sends him to a therapist in order to be “fixed”. How does this situation mirrors today’s society? Who’s different from the others is still pushed away (or in any case considered disturbed)?
The meaning of the movie is revealed in James’ final sentence when he is gathering everything inherited from his grandmother: “If I am crazy, than what are the other people?” It’s a thought that James addresses to his parents and generally to all the adults. How to blame him? The reality is that if you don’t follow the path you have been given you are treated like a misfit, a person who needs to be cured. Actually, the only ones who need to be cured are the ones who see the world only in one way.
The title talks about hope, a light outside the tunnel, a pain that will eventually lead to happiness. Even in another movie of yours,“The Days of Abandonment”, a sentimental loss helps the protagonist, after a journey of sorrow, to find a way out of it, an independent and resolved role in life. Do you really think that an existential path leads to a serene resolution?
In my experience each difficult moment, and professionally I have had many, carries a “message”to not let go. I am sure that from the negative comes out the positive. At least you learn how not to repeat the same mistakes. I learned a lot when I shot the movie “Jona who lived in the Whale”, about the true story of a kid who survived a concentration camp and that after all he had seen and lost (including his parents), he succeeds in not being destroyed by pain and succeeds to look ahead and not behind him. If he made it…it was a big lesson.
Can you tell us about the movie soundtrack?
It was an experiment that was born from the idea of relying on one singer only for each different moment of the movie, to stress the most important scenes through scores: the transitions, the emotions, the happiness. We completely succeeded thanks to the creativity of our compositor, Andrea Guerra, and the suppleness Elisa’s voice. She gave much more than her singing capacities to the scores, I think because she is very similar to the protagonist: fragile and strong, solitaire, intelligent and very sensitive.
The movie has been co-produced: by Italy and United States. How did it go?
For what I know of, this has been the first informal cinematographic partnership between the US and Italy. It wasn’t easy: for them the movie industry is the most important turnover, right after the Defense entries. In Italy we are still stuck on small productions, victims of political classes who can’t understand and appreciate the value of the culture of communication. There is a big difference between these two worlds: in the US you make movies in order to make money. In Italy you use money to make movies. The ideal thing would be to find a way in between of course, but I have to say that this implication – money - made us work within a stretched slot (we had up to 6 weeks to film the whole movie, whereas in Italy you get up to 11) that actually helped our creativity. Too much time/freedom can damage you.
Tony Regbo with Lucy Liu who interprets the Life Coach
How did you decide you wanted to become a director?
At 18, when I was writing for the high school magazine a very cutting review of a movie I wasn’t getting it then. I realized that I had to learn about it in order to be able to judge it. The shift from studying it to work in it was natural.
What cinema is for?
There are many theories. The most convincing one, at least for me, is the one of Walt Disney, who during war times found a way to both entertain people and teach them what was bad and what was good.
As you mentioned before, you also teach, being professor at Mass Media classes at the University of Sapienza in Rome: what is the best media to recount today’s times? Why?
We are experiencing the most important industrial and cultural revolution of our times. With Internet and the Social Media, nothing will be like it was in the past. Languages, formats, timings and ways of communication will change. The cinema, literature, theatre and music will be transformed, too. Only a fool would claim to know what’s ahead. I doubt that there is one way better than another to recount today’s world. Everyone can do it, even with a mobile.
Tony Regbo in a scene of Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You
What has changed in the communication world?
We are not alone anymore. The Web connects different universes, people who have never met before. This never happened before. Maybe we are not even prepared for that yet. Niklas Luhmann sustains that too much information doesn’t inform anymore. We are going to have to learn again many things, which is scary.
You worked both in the United States and Italy: in what do we excel and in what do they excel?
They have money and they have an Empire, even if it is in crisis. We have the capacity of sort things out and we are more creative. They are rushing towards the future, we are still attached to the past. Their ancestors are cowboys and the Far West. We have had the Renaissance, but also Macchiavelli, and Caligula.
What has been for you the Grande Cinema Italiano? What is it today?
The great Italian cinema at its best, in the past, was courageous and adventurous. People were ready to risk then. Now it’s pure lethargy. No one risks. Dominated by television and by public and private owned channels, good cinema can’t find a way out if these two sectors don’t invest in your movies. I am optimistic, though. Internet is going to make these things implode. When I talk about this situation with my American friends, they are shocked. And they are right. But there is no need to draw examples from overseas. Just look at what France is doing.
Take a sabbatical year. During the last year I filmed 3 movies: Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, Silvio Forever and the Murder of Via Poma. It’s about time for a vacation.
Interview by: Elisa della Barba