Exploring dilapidated, “haunted” buildings, skipping class with a friend, pursuing a local legend: These are rites of passage for many children, and indeed excellent ingredients for a director’s cinematic cauldron. Luca Nappa’s gorgeously constructed film — richly textured, embodied by dreamy, evocative images — follows Francesco (Francesco Capaldo) and Vicenzo (Vincenzo Quaranta), two schoolchildren in Southern Italy as they pursue a quiet, enigmatic man (Saeid Haselpour) with a deep wound on the left side of his face, whom they believe possesses magical powers. They approach him with a sandwich in hand. In return, they discover the extent of the man’s remarkable mind. Navigating town bullies, oppressive mothers and socio-politics, WARRIORS OF SANITÀ is visceral, poignant brilliance; it’s neo-realism meets magical realism, a film adept with the supernatural power of communicating so much even in silence. Hear from the director himself:
What was the inspiration for your film?
I first got the idea for WARRIORS OF SANITÀ after watching ATTACK THE BLOCK(Joe Cornish, 2010), a British feature from a couple of years ago, which went quite unnoticed at the time and then slowly became a small cult movie. The film tells the story of a gang of teenagers from a troubled area of London which has to face an alien invasion all by itself. After watching it I’ve often wondered what it would have been like to bring such an idea in an environment like that of Southern Italy and how the very peculiar features of this part of my country would have affected the narration.
While the most immediate outcome of this mix can be that of comic relief my aim was to go deeper and explore themes that are often forgotten by Italian narrative. I believe that genres such as adventure and sci-fi can lead to some very interesting outcomes when applied to a place like Southern Italy, but only if its culture and contradictions are used as strengths, rather than brushed under carpet.
Could you talk about your decision to use non-professional actors for the two main characters?
The decision to use non professional actors had always been in the back of my mind when developing the project and the more the idea shaped up the more this seemed the right way to go forward. The type of kids that I wanted to portray in the film, someone very young and naive but at the same time savvy and with a tough background was a difficult mix to find in a young actor. During the casting we left all options open, looking both through professional acting courses and within local charities that worked with kids, to keep them off the streets. Local kids, however, seemed to possess a raw energy that young actors could just not recreate. As we found our two protagonists it only seemed normal to then surround them mostly with other non professional actors, in order to keep a consistent workflow and help them feel like what was happening was as real as possible. This didn’t stop us, however, from casting some professional actors too, like Loredana Simioli, the actress playing Francesco’s mom, who was one of the leads in Garrone’s REALITY (Matteo Garrone, 2012). She indeed felt really confident within our workflow and even helped us shape it.
What were some of the biggest challenges of making this film?
The hardest task was by far working with the two young protagonists. What we needed from them would have been extremely tough to ask of a professional actor and the stamina they were able to display was incredible. I was very lucky to meet, during pre-production, Miranda Haircourt, a renown acting coach who was giving some classes in my school at the time. She helped me develop a tailored approach to get the best out of the two protagonists. During prep I made sure the two kids would spend a lot of time together, getting to know each other and developing a real bond and there was a lot of work put into allowing them to feel confident with each actor they had to interact with (or to not feel confident around them if the scene required it). This workflow helped me and them get through the toughest times during the shoot.
What do you hope audiences will take away from this film?
Developing the film I’ve always had two targets in mind. The first one was to prove that Italian narrative can be bold. Mainstream Italian cinema is often stuck, in the last years, between either comedies or crime movies. The challenge with myself was to see whether I could take themes mostly associated with American blockbusters and bring them into the context of an Italian suburb, with all its beauties and contradictions, to try and create something fresh that people want to see.
My other intent was to see whether I could create a narrative that while being entertaining and engaging could also lead audiences to ask questions about what they’ve seen and whether it might have a deeper subtext. I’ve tried to do that mainly through the figure of the Mysterious Man found by the two young protagonists and through how he is received by them and their neighbourhood.
In my mind the film was always meant to be, among other things, a comment about my country and the places where I grew up. In the early writing stages the focus was mainly on telling a coming of age story that could capture some of the emotions lived as a young kid growing in Southern Italy. Soon enough, however, the idea of two kids living an adventure became more and more intertwined with that of how a community decides to react to the arrival of a stranger. While the two young protagonists face this with optimism and excitement, their minds still naive and not poisoned by any kind of prejudice, not every character in the story chooses to react with the same kindness. The script was written in 2016 but these themes have only become more actual over the last two years. The refugee crises has become one of the top concerns for Italians and racist offenses have been on the rise in Italy. The fact that the Mysterious Man in the film chooses whispering as his only form of communication while everybody around him seems to be loosing their grip is a conscious choice and the audiences watching it seem to have connected to that.