Paolo Genovese • Director
"Remakes are a lost opportunity"
- A guest at Naples Film Festival, Paolo Genovese talked to us about his upcoming film, set in New York, and the various remakes of his successful film Perfect Strangers
With the intention of promoting his new book, Il primo giorno della mia vita – which will act as the basis for his next film – the director of Perfect Strangers [+see also:
film profile], Paolo Genovese, dropped by Naples Film Festival, in the city where everything started for him ("I came to life cinematically in Naples, the Neapolitan spell brought me so much luck.") His next feature film will be set in New York and will be his first film in the English language with an international cast.
Cineuropa: Why New York?
Paolo Genovese: Il primo giorno della mia vita is a story with a bit of magic: four people are about to hit rock bottom in their lives and suddenly, thanks to one man, an angel of sorts, they are inspired to try again. New York is a magical city, which I know very well and where anything can happen. If someone tells you there is a mysterious and generous man in a small shop in Chinatown in New York willing to give you a week of his life to try to save yours, you believe it. In Italy, the only city with a similar sort of magic is Naples.
Why did you choose to write a book, and not a screenplay?
Unlike Tutta colpa di Freud [+see also:
film profile], this book was not initially intended to be made into a film. I started writing it due to an urgent desire to tell a story, without having to wait for a budget, production, actors... Writing is difficult because, unlike cinema, you have to express everything using words alone, but it is immediate, free and you can do it anywhere: you can go to New York, imagine your story on Fifth Avenue or on the Brooklyn Bridge, and it costs you nothing. I was then willing to make a film after I heard what people who had read the story had to stay. They thanked me for the story I told, one of hope. Perhaps at this moment in time we need stories that give us courage, that hold out a hand.
From Perfect Strangers, to The Place [+see also:
film profile], and now Il primo giorno della mia vita, you seem to be particularly attracted to people's dark sides...
But the meaning changes. In Perfect Strangers and The Place, we analysed the demons we have difficulty confronting: how little we know the people around us and how little we know ourselves; they create a portrait of a defective humanity. In Il primo giorno della mia vita, there is redemption instead, characters with weaknesses which are easy to identify, who for different reasons think they can’t make it, but they react. It's a happy story, even if it starts with suicide. For me it was very cathartic. The takeaway is: what is really important in life? And there was a high risk of being predictable or saccharine.
When will you start filming Il primo giorno della mia vita? Do you already have any ideas for the cast?
It's all to be decided, I still have to write the screenplay. It will be a film in the English language, starring American actors, but I don't have anyone in mind yet. There are wonderful TV series actors, less known but incredibly skilled. I like American independent cinema, acting by subtraction, small but very dense films, with actors such as James Franco, John Turturro, Steve Buscemi, Paul Giamatti and Marisa Tomei ...
Around 15 remakes of Perfect Strangers have been made around the world. Have you seen any of them? What did you think of them?
I saw the first one, the Spanish one (directed by Álex de la Iglesia, ed), and I didn’t like it. I really don’t like the idea of people remaking my films. The stories are very personal, when I write a script I pay attention to every single word, so seeing them partially modified does not please me. Everyone thinks they're happy, but they're not happy at all. Instead, I consider it a missed opportunity, because we should be proud of our national cinema, and let our films come out first, and then whoever wants to, can remake them afterwards. In Spain, Perfectos Desconocidos [+see also:
film profile], which is a carbon copy of my film, except for the last ten minutes, made €25 million. I think that ours could have had excellent results too, with the possibility of making our films, actors and directors well-known, as all important films do. Films should be exported, not sold.
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