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LOCARNO 2021 Cineasti del Presente

Francesco Montagner • Director of Brotherhood

“I wanted to have something that came close to what we would call magical realism”


- The Italian filmmaker’s documentary tells the story of three brothers and their relationship with their severe father

Francesco Montagner  • Director of Brotherhood

With Brotherhood [+see also:
film review
interview: Francesco Montagner
film profile
, Italian director Francesco Montagner, who is based in the Czech Republic, presented at the Cineasti del Presente at the Locarno Film Festival a very intimate documentary about three brothers living in rural Bosnia. We talked to the director about his relationship with the protagonists and how he developed the concept of the film. 

Cineuropa: Where did the inspiration for the film come from?
Francesco Montagner: I saw a story on Italian television in 2015 about religious radicalism in the North East of Italy. There were also a few images about the family of my film and religious radicalism in Bosnia. I was very impressed by them. I wanted to learn more about the family and was very much interested in what it might be like to live with this kind of father. I wanted to observe the brothers and try to understand the role of religion in their social environment. After the story, I went there and met them. We fixed a few rules to start working together. The boys became more and more the main point of interest for me. 

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Was it difficult to approach the family?
It was of course firstly important to create a level of trust with them. I talked to each one of them individually. The characters as well as the crew had to get to know each other. The brothers are very humble and it was not difficult to convince them and to work with them. 

How did you work with the brothers to create this dynamic?
Actually, everything was there already. The only thing I had to do was create a frame to make them feel safe to express themselves. They are all relatively shy and in their environment, it's difficult to show feelings, since they make you appear weak. So I helped them legitimise some of their actions and reactions. This is particularly true for scenes like the outburst of one of the boys in the woods. He found a way to express what he was already feeling inside. I had to look for a way to make them open up. Everything is very honest. I had parts stylised for narrative reasons, but the feelings they show are not made up. The camera had something of a therapeutic function.

How did you develop the visual concept of the film?
I wanted to be as close to reality as possible. The photography needed to be simple, but I also wanted something poetic that would distinguish the film from a normal documentary. I wanted to have something that came close to what we would call magical realism. 

What is the most important thing you want to transmit with the film?
Living with such a father is something you carry with you your entire life. The film is about the transition to adulthood. But it’s different for each of the brothers, since they are all of a different age range. 

It seems you are depicting a vicious circle. The brothers talk about war, they play shooting games — war is very near to them.
Well, yes. And that isn’t only true about the topic of war, but also when it comes to the relationship between father and sons. The father is a very strong, authoritarian and somehow heroic figure. The process of taking distance from someone like that is very difficult. 

Where does the father stand with regards to his past in Syria, among radical religious fighters?
He is mostly proud of it, even though he tried to play down his responsibilities in front of some media, in order to influence his trial. 

How did he react during filming, and finally to the film itself?
He lost a bit of interest when he saw that we focused on the boys and not on him. But he accepted it, as long as we treated them with respect. There will surely be some scenes when he watches the film, he might not like what he sees. The boys say things about him that he might not be very happy to hear. 

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