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KUSTENDORF 2020

Paolo Virzì gives a guest lecture at Kustendorf

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- The Italian writer-director encouraged young filmmakers not to be afraid to make mistakes at the film and music festival founded by Emir Kusturica

Paolo Virzì gives a guest lecture at Kustendorf
Paolo Virzì (left) during his guest lecture at Kustendorf

Drvengrad, which literally means “wooden city”, was originally built to serve as the backdrop for Emir Kusturica’s Life Is a Miracle. It screams “picturesque” and would be a great setting for any kind of artists’ resort, where the next The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann or the script for a future Palme d’Or winner could be penned. It makes perfect sense, then, that the Kustendorf International Film and Music Film Festival, which has now reached its 13th edition, should be intended as a platform for young filmmakers to learn the craft from seasoned artists, who this year include Paolo Virzì and Karim Ainuz.

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The snowy hills are replete with inspiration, but it’s not just a romantic concept – the way in which a change of scenery can be crucial for a filmmaker was explained by Italian writer-director Paolo Virzì during his guest lecture. The talk was preceded by a screening of his 2013 dark comedy Human Capital [+see also:
trailer
interview: Paolo Virzì
film profile
]
. It’s based on an American novel by Stephen Amidon and was originally set in Connecticut. Virzì shifted the action to Lombardy, in the north of Italy. “I have made many funny movies, with both jokes and substance, which on the surface all had that famed ‘Italian comedy style’,” said Virzì. “With this movie, I wanted to try something new. I was born in Tuscany, so Northern Italy is a different country for me – with, for example, snowy and foggy winters, which are more typical in Belgium or Normandy. It fit the dark mood of the film. I told my team: ‘We are not making an “Italian comedy”; think about wintertime in Connecticut’.”

He added that, as an EFA member, he watches a lot of European films, and he was inspired by a “certain look” that is more typical of Danish or Polish cinema. Virzì’s choice of “less Italian” aesthetics has an influence on his creative process. Since the main theme of Human Capital is the clash of the social classes, the stratification that – according to Virzì – is more visible in the north of Italy than, say, Naples also proved to be stimulating. “I wanted to venture out of my comfort zone and be in a place that wasn’t familiar, where I would feel intimidated by people’s behaviour.”

Then, he elaborated on finding the right visual style for the film and his creative process. “I am a writer and storyteller, but I like to sketch funny portraits of people. I start [preparing a film] by taking notes in my notebook and painting the characters. I try to imagine their faces,” Virzì explained. He also discussed the role of an artist, whom he sees as a “scapegoat” that “addressed the rage”, and elaborated on the social and economic nuances of Human Capital.

And so the lecture turned out to be a bittersweet confession by an artist who tries to make comedies in a world that is getting darker and darker, and where artists’ voices seem to be irrelevant. But it did offer an upbeat conclusion: spread your vision, add to the choir of voices and don’t be afraid to make mistakes, Virzì implored.

The 13th Kustendorf International Film and Music Festival will wrap up on 18 January.

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