Canada’s annual Contemporary Italian Film Festival kicks off on Thursday. The lineup includes a variety of genres of films from both yesterday and today that will be shown at venues throughout the country. Among them is a riveting film that has earned success in Italy and abroad.
Inspired by true events, Salvo Cuccia’s Lo Scambio takes place in Palermo during the mid-90s when violent organized crime was at its peak. The film centers on a husband and wife in their mid-40s. He is a police commissioner consumed by his work and she longs for a child, becoming obsessed with the story of a boy who was kidnapped by the mafia in retaliation for his father becoming an informant. Cuccia presents the story of the commissioner’s work and the never-ending, lonely days of his wife in parallel sequences of delusion and stark reality. Cuccia said of this surreal style, “I wanted to make a movie about a crime that really happened, but that was more than just the account of a news report of the time. I was interested in exploring the nature of the characters and the situations in order to bring out a drama that stood on its own feet, above and beyond the actual facts, since the starting elements were very strong and the cause and effect relationships were evident. I also wanted to go in the direction of a dark story, in which the appearances reveal cracks that become increasingly evident in a game of disclosures.” The cast includes Filippo Luna, Barbara Tabita, Paolo Briguglia and Maziar Firouzi. The screenplay was co-written by Salvo Cuccia, his daughter Federica Cuccia and Marco Alessi.
I recently met the star of the film, Filippo Luna, while he was in New York promoting his newest work Sicilian Ghost Story by Antonio Piazza and Fabio Grassadonia at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Open Roads: New Italian Cinema. Luna grew up in San Giuseppe Jato, a village in the Province of Palermo, with his father Liborio and mother, Maria. He graduated in 1992 from Sicily’s Academy of Ancient Drama (The Italian Academy). He pursued his acting career in Rome, but returned to Sicily where he settled in Palermo and worked in theater. It proved to be the right decision because his career took off, paving the way for a smooth transition into cinema. His feature film debut was in Emanuele Crialese’s 2006 Golden Door. From there, he went back and forth between cinema and stage, working with a number of prominent directors including Andrea Cardinale, Ficarra & Picone, Donatella Maiorca and Pasquale Scimeca. In 2013 he starred and was also a dialogue coach in Piazza and Grassadonia’s Salvo, which won an award in the Critics' Week at Cannes. He portrayed Massimo Ciancimino in Sabina Guzzanti’s La Trattativa, which premiered at the 2014 Venice Film Festival. Grateful for the opportunities, Luna calls Palermo his “Little America”.
Lo Scambio is one of my personal favorites. Having seen it at the 2016 Bella Basilicata Film Festival where Cuccia and his producer Eleonora Cordaro presented it, I never forgot it. The story is captivating and the performances intense. There is a fine line between fantasy and reality, which is Cuccia’s signature style of filmmaking. I spoke with Luna about his character, his pride in being Sicilian and the rich, tumultuous history of Palermo. Our interview was originally done in Italian, so both versions are included.
Tell me about your character in Lo Scambio. In my opinion, this commissioner is one of the most complex characters in cinema.
The commissioner of the film Lo Scambio is a paranoid and disturbed man. He is evil. He is fascinated by capturing you with his eyes and then slaughtering you with his own hands.. while he continues to stare into your eyes. He is a man like many, an unsuspecting man that hides horrible secrets. The film is based on a true story. It is a story of the mafia, but our focus on the characters and the story itself was more psychological than real.
Parlami del tuo personaggio nel film Lo Scambio. Secondo me, questo commissario di polizia è tra i personaggi più complessi nel cinema.
Il commissario del film Lo Scambio, è un uomo paranoico e disturbato, è il male, è affascinante da prenderti con lo sguardo e poi sgozzarti con le sue stesse mani, mentre continua a fissarti negli occhi. È un uomo come tanti, è un insospettabile che nasconde orribili segreti. Il film è tratto da una storia vera e una storia di mafia, ma il nostro sguardo verso i personaggi e la storia stessa è stato piu psicologico che realisitico.
How would you describe the relationship and the rapport between the commissioner and his wife? And then (without giving too much away) what is the reason for him taking his wife in the car after the personal tragedy hits?
The story is that of Leoluca Bagarella and Vincenzina Marchese. I believe that he took her away to a place where only he could find her. After all, for him, she was the most dear thing he owned. He felt that he had lost everything and it was not a pain that could be shared.
Puoi descrivere la storia e il rapporto del commissario con la moglie ed (non voglio dire troppo) il motivo per la sua decisione dopo la tragedia.
La storia è quella di Leoluca Bagarella e Vincenzina Marchese, io credo che lui l'abbia portata via in un posto dove solo lui la potesse ritrovare, del resto per lui era la cosa piu cara che possedeva. Aveva perso tutto, non era dolore che si poteva condividere.
Being of Sicilian origins, what are your thoughts on working with so many directors that make films about the mafia?
Being Sicilian, for me, is a blessing but almost always, it exposes you to mafia roles or bad characters. This is risky because you could fall into the cliché. One is fortunate to be directed by experienced filmmakers that have a clear vision of their project. This puts you on the right track to giving each character his personality and nuances.
Come sei Siciliano, parlami di recitare per tanti registi che raccontano della mafia..
Essere Siciliano, per me è una benedizione, ma quasi sempre ti espone a ruoli dil mafioso o cattivo e questo è rischioso, si potrebbe cadere nel clichet. È una grande fortuna essere diretto di registi cosi importanti che hanno una visione chiara del loro progetto, questo ti mette sulla strada giusta per regalare ad ogni personaggio il suo carattere, le sue sfumature.
We’ve seen so many organized crime stories lately.. tell me instead about the beauty of Palermo and the pride you have for your Sicilian origins.
Palermo is an open-air stage. Here, everything coexists and transforms itself enriching each day. Palermo is a beating heart, and as I said, being Sicilian is a privilege. It’s a land that will always leave you speechless and will nevertheless offer an opportunity.
Raccontami la bellezza di Palermo e l’orgoglio che hai per le tue origini Siciliani.
Palermo è un palcoscenico a cielo aperto, qui tutto convive e si trasforma arricchendosi ogni giorno, Palermo è un cuore pulsante, e come ti dicevo essere Siciliano è un privilegio, È una terra che saprà sempre lasciarti a bocca aperta e saprà comunque offriti un opportunità.
What do you hope to communicate to the world about Palermo through your roles?
Telling stories like the one told in Sicilian Ghost Story allows you not to forget, to have a memory, to always understand which side is good. This is why we make films about our saddest stories- so as not to forget.
Cosa vuoi sperare nel comunicare al mondo, raccontando Palermo attraverso i tuoi ruoli?
Raccontare storie come quella raccontata in Sicilian Ghost Story ti permette di non dimenticare, di avere una memoria, per capire sempre da quale parte sta il bene. È per questo che si fanno i film dalla nostra storia piu triste, non per celebrare me per non dimenticare.
Lo Scambio will be shown in Montreal on June 22 at the Cinémathèque québecoise. Click here for details.
By- Jeannine Guilyard
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