Profile & Interview: Gabriele Muccino
by Carlo Cavagna
LEFT: Remember Me, My Love is the new film from Italian director Gabriele Muccino.
talian director Gabriele Muccino is not what you would call modest. He is so soft-spoken and so attentive to his questioners during an intimate roundtable interview in Los Angeles that his lack of modesty becomes apparent only later, in the transcript. Muccino speaks matter-of-factly about how much actors want to work with him. He states that no one else could have written his movie. He dismisses the work of other directors. Yet he is so thoughtful and considered that he doesn't come across as arrogant at all.
Maybe it's the language barrier. No—his accent is thick, but his command of English is excellent. Or maybe he's right. No one else could have written his new movie, Remember Me, My Love. After all, directors should be confident. They should have an original voice. Does Muccino? A lot of people think so. Muccino is one of the most successful directors working in Italy today.
Born in Rome in 1967, Muccino began his cinematic career as an assistant to directors Pupi Avati (The Story of Boys and Girls) and Marco Risi (Steam: The Turkish Bath). In the early 1990s, he attended the directing program at Rome's Centro Sperimentale di Cinematographia and created some documentaries and shorts for RAI, Italy's national television network. Success came quickly after that. His first feature, That's It, was nominated for Best Director at the Turin Film Festival in 1998. Then came But Forever in My Mind in 1999, nominated for various awards throughout Europe, including the Grand Prix at the Paris Film Festival. A teen comedy of sorts, it starred Muccino's much-younger brother Silvio (born in 1982), whom Muccino has also cast in all his subsequent films.
Muccino's third feature, The Last Kiss (2001), is the movie that brought him to international notice. Not only was it a smash critical and box office success in Italy, winning five Donatello awards including Best Director, but it broke Muccino in the United States. The Last Kiss won the audience prize at Sundance in 2002 and was distributed later that year by ThinkFilm. Muccino also reached a two-picture deal with Miramax on the strength of The Last Kiss . The story concerned a group of young men who panic at the prospect of settling down. Despite the male focus, the excellent female performances by Giovanna Mezzogiorno (Facing Windows) and longtime Italian star Stefania Sandrelli (Pietro Germi's Divorce Italian Style, Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist) were what stood out in the film.
Muccino's follow-up to The Last Kiss proved not to be a letdown. Remember Me, My Love (2003) was nominated for ten Donatello Awards, and won Best Producer, Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress (for Monica Bellucci) from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists. The film again concerns Muccino's favorite theme, ambivalence about relationships and marriage.
Muccino's protagonists are getting older with each subsequent film. Remember Me, My Love stars Fabrizio Bentivoglio and Laura Morante as Carlo and Giulia, a middle-aged couple whose average, middle-class nuclear family is about to blow apart thanks in part to Carlo's affair with Alessia (Bellucci). Meanwhile, their teenaged children, Paolo (Silvio Muccino) and Valentina (newcomer Nicoletta Romanoff), struggle with oncoming adulthood. All of them desperately insecure, they are on a quest to prove their lives are worth something. Carlo is a failed writer who can't stand his job anymore. Giulia reconnects with her abandoned desire to be a stage actress. Paolo wants a girlfriend. Valentina has her sights set on a spot as a scantily-clad presenter on a popular variety show.Now Remember Me, My Love comes to the United States, distributed by Roadside Attractions. It remains to be seen whether American audiences will be interested in an Italian movie not set in Venice, or Tuscany, or some idyllic island, but Muccino is hopeful. Maybe Remember Me, My Love will help establish a new tradition of Italian cinema here in the United States, one of contemporary films about contemporary people with contemporary problems.
Question: How big a deal was it to get Monica Bellucci, who is now a big star here in the United States, for a supporting role in Remember Me?
Gabriele Muccino: It was very, very easy, because she wanted to work with me after having seen my previous movie The Last Kiss. We met each other three years ago at the Toronto Film Festival, and she told me how much she loved The Last Kiss, and how much she wants to work with me. So I said, “Okay, let me think about that.” So when I started to work on the script of Remember Me, I just pictured Monica for Alessia's character. When I proposed the role, she was ecstatic. She came by, and I even had a very quick test for seeing how she was matching [up] with Fabrizio Bentivoglio. They were okay, so I just went through the process. What I did, and what I always do before filming is making many, many rehearsals. We rehearsed for a month with all of the actors, no one excluded. And I think the strength of the cast comes directly from the job we did before.
AboutFilm: What's the advantage in your view of doing that much rehearsal?
Gabriele Muccino: I think we have many, many advantages. The main is that all the actors know deeply each other. They have already a tone, a balance. They know where they're coming from. They know what I want from them. They have time for finding the right chemistry. So, basically, when we go finally on the set, everybody is very relaxed. Everybody knows what I want, and I know what they can give me. We just have to put the camera [down] and film [them]. The work becomes faster, and easier, and much more productive, definitely.
Question: Do you work out kinks in the script as well? Do you let them improvise a little bit?
Gabriele Muccino: When you read, if you have weak points, they come out. If you have fake dialogues, they come out. So, reading over and over makes you understand if you did a good job on the script. If something sounds fake, it's because of the script, or even because of— There are dialogues that are written for personalities that are not always the same [as those] of the actors you have in front of you. So you have to adjust the personality of the character, and change little things, like a tailor with a dress. The dress is done, but then you have to fix it, and that's what the rehearsals let you do. Fixing little details that then make a difference on the screen.
Question: Is part of the story autobiographical?
Gabriele Muccino: [laughs] I wouldn't say autobiographical. I would say that it's very much connected to my own life, my sensibility, my background, my view of the world. It's very much my movie. I never could have found anybody else able to write this movie like I did it. It belongs to my life very much. So it is autobiographical without being autobiographical. There is nothing [in it that] really happened in my life. The parents are older than I am. My children are much, much younger than they are. So, it's different, but it's still very close to my life.
AboutFilm: Both this film and The Last Kiss deal with similar themes, the compromises that have to be made sometimes in a long-term relationship, or because of family commitments. What specifically about those themes attracts you?
Gabriele Muccino: I think, probably the unhappiness of the characters, their vulnerability, their inability to accept their own lives, to work through their own path. They want always to jump somewhere else. They want to be somebody else. They're frustrated, unhappy, insecure, incomplete, unresolved. I am very attracted by this world, this atmosphere. I mean, if you are happy, then you will make happy your children, you will make happy your wife. The happiness is contagious, but the unhappiness, the sadness, is even more contagious.
If your parents spent all their life fighting each other, you won't ever be, I believe, a complete and resolved human being. You will have problems. You'll try to find somebody to provoke, [and recreate] the same situation. It's very human, unfortunately, so your children will suffer the same pain you suffered when you were a child. Do you know what I mean? We are what our parents transmitted to us. Someone who rapes or kills somebody else, inside of himself are hidden codes that belong very often to the education he got, to the traumas he got when he was a child. That is very interesting to me. That's much deeper than the film explores, but this is my view.
Question: Everyone battles with those time bombs that your family has planted in you. The movie is very honest that way. It's interesting how familiar it seems even though it's coming from a different culture. They seem like an American family in many ways. I think the difference is that American audiences tend not to want to see things be very honest, and are somewhat more conservative about sex. Do you think that Europeans are more accepting of, say, the teenage daughter's part?
Gabriele Muccino: They are, but this is one of the big paradoxes of American culture, because [Americans] are conservative, but if you zap on the TV, you see very weird things. It's very tricky, the American way of thinking. You never know what they want you to show. There are things that are allowed and things that are not. But the same things [that are] not allowed are completely visible. You can find them in the next room, or next door, easily. It's very strange.
Anyway, going back to the European families, you were asking if they can accept more easily the movie. I can't really make a real comparison, because the film has not been released here, so I don't know what will be the real reaction of families. I've seen what the audience reaction is to the movie, which is similar to the one I've seen in France or in Italy. It doesn't change at all. Last night [at a screening] at the Egyptian [Theater in Hollywood], I even noticed that they were catching little details that were not caught in Italy. Being distant from the culture [allows] you to see even more things, paradoxically. I noticed the same thing in Sundance Film Festival. People were laughing at something very, very subtle, not very visible, but they noticed that. That makes me understand that as a director, I'm very universal. The story is— But also the way it has been told, reaches different audiences. Obviously we are becoming very much globalized, so we have the same problems; we have the same TV shows; we have the same terror problems. Obviously, the background, the cultures are still different, but not so much. The families' problems are mainly the same. We have a TV show like [the one in the movie]; you don't have that, but you have other things that we'll import very soon.
Question: Did you write your brother Silvio's part for him specifically?
Gabriele Muccino: I did, yes. I really didn't invent so much for his character. Already in this movie I was inventing many things for the others, and then I wanted to have a son very near to [Silvio's] personality, so I just imported him into the story. It was very easy to write his character, because he even told me some things— Like for example, the party scene. Once I was writing the movie, I asked [Silvio] something about the party for his birthday, the eighteenth. It was not far from that unfortunately for him.
AboutFilm: It seemed like he has a very desire to have his life mean something—he makes that comment a couple of times—but his goal is less specific than the other characters. He doesn't know in what way he wants his life to mean something.
Gabriele Muccino: He doesn't have real ideals. He doesn't have a real passion. He doesn't have something to grab. He wants to find something to concentrate his life on.
AboutFilm: In The Last Kiss, your protagonist reaches a happy ending, a place of acceptance. In this movie, he does not. I was wondering if that reflects a change in your own perspective?
Gabriele Muccino: The real problem I had writing this script was that I couldn't really, honestly, I couldn't really believe that this family was going to work. It was so fake thinking to a happy end, because problems like that, they never stop. They can be hidden under a rug, as they say, but then you will keep that dirty secret inside you, in your life. Basically, I think a family like this, they can pretend to be over [it], but if somebody like Carlo doesn't complete his process, doesn't understand really what he is and what he deserves to be, then he will keep on [being] frustrated. He'll keep on [being] unhappy, unsatisfied, and then still vulnerable to the charm of Alessia, or anybody else. He wants so much to be listened. He wants to be loved. He wants to feel alive. And he doesn't need the love of the wife, because somehow he doesn't even believe that's real love. It sounds so much like a routine, like the same things, forever. He needs something new. Like the wife needed to be on the stage and acclaimed. The daughter needed to be on the TV show, because that's what she wanted at the time. This doesn't mean that the daughter will be happy. The daughter is happy now. In the next season when she'll be thrown away from the TV show, she'll be even more desperate, even more lost than she was before, because everything is so ephemeral.
AboutFilm: They're all seeking validation from external sources. They're not finding it within themselves, with the possible exception of Silvio's character, the son, at the end.
Gabriele Muccino: Exactly. I think [the son] tries to be better than the others, but then the spiral is really tricky, and sooner or later he will become like them. I don't see a real hope even for him. Probably the character I like the best is the mother, because the mother somehow, she understands something more than others, I believe. [The son] finds a love; he finds a girl, but we'll never know if he found really inside of himself that serenity that he needs. He's forced to grow old, to step forward, to move. He will move forward, but [in] the neurotic way we know in our society. We're very neurotic. We need to produce; we need to compete; we need to work; we need to have our career. We need to move. But that doesn't mean that we are ready for that. We move, we can even succeed, but it doesn't mean that we will happy.
Question: People are always trained to want something more than they have.
Gabriele Muccino: Exactly. That's very, very true.
Question: Do you have any desire to work in Hollywood?
Gabriele Muccino: Actually, I'm— I did my best. I even signed a two picture deal with Miramax three years ago. We developed a couple movies with them, but they fell apart for different reasons. One of them was too expensive, although very charming. Now I'm developing another project for Lakeshore. It might happen; it might not. In the meanwhile we are developing our Italian script, which is supposed to be released by Christmas 2005. It's like working [in] two different lanes—one is Italian, which is definitely easier—in Europe I would say is easier. I've done four movies in six years.
Here, I can say I never would have done four movies in six years. The system is very complicated. It's very heavy; it's very slow. Too many managers, too many agents, too many interests. You can't just pick up the phone and call your actor and say, “Do want to make it?” “Yes.” “Okay, it's done.” This is how it works in Europe, basically. I've done it like that with Monica. If I was here—if an American director wanted to hire Monica—I would have spent probably six months just for arranging everything with the managers, with the agents. This is my experience here. I'm developing a project, but with the actor, we spent four months just arranging the meeting. I want to make a movie here. I hope it's going to happen. I'll be working for that. But in the meanwhile, for my sanity, I need to keep working in Europe, because it's easier, and then I also have an audience waiting for my movies, and I don't want to keep them too long without any.
AboutFilm: There seems to be in Europe—or at least we have this perception in America—a different attitude toward adultery, in that it seems to be a little bit more accepted, although not necessarily less damaging—
Gabriele Muccino: It seems, but it's not like that.
AboutFilm: In America it tends to be seen as a fundamental failing in character and in values. Your film seems to suggest that the causes are perhaps different.
Gabriele Muccino: That you can accept it, do you think? You can when the things you could lose are too heavy to handle. Breaking a family is one of the most painful experiences anyone can go through. Being cheated on, is insufferable anywhere. It's tough, it's heavy, and probably it will change forever the balance of the relationship. But, if you have children, if you are not so strong, so brave to change your life, you will have to handle it. Then, you will have to handle many problems relating to that, like trusting, like loving again your partner. It's very hard to forgive it. There are many families that accept this kind of betrayal; others don't. It depends how easy it is to change lives, how many things you leave behind. Leaving the children is very, very tough. Then you will go through all the legal stuff, which is very, very painful. It's very tough. If you try to keep the pieces together, it can be also because the pain is less than otherwise. Or you're not brave enough. Or maybe the person you cheated on pretends to be strong enough to accept it, and then she won't. There are many, many possibilities.
Question: How did you maintain the emotional intensity the actors needed to have through the film?
Gabriele Muccino: I really pushed them hard. I reminded them who they are and what they're coming from. I'm very energetic when I direct them. Sometimes I even physically, I shake them. [laughs] I'm really, really physical in the way of relating with my actors. I let them scream very loudly before the scene for losing control. It's sort of the experience that we all have together. I love very much the experience with the actors, and I also believe that actors like to work with me, because it's something deeper than what they usually do.
Question: With somebody like Laura, who has a very emotional role, how did it affect her when you weren't shooting?
Gabriele Muccino: Partially it's because of her talent. She's a very good actress. She's so strong, so sensitive. And then there's me. If she's not trembling enough, I'm gonna scream, I'm gonna scare her, I'm going to do everything possible for making the scene be more tense, and realistic, and sad. I enjoy very much to do that, actually. [laughs] It's the best part.
AboutFilm: And the daughter, Nicoletta Romanoff? She's a newcomer, right?
Gabriele Muccino: Completely.
AboutFilm: How did you find her?
Gabriele Muccino: [From a] model's agency. She was a model. Watching, staring, judging from many, many photographs, we selected a bunch of photographs, then we made the first meeting with a camera, then I made an extra selection. Then we when through the auditions.
AboutFilm: How many people did you audition, and what scene did you have them audition?
Gabriele Muccino: For her, she did two scenes. One was the one at the restaurant with Paolo Tucci, when she says “ Voulez-vous me connaître?” “Do you want to know me?” When she talks about Tom Cruise. That was one scene, the Tom Cruise scene as I call it, and then the other one, I don't remember it, and I asked her to dance a little bit.
Question: What was the play that Laura's character was performing? Was it a real play?
Gabriele Muccino: Ah, no, it was completely original. And incomplete [laughs] , because I wrote only what you see. In the forum, in the chat, in the web site of the movie—I got many, many messages [from] people who wanted to know what that play was. I don't know; they seemed to like it.
Question: What's interesting in your film is that it isn't really an identifiable place. You don't know what city they're in, really. It could be any city anywhere.
Gabriele Muccino: Yes. It's how I always do my movies. I live in Rome. Being in Rome, there are so many nice views. Somehow, paradoxically, I feel like I'm making a commercial. I don't like it, to frame the Coliseum, or the Fontana di Trevi, or the Spanish Steps. I use them when I make commercials, but for movies it sounds to me like, reductive. I prefer to shoot in a way in which you don't recognize the street where you are. Those streets could be in Rome, Milan, Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, or anywhere. It's definitely Rome, but it's easier to make your stories a little more universal, [and] to focus the stories on the characters. You're not distracted by the frame, the beautiful frame.
AboutFilm: Did you plan the voiceover all along, or did you add that in postproduction?
Gabriele Muccino: No, it was written. I wanted to use it more, then I thought it was too much, Still now I wonder if I had to put it the middle— There's a middle phrase when the father is at the hospital. I still don't believe this sentence was really useful. I like the beginning and the end because it reminds me [of] the flavor of a tale, but then the film is everything but a tale. It's the opposite. It's real life. They want to be in a tale, but they are not.
AboutFilm: I'd like to ask you about Italian cinema in general. We don't get very many Italian movies here, and I was curious if you have any views, any assessment of where Italian cinema is right now. It seems to me that we got a lot of films after Cinema Paradiso that were sort of in that style. It seems like now there is more of a realism again. Would that be accurate?
Gabriele Muccino: It's not very easy to be distributed here, because distributors here don't know how to promote the contemporary stories of Italian cinema. I make an example. My second movie But Forever in My Mind [was going] to be picked up by Paramount Classics, Sony Classics, and Miramax. And then at the end no one bought it because it was a teenager story with subtitles, so they didn't know how to promote it. It was a little bit tricky for them. Then, The Last Kiss. Although I have a deal with Miramax, they didn't really ever [think] to distribute it, although the film was very successful in Italy. Then Sony Classics wanted to buy The Last Kiss and at the very end they didn't, although The Last Kiss won the audience award in Sundance. And then Fine Line wanted to, and then didn't. And so at the very end ThinkFilm bought it, for the same reason, because it wasn't portraying the idea of Italy that American audiences have.
If you set a movie in a very exotic island in Italy, or Sicily, or Naples, that kind of Mediterranean [setting], it's easier for them to promote it. I think this is the real limit we have here. The studios don't know how to handle [Italian films] because there is not a tradition, unless we [create] a tradition. If for example films like this one start to have success here, then suddenly we'll be like the French cinema. It will be easier. But for now it's easier for them to promote films like Il Postino than this one. That's the reason why you don't see so many Italian movies, because basically it's not easy to find an American distributor.
And then, we must also say that we don't have so many beautiful Italian films. We didn't have any for twenty years, I would say. We just fell into such a big crisis. Suddenly after our huge golden age, suddenly in the Eighties, in the early Eighties, directors wanted to interrupt that tradition to invent a new style, which was just nothing. Nothing. It was completely sterile. And so we had bad movies for fifteen, twenty years. And then suddenly from the late Nineties new directors came up. One of them is [Emanuele] Crialese. He made a movie called Respiro, maybe you saw it. It was released by Sony Classics, because in that case there was [a] Mediterranean style, which was easier to promote. So we have new, good directors, a bunch, and some of them are also getting released here.
Question: And I'm Not Scared. Italy has such an amazing tradition of cinema.
Gabriele Muccino: Yes, [from director Gabriele] Salvatores. I'm Not Scared is a Miramax movie. That movie—it's still the Italy, the very charming landscape of Italy. It's the kind of film that Miramax likes to pick up, which is not really the best example of what I would like to see here.
Question: At the end I always ask directors what the plans for the DVD are. In Italy, do you make big DVD editions also?
Gabriele Muccino: Yes, Remember Me has two DVDs. So there is a DVD only for the extras. There are many things, the auditions, the cut scenes.
Question: Will we see the same extras in the American DVD?
Gabriele Muccino: I don't know. For The Last Kiss it wasn't like that. Miramax released the DVD, and they didn't keep all the extras we had in the original one. I really don't know. It sounds very easy to import all the extras you have in the original. I don't know really. It depends on who will release the DVD. I hope so because there are many good extras. There is also the music video, because the song at the end is sung by a very well known and appreciated singer. The song she plays, which is the same one Nicoletta sings at the first audition she goes, is one of the ‘evergreen' Italian songs, very melancholy and painful. It's like “Stranger in the Night” for us.
Question: Thank you very much for coming all this way to talk to us.Gabriele Muccino: Thank you very much. Thank you.
[Read the AboutFilm review of Remember Me, My Love]
Feature and Interview © August 2004 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2004 Roadside Attractions. All Rights Reserved.
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