Saturday, February 13, 2021

INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR LUCA MACHNICH

Luca Machnich is a grandnephew of Anton Machnich, one of the movie pioneers in Italy, who opened the first movie theaters in Italy, in Romania and in Ireland (the latter in partnership with the famous writer James Joyce) in the early 19th century. He studied film direction at the Los Angeles Film School after working as a production assistant in several screen and TV movies (also with Ettore Scola). He authored "Spaghetti Nightmares", one of the best books on Italian fantasy and thriller movies which was published in Italy (M&P edizioni) and in the United States (Fantasma books). The extended Italian version was very much appreciated by the fans of the genre and the film critics.

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Q. Hello Luca, it's a big pleasure to have you with us for this interview. Congratulations on your nine awards (including ‘Best Horror’ and ‘Best First Time Director’) at last December's edition of the “Rome International Movie Awards” (click HERE).
Your project is “The Eve”: in a few words, what is it about?

A. It is based on a story written by a friend of mine, Nicola Lombardi. He used a good deal of irony in telling of how a very young boy meets Santa Claus, the two of them talk for a while, and then Santa, after giving the child a gift, goes back to his own home: From that point on, things end the same way as in the film. It is a simple story, but extremely incisive, filled with enticing aspects. It was also a good fit for the cinema, though I was afraid that, in adapting it for the screen, the plot might prove too predictable, so in order to throw the spectators off the track, I added the subplot of the illegal adoption, replacing some of the irony with heightened drama, while also making the boy older and having him wish that he could run away with Santa Claus.
But these changes forced to revise the original poster, which I had designed around a large drop of blood shaped like a round Christmas-tree ornament. The child’s face was reflected in the drop as it slid down the tree, just as it is in the exploding Christmas-tree ornament that I had to put in the drop’s place, though I like it a little less, and yet it has won a number of awards.

Q. What can you tell us about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere? Was it difficult to find the right collaborators and, above all, a cast who could translate your cinematographic vision into acting and images?
A. My co-producer found me the best crew chiefs possible, and it was a pleasure to work with them. Plus they enabled me to win a lot of awards, especially in the category of editing. I was afraid that the parents of the boy who played the lead character would be put off by the violent nature of the film. Indeed, at first, when we talked to them about it, we toned down our descriptions on purpose. But when the boy’s younger siblings came to see him on the set, I noticed that they were kicking a decapitated head around, using it as a football. I realised that there was no problem. Today, with everything they see on television, in videogames and elsewhere, children are a lot less frightened of blood and gore than we were. Of the other cast members, I especially liked working with Maurizio Rapotec, who made some very helpful suggestions regarding the screenplay.
The post production, on the other hand, was extremely difficult, as the roughly 150 digital effects took three years to finish, and I wound up having to handle everything myself, seeing that no special-effects artist would have been willing to spend that much time on a short film, and so I had to keep bringing in different ones, making sure to maintain the continuity of the film.

Q. What got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?
A. I inherited a passion for the cinema from my mother’s family. She was an actress, and my grandfather experimented with film, proposing the results to Technicolor. But most importantly there was my great grandfather, Antonio Machnich. He opened the very first movie theatre in Trieste, his home city, as well as in Romania and Dublin, where James Joyce, the author of "Ulysses", was one of his partners. Apart from those influences, I have studied directing and producing at the Los Angeles Film School.

Q. What do you think about the current situation of Italian horror cinema?
A. I recently saw "Mr. Devil" by Pupi Avati, a director for whom I have a great deal of respect, in fact, I consider his "The House with Laughing Windows" to be the best thriller ever made in Italy. And I have also seen "The Nest" by Roberto De Feo. Both are passably good horror films, though to my mind they remain a little too faithful to currents that have already been explored. "Mr. Devil" is in the tradition of the Po Valley gothic sub-genre of the seventies, of which Pupi Avati himself was the founder, while "The Nest" is descended from the 60’s horror films of Riccardo Freda. Not to take anything away from the talents of these two directors, but I fail to see any sign of an international revival of a new Italian school. Then again, Italian cinema has had to fall back on flimsy stories, for the most part comedies. The very fact that Pupi Avati, a big-name director, a genius in my opinion, had his "Mr. Devil" rejected by a number of distributors, even though it wound up doing quite well at the box office, is not a good sign. He has shown in the past that, even without large budgets, it is possible to make horror films that appeal to the public, so why not produce them?


Q. Any future projects you'd like to share?
A. Two horror films with a markedly psychological outlook on topics of particular relevance to today. I only hope that I am given a chance to make them, because, in effect, the subject matter is rather controversial.

Q. How would you describe yourself as a director?
A. A sincere filmmaker. Because if you create from the heart, and you enter the heart of the public, then nothing else really matters. That is what the film industry has to understand: the fact that it cannot consider its products as nothing more than mass-produced attempts to make money.

Q. Directors (and indeed actors) who inspire you?
A. Of the horror directors, I very much admire the Englishman Phillip Ridley, who turns out films, plays, novels and short stories that all have a verve and a cultural depth which truly impress me, as do the unmatched introspection and spiritual reach of his films. For me, he is an underrated genius who should be given more resources, and I find his vision of filmmaking to be very close to my own. Then there is George Romero, perhaps the greatest ever in terms of having the courage to give horror films
a solid social outlook, adding to their depth. I believe that, if he had been able to spend seven million dollars on "Day of the Dead", rather than just three and a half million, and direct it the way he wanted, he would have turned out the most breath-taking horror flick of all time. And now that he is no longer with us, he deserves a massive round of applause.
As for actors, let me just say that a few years ago I wrote a psychologically intense horror film set in America, one that I am very attached to. It was custom-tailored to J├╝rgen Prochnow, one of the lead actors in "The Seventh Sign". Of course, by now he is a little too old for the role, but he would have been ideal in the part, with his icy, cutting gaze and his imposing physique.

Q. Your favourite movies? And of course, films you really deplore?
A.I love visionary works. If I were to list the films that I would take with me to a desert island, they would include "8½" by Fellini, the greatest film ever made about filmmaking, plus "City of Women", also by Fellini, the greatest flight of dreamlikefantasy ever put on the screen, and then Tarkovsky’s "The Mirror", the greatest autobiographical work by a film director, as well as "The Colour of Pomegranates" by Parajanov, the most beautiful poem ever composed for the cinema, and "Shining" by Kubrick, the most masterful description of the United States of America. The films I cannot stand are all the ones made simply to take in money, especially when they are included in package deals used to blackmail theatre owners into showing them for a certain period of time, because otherwise the distributor will not give them show its other commercially strong films. I refer to these arrangements as cinematic perversions.

Q. Where can people see your work?
A. It is not yet available to the public, though you can catch at festivals in different parts of the world, as listed on the film’s Twitter page (HERE).

Q. Thank you for this very inspiring interview, Jason. Here at the “Rome International Movie Awards” we look forward to seeing and appreciating your new film productions!
A. I thank you and your wonderful public. I shall do my best to keep you from sleeping sweet dreams.

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