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Thus begins the passion for films of Uberto Pasolini, producer, director, screenwriter and Italian count, who conceived the idea of the feature film The Full Monty - nominated for four Oscars including Best Picture - and produced it. Among the titles he has written and directed are Machan (2008), Still Life (2013) and Nowhere Special (2020), the film with which he was invited to TIFF 2021. In the short time he spent in Cluj, I had the opportunity to talk to him, in a very pleasant atmosphere, about his latest creation, but also about his career path in the film industry.

Uberto Pasolini and Oana Balaci
Oana Balaci: Firstly, I want to congratulate you for your movie.
Uberto Pasolini: Thank you.

O.B.: Unfortunately, I haven't seen it yet because I had a problem with the private screener, but I saw the trailer and I cried.
U.P.: The trailer? I don't like the trailer very much because I think...Well, I don't know what trailer you saw, whether it's a Romanian trailer.

O.B.: No
U.P.: It's the international trailer, maybe? Actually, that's fine. They did an English trailer where they changed the music, and they made the music very heavy and it feels like a heavy film. But the international trailer is lighter so it may be nicer.

O.B.: Yes, I know you said in other interviews that you want it to be a low volume movie.
U.P.: Very much: low key, low volume, quiet, quiet, definitely quiet yes.

O.B.: Well, firstly I want to ask you some questions about yourself.
U.P.: I'm 64. Italian born. (he smiles)

O.B.: I think everybody knows that. But what I didn't found on the Internet is this: you're a well-known figure now in the film industry, but you've worked at the bank for 12 years, so how did your passion for film start?
U.P.: Ok, so never believe what you read on the Internet. I did not work for 12 years. Somebody else asked me the same question. 12 years in the bank? No. I worked for three years in the bank.

O.B.: But every website says '12 years'.
U.P.: Yes, but it's not true. And I've only worked from 1980 to 1983 in the bank and in '83 I left and started working as a runner, as a tea boy, on a film in Thailand called The Killing Fields. That was my first filmmaking working experience. I had loved cinema since I was young, certainly a teenager. I grew up in Milan mostly and the girls in Milan didn't like me very much. So, I spent all my evenings at the Cinematheque, the Cineteca Italiana in Milan and I watched every film: silent, Russians, Americans, Japanese - You may name it, I saw. I saw a lot of cinemas and I loved a lot of cinemas, you know. But I always thought it was something like a hobby or like an interest. I never really believed it could be a career or an occupation for life, and so, without much imagination. I ended up studying economics at school and then I was a banker for a while and then I saw that, although maybe sometimes banking was actually quite interesting, investment banking - this was, but what we were doing, what we were creating, was not something I was interested in long term. And so I left and I started from scratch. And I was given the opportunity to be the runner on this very big British production in Thailand. And I started working with the London based film producer called David Puttnam, who had been very successful, had won an Oscar for a film called Chariots of Fire. And from whom I tried to learn, I failed to learn, but I did try to learn a few things. And I worked with him on and off for 10 years. And then I started working for myself.

O.B.: OK, so the story on the Internet that you went to Bangkok, even though the initial refusal is false.
U.P.: It's not true. It's not true. What David told me was that obviously as a banker I didn't know anything about the film industry. But they were working on a film in Thailand in March, April, and that if I were in Bangkok at that time, I would be able to look and learn how the films are made. So he certainly didn't say no. He didn't say he has a job. He didn't say I'll pay you to fly out, so I paid for myself to fly out. I found the hotel next to the big hotel where the English crew was staying, I did all that. But, when I arrived and looked at the production offices in Bangkok, I wasn't told 'go away', yes? I was told: He has a tray full of drinks. Go and give them around.

O.B.: It's interesting that these stories are all over the Internet, not just on one site.
U.P.: Never believe Internet!

O.B.: True. So, the idea of the box office hit The Full Monty was yours, but you chose another man to direct and write it. Why was it and how did the idea come up?

U.P.: Well, the idea came up because a friend of a friend came to my office and told me a story about a man who used to do strippergrams, which are those situations, I don't know if they really happen anymore very much, but if you have a hen party for example, or a birthday party amongst girls, you would have, in the middle of the party... someone turns on, a young handsome man turns on, takes his clothes off and sings 'happy birthday' or that kind of thing - that was as they're called strippergrams and it was a story of that and drug dealing and all sorts of strange things. I wasn't interested in the stories that he told me, but I was interested in the notion of men taking their clothes off for money. And I had recently seen a lovely film by Ken Loach, the great British director Ken Loach, called Riff-Raff,

where there was a group, very mixed group of workers, working on a building site on constructing a... how do you call it? Housing estate. And there was a fat one, a skinny one, everybody with their own problems, uh, an African American actually, you know, in that case you would call him an African British man. A mix of people. And I imagined what would happen to those people at the end of that film, 'cause at the end of that film the building that they were working on burns down and they walk in front of a poster of the Chippendales, which was a famous group of stripteasers. And in fact, for a while I even thought of asking Ken Loach to direct it.
But the way that I learned to work, which was a common way to work in the Anglo-Saxon world, in particular in America and in the UK, was not to start looking for a director and then developing the project with the director but was first of all to go and find a writer to write a script. And then once the script was ready, to find the director to direct it. It's not the way that the majority of the world works where films are director driven really, that it's a director usually or the writer director that is the main force behind a film, the main engine to get the film going. In this case, in England it's quite normal for producers to initiate projects, so I looked for a writer and I met a few writers and one of them was the wonderful, lovely man called Simon Beaufoy. And I told him about the idea and I thought we should set it in Wales because I had spent a couple of years in Wales at school and I knew about the mining industry and all those small towns that had lost work and lost a way of being and a living because of the closures of the mines in the 70s and the 80s. And he said that he didn't know anything about mines. But he knew about steelworks because he was from Sheffield, and he said 'I can write about steelworks' and I said, 'sure, let's go to Sheffield and look at Sheffield'. We went to Sheffield. It's a very photogenic place. Hills all over the place, everywhere you look there is a background. And then he wrote a fantastic script and then after that I started looking for a director and I saw a small film, a short film made by Peter Cattaneo which was very realistic, very naturalistic. I thought that Full Monty needed a very straightforward treatment, otherwise it could have become either fast or a melodrama, and I wanted the range of the comedy, the range of the performances to be quite limited, quite real, quite solid. And Peter had shown that in a small film, this lovely small film called Loved Up he had done

and so, I asked him to directly read the script and then... Sorry, long, long story.

O.B.: It's ok. I like long stories. I hope we're good with the time. Ok, so when was the moment when you decided that you want to direct and write your own movies?
U.P.: Ok. So, I was in Australia and I had just spent seven months in Australia preparing a film with a big international cast with Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe and an important Australian director called Jocelyn Moorhouse. And the day before we started filming the film collapsed for a number of reasons too boring to get into. And that very same day, I had to tell 300 Australians that had changed their lives and reorganized their school children and their homes in order to work on this film that the film was not going to happen. And it was really a very, very bad day. For my career and also for me emotionally. And that same day I opened a newspaper and there was a little notice, a little Reuters news agency flat, there you know, flash about these 23 Sri Lankans who had pretended to be the national handball team of Sri Lanka, got themselves invited from a tournament in Bombay, with the invitation they went to the German embassy in Colombo to get a visa. They got the visa; they went to Germany, and they all disappeared. They played three games, or they never played so they lost it and then they disappeared. And I thought, well, this is a wonderful story, you know. It deals with people who struggle, people who have dreams, people who have hopes of changing their lives, the lives of their families, the lives of their children. But it's also like The Full Monty. It also has a comedy engine, the engine of the story is sort of silly, you know. Fail, pretending to be somebody you're not, sport, not being able to play it. A mixed group of people.
Obviously, I could see that there were some clear parallels with the Full Monty, and I felt that the only way really to make it was to make it in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and in the Sri Lankan language. I thought nobody outside of Sri Lanka is ever going to see this film. Even if we manage to make a film and is seen in Sri Lanka and nobody else will see it, we won't be dealing with big Hollywood stars. We won't be dealing with important directors. Nobody is going to quit the film 'cause I'm going to write it and I'm going to direct it and I'm going to produce it so nobody is going to leave the film and the film will get made. And so it wasn't so much a desire to become a director or writer. But it was a desire for even more control, for making sure that all the efforts that I had spent, or one can spend on a production, on preparing a film - I had literally spent seven months in Australia away from my growing up little daughters, I was very upset about that... I said this is not going to happen again. I'm not going to let the big machinery of Hollywood stop me from making a film, so I'm going to make a very small film and I'm going to do everything on it. Well, not everything, of course, but certainly I'm going to do a lot. I'm going to be the director, so the director doesn't quit. I'm going to be the writer so that the writer doesn't quit and doesn't fight with the director and so and I'm going to be the producer, so I will know that the film gets made and that's how I started.

And when I did it, I had the experience of writing together with a great friend or someone who became a great friend, a wonderful playwriter in Sri Lanka called Randy Chikera. I'm still talking to her now. I'm trying to help her to make her first film as a director. And the experience of directing in Sri Lanka was enormous fun, was just fun. The film is not great, but is the process of reading this little story and then two years later, having a completed film, which very satisfyingly, was an enormous success in Sri Lanka, very, very big success in Sri Lanka. For them it was a Sri Lankan film. It wasn't an Italian film, I was irrelevant. It was a film made by a Sri Lankan crew. It was a film made by the Sri Lankan actors. It was produced in Sri Lanka by a wonderful Sri Lankan director called Prasanna Vithanage. The experience was really, really fun and so I thought, well, if I ever find another story or another situation that inspires me, I should try and do it again. And that's what happened when I made Still Life and that's what's happened again when I made Nowhere Special.

O.B.: That was my next question. You said that you found the story for Nowhere Special in the newspaper, but was there something more to it, like a personal connection or a personal reason for wanting to do this movie?
U.P.: Well, yes, in the sense of. But I guess that every time you read something and if it strikes you, it strikes you because of your life or your experience or your imagination or something. And in this case, what I was struck by is how special the relationship between the young father and the four-year-old boy must have been, and how difficult the position the father found himself in. And what a wonderful father he must have been. And it was about parenthood. And it talked to me about my own parenthood, my own relationship with my daughters. I have three grown up daughters now, but of course I was there when they were growing up, except for those seven months in Australia, when they were very small, and I tried to imagine what I would have done if I had been in the same situation that this father had found himself in. Of course, very difficult to imagine it because I have a big family. I have lots of friends. I have a network of support, if I had found myself in that situation. And also my daughters have a wonderful mother who would have looked after them instead. In this case, the father did not have a family behind him, did not have a wide circle of friends. To whom, with whom to share the situation? And maybe the solution of the problem he found himself in and had to basically deal with it by himself. And I tried to imagine what that meant.
And then I did a lot of research about adoption and what kind of people are interested in adopting and why they come to that decision. And I talked to people who have been adopted. I talked to people who were hoping to adopt. I talked to the agencies who help in the adoption process. I also talked to organizations that deal with children who are faced with bereavement, who are going through bereavement, who might have lost or are losing a sibling or a parent or grandparent just to understand how a four-year-old would react to the news or the feels, the sense that the situation around them is changing and something bad is going to happen. I read a lot of books and biographies; autobiographies of people who have been told they don't have long to live just to understand what that feeling might be like. In part, it certainly was an attempt at understanding the situation and seeing myself in the situation and trying to imagine what I would have done if I had been in his place.
It was really about, mainly about parenthood to start with what attracted me to the project. And of course, the situation that the film portrays is a very sad one, and I thought it's very, very important that we find a way of telling, of recording or recreating the situation in a very undramatic way. Because the story is so dramatic or the events are so dramatic that we want to sort of catch something, without making it dramatic, without trying to make people cry without, uh, you know, putting on a lot of music and forcing emotions. It had to be handled in a very delicate way and I think we on the whole have succeeded in doing that. Thanks in large part to the work of the two central actors, of James Norton and Daniel Lamont, who inhabited the characters, the people rather, cause 'the characters' are wrong words. The people I had written, or I had imagined. So sweetly, so calmly, so, truthfully, with so much tenderness and real affection that they were able really to make happen in front of the screen what I had written, I was very happy with that.

O.B.: I'm glad this happened. You talked about the main theme of the fathers's love for his son.
U.P.: Yes.

O.B.: I found a similar theme, and a very similar frame with the poster of Nowhere Special, in De Sica's Ladri di biciclette. Is this all a coincidence, or is it a tribute?
U.P.: It's well, obviously before making this film I went back and looked at Bicycle Thieves - Ladri di biciclette - a lot. In particular, I tried to understand what was so special about the ending of Bicycle Thieves and that hand of the boy that takes a hold of the hand of the father and leads him or gives him security, gives him hope, gives him strength. The boy in Bicycle Thieves is older, much older than, well not much older, a bit older than our boy, but the emotion that is derived and the moment of that shift from who is the parent and who is the child, which I wanted in our little film Nowhere Special, was very much present, is very much present at the end of Bicycle Thieves. It is the father at the end of Bicycle Thieves who is lost and it's the son who gives them that moment of strength and affection. Just after a confrontation, just after a moment of unhappiness between the two of them. And that did influence me, certainly, and influenced the last action of the film, the son giving his hand to his father, that is a moment of Bicycle Thieves. But also, the last shot of the film is stolen in a way from a wonderful film called Babe which was an Australian film about a shepherd and a pig. Ah, you have to see it. It's a great film. It's called Babe and it's about the relationship between this shepherd and this pig who helps him with the sheep and the last two shots are really a duplication of the last shots of Babe, so the inspiration comes from everywhere. As I said, I don't have the imagination, I steal. I got news from newspapers for my ideas or from other better filmmakers for my filmmaking. And sometimes it works.

O.B.: You're very modest.
U.P.: No, no, sometimes it works. Those people are better filmmakers, it's not difficult to say that De Sica was a better filmmaker than I can ever dream of being. But, so what? Who cares? Everybody, you know, even great painters had better painters to follow, to inspire them. And we all take from other people, so, why not?

O.B.: Yes, that's true. Thank you very much for your time. It was a pleasure.
U.P.: No, thank you, thank you!

Listen this interview here.

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