Anastasiya Bogach (Anna) and Kallil Kone (Basim), non-professional actors, star as the adolescent runaways. Anna is fleeing from a sex trafficker, who has murdered her father, and Basim, a refuge from the Ivory Coast, is desperately searching for gainful employment. They meet when Basim rescues Anna from thugs who are harassing her, and they embark together across Sardinia where they forge a bound first out of expediency and then out of genuine affection.
The movie is set against the backdrop of a stunningly photographed Sardinia, while never losing sight of the of the refuge crisis. Twin Flower screened Friday evening as part of Film at Lincoln Center’s “Open Roads: New Italian Cinema.” (The series kicked off Thursday evening with Claudio Giovannesi’s “Piranhas,” another innocence lost tale.)
Luchetti has directed short films, music videos, commercials, documentaries and animation. While on her flight from Italy to New York for the series, she received word her stop-motion animated short Sugarlove, received a Silver Ribbon award from the Italian Syndicate of Film Journalists.
I congratulated her on her win Friday morning at the Walter Reade Theater where she gave interviews to promote Twin Flower, which received accolades last year at the Toronto International Film Festival where it premiered.
Following are highlights from the Knockturnal’s interview with the Twin Flower writer-director:
The Knockturnal: Besides short films, you do music videos, commercials, documentaries and theater productions. Do you have a favorite medium?
Laura Luchetti: I like to tell stories, so… and I guess every story’s got a proper grammar, you know? So I try to find the right grammar and the right means to tell all the stories that are circulating in the spinning machine I have in my head.
The Knockturnal: But do you prefer making movies over animation? Or is that an unfair question?
Laura Luchetti: No, no, no, no. It’s a fair question. I love movies and I totally fell in love with animation. Animation is difficult. We do it in a very art house way. We are just three people. I have two people who do animation and they also do the character designs and I write and direct. So that’s really a cross and it takes forever. Obviously film is my first love. But I’m starting to fall in love with animation. We used to joke films were my husband and animation was my lover, so I had to skip out of a movie set to go and do my animation. Now I think they’re equal.
The Knockturnal: Back to Twin Flower, where you have two stories going on with nearly equal weight.You have the relationship between these two teenagers and then you have the narrative of Anna, being tracked by this sex trafficker. What is the most important theme here?
Laura Luchetti: I think the only important theme in this film is innocence and it’s the loss of innocence and the effort to regain innocence, which is what these two kids do. They both lost their innocence somehow for different reasons, but they’re struggling together to reconquer their innocence. They have the right to have a future like all adolescents should have. At the same time, there’s something that pushes the story, which is this horrible man chasing these kids, which I depicted as an ogre, you know? Yes, like some sort of monster. But at the same time it’s a metaphor and the ogre is us. It’s civilization and sometimes adults, which is kind of kicked towards a corner. And they push them. And also this ogre, I’m feeling, may represent abuse, racism, violence.
The Knockturnal: It’s interesting you’re talking about loss of innocence because the movie that opened the series, Piranhas, also deals with the same theme according to the director.
Laura Luchetti: I think his theme is also very close to mine, because he’s always worked with kids, and myself the same thing. The next movie I do is also going to be about adolescence, but it’s a costume drama. It’s set in the past. But still it’s a bunch of 16, 17-years-old kids. You get drawn to stuff and you don’t really think about it… Somebody said to me, “You know, have you realized you always deal with innocence?” And also, looking at the world with an adolescent’s eye, which is what I was trying to do with “Twin Flower.” Because I guess if we have a hope for the future, considering how things are going in the world right now, the hope is the seeds we have to plant in these kids.
The Knockturnal: This brings us to the stars, who are not professional actors. How did you find them and why did you decide to cast non-professionals?
Laura Luchetti: At that age, at least in Italy, it’s not really easy to find professional actors who are 16, 17, 18. Also, because a critic in Canada or in England described it as a dark tale. It’s not something I came up with, but somebody told me that. So you have the structure of a tale. There’s a princess in distress, there’s a hero, there’s the ogre. But then I wanted to tell that story with real elements, so they had to be real in order to write the script around them. The script was ready and it was the result of a research and result of a real story that I heard in the past. True story. But then it has its structure and I needed to find two actors who could play the role. But at the same time I knew that once I found the actors I would have had to adapt the script around them. I began looking in the schools, theater schools, swimming pools, gyms, bars, and for Basim in rescue centers for immigrants, for young immigrants, and I met 150 kids/
The Knockturnal: The actor who plays Basim was a young immigrant? Undocumented?
Laura Luchetti: Yeah, and he rode on a boat four months before we started shooting from the Ivory Coast. The language he speaks, it’s a bit French, a bit Bambury, which is an African language, and a few Italian words are exactly what he was speaking at the moment. It would be silly for me to ask him to learn lines. He had to be what he was and I met people, children because they’re children; 12 years old, 13 years old, 15 years old. They walked from the south of Africa to Libya. They walked, literally. But when they get to Libya they get raped, mutilated, abused, you name it. Then they get put on a boat and they reach Italy. Most of the time you see what happens when they arrive and they get rescued. But most of the time you don’t know what happens after that. So they disappear in the country and we’re talking about thousands per month. We call them the ghosts who come to us. That was something I really wanted to talk about; what happens to these kids after we see them arriving. So all the kids I met, they were real illegal minors who reached our coast. And the stories I’ve heard, you don’t want to know.
The Knockturnal: How about the actress who plays Anna?
Laura Luchetti: Same process. She came in and she didn’t even want to be an actress. She came because a friend said to her, “Well, you know there’s a casting call. Why don’t you go also?” She wasn’t at all the girl I was looking for. I was looking for somebody really tall, really thin, and red hair, ginger hair, because I wanted her to be so much different from the rest of the Italians, you know? Then she walks in and I go to the casting agent, “Okay, she’s pretty, but she’s not what I’m looking for.” She starts talking and I stopped her. Then I said, “Okay, you have a page that you were supposed to learn. Go on.” As soon as she started, we knew she was the girl because she’s wild, she has a very sort of emotional intelligence. Then, after that I asked her questions about herself and I realized that she was an immigrant, too. She has this Sardinian accent. Like she considers herself Italian, but she arrived in Italy at the age of four on a train from Ukraine. So she had that journey within her… She had the same quality he has, which is a survival quality.
The Knockturnal: On anther tack, how has the #MeToo and #TimesUp moment affected women directors in Italy?
Laura Luchetti: It came from America, obviously, and there’s a lot going on at the moment. We need to awaken the awareness that there are women directors there. We don’t have to form new directors. They are there; they just need to be discovered and looked at. Also, I think men in the position of festival programmers or journalists or film critics, need to be educated to watch women’s films because there’s another way of telling the same story; it’s just a matter of getting used to the same story told by a woman. It may look slightly different, so people need to get used to that… I think that #MeToo had a strong impact, which is having its results now. We’re very happy about that.
The Knockturnal: Your English is terrific by the way.
Laura Luchetti: Better than England, I had an English husband…