A London Film School graduate, who worked as an assistant to Bernardo Bertolucci and Anthony Minghella, Ginevra Elkann is known on the indie circuit as a producer of standout titles such as Swahili-language drama “White Shadow,” and also “Chlorine,” “Short Skin” and Babak Jalali’s “Land.” She’s now made her directorial debut with “Magari” (“If Only”), a sentimental comedy about the disconnect felt by kids with divorced parents, produced by Wildside. The film was significantly chosen by Locarno’s new artistic director Lili Hinstin to make her own debut. Elkann spoke to Variety about the elements that come together in “If Only,” the central one being the children. From the outset “it was clear that they were the key,” she notes.
Let’s start with the story. It’s not directly autobiographical. But as is often the case with first works, I think you worked with what you know. Am I right?
Like you say, I think it stems from my life. On the basis that my parents were divorced when I was very young. So this feeling that resonates throughout the film is a feeling that really belonged to me as a child. That was something I was interested in talking about. Then, together with Chiara Barzini [her co-writer], we talked about it. So we built the story based on other families, other stories. But this ‘Magari’ (If Only) feeling, which I feel is really what takes you along, was mine as a child. This idea of putting your family back together. I think that’s what I wanted to say, and we built the story around that.
Can you talk to me about your writing process with Chiara Barzini?
We talked a lot initially and we built our characters, and we built the story. But it was really a lot of conversations in the beginning. Just laying down the story, and for a long time just fleshing out these characters: what do they want? That took a long time. Then we each wrote a bit and we put it together. We worked very well together. I think because we share a sense of humor and both have different things to bring to the table, but a common understanding of the world really.
The adult actors. Lili Hinstin pointed out to me that both Riccardo Scamarcio [who plays the father] and Alba Rohrwacher are acting somewhat against type. Is this something you were aware of in the casting process?
In terms of casting, the key was to find the three children. That took us a very long time…And then after that we found their parents. When I thought of Alba for Benedetta…I thought she would be an interesting Benedetta because I always saw her as beautiful, sexy…that’s what I see in her…Then, after seeing ‘Euophoria’ [by Valeria Golino], I thought of Riccardo. And I thought there could be a very interesting balance between the two of them. Because they are so different; but very good actors. And that they would bring to each other something that would make for interesting chemistry. Thank God, that’s exactly what happened!
How did you find the kids who prior to the shoot were totally untrained?
I worked with great casting director Barbara Melega [also assistant director on this film]…and we trained with an amazing coach, Barbara Lepore…then we were in Sabaudia [on the seaside] in this house most of the time. It went quite fast. Everyone became a family, really. In a natural way. I think the setting was very helpful to us, for the kids to feel very safe. I really wanted everyone to be at the service the children. It was clear that they were the key. We had two cameras, so that we could be very free and they could feel very free in their performance.
This seems like a very assured, self confident, film. Is it?
Well working on set, working with directors, being a producer, going to film school. All of that, which I did for a very long time before I started directing, was very helpful…I’ve learned a lot from past experiences, especially when I was working as a video assistant for Anthony Minghella and I saw how he worked with actors. But nothing prepares you for how you are going to direct actors or talk to the crew. The first day I said to the children: ‘It’s your first day, it’s mine too.’