After a strong reception at Visions du Reél and selected for the lineup of Cannes sidebar ACID, Italian director Michele Pennetta’s second feature “Il Mio Corpo” screens as part of IDFA’s Best of Fests section this week. The Swiss-Italian production continues an exploration of the Sicilian terrain that first started with the short film “A Iucata” and continued with Pennetta’s debut feature “Fishing Bodies.”
Produced by Close Up Films and Kino Produzioni, the film silently follows the life of Oscar, a Sicilian kid who works collecting scrap metal for a harsh father, and Stanley, a Nigerian migrant determined to adapt to a new life. Their so close yet so distant lives demonstrate a shared desire to emancipate themselves from an isolated, almost forgotten world. Nour Films distributes.
Variety talked with Michele Pennetta about his latest feature.
Sicily is clearly another character in the film and in a way it has been for your last three films. What about the island stands out to you?
Before making the first film I had never been to Sicily. I was born in the North of Italy and studied in Switzerland. But I was always fascinated by the South, so after film school I wanted to make my first film there. I’d read an article on illegal horse racing and I wanted to go to Catania to see if I could get into that world. For me Sicily was a shock. I found myself in an incredible territory, a magical land that, beyond its beauty and cinematographic potential on every street and every corner, seemed to me a mirror of the rest of Europe in the sense that every paradox of the European Union was condensed on this small island. From there the idea of continuing deeper into a portrayal of Sicily formed in my head.
Early on you deconstruct the tourist, romantic image many have of Sicily. And, even if thematically they are quite different, what comes across in each of your films is an intention to portray lonely characters in an Italy lost in time. Could you comment?
We all have a romantic imagination of Sicily. I think with “Il Mio Corpo” I finish a journey with its final scene. In “A Iucata,” I speak of the father and son relationship from the passage of this profession of raising horses for the races. In the second film, “Pescatori di Corpi,” I wanted to contribute to the discourse on illegal immigration, but from the unspoken point of view of the fisherman who work illegally. The three films are linked in a way through the exploration of a hidden Sicily. It could be compared to the Italian literature of Pirandello, a Sicilian author who examined these themes, and whose work inspired this last film.
The film manages to narrate through a very stylized image without ever losing a clear sense of intimacy with its characters. Could you talk about working with them?
The basis for documentary work is research. I spent a year looking for the family dynamics and context I found with Oscar. The work with them was enormous, psychological work. We spent a lot of time with them, most of it without filming, and this was the obligatory step to ensure the degree of naturalism that we wanted. We filmed based on the characters’ everyday lives. The beauty of making these types of films is that sometimes what you find surpasses every expectation. We got a lot of gifts from our characters because there was, first and foremost, a trust and friendship between them and our team.
Narratively and formally the film blurs the dividing line between documentary and fiction. What was the core concept behind your approach?
From a formal point of view, as you said, it is not a classic documentary. It was conceived in a very cinematic way, we even shot in scope. With very little dialogue, for me the formal act of filming is fundamental because it adds information in the absence of words. I have always imagined Sicily as an almost post-apocalyptic but contemporary western. The impression I got the first time I went was as if a bomb had exploded and what remained was the remains of the remains, the sediment of the sediment. These people who remained were part of the foundations. We wanted see these characters move in a formal, precise way that underlines how they live, the insolation. I think, with DP Paolo Ferrari, we found a formal device that allowed us to portray that.