In her debut feature film, “Why Not You,” writer-director Evi Romen explores the tragic consequences of a deadly attack in a gay club in Rome and the ostracization of outsiders in a small South Tyrolean community in northern Italy.
The story follows Mario, a troubled but artistic young man, portrayed by Thomas Prenn (“Biohackers”), who longs to leave his provincial village for the wider world. When the opportunity arises, he takes off to Rome with his best friend Lenz, an aspiring actor, played by Noah Saavedra (“And Tomorrow the Entire World”). Their new life comes to an abrupt end, however, when armed men storm a gay club where they are celebrating and open fire on the unsuspecting crowd, killing Lenz and many others. Forced to return to his village, Mario is racked by survivor guilt and weary of the growing intolerance in his community but finds help from Nadim (Josef Mohamed), a Muslim friend in a nearby town.
“Why Not You” is premiering at the Zurich Film Festival and also unspools at the upcoming Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. The Austrian-Belgian co-production was presented in Toronto as part of European Film Promotion’s European Highlights of 2020.
Speaking to Variety, Romen said her story was inspired by the tragedy of the 2015 terrorist attack in the Bataclan theater in Paris.
“I was in the little South Tyrolean village I come from when this horrible news came, and they were also talking about a young South Tyrolean victim. I thought, what if it was someone from my village?,” Romen said.
Romen described the film “as a portrait of small communities — it could be set anywhere in the world.”
While such close-knit communities offer old traditions and a source of safety for residents, they are also wary of non-conformists and anyone who is different, making life difficult for LGBT people and Muslims alike.
By bringing those outsiders together, the story also offered an interesting opportunity to depict a very closed Muslim man’s world being confronted by homoerotic aspects, Romen added.
In portraying the dreamy Mario and the ambitious Lenz — a small but pivotal role — Romen said she found the ideal actors in Prenn and Saavedra. “Thomas is as an actor perfectly able to perform characters on the edge, and Noah has, not only as an actor, a very great energy of belonging.”
Romen initially planned to set her story in the 1970s, revolving around an attack by the Red Brigade, Italy’s notorious far-left terrorist group, “but I then decided to face the present reality and not fear touching such a hot potato.”
Romen, who worked for many years as an editor before trying her hand at directing, is currently writing her second feature, “Happyland,” which she plans to direct soon. The film follows a woman of around 50 who returns to her village following a short career as an alternative pop singer in London.