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In his film “The Mute Man of Sardinia” (“Il Muto di Gallura”) Turin-born Matteo Fresi reignites the feud between the Vasa and Mamia families, which caused the deaths of more than 70 people in mid-19th century Sardinia. Focusing on deaf-mute Bastiano Tansu, he shows an outsider who – mistreated and marginalized all his life – turned into a feared assassin, driven into a killing frenzy following his brother’s murder.

“My father is from Sardinia, from Gallura, so I would hear about these events a lot. It’s a famous story in that region, yet completely unknown in the rest of the country,” Fresi tells Variety after the film’s premiere at Torino Film Festival, admitting that he reached out to the locals in order to find out a bit more. In 1884, Enrico Costa published a novel about Tansu, described by the helmer as a “very precise” take on the violent conflict.

While Fresi is hesitant to describe his first feature film – shot in the exact same place where the killings took place – as a “Sardinian Western,” he does play with the genre a little, showing an isolated community living by its own rules, including the code of honor and revenge.

“Western is just one of the flavors here. I decided to use some of its elements in order to bring this story closer to the contemporary audience,” he says.

“In this world, it’s impossible to escape your destiny. This has more to do with the Mediterranean tradition, especially Greek tragedy. These characters behave in a way that makes you understand that they don’t really have a choice. Everything in the movie revolves around this oppressive system of rules that doesn’t allow people to be free. In that sense, there is some similarity to what we are experiencing today. The rules are different, but we are prisoners too.”

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“The Mute Man of Sardinia” Courtesy of Fabiana Miccio

When his protagonist falls in love with a shepherd’s daughter, he gets to show his softer side. But even genuine affection can’t offer him a refuge for longer.

“Love is not an escape. My characters, but also ordinary people, often think that someone else can save us from ourselves. But it’s not true! Bastiano falls into the same trap.”

Fresi decided to cast Andrea Arcangeli as Tansu, spotted in Simon Beaufoy’s series “Trust” and Netflix’s biopic “Baggio: The Divine Ponytail.”

“Everyone has told me that Tansu was a gorgeous man, so I chose a handsome actor,” he jokes. “Also to separate him from others, because I wanted him to feel like an alien in that world. He has lighter hair, blue eyes. He is a freak,” he says, comparing Tansu’s story to that of Quasimodo or even King Kong.

“He doesn’t belong anywhere. Bastiano is like a force of nature, so I was also thinking about Moby Dick. He is not completely human. There is something about him that seems to have come from another world. He has such a sensitive soul and it just renders him different. He may seem like a monster but there is tenderness inside,” says Fresi, also quoting the novel.

“Costa wrote: ‘To his tongue, which could not make itself understood, he opposed his fists, which could.’ Bastiano doesn’t judge other people, because he thinks he is always the one with a defect. In reality, he was probably the only good person there! The others were the real monsters.”

Admitting that he wouldn’t mind making another film in a similar vein in the future, Fresi is waiting to hear from the audience first. “I want to see if my message was understood. If not, I will try to improve it next time,” he says. “It’s difficult to make these kinds of films in Italy. Luckily, I met a brave producer, Domenico Procacci. When I first told him this story, I didn’t think it was possible to make it. But he liked it and said: ‘Now try to write it down.’ So I did.”

Produced by Procacci and Laura Paolucci, “The Mute Man of Sardinia” is a Fandango and Rai Cinema production.