Gianni Amelio on ‘Lord of the Ants’ and the Still Pervasive Presence of Homophobia in Italy

·3-min read

Veteran Italian auteur Gianni Amelio rose to prominence with Oscar-nominated “Open Doors” (1990) and also “Stolen Children,” which won the 1992 Cannes Grand Prix. He won the Venice Golden Lion in 1998 with period drama “The Way We Laughed” and competed again in Venice with “A Lonely Hero” in 2013. Amelio’s more recent work comprises “Hammamet,” a portrait of disgraced late Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi’s final years in Tunisia.

Amelio is back in Venice with “Lord of the Ants” a biopic of Italian poet, playwright and director Aldo Braibanti, who was jailed in 1968, after a four-year trial due to a Fascist-era anti-gay law. Pic, which is produced by Simone Gattoni and Marco Bellocchio, stars Luigi Lo Cascio (“The Ties”) as Braibanti, who was convicted after a complaint from his younger partner’s father, who later forced his son to be treated with electroconvulsive therapy in an ill-conceived attempt to rid him of his homosexuality. The Fascist-era law that punished Braibanti, which made it a crime to lead innocent or unwary people “morally” astray, was repealed in 1981. Amelio in Venice spoke to Variety about the persistent urgency of this true tale in Italy today. Excerpts.

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What drew you to the subject matter?

Years ago I made a documentary called “Happy to Be Different,” which was a reportage on homosexuality during Fascism. After that I thought about doing a separate doc on the Braibanti case because I had personally attended the trial, but I soon realized there really wasn’t enough material. Then later I got a call from Marco Bellocchio asking me if I wanted to make a doc on Braibanti and I told him I’d like to make a film about him instead. We met in his office the next day.

What was the main challenge in shaping this narrative?

My main concern was to make a popular film that could attract and resonate with a broad audience and not be overly bound to a meticulous reconstruction of everything that happened. That said, as far as the trial is concerned, I strictly adhered to court transcripts. Everything that the prosecutor says is word-for-word. Whereas with some of Aldo’s lines I took a bit of liberty. Rossellini, the father of neo-realism, used to say that neo-realism is born from the imagination. It’s through fantasy that you can respect reality and also create spectacle.

In the film there is a secondary character who, like you, is from the Southern region of Calabria, who says that a gay man has two choices: “You either cure yourself or kill yourself.” Is that phrase drawn from your personal experience?

Yes, it’s the only line in the film that I’ve heard with my own ears. I was 16 and someone in a group, referring to me, said that phrase.

What do you consider the ideal audience for ‘Lord of the Ants’?

An elementary school teacher in the Italian South who is afraid to come out and openly say he’s gay because he fears that the next day families will pull their kids from class. And also parents of kids who are gay and will have to deal with the day when their kids have the courage to come out to them.

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