Italian producer and director Ginevra Elkann, whose delicate first feature “If Only” opened the 2019 Locarno fest garnering critical praise, is at the Toronto Film Festival with her tonally different follow-up, “I Told You So.”
The movie features a group made up mostly of women who are having a mental meltdown amid an unprecedented January heat wave in Rome. As the heat rises, so do the characters’ obsessions with sex, food, drugs, alcohol, and religion. The eclectic ensemble film, which was conceived by Elkann and her co-writers during the pandemic, features a star studded cast comprising Danny Huston – speaking perfect Italian on screen – as a heroin-addicted Italian-American priest. Then there is Valeria Golino as a past-her-prime porn star named Pupa; Valeria Bruni Tedeschi as a psychopathic mother who happens to be obsessed with Pupa; and Alba Rohrwacher as an alcoholic artist who loses custody of her son to her heartbroken ex played by Riccardo Scamarcio.
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Elkann spoke to Variety about finding humour in the emotional turmoils of these characters which reflect her own anxieties.
In ‘Magari’ you were basically drawing from your childhood. Where did you, Chiara Barzini and Ilaria Bernardini draw inspiration from for ‘I Told You So’?
I think it’s a film that stems from anxiety, really. From an anxiety of being in Rome on a very, very hot July and thinking: ‘What if the world is going to be like this forever?’ And then we just went and explored. I wanted to put characters in an extreme situation and work on that. The characters all have issues with all sorts of addictions, and they are working with their addiction at different levels. So, if someone is recovered, someone else is in the thick of it. Someone else is aware of it, while another character is not. It’s all sorts of levels of addiction. So it’s really a film about anxiety and about people trying to fill that void and trying to deal with their own difficulties.
There is an underlying irony in your new film which was also present in “Magari.” But the humour is more biting here. I’m wondering whether you consider “I Told You So” a dark comedy.
A dramedy, I’d say. Or dark comedy. I don’t know. I think it’s like humanity, like people. There’s sadness and it’s also funny, and it depends how you look at things. I think this variation in tone is something that I feel very much about life in general. And so I feel like it’s important that the characters, even if they’re living in a very dramatic situation and they’re undergoing internal turmoil, they still can be funny. It’s important to me that there is that comic relief. That you feel for them even in that way, and that they can also see their life as not being so completely dramatic.
Danny Huston speaks such amazing Italian, which of course is because he grew up in Rome. Can you talk to me about casting him as an Italian-American priest with a heroin problem?
I was looking for an actor who spoke English and Italian, which is not a very easy task – and who also had kind of a sense of Italy – and someone said: “Danny Houston, he e was born in Rome, he speaks very good Italian” and I’m like: “Yeah, yeah. Sure.” And then I actually Zoomed with him and he does speak very good Italian. He speaks Italian with a Roman accent and he read the script and was drawn to it. And then he came to Rome and he did a lot of research on priests and what it means to preach and what it means to be a priest. And we worked a lot together and it was incredible. And he is a priest who is actually a former heroin addict and is starting to fall back into it for emotional reasons. Danny brought a lot of humanity to this character. I love the fact that it’s the first time that he plays a role in Italian, and I think he really is a very beautiful actor and gives a lot of density to this character.
Was it easy to convince Valeria Golino to play a past-her-prime porn star who goes heavy on the botox injections?
It was, since I was already talking to her when we were writing. And I think that she was excited about doing something different and us creating Pupa together. So we worked very closely. She had fun becoming this other person. And just working with Valeria Golino and Valeria Bruni together was really lots of fun. I’m very, very grateful to every actor in this film, because they came in thinking: “Okay, this is a small role, but it’s going to be Ok.” They are small roles, but they’re very difficult because they’re all very intense people; very specific characters; you really have to go down deep. And they really went for it. All of them have been incredibly generous and incredibly giving.
Talk to me about the Rome winter heat wave that gives your film its distinctive setting. How did you work with cinematographer Vladan Radovic on this aspect?
Well, I really was interested in making something about heat, which is definitely very topical at the moment, and the fear that this provokes in me and I guess in a lot of other people. This fear of: What if it’s always hot like this? What if we are going to have to live in a world that is yellow? With all the trees gone? So that’s how it started. Then when we wrote the script, very early on I talked to Vladan about it. How do you convey heat in a film? How can you give that feeling of slight suffocation? And so we worked on it a lot in prep. We divided the film in four parts and we gave the film a different colouring representing different phases of heat.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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