Monday, June 25, 2012

As Ferzan Ozpetek's LOOSE CANNONS hits DVD & VOD and MAGNIFICENT PRESENCE opens the recent FSLC Italian fest, we do a quick Q&A with one of Italy's top directors

From his directorial debut Steam, though the gorgeous Harem Suaré and the surprising, bracing Ignorant Fairies (best know here on DVD as the tritely-titled His Secret Life) to the ever more sophisticated in style and story Facing Windows, Sacred Heart and Saturn in Opposition, Ferzan Ozpetek, born in Turkey but raised in Italy, has become one of the latter country's currently most famous and loved filmmakers.

As Ozpetek's penultimate (for now) movie Loose Cannons, has just becomes available on DVD, VOD and iTunes via Focus Features, and his latest film, Magnificent Presence, was chosen as the opening night selection at the recent FSLC Open Roads fest of new Italian film, this seemed a particularly good time to speak to the man.

Just below, I have re-posted my earlier coverage of Loose Cannons -- from its appearance at the Tribeca Film Fest (where it won two awards) two years back -- followed by my recent shorter review of Magnificent Presence. Following these is the interview with Ferzan that took place on Friday afternoon, June 8, 2012.


Who'd have imagined that a current movie about a gay man coming out to his family might have anything remotely new or interesting or even particularly entertaining to say?  Turkish-born, Italian-bred Ferzan Ozpetek (shown below): that's who -- and so he made this film.  Bless him for it -- because LOOSE CANNONS (Mine vaganti) turns out to be not only new, interesting and entertaining but deeply felt, lavishly funny and one of the most visually beautiful movies to arrive on our shores in quite some time. (It was filmed in Southern Italy, in and around the city of Lecce.)

Premiering this past February at the Berlinale, it was chosen for the just-concluding Tribeca Film Festival, where -- the evening I viewed it -- audience response seemed overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Because you can never be certain that a foreign-language film, even from a director as well known as this one, will secure distribution these days, I recommend you see this movie now.

Signore Ozpetek has been to the gay well a few times before -- Steam, Ignorant Fairies, Facing Windows, Saturn in Opposition -- always from a different angle and always successfully.  What he consistently manages, and what I think I love most about his work, is that he approach homosexuality as one part, sometimes hugely important, other times less so, of the world at large, in which so much else is terribly important, too.  Family, friendship, work, health (mental and physical) are prime among these, and in Loose Cannons, they come together in a combustible mix that offers everything from drama to farce, fantasy to a reality that moves from chuckles to tears.

A young man named Tomasso (Riccardo Scamarcio, shown above, left), from a wealthy family whose business is pasta-making and who is about to join forces with another prominent family, has deci-
ded to own up to his homosexual orientation -- after which, he ex-
pects his father to chuck him out of home and business, freeing him to move in with his lover and pursue a writing career. Not quite. One big surprise lies in store, followed by several lesser -- most of which cause ebullient laughter but sometimes a deep loneliness.

You may know young Scamarcio from My Brother Is an Only Child, or from Costa-Gavras' still unreleased Eden Is West. After being swaggering and studly in the former, frightened and vulnerable in the latter, he is by necessity manipulative and quietly thoughtful here -- and is proving himself a more versatile actor than the pretty face with the very sexy body that we might have initially imagined.  While this movie is primarily Tomasso's story, Ozpetek insists on seeing things from many angles, and so we slowly begin to understand -- and feel for -- several generations.

The film begins, in fact, with a reminiscence of the grand-
mother (Ilaria Occhini, at right, seated) regarding her younger days (the penulti-
mate photo, below).  We learn what happened to her only slowly. The co-writer (with Ivan Cotroneo) and director gives us enough information to begin to piece together the story of this now aged but still gloriously strong woman, but we do not know it all until the finale.  Meanwhile we meet a group of people -- family, friends, business associates -- who are as diverse as they are memorable.  Dad (the wonderful Ennio Fantastichini, shown at right, three photos above), mom, Aunt Luciana (dizzy and sweetly sad Elena Sofia Ricci, shown two photos above, center, with glasses), brother Antonio (a terrific Alessandro Preziosi, standing, above right) and especially Alba, the daughter of the prospective business partner, played by the alluring Nicole Grimaudo (below, center).  Ms Grimaudo, in particular, captures a character -- nasty, funny, distant, dark, needy -- who grows more complex with each scene until she very nearly breaks our heart.

One of the great strengths of Ozpetek is allowing us to view life and sexuality from so many points of view: Here we see how the parents looks at things, the grandmother, the younger generation, straights, gays and a couple who may be more bi-oriented than they might like to admit.  There are moments between the two outsiders, Tomasso and Alba, that bond them in ways both sexual and on a level of deep friendship.  There is also some delightfully criss-crossed humor when a group of Tomasso's friends from Rome, shown at bottom, pay a visit.

The film's finale is an amazing blend of fantasy and reality, of time present and past, of what we deeply wish for but may never see.  This scene may remind you of the finale of some other films -- the little-seen-in-America Flight of the Innocent came immediately to my mind -- but Ozpetek makes it his own, and it seems as if everything he has ever learned about cinema is incorporated here.  Threatening to be too much, instead it keeps unfurling until love, sex, family and friends join in a spectacularly vibrant and moving dance of life.

About as arthouse/mainstream as it is possible to get, Loose Cannons delivers the goods.  As I go to press, the film has just won one of the two Tribeca Fest Special Mention Awards. Will some distributor -- Strand, IFC, Film Movement -- please step up to the plate and gift movie-lovers with this joyous celebration?  (Current after-thought: thanks, Focus Features, for at least making the film available on DVD/VOD.)


written and directed by Ferzan Ozpetek

When TrustMovies departs this world, one of his regrets will be his inability to see any more of the films of Ferzan Ozpetek -- which are gorgeous to view, deeply felt, and usually deal in some way with the gay experience. What he loves most about Ozpetek is that this filmmaker always places his (often gay) protagonist as simply one element among many within the vast canvas of the world as it is. Granted, it's an important element, but it never -- as happens in so many "gay" movies -- treats the rest of the world as less important, less special or less good (or, for that matter, bad). Usually Ozpetek gives us ensemble dramas/comedies. In his newest work, Magnificent Presence, the filmmaker stars Elio Germano -- extending his past work as a prime Italian everyman to now include a glorious Italian every-gay-man -- as a fellow soon surrounded by that ensemble. And they're all ghosts. However, these are a very classy, retro and delightful bunch of spirits, being part of a left-wing theatrical troupe in the Italy of the 1930s and 40s.

Our hero, Pietro (played by Germano, below, who has already given us a gallery of remarkable performances, from Do You Like Hitchcock? to My Brother Is an Only Child and The Past Is a Foreign Land to name a few), has come to Rome to be an actor, as well as to seek out a filmmaker fellow he's in love with -- though he tells his rather too-amorous female cousin that he is not even sure what sexual preference he possesses. As feel-good a film as Ozpetek has concocted -- and it is: I don't remember feeling this good, this moved, at a movie's end in a long while -- the writer/director also provides us with a couple of surprising scenes in which he unveils character flaws so great that they change not only the individual but make waves that can topple others and maybe even society itself. One of these involves Petro's would-be boyfriend, the other a member of that theater troupe who is now an elderly lady (played by Anna Proclemer, above).

Ozpetek also gives us some glorious, richly funny and appealing moments (the ghost group's introduction to modern technology and the internet is one such). But this tale of Pietro and his unusual houseguests builds into something more than a mere ghost story. If we accept the homosexual -- as I think we must at this point in our society and for all the supposed strides we GLBT's have made -- as yet remaining an outsider, an "other," then Pietro's inability to fit into society takes on great meaning. Our young man has finally found the place where he belongs, and the film's finale -- a wonderfully sustained piece of movie art -- offers such beauty, sadness and joy that it defines the word poignant.  Magnificent Presence, which made its Italian debut only last month and scored big at the box-office by being both accessible and special, plays twice at Opens Roads. Both screenings are at the Walter Reade theater. Note: The director and his star will both appear at the Friday evening performance. (All this is over now, but, if interested, you can view the entire Open Roads series here.)


TrustMovies was late for his interview with Ferzan Ozpetek, but he has an excuse, sort of: He was on the M104 bus coming uptown from the special luncheon at Barbetta to celebrate the opening of Open Roads, and he was chatting with the FSLC's Richard Peña, who was also on that bus, discussing the work of Mr. Ozpetek. It was so much fun (Peña's a font of good information and a lively conversationalist) that TM missed his stop and arrived ten minutes late. Ferzan and his translator (the filmmaker speaks English pretty well but prefers to have a translator for certain moments -- and idioms) were most graciously forgiving, however, and so we set right to it: 

Ferzan – it’s good to see you again, and before I forget, I bring you greetings from Ivan Cotroneo, at whose table I sat for the Open Roads luncheon this afternoon. I haven’t seen his movie KRYPTONITE! yet, but what a lovely man he is! (Now, a couple of weeks later, I have seen it and it’s wonderful. You can read about it here: click and scroll down) 

He’s a wonderful guy. We worked very well together and I hope in the future that we can work together again. (Ferzan's attention is taken by a photographic portrait on the wall opposite.) Who is that lady, there? I do not recognize her…. (Ozpetek points to a photograph hanging on the hotel wall of Leona Helmsley. We’re sitting in the lobby lounge of the Park Lane on Central Park South, a hotel once owned by the late tax-evading dog-lover.) 

Oh, that’s Leona Helmsley who used to own this hotel, and now, I guess, her estate does. She was among the most hated women in New York City in her day. They called her the Queen of Mean. (Our excellent translator, who is clearly familiar with Leona and her history, chuckles and then fills Ferzan in, and I hear bits and pieces reminiscent of “Only the little people pay taxes,” and something about the immense fortune she left to her dog. The translator suddenly turns to me and asks--) 

How much money did she leave that animal?

You know, I’m not sure. But it was a lot. And it made sense, actually, since I doubt she had many human friends left at that point. And please tell Ferzan that, were Leona still alive and heard him ask the question "Who is that it in the photograph on the wall? she would have had him barred from this hotel immediately! If Ferzan is familiar with the term narcissist, he'll understand her personality. (The translator laughs and translates to Ozpetek) They also made a TV movie about her some years back that starred Suzanne Pleshette -- of The Birds. 

(But we’re digressing badly so we talk about Ferzan’s latest film: the absolutely lovely, funny and poignant ghost story Magnificent Presence.)

The last time I interviewed you, it was the year, I believe, that your film A Perfect Day played at Open Roads…. So that was three years ago, maybe...?     

Yes, because two years ago Loose Canons did not come to Open Roads but came to the Tribeca Film Festival. So, yes, three or four years ago was A Perfect Day

Which I thought at the time was your darkest film. It was good to see you work in such a dark vein. But then you made Loose Canons which is one of your funniest, most delightfully expansive movies – and which Ivan says was his favorite experience, ever, working on a movie. (Ferzan grins) Ivan also told me that Focus Films is releasing this movie on DVD and VOD, so America will finally get the chance to see it. 


And now we have Magnificent Presence – which is my favorite of yours. But actually, each time you make a movie, it’s hard not to feel it’s my favorite of your films. 

Thank you.

And you don’t always make the same kind of movie. Which is wonderful, too.

But I think I do make the same things but ….

In different ways? 

Yes. I always do the same thing, I think, I but I treat each one differently. There is a connecting thread to all my films -- but each time is different. They are always about similar topics: human relationships, friendship, sentiment, emotion, but always treated differently. Or at least, I try.

One theme I find throughout your films is “How does this protagonist fit into the greater world around him? 

In this film, one of the topics is purity-of-heart. For example, this fellow has been to bed only one time, three years ago, with this person, yet he imagines that this man must be the love of his life. He has a very unusual view of things, and while this makes him something of a fool, he is also rather pure. In a way he is goodness personified in this world of egotism and people thinking only of themselves. My actor Elio Germano, whom I admire a lot. He is so strong.

He’s wonderful -- and so versatile. 

At one point in the filming I just told him, Well, be like Bambi. That’s it!

Bambi? The deer? 

Yes! While I was saying that I could see his eyes widening in understanding. So he was able to perform.

That scene when the man he imagines to be his true love comes to dinner is shocking -- but for two reasons. First, because Elio – Pietro – seems like a stalker. But when you think about it, the fact that they had sex once and for Petro it was wonderful, so of course he imagines that they will follow up on this. But for the other guy, it didn’t matter at all -- just another one-night-stand, business as usual. He doesn’t even have the courtesy to respond to Pietro by email -- to say something like, “Look, I am sorry if I misled you, but I have no interest in pursuing this.” But he doesn’t bother to tell Pietro anything. So while you can see Pietro as a stalker, you can also see this other guy as a real piece of shit. 

One of my issues, my challenges in the script was that I had to create the situation where the first contact between Pietro and the ghosts seemed like something that was credible. So when they sit down to dinner, it’s a repetition of that earlier dinner scene with the other man. You sense that Pietro is so desperate, so close to rock bottom, that he will now accept even these ghosts and so will not be afraid.

Yes, and this makes the finale of the movie all the more moving -- when you realize that he is now where he belongs. And he knows this, he feels it. 

Since Pietro is the only person who sees the ghosts, I tried to make that mostly apparent on Pietro’s face at the finale. Originally I made the end five minute long, and you didn’t see the ghosts performing onstage. You only saw the expression of Pietro’s face.

Wow – really? 

There was a critic, a friend of mine, actually, who told me what made the film so moving for him was that there would seem to be only two ways to react to these ghosts. You could try to make them leave, exorcise them, or you yourself would have to leave. The fact that you would take them all on the tram and go to the theater with them is what makes the ending so interesting and moving.

Again, this is about the protagonist finding his place in the world. And while this may limit his further growth, he certainly has found a place. 

Perhaps, but at the same time this experience will have changed him. His happiest times were those he spends with the ghosts. But once he leaves the theaters and goes back home, perhaps he will strike up a relationship with the guy next door, who clearly likes him.

But how terrific that you did not end the movie that way! (He smiles and shakes his head, yes.) Tell me something about that wonderful actress, Anna Proclemer,  who plays the old lady, the one person left from the theater troupe who is still alive. I went on the internet and found photos of her as a young woman – quite beautiful.

She was a very famous theater actress. She made only a few films, and her last movie was the Vincente Minnelli film with Ingrid Bergman and Liza MinnelliNina.

Yes, we called it A Matter of Time. That scene with Proclemer in your movie is so wonderful, because it darkens the film in a way that it needs, and this works so well. So: What’s next for you? 

I write now. I write with Gianni Romoli – with him I make five movies: Ignorant Fairies, Facing Windows, Sacred Heart, Harem Suare and Saturn in Opposition.

Sacred Heart was shown at Open Roads years ago. That was one movie that has no gay element.

Yes, and neither does A Perfect Day. I remember that at a Q&A at a screening in Florence at the time, they asked me, Why did this movie has nothing gay in it? I was sort of taken aback at this because usually, they ask you, Why does your movie have a gay element in it? So I thought quickly, and told them, "Well, you know the aunt in the movie is actually a lesbian. But I preferred not to show this in the film."

As we have to end now for your next interview, I just want to say that you are one of my favorite moviemakers in the world. But of all the moviemakers who makes films that deal with gay themes, I love yours the most because they show gays as part of the world at large, in a way that makes them included but not seeming to be the center of that world. Thank you for that. 

My aim is always to show life, but not necessarily to make gay films. But at the time that I made Ignorant Fairies, people told me, Finally – this is a really radical gay movie showing characters who are loved and appreciated. It didn’t show the usual conflict and was far more inclusive of humanity as a whole.

All you movies do this, I think. Thank you, Ferzan. Thank you so much for your wonderful films.

The photos above are from the respective movies, 
except for the first and final photos, 
which come courtesy of

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