Q&A: Matteo Garrone

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Matteo Garrone's Rome loft is dominated by two oversized paintings he made, dating back to his early career as an artist. And though the 39-year-old director says he has not seriously picked up a paintbrush in nearly a decade and a half -- "At a certain point I had to decide between painting and cinema," he said, "and I chose cinema" -- the influence of art over his cinema career is apparent. Garrone says that he looks at a film as a series of images that tell a story more than as a series of events or dialogue, and the studio within the apartment still includes a 15-foot-wide panel with about a hundred photos from the In Competition "Gomorra" tacked to it, color-coded for each of the six stories intertwined within the film. Garrone sat down with The Hollywood Reporter's Eric J. Lyman to discuss the film and the festival.

The Hollywood Reporter: How does the importance of seeing a film as an artist reveal itself in your work?
Matteo Garrone: One thing is that I think I tend to use a fixed camera rather than one that moves around a lot. I don't want people to be aware of the devices filmmakers have at their disposal. I don't want them to think about what I can do as a director. I'm much more interested in their becoming part of the story, like an extra person who happens to be standing there.

THR: What appealed to you about this project?
Garrone: The images! (Laughs) No, really, it's just a great story. I've read a fair bit about organized crime in Italy, but when I read the book it really changed the way I looked at the Camorra, the way it looks at the story from the inside. I discovered a reality I never knew about, something that was taking place as I read about it, only 200 kilometers (124 miles) away. But I also knew immediately that it would make a great movie because I could easily see the story being told in images.

THR: There is no shortage of films made about organized crime. What makes this story particularly interesting?
Garrone: There's no point in making another film about organized crime -- or about any subject -- unless it does something interesting. There's no point in re-telling a story that's already been told many times. But there's no doubt that this film is original. Beyond that, I think a good story about a group like the Camorra resonates because it touches on universal themes like war, death, friendship, loyalty, love. From one perspective, it's about organized crime. But from another it's about the human condition.

THR: When the book was released in 2006, it was a huge bestseller. What are the advantages and disadvantages of making a film from a story so many people are already familiar with? Was there added pressure?
Garrone: I don't see any disadvantages at all. People who have read the book are familiar with the stories, but this book is complex enough for a hundred films. People who loved the book will not know which aspects were picked for the film, and that eliminates any element of predictability. Another big advantage is that everyone already knows the book and so there's an automatic buzz about the film it inspired.

THR: Did Roberto Saviano (the book's author) have any issue with leaving large parts of the book out of the movie?
Garrone: Not at all. We both agreed on how to do it from the beginning. To try to tell the whole story of the book would be to make a report for television, not a film. This film has its roots in the Italian style of neo-realism. It starts with reality but then it transforms it into a narrative.

THR: Some critics in Italy have said that between "Gamorra" and Paolo Sorrentino's "Il Divo" (also In Competition in Cannes; the film is about controversial political figure Giulio Andreotti) the Italian selections combine to show the negative side of Italy. Do you think that's correct?
Garrone: I really think that's a coincidence. It's not like we got together and agreed to look at Italy from a certain perspective this year. I think good films tend to reflect the current reality and I think "Gamorra" does that and I would guess "Il Divo" does that, and I suppose it's possible that that says something about the way Italy is evolving. But there are many different ways to approach that reality. Next year, two different films may choose to approaches that imply something much different.

THR: Neapolitan is one of the most difficult dialects for Italians to understand, and the film is set in Naples. Did you use actors who speak Neapolitan? And if so, were you worried that that might limit your audience?
Garrone: I did use Neapolitan actors. I didn't really consider using actors who spoke plain Italian because I wanted the film to have the feel of Naples. But the film will be distributed in Italy with Italian subtitles (In Cannes it will screen with English and French subtitles).

THR: What would you like people who see the film to take away from it?
Garrone: I think I would want people to understand that these things are really happening. Did you know someone is murdered in Naples every three days? It's real. But I would like people to also understand that these people are regular people, not monsters. You and I could be doing the same thing if we had been born into that situation. It's a complex set of points, much more complex than a simple Good vs. Evil.

Vital stats
Nationality: Italian
Born: Oct. 15, 1968
Festival Entry: "Gomorra," In Competition
Selected Filmography: "Primo Amore" (2004), "L' Imbalsamatore" (2002), "Estate Romana" (2000), "Ospiti" (1998), "Terra di Mezzo" (1996)
Notable Awards: Best director/film David di Donatello nominations, Berlin Golden Bear nom for "Primo Amore" (2004); Venice Film Festival FEDIC award for "Ospiti" (1998); Torino International Festival of Young Cinema's Cipputi prize for "Terra di Mezzo" (1996).
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