– The Italian director chatted to us about his first fiction film, toplined by the talented Aurora Giovinazzo who plays an MMA wrestler
(© Vittoria Fenati Morace)
Director, screenwriter and producer Massimiliano Zanin (Istintobrass, Inferno rosso. Joe D’Amato sulla via dell’eccesso) has brought his first fiction feature film The Cage – Nella gabbia [+see also:
interview: Massimiliano Zanin
film profile] to the 18th Rome Film Fest’s independent Alice nella Città section. It’s toplined by the fast-rising star Aurora Giovinazzo (Freaks Out [+see also:
interview: Gabriele Mainetti
film profile], Dog Years [+see also:
film profile], Nuovo Olimpo [+see also:
film profile]) who plays Giulia, a former up-and-coming MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) wrestler who is determined to get back to fighting following a terrible accident, and to free herself from the cages imposed upon her, especially within her relationship.
Cineuropa: You worked with the master of erotic filmmaking Tinto Brass for over 15 years, and were previously his screenwriter and set assistant. But your first fiction feature film is a sports film. Were you looking to step outside of your comfort zone?
Massimiliano Zanin: I don’t really see it as stepping outside of my comfort zone. To begin with, the film is quite erotic. I chose wrestling because it involves highly physical contact and an eroticism understood as a life force. In the first version of the screenplay, we also had a more intimate relationship between the trainer and the student, but I decided not to go ahead with it; it wasn’t necessary for the story or the characters. It was taking us along a road that was already very well-trodden and not all that necessary; there wasn’t anything else that needed to be said on that note. Valeria Solarino’s character says she loves women, but this has no effect on her relationship with Giulia. It left us space to follow other directions. It’s a film which is full of different things and situations. That said, Tinto is one of the greatest directors of his time, and 15 years on set with him does teach you a thing or two. I’m not saying we should kill the fathers, but I’ve distanced myself from them a little, without renouncing anything, obviously.
It’s a very physical thing, where you sweat, roll around on the ground and bleed a lot. How did you approach the fight scenes?
It was an instinctive approach. I tried to use the camera as a kind of third cage fighter, I stayed very close to the actresses, I really made them work and at an absurd pace. The fights were shot over two days. During the last one, Aurora hurt her shoulder and we had to delay filming. It was very physically demanding, even for those of us who were shooting the film. I also wanted to add more esoteric, almost dreamlike moments, using slow motion, flashbacks, images of tigers fighting in cages and specific music choices.
Recently, MMA has been associated with a tragic news story (the beating to death of a 21-year-old at the hands of two brothers who were wrestlers) and many see it as a sport that’s too violent. What should we know about this discipline?
That it’s a sport like any other: two athletes accept pre-determined rules and face one another in the ring, which is a cage in this instance. Mixed martial arts use techniques from a variety of disciplines and they have huge respect for their adversaries. But, outside of that context, taking part in this sport makes you a lethal weapon. Violence should be confined to the gym.
Why did you choose to focus on female wrestlers?
Violence belongs to men as well as women, but the film explores the desire to escape the cages we’re locked up in, not just MMA. There are two kinds of violence: that inside the cage, accepted by the athletes and governed by certain rules, and then there’s the violence exerted by Giulia’s partner, or by the priest who takes an underhand approach to control the lives of these young people; a more psychological violence, using a positive premise to try to imprison the object of his love in a cage.
Former world boxing champion Patrizio Oliva also stars in the film. Did he also help prepare the actresses for their roles?
We needed someone to play Valeria Solarino’s assistant coach, he had to be an ex-boxer, her old teacher. I’d seen a variety of actors, but I needed someone real, just like (MMA fighter) Alessio Sakara is real, who plays the coach of Giulia’s rival. When I met him, I felt Oliva had just the right face; I could really see him in a Hollywood film. And he’s an incredibly generous person: both he and Sakara gave so much to the film, in terms of preparation and support for the actresses, not just from a physical and technical point of view, but also psychologically.
(Translated from Italian)