Predators: Pietro Castellitto on the importance of self-reflection, reinvention and leaving space for the unexpected
Pietro Castellitto’s debut film, Predators, is a social portrait set in modern-day Italy. It juxtaposes a middle-class family of intellectuals with a proletarian family of fascists. Rather than glorify one and denounce the other, the director exposes the violence and deep-seated frustrations that govern the life of each individual regardless of age and status. Fraud, illegality, infidelity and dysfunctional relationships all merge together, exposing a grotesque landscape too intricate and deep-rooted to change. All of this is seen through the filter of Friedrich Nietzsche’s writings, which Castellitto had a chance to pore over, and grow a strong regard for, during his university years as a philosophy student. We caught up with the filmmaker on the day that Predators was awarded the Orizzonti Award for Best Screenplay at the 77th edition of the Venice Film Festival.
How has the Venice Film Festival been under the current circumstances? What’s the atmosphere like?
The atmosphere is really beautiful, actually. Venice for me is full of memories; I remember coming here with my father [actor-director Sergio Castellitto] at the Hotel des Bains. Then I was part of the jury for Leoncino D’oro, and I was back again two years ago as an actor in a film by the same producer that then produced my film, so Venice is really magical for me. It’s true that this year is very peculiar due to the circumstances we all know, but it actually feels so much more intimate as there aren’t so many attendees. In a way, it’s like going back in time to the first edition!
Your film is like an anthropological study that covers everything from political views to generational clashes and the parallel existence of different social classes. It’s an ambitious project, but you managed to bring all these elements together into one story, one conversation. Did you have a specific objective?
I think that all successful films are those that are based on true feelings and emotions, especially when we’re talking about a first film made by a young director. Filmmaking is made of many elements. It can be very fragmented and it may make you drift if you have a message or a specific goal that you attach yourself to. That would mean sacrificing the temperament and the personality of the actor. What I try to do is to prepare as much as I can and leave space for the unexpected, which is a vital ingredient.
What are the main feelings that drive the story?
The feelings that drive this film are those that Federico, the protagonist, feels. We move according to his moves. Federico is a character who, although very different from me, has some autobiographical elements. What he feels is a sense of alienation and frustration, because he measures himself against the impossibility of reinventing modernity. Federico is a PhD student in philosophy so he has come in contact with great thinkers who have inspired so many people in their own time, and he is fully aware of the lack of such figures nowadays. I’m going to make the only quotation in this interview – forgive me if I quote Nietzsche, but he has a lot to do with this film. Nietzsche used to say that “history is the bridge between one genius and another”. He was very critical of his own time because he saw no geniuses, he said that that bridge had collapsed and there was no interest in creating something or reinventing something. That’s why he said his times were decadent, and this decadence is relevant to our own times.
Some believe that an artistic work needs to be autobiographical on some level in order to really feel authentic, while others think that there needs to be a level of detachment in the creative process so as not to be too emotionally involved and invested in the work. What do you think is the right way to balance these approaches?
I do believe that when you write, you talk about characters, places and situations and they might be very far from you. But within each of them, the core is made of feelings that you yourself have encountered. In this sense, the balance lies in the ability to create symbols that are efficient, that are powerful. When you create metaphors they can’t just be autobiographical of course – you don’t use your own traits, otherwise you’d have a very narrow range of possibilities. But at the same time, in order to bring characters to life, in order to make them work, you have to put in some of your own emotions. I personally feel that I’ve got nothing to do with 99% of my characters, but I’ve experienced humiliation, I’ve felt embarrassment and inadequacy, and therefore I can describe my own sentimental, emotional autobiography.
Looking at the characters in the film, in particular the younger generations, it seems that no matter what their background or upbringing is, they ultimately reach the same point, the same outbursts, even the same extreme methods of dealing with a crisis. Is everyone condemned to go through such distress?
Yes, indeed, you are right. I don’t know whether this is true for everyone, but I think nobody feels completely protected and supported. In the film, there’s growing tension that is never released, and that tension has a lot to do with relationships involving adults. But grown-ups have learnt to find ways to defuse the bomb, while youngsters haven’t, perhaps because they are pure, but they are not equipped with the tools to defuse the bomb. An explosion, then, is almost inevitable.
What can Nietzsche teach us at this point in history? How relevant are his writings to the present time?
This question would require an interview in itself! In reference to the connection that Nietzschean thought has with the film, the comparison is inevitable with the decadence of the time that I mentioned earlier. Decadence is a core issue for Friedrich Nietzsche and for the film as well. The inability to reinvent modernity is indeed very much felt by Federico, and is central to his story in the film, but also by all the other characters, who feel completely powerless, although they try in a way to reinvent themselves. Federico perceives that he is living with inertia and so he tries, in his own way, to invert the course of his life. Nietzsche is someone who looked very deeply into this; he spent his life sawing the branch he sat on, so to speak, and this attitude of profound honesty towards oneself is fundamental, within art but also within any sphere of life. It’s what needs to be done if we really want to experience life as new. How can we reinvent ourselves if we’re not ready to question ourselves?
Photo: Andrea Avezz
Predators (I Predatori) does not have a UK release date yet. Read our review here.
Read more reviews from our Venice Film Festival 2020 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Venice Film Festival website here.
Watch some clips from Predators (I Predatori) here: