A nightmare double act. This is Il contagio (contagion), the second work by Matteo Botrugno and Daniele Coluccini competing in the Giornate degli Autori section, to be released in cinemas October 5 by Notorius. A choral film, the work is taken from the novel by the same title by Walter Siti, where the Roman outskirts are a global periphery contaminated by the rich neighborhoods and spreading criminality, drugs, solitude, lust for wealth, sex and power. Echoes of Post-Pasolini poetics but also references to the legal events, the Mafia Capitale inquest taking place while the two Roman authors, class 1981, were writing the script with Nuccio Sanio. The script does not follow the book closely, especially in the second part, when one of the main characters, Mauro (played by one of the actors the two worked with in Et in terra pax) makes the jump from small time neighborhood drug dealer and goes to live in the city center where he gets involved in the management of a cooperative that steals public funds behind the facade of migrant assistance. There are many characters, all connected to each other: Marcello the former body builder (Vinicio Marchioni) and lover of Walter (Vincenzo Salemme) who gets him out of trouble with his money. Marcello is married to his high-school sweetheart Chiara (Anna Foglietta), a young woman already saddened by life. Then there’s Simona, (Giulia Bevilacqua) and her middle-class aspirations that Mauro tries to satisfy with the money he can find. The cast also includes actors who played the script in the theatre piece such as Carmen Giardina (who plays Lucia, a single middle-class woman) and Nuccio Sanio, the director of the theatrical production and co-scriptwriter for the film. 

Do you think that the Giornate degli Autori section is the best setting for the film, seven years after your debut right here with Et in terra pax?
Matteo: We graduated in this section and are pleased to come back to it. It’s a free zone, with e a coherent program and a broad concept of authorship that we feel comfortable with. It’s a second home to us.
Daniele: It feels good to return to the section that discovered you. 

The passage from the first work to the second is often hard and tormented. Especially when the debut was a revelation as was the case for Et in terra pax. Have you maintained a strong continuity with that film despite the considerably higher budget?
Matteo: Any budget is higher than 30 thousand euros. This time we were able to tell a story with more ambition, we were able to experiment more. Siti’s book was decisive: it’s written incredibly well and gave us certainty. 

You kept a thematic unity, represented by the Roman periphery, using a stile that goes from realism to a certain fragmentation typical of video clips and suspended moments.
Daniele: Compared to the first film there are different mechanisms but a certain degree of continuity of stile. We started from the book, even if we know the city described in it very well, it’s the working-class Rome made of real people, who speak a recognizable language. From there we went on to describe the world of power.
Matteo: We wanted to make a film with no beginning and no end. Il contagio is for us like a painting. If you look at it closely you can see a lot of detail, even insignificant details, but when you move away you understand that those details are not superfluous. You have a fresco, the portrait of a Rome that is a symbol of our country. In this sense the narration is not linear.

There is a desire for universalism in your narrative stile. Et in terra pax was also read abroad as a tale that could be referred to many global peripheries. Yet, at the same time, it speaks of Rome, a city that has unfortunately become a hopeless symbol of decay and corruption.

Daniele: Rome’s decay is the decay of an entire society, and it’s what Pasolini had foreseen. He had envisaged that the social classes would have leveled out, that the bourgeoisie would have become vulgar, and that the periphery would have been gentrified. That world is the product of mass culture, of consumerism, of drugs. Despite this people still show traces of humanity. This is the humanity we are interested in.
Matteo: This is why we are pleased to think that Il contagio is also a love story and a film on love, even though it’s not romantic love.  

With your first film you contributed to inaugurate a new wave of cinema dealing with the peripheries.
Daniele: Ours is a political discourse. Seven years ago we were considered innovators because the city outskirts were no longer portrayed in films. Today people feel abandoned by politics and many authors are trying to narrate this forgotten reality, rightly so. 

The portrait of decay and criminality has also produced more superficial works, where digging into the Roman reality is only a means for spectacle.

Matteo: I don’t think that TV series like Suburra are superficial. Cinema is also entertainment. Suburra is an Italian crime series. Of course, if we consider Gomorra, the series lacks the depth of Garrone’s film, but that’s normal.
Daniele: Criminality has been sensationalized in some cases. Not in ours. Our criminal Rome is the contour in which many stories and human beings move. Criminality is the environment, the roots, what we are truly interested in are the people’s emotions. Matteo. We don’t do inquest cinema. We portray the way a character sees his life demolished by the thirst for power. 

While you were writing, the Mafia Capitale inquest exploded. How much and how did this influence you?
Daniele: The events linked to Mafia Capitale gave us the green light to talk about the cooperatives. In 2008, when Siti was writing his novel, there was talk of the ‘palazzinari’, the real estate kings, that are a part of traditional Roman criminality. Mafia Capitale opened up new scenarios of criminal management of public funds. Walter Siti himself encouraged us to talk about the inquest in the film. He told us “they’re serving it up to you on a silver plate, talk about immigration”. 

The cast is quite varied. It includes actors you are fond of, such as Maurizio Tesei, and actors taken from the theater piece, like Carmen Giardina, and unexpected actors, such as Vincenzo Salemme. How did you make this mosaic?
Daniele: Some of the actors of the theater performance were perfect, why not call them back? For the main characters we looked for faces that the public might recognize. Why not? And then obviously there is Maurizio Tesei, our favorite actor.
Matteo: Salemme is a great actor, it was as if he had written the writer’s character himself, and he even gave him a touch melancholy.
Daniele: Vincenzo understood all the nuances in Walter Siti’s character and identified with him. 

What was Siti’s reaction to the film?
He appreciated the array of characters that come from the book, and in the second part, where we move away from the book, he didn’t feel betrayed. Most of all we wanted to maintain and give back the feeling one has when closing a book.

Who infects who?
Daniele: The contagion is mutual. The film is built on couples, because the contagion goes from one to the other.
Matteo: Sometimes bacteria is the only form of life.  

And what is the antidote, the cure?
Matteo: Culture, sharing, cinema. This is the cure. To ask questions, to ask them together. The fact that we work together is also an act of sharing, it’s a school of mediation. We must understand that the common good is greater that the individual good. Two director means this: not one leading, but two directing.
Daniele: Film direction is a political act because you must mediate, make compromises. I would make every politician direct a film. If you can govern a film set without being imposing, then you can govern.