A few days ago Robert Redford and Jane Fonda made us smile and moved us and with the story of an elderly couple in love. Now it’s the turn of our Paolo Virzì to move us with a similar story competing at the Festival, with his first American film, Ella & John –The Leisure Seeker, interpreted by Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren, taken by the novel Michael Zadoorian, portraying the story of an elderly couple escaping medical cures and adult children. He is absent-minded but strong, she is not doing too well but she is lucid, and the two create for each other an adventure along the American roads of Massachusetts and Key Weston on board their old caravan, and between moments of laughter and others of sheer terror, they trace back the history of their love and marriage, dispensing surprises and revelations right to the end. Produced by Indiana Production with Rai Cinema in association with 3 Marys Entertainment, the film will be distributed by 01 Distribution in January 2018. Bac Films is in charge for the international sales –the movie is already sold out in 90 countries. The movie will be released in the States at the end of December, distributed by Sony Classic Pictures.

There is no moral stance, nor compassion, or sweet sentimentalism in the characters in Virzì’s very personal point of view of the characters, and, more in general, of the States. The director’s hand is firm but delicate in portraying the life events that move the soul with rhythm and attention, without filters or artifices, only through the superb acting abilities of two perfectly synchronized actors. To think that the director had some initial doubts.  

“I had no particular plan of emigrating – the director explained during the conference – I feel Italian and I am happy to belong to the community of Italian filmmakers, but my producer friends and co-scriptwriters, Stephen Amidon, Francesca Archibugi, Francesco Piccolo, convinced me to accept the challenge. I thought my tools were the language and the familiar landscapes. For protection, I asked to have Helen and Donald in the cast. Almost thinking ‘they’ll never accept’. Incredibly they both said yes, he said yes straight away, she did after a moment of hesitation. I know they loved Italy and worked here as well, they are two magnificent creatures, with a lot of patience for my ‘broken English’”. 

Some changes were made to the text. For example, the route the characters take, in the book it started from Detroit and ended in Disneyland, but in the film it became more ‘cultured’. The film is set along the ‘road 1’ on the East Coast, down to Hemingway’s home, one of the protagonists’ favorite authors, having been a professor of literature. According to Virzì “that is the road they have often taken, like the Aurelia from Rome to Livorno for me. I love to identify, we only moved the action to make the story closer to us. We had the idea of the professor loosing the memory of his acquaintances, living among the pages of the books he loved. Ella is in love with life because it’s a miracle she is still alive. There is something irresistible, intelligent and ironic in this rebellious escape from forced hospitalization”.

The film is also rich of quotes about politics and Trump. Naturally thay are not in the book, that was written in 2009. “It could also be an escape from America –Virzì comments – Ella reminds her forgetful husband that she had voted for Reagan, and that he was very angry. This scandalous rebellion seemed to me to be strongly joyous and loving, and it marginally addresses political issues impacting it with the narrative style in a non-obvious way. It is especially a film on freedom and on dignity. Especially in a country where medical insurance earns a lot of money from life insurances. Ella has a project on which she is working from the beginning of the film, but she can achieve it only when she understands that John is in on it. I understand this and follow their choice. I think that in the end even her children understand this, despite the film does not have a clear ending”. 

“And to think – sais the co-scriptwriter Amidon – that we were against including references to Trump. We were all convinced that it would be a temporary situation with little impact on American culture. But Paolo was right, even though he’s sorry now he was. It’s the ‘Italian view’ that allowed him to see things abroad with a vision clearer than our. It’s a particularly penetrating view.”

“It’s deep –according Helen Mirren – he doesn’t judge and doesn’t mock. Directors are visionary, and this is truly a Paolo Virzì film, that no one else could have made. It’s a fresh, individual view, it’s not influenced by local culture, by politics or anything else. He brought his sensitivity, his humor, his humanity to the film. Naturally this kind of thought on life effects me closely, it is close to what I would like to do too. To arrive to the and of life having lived it fully and with energy, I hope I can maintain this spirit until the end of my days, like Ella, I am certainly doing so now. I want go to towards death full of life. As I interpreted death myself in the film Collateral Beauty, it’s been a useful experience. Regarding my relationship with Italian cinema, when I think of it what comes to mind is La Strada by Federico Fellini or one of the first films I saw in my life, L’avventura, by Antonioni. What an honor to be able to finally meet Claudia Cardinale. I love Monica Vitti, Sofia Loren and especially Anna Magnani. I was in Caligola in Rome, with Tinto Brass, and now I’m in love with Paolo”. 

“I was filming right here in Venice – Sutherland remembers. Don't Look Know and then The Italian Job. It’s a difficult city for filming. I made Novecento in Parma and Casanova with Fellini in Cinecittà. These are films that contributed to shape the image of Italian Cinema in the world, and we felt part if Italian cinema this time as well. Regarding Trump, no one thought that could really happen. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a political comment. It’s a plain observation of the facts. Perhaps. When Paolo came to me I didn’t see him as an Italian, although when he spoke Italian I didn’t understand a word, he seemed to me a universal being. He has an extraordinary vision of the truth. He understood the traits of a specific condition that I was very familiar with. Both Helen and I thought this was the best idea in the world and so we decided to make this film together. But to me it was never Italian cinema, it’s a universal story”. 

The closing remarks were left to the two speakers for the productions, Paolo Del Brocco, manager of Rai Cinema, and Fabrizio Donvio, representing Indiana Production. “Paolo is our most important director – sais Del Brocco – so we involved him in an important project. I think we have succeeded in the challenge, and this certainly opens up a new path for our cinematography”. “A path leading abroad – points out Donvio – we believe that Italian cinema goes in the direction of foreign countries. It isn’t necessary to film in English, it’s a matter of approach”. 

In an interview with ANSA, Virzì commentated on the possibility of participating to the Oscars: “It would be great but I am skeptical. The Americans are thinking about it, they are fixated with the award, I am simply appreciating being in Venice, knowing that people across 90 countries will see the film and that it will be appreciated”.