“A black tale, set in a seemingly normal world were the sadism of the fathers and the rage of diligent yet desperate sons silently hatch.” This is how Fabio and Damiano D’Innocenzo, 31-year-old Roman twins, sum up Bad Tales – their second film following Boys Cry – presented in competition at this year’s Berlinale. Produced by Pepito with Rai Cinema and Vision Distribution, the film conveys a tender and cruel gaze, rich in cinematic references (from Gus Van Sant to Seidl), but also very personal and fed by literature – among the cited models, the Spoon River Anthology and writers like Vonnegut, Ibsen, and Updike.

We are in the Roman province, a petit-bourgeois environment lacking reference points, houses looking all the same, school life and small parties. A constant sense of threat, of suffocating despair emerges from this banal existences, that get recounted as if through the newfound pages of a childhood diary, which can be either true or fake. Kids are spectators of the human decay. Parents are inadequate, unpredictable in their acts at the edge of psychosis. The only source of inspiration, although sick, seems to be that middle-school teacher that explains how to build your own home bomb, or how to use disinfectant to kill.

Elio Germano, playing a frustrated and overtaking father, leads an ensemble cast including Barbara Chichiarelli, Max Malatesta, Lino Musella, Ileana D’Ambra. The narrating voice is Max Tortora’s. The film is dedicated to Tiziana Soudani, the late Swiss producer credited in the film.

Which was your starting point in writing the script?

Fabio. The kids in Bad Tales are ourselves when were actually kids. There are so many broken memories from our childhood that now resurface in a light and dreamy way. But it’s not an autobiographical film. None of us had a wonderful childhood, because at that age you don’t know the rules of the game yet. We wrote this story when we were 19 and we decided to shoot it know as we are getting old, otherwise it would have been too late.

Damiano. True, we didn’t want to have a gaze à la Haneke. When you are a kid you have this extraordinarily sharp and insightful perception, you see horrible things and tell yourself that everything will be different when you grow up, but it’s not like that. It was the right time to make Bad Tales because now we are in perfect balance between childhood and adulthood.

The film’s social context is shaded. We see people with enough money to live, someone complains about losing his job, someone else has just started a new business in the field of disinfectants and hopes to make money with it. Another parent, a single father, works as a waiter in a pizzeria and lives in a trailer. How would you describe the social class of these characters?

Fabio. We tried to root out the economic viewpoint from the story. In Boys Cry this logic made sense as the protagonists clearly came from the suburbs, but this was also an alibi for the audience to say “it is not really my business.” With this film, we detached from social and geographical realism. The violence of the protagonists stems from the fear of losing their self-assigned roles. While chronicles can be archived, the archetype remains.

Damiano. It’s a provincial bourgeoisie. This is part of our childhood as well, partly spent on the Roman coast. These people have aspirations, bought their little houses while hoping to climb the social stairs, but this didn’t happen. They say horrible things and feel entitled to. But we didn’t want the film to look old in 10 years ime. We chose to shoot in this incomplete houses because their look unremarkable.

How did you shift, stylistically and productively, from Boys Cry to Bad Tales?

Fabio. We had no agenda. Paola Malanga from Rai Cinema insisted that we make a more personal film, looking like a family album. Our first film was a genre movie because we wanted to prove we can use the camera. Bad Tales would have been an impossible debut. Our references are Carver, Yates, Updike, a lot of literature, a suspended American imaginary, including Charlie Brown as well. We were born with these sceneries in mind, they are places of the soul for us.

From Panorama to the Competition. How does it feel to enter through the main door?

Damiano. We are used to enter from the backyard and climb over. We feel embarrassed.

The topic of sexuality crosses the whole narration. There’s a predatory desire in the fathers, the passive aggressive attitude of the mothers, and kids living a precocious eroticism, partly imposed by the adults. What’s your reflection on this?

Damiano. We wanted to smell the stink of sexuality. Adults say this gratuitous and obscene things, but also kids have erotic thoughts. Two references: Catherine Breillat’s Fat Girl and Tim Roth’s The War Zone. We tried to remember what it means when you are a kid to deal with a woman, at first you are not attracted because you’re sexless, then one day you feel it’s something you want. It charms you, you blush and feel ashamed. There’s the purity of kids who tries to pretend a great awareness. For adults instead is pornography, thus the opposite of desire.

How did you work on the cast?

Fabio. In our first film we had two very clear characters, here you have a whole town, the world. For us this recalls the Spoon River Anthology, our favorite book. We worked without an acting coach with the kids, we stand at their level and talked openly. We lived some very emotional moments since they hadn’t read the script and didn’t know what would have happened.

How did Elio German get involved in the project?

Fabio. On paper, Elio’s role was not exactly great, he just had a few scenes. But it required an actor with a great sensibility and the will of expose himself, like we do. It’s not easy to reach out to Elio, but when he read the script he said yes immediately.

Do you like being part of movement of renewal in Italian cinema?

Damiano. All young directors are brave. I hope there won’t be factions like with the previous generation. When young people write me for suggestions, I reply with long letters. There’s a beautiful energy. I’m thinking of auteurs like Valentina Pedicini, Chiara Bellosi, Carlo Sironi, and then of course Jonas Carpignano and Alice Rohrwacher. I feel happiness in young people making cinema. I thought cinema was something for angry people, but it’s not.

Did anything change between you two when success arrived?

Damiano. This is our dream, but we must stay humble. When you get tired, you make insufferable films. We will never become directors with a scarf. But it’s difficult because limelight is beautiful. For me, my dog and my girlfriend are very helpful in this regard, she brings me back to real life and we talk about football. Being a couple with Fabio is important because you have always someone who can stop you.