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A graduate of the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, Hleb Papou transformed his diploma short into a feature-length film. That’s how The Legionnaire was born, and is now in competition in the Cineasti del presente section of the 74th Locarno Film Festival. The premise is fresh and interesting: a young black policeman who work in the anti-riot squad is called to clear out an occupied building. However, the one he has to vacate today is where his brother and mother live, and they don’t want to leave. Suspense increases minute by minute, because the clash involved multiple layers: there’s a political side for sure, but also a psychological one, and family relations, too. A true case of conscience for both brothers: a clash that set blood ties against work relations and political faith.

As already expressed in his short, Papou tackles the story from a decidedly original point of view. The film doesn’t take sides openly. In fact, through this private conflict, it shows the reasons behind both parts. The director also avoids any rhetoric. Unlike other films set in the troubled outskirts, here the dialogues are reduced to a minimum and are very much believable, and the narration mainly relies on images. With his co-scriptwriters Giuseppe Brigante and Emanuele Mochi, Papou is aware that this film is unusual: “With my short I gave life to a character that I had in mind for quite some time, but I knew I was leaving out some other things that I wanted to tell. We turn it into a feature because we wanted to have a conversation with a wider audience to discuss about today’s Italy, a country that has changed and that will keep on changing.” Briganti adds: “The protagonist embodies a number of complexities towards which we didn’t want to be judgmental, but just wanted to show and explore. Daniel, nicknamed “Ciobar”, is a split character in between two worlds, a character overcoming the usual stereotypes. He’s not your usual migrant told in pathetic way, but a young man who found his way while living a deep personal struggle, something he can’t avoid nor solve.”

Is this a political film? “It’s political as all films are political,” states Mochi, “but it doesn’t take any side. We tried to tell a story that could put a strain on some certainties, so that the audience could make up their own mind.” Discussing the aim of achieving a realistic representation of his character, lead actor Germano Gentile talks about a true ‘field training’: “I wanted to stay side by side with some real policemen in order to understand their reality and make a layered performance. I wanted to understand this young man who has two families, the original one and the police, and how it turns into a clash between these two belongings.”

“Shot in 19 days only with a micro budget” as the director underlines, The Legionnaire will be release by Fandango in the fall.

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LOCARNO 2021

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