Francesco Barilli Interview

Cinema Between Brush Strokes

by Roberto Curti Volume 15, Issue 12 / December 2011 44 minutes (10946 words)

Thanks to Stefano Lecchini for his contribution

Born in Parma in 1943, Francesco Barilli belongs to a family of artists and is himself a celebrated painter. He made his debut in cinema as an actor in Antonio Pietrangeli’s La parmigiana (1963), and the following year he starred in his friend and fellow citizen Bernardo Bertolucci’s Prima della rivoluzione (Before the Revolution, 1964), then he tried his hand as a scriptwriter with Aldo Lado’s morbid thriller Chi l’ha vista morire (Who Saw Her Die ?, 1972) and Umbero Lenzi’s adventure/cannibal flick Il paese del sesso selvaggio (Man From Deep River, 1972). In 1974 Barilli directed his first film, the stunning Il profumo della signora in nero (The Perfume of the Lady in Black, one of the hidden gems of Italian horror, followed by the little-seen Pensione paura (1978), starring Luc Merenda. After a long hiatus during which he focused on painting, he returned behind the camera in late eighties: other film credits include the omnibus La domenica specialmente (1991: co-directed by Giuseppe Bertolucci, Marco Tullio Giordana and Giuseppe Tornatore) and the successful TV movie Giorni da leone (2002). With only a handful of films to his credit, nonetheless Barilli remains one of Italian genre cinema’s most interesting, uncompromising and original personalities.

Offscreen: Mr. Barilli, you have been in the movies for almost forty years. Why did you make just a few films?

Francesco Barilli: Because I’m not a director, after all. I’d rather see myself as a painter. You see, I’m atypical. When I don’t paint, I make movies; but when I can’t make movies, I just pick up my paint-brush and start painting again. I sure don’t start crying out loud: “Oh my God, I’m not making films, what shall I do?…” (laughs) Frankly, I don’t care. You see, I’m a disturber, rather than a good boy. It’s not easy to turn down a directing job, especially when you are penniless. But sometimes I’ve had the courage to say ‘no’: “Either I make this film my way or I won’t make it at all.” That’s why I directed a handful of movies; perhaps I was a fool, but whenever I turned a job down, it was because I knew from the very beginning it just couldn’t work. And I don’t like to cut a poor figure, especially now that I’m getting old. Every time I showed a producer a script I’d written, he would say: “Hey, but this could be wonderful for a co-production with the US!” And I insisted: “Look, we can make this movie by ourselves, without US backers, the budget is low…” But in their heads, a 3 billion liras film would cost at least 12 billion. Producers are scoundrels, that’s what they are. But if you are tough, you can manage to save your ass. You see, today young directors are so fearful they would do everything in order to make a movie, and this is terribly wrong.

Offscreen: Your very first experience in the movies was a small role in Antonio Pietrangeli’s La Parmigiana.

Francesco Barilli: Indeed. It was 1961. When I met Pietrangeli I was just 17. That was my destiny.

Offscreen: What do you remember of La Parmigiana?

Francesco Barilli: Pietrangeli wanted to shoot some scenes in my parents’ own house, in the room where we are sitting just now. But it was too small and there was no room for the dolly, so they eventually opted for another villa. But Pietrangeli came to dinner with my family, we talked and talked and talked – I was crazy about John Huston, and just kept talking about his films – until he eventually asked me to be his assistant on set, and even gave me a small part. My only line in the film, “A noi di Montechiarugolo ci piace la donna fatta!” (“We people of Montechiarugolo do like mature women”) became a leit-motif in my hometown. Anyway, Pietrangeli made some marvellous movies: Io La Conosceve Bene is one of the true masterpieces of Italian cinema, then La Visita, Adua e le Compagne, Il Magnifico Cornuto, which was quite risqué for its time… It’s a shame he has been forgotten. Same with Elio Petri.

Offscreen: Then you worked with Bertolucci…

Francesco Barilli: Yes, my friend Bernardo Bertolucci offered me the leading role in his film Before the Revolution, which was made in 1963 but was released one year later. We knew each other since we were little children: we went to the movies together. The film was shot in our hometown, Parma.

Offscreen: Before writing scripts, you were the assistant director in a couple of films directed by Camillo Bazzoni …

Francesco Barilli: Camillo Bazzoni was the cinematographer on Before the Revolution, while Vittorio Storaro was his assistant. Camillo and I became friends, he was from the town of Salsomaggiore, not far from Parma. After the Bernardo film, one day he phoned me and asked me to help him make some short flicks he would direct. One of them, L’urlo, a sci-fi short story loosely based on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, even won some prizes. It was shown at the Cannes festival in 1966.

Offscreen: Storaro was in it too…

Francesco Barilli: Yeah, but Bazzoni used to do everything. He taught Storaro everything he knew. Camillo was a genius, in my opinion. He made Storaro what he is today.

Offscreen: After a few films as director, Camillo Bazzoni returned to his first love – cinematography.

Francesco Barilli: He wanted to be a director, but the truth is he was a great director of photography. The first film I did as assistant director with Camillo was a spaghetti western, I Live for Your Death / Long Ride From Hell, starring Steve Reeves.

Offscreen: What do you recall of this experience?

Francesco Barilli: I even wrote a script about it, but I don’t know if I’ll ever make a movie out of it. It’s the story of how I got to Rome and ended up on the set of I Live for Your Death as assistant director. Steve Reeves, who had spent his Italian career making sword’n’sandal epics, invested his own money on the project: since it was going to be his last movie, he wanted it to be a great western, a genre he always loved. To him, it was like a revenge against all people who had laughed at him as an actor. So he came back from the US with this money he collected and gave it… to the wrong producer! Believe me, he got involved with real scoundrels. When I met him, we immediately got along very well together: Reeves was impressed because I knew Turner and other British painters, I listened to Vivaldi… so he wanted me to be his only interlocutor on the set. The problem is, the dream of his life was becoming a nightmare, since that western was one of the most comical movies ever made. It was like being on the set of Blake Edwards’ The Party, believe me! I saw things I thought could not happen when you are making movies. And I made a script out of that experience, a vitriolic comedy about a young movie enthusiast coming from the country who has all these fantasies about great cinema, and eventually ends up making a terrible western with an American star. Anyway, Reeves just couldn’t act. But I had lots of fun, for sure! (laughs)

Offscreen: Then you made a war movie with Bazzoni, Commanda Suicida

Francesco Barilli: You’re right. Aldo Ray was in it, and he was constantly stone drunk. I don’t remember much about Commanda Suicida, frankly. Anyway, Camillo didn’t have the stuff to be a director…

Offscreen: Yet he did some good movies, such as Shadows Unseen.

Francesco Barilli: Let me explain. He had the skills to be a good director, but not the guts. He was always afraid of what producers would say, and that’s not the way of making films. However, I learnt a lot from him. When you are on the set, working with people who really love cinema and, most of all, have something good to teach you, it’s like having the best tutors in the world.

Offscreen: Are you still in contact with the Bazzoni brothers?

Francesco Barilli: Camillo has married Storaro’s sister. I met him several years ago on the set of Casa Ricordi – I played one of the leading roles while he was the director of cinematography. I haven’t heard from Luigi in years, though. It’s like he just disappeared from sight. Too bad, as he was truly a gifted director. La Donna del Lago is such a stunning film, and he did it, not Renzo Rossellini, who just took the credit as co-director. Luigi directed some more great movies, such as that western rendition of Bizet’s “Carmen” starring Klaus Kinski (Man, Pride and Vengeance, Ed.); then he did The Fifth Cord, which is one of the better Italian gialli I’ve seen, and Footprints, starring Florinda Bolkan. But, like Camillo, he was just too scared of producers. I’ve been told he now earns his living as a butler, in a house inhabited by a couple of elderly spinsters… gee, it sounds like a bad Sunset Boulevard remake! (laughs)

Offscreen: What happened after these two films as assistant director?

Francesco Barilli: Well, I realized I’d rather try and be a director myself, because I was starving! I took a chance and started working for RAI television. I used to do music reports: I filmed Elton John, the Rolling Stones in London, Donovan, trying to copy Richard Lester – well, everybody else did, so why not? It was kinda fun, but I felt that was not what I was born for.

Offscreen: The scripts you wrote in the early seventies were surely ‘hard’ stuff. But Italian cinema was so much different then. Who Saw Her Die ?, your first script, is the story of a child murderer, with lots of violence and nasty behaviour.

Francesco Barilli: Who Saw Her Die was my very first script, and initially I was set to direct the film. But producer Doria had a contract with Aldo Lado, and offered me lots of money for the screenplay. I was just a beginner then, so I said: “Well, OK…” But Lado made a shitty movie out of it. I just watched it again recently and didn’t like it at all. It’s not the film I had in mind when I wrote the script. You see, it’s funny to write stuff for other directors, because you get to see how they can turn a nice script into sheer crap! (laughs)

Offscreen: What was wrong with Lado’s film?

Francesco Barilli: First of all, it was just too close to Argento’s style, whereas I had Hitchcock in mind. The direction was ham-fisted, murder scenes were nasty but poorly conceived, not to mention the actors… I mean, what was George Lazenby doing in Venice? (laughs) Moreover, it hasn’t aged well: all those ‘70s outfits and hairdos… in my opinion, when you make a film, it’s got to be universal, even if it’s set in the ‘70s, or in the ‘30s, for that matter. Look at Hitchcock’s films! I think every director should keep him in mind when making a giallo. I don’t mean to copy him, De Palma-style: you have to study the way he builds up every scene, every single shot, the way he dresses actors and makes them move…

Offscreen: After Who Saw Her Die you wrote Man From Deep River

Francesco Barilli: That’s how it went. I got a call from a US producer, Ovidio Assonitis, who asked me: “Did you see that picture, A Man Called Horse ?” “Sure!” “Well, I’m going to make a rip-off of it. Just think of another animal!” I thought about that all night long – I was still penniless- then I called him back: “Look, what about A Man Called Fish ?” “Gee, that’s great! Now write the script!” (laughs) Then of course I changed the title! I should have directed Man From Deep River, then Assonitis told me: “We’re going to shoot it in Thailand, you take this 78-year old cameraman and his 11-year old daughter with you and shoot some wild jungle footage among local tribes…” And so I said: “No way, sorry, I’m too young for this kind of stuff…” And, once again, the movie turned out quite bad. Pity, because the script had lots of good things in it, it was very weird. But Lenzi wasn’t the right director for that kind of movie.

Offscreen: The Italian title, Il Paese del Sesso Selvaggio (The Land of Wild Sex), is a mess…

Francesco Barilli: Ask the producer! Luckily, the picture is known abroad under “my” title, Man From Deep River. The problem is, Italians always screw these things up. Look at John Ford’s Cheyenne Autumn, which is such a great title. In Italy it came out as Il Grande Sentiero (the Wild Path). What the fuck does that mean?!? (laughs)

Offscreen: And so, after the experience as scriptwriter, you debuted as director with The Perfume of the Lady in Black.

Yes, that was quite a strong film for its time. I put lots of influences and homages into Perfume, starting with Roman Polanski…

Offscreen: And it shows!

Francesco Barilli: Well, I really loved Polanski films, especially Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby. Anyway, The Perfume of the Lady in Black was born in quite a unique way, because, you see, there were these two scripts I’d written: one was the story of a schizophrenic woman, while the other was about a cannibal sect in Geneva… there were these bankers who used to meet in the city sewers at night and eat people. When I brought these two scripts to Euro Productions, I was told: “OK, let’s do a movie. But we’re going to stitch the two films together!

Mimsy Farmer as Sylvia in The Perfume of the Lady in Black

Offscreen: Yet, apart from the fact that you had to do a cut-and-paste job, The Perfume of the Lady in Black was a film you really wanted to do.

Francesco Barilli: Sure. I really liked both scripts, so I told myself: “Well, that’s quite a challenge. Let’s see what I can do with it!

Offscreen: You wrote The Perfume of the Lady in Black with Massimo D’Avack, who already co-scripted Who Saw Her Die you wrote Man From Deep River.

Francesco Barilli: D’Avack and I got along very well. I had the ideas, he put them on paper. Massimo wrote very well and had a wonderful ear for dialogue. He had fun working with me, because I really went over the top. I came up with such weird ideas… It was a perfect match. The last thing we wrote together was a film called Il Vento Nei Cespugli di Rose (The Wind Blows Through the Rose Bushes), another of those scripts I never sold. It’s a giallo set in Gualtieri, a very small village on the river Po, where a series of murders take place. It begins with a birthday party: everybody looks happy and relaxed when, all of a sudden, a phone rings. Someone answers and hears the voice of a woman who died ten years earlier… I went scouting for locations all around Gualtieri when I got a phone call from the producer, Goffredo Lombardo: “Listen, I made my mind up: we need a priest in the film!” “A priest? But why?!?” I was really pissed off. “Well, I’m the producer and we’ll do it my way. And I want a priest in the film!” So we quarrelled and the film was never made. Too bad, because I really, really wanted to do it.

Offscreen: But why did Lombardo want a priest character? Was it because of House With the Windows that Laugh and other gialli that have priests in them?

Francesco Barilli: No, I don’t think so. The problem, you see, is that he wanted to achieve complete control on the script. What’s more, Lombardo didn’t like the ending I had written: the police does not find out who the murderer is, but a private detective, who has discovered everything, shoots the murderer in cold blood from distance, on a bridge on the river. Lombardo was shocked: “You must be out of your mind! How can you show somebody doing justice all by himself?” “So what? Cinema is not real life?

Offscreen: Did you already choose the actors for Il Vento ?

Francesco Barilli: Most of them. Ornella Muti had to be the female lead, it was a big budget film. It was ready. Then I had this quarrel with Lombardo…

Offscreen: So you were working on this project between Perfume and what became your second film, Pensione Paura ?

Francesco Barilli: Exactly. Then I wrote a script about a man who becomes a sea-urchin. (laughs) Something in the vein of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, you know. But when they read the treatment, they told me: “Let’s make it a coproduction with the US, we need a lot of special effects, it’s all going to take place underwater…” And I tried to explain: “Look, this is not an underwater film, it’s a totally different story.” No way. Perhaps those stories I was writing were not “Italian” enough. Maybe I was wrong… or maybe not. The same is happening with the scripts I’m writing these days.

Offscreen: Back to The Perfume of the Lady in Black, you were working with a very good cast: Mimsy Farmer, who had just worked with Dario Argento on Four Flies on Grey Velvet, was in the lead.

Francesco Barilli: I always loved doing casting, because it’s fun to pick up the right faces for a movie. Mimsy had already come to Italy, she was married to Vincenzo Cerami [Note: Cerami is one of Italy’s most famous scriptwriters] at that time, and they had a little daughter. Cerami often came on the set.

Offscreen: Did you shoot the whole film in Rome?

Francesco Barilli: Absolutely. That house you see in the very first sequence is in the Coppedè district.

Offscreen: Argento used it too, on Inferno.

Francesco Barilli: Many others used that palace: it was just too striking as a location. Anyway, I think I was one of the first in Italy to make such a strong, unsettling film, and I’m not referring to the story, but to the atmosphere.

Offscreen: The Perfume of the Lady in Black is so exquisitely shot: the opening sequence, with that beautiful crane shot (the camera rises up from a fountain in the middle of a square and pans to a balcony where Farmer’s neighbour [Mario Scaccia] is watering flowers), is truly unforgettable.

Francesco Barilli: It was all written in the script, up to the very last detail. To shoot that scene, I used a Chapman. I think I’ve been the last one to use it, then that machine ended up somewhere in Spain.

Offscreen: The picture that appears under the opening credits recalls Repulsion: in fact there seems to be an ideal fil rouge between Polanski’s masterpiece and The Perfume of the Lady in Black. Both films deal with a fragile woman on the verge of madness, and the characters played by Catherine Deneuve and Mimsy Farmer have so many things in common, starting with an obscure childhood trauma they’ve repressed.

Francesco Barilli: Yes, the reference to Repulsion was intentional. I took that picture, by the way. The man you see in the photograph, playing the father, was Attilio Viti, an organizer who worked with Bernardo Bertolucci, Theo Angelopoulos and so on.

Offscreen: The scenes in which the “ghost” girl appears are truly disquieting. The girl was played by Daniela Barnes, who later became popular as Lara Wendel. How did you choose her?

Farmer with her younger phantom self, played by Daniela Barnes

Francesco Barilli: Oh, to find the right girl was a nightmare! Dear me, I may have screened hundreds and hundreds of little girls! I visited all the German schools in Rome because, you see, I wanted a girl who would not look Italian at all. Daniela Barnes had done a film with Di Leo, I think. Anyway, then she ended up doing soft-core flicks like Maladolescenza. For the little girl appearances I borrowed a lot from a Truman Capote story called Miriam [Note: In 1980 Miriam became a TV movie directed by Biagio Proietti]. However, I never really loved Perfume.

Offscreen: Why?

Francesco Barilli: Well, first of all the basic idea for the film came when I was in Africa, watching a black magic ceremony in Belgian Congo. My mother-in-law passed away during the shooting, then the old man who played the concierge in the film died, too. Well, better not to mess up with black magic…

Offscreen: Mimsy Farmer’s nosy neighbour, played Mario Scaccia, is such a great character: always impeccably dressed, wearing those white shoes…

Francesco Barilli: Oh, those shoes! You wouldn’t believe how much time it took me to find just the right shoes I wanted, chamois leather, white, an English model! The costume designer probably ended up hating me, as I was such a pain in the ass… (laughs)

Offscreen: Watching the movie, it soon becomes obvious that it was very carefully designed, with a keen eye for set pieces and props. Those stuffed birds, for instance…

Francesco Barilli: I literally drove’em crazy! But, you see, if in the US you write a script which says: “On a wall, we get to see a number of stuffed birds which ominously pop out of the dark because of the light coming from a window. A crow’s eye shines in the dark etcetera”, or: “Outside, in the rain, a pink Buick is parked…” nobody changes a single word. The script is Gospel, period. Here, when they read the script, they say: “Gee, that’s cool!”, then the day you are about to shoot the scene with the rain and the pink Buick… there is no Buick in sight! “What about that damn car?!?” “Hey, who cares about the car, let’s go on workin’…” (laughs) I mean, you are shooting a film and you keep asking yourself why do you waste your time writing a script, given that on the set everything has to be changed at the very last minute!

Offscreen: Did the producer have anything to object to about the savage cannibal feast that ends Perfume ?

Francesco Barilli: Not at all! Actually, it was the ending that made us sell the film abroad!

Offscreen: How did you realize the special effect of the human torso being pulled open and eviscerated?

Francesco Barilli: It was very simple to do: we had a fake trunk and three sacks full of calf entrails…

Offscreen: Just like Massaccesi used to do…

Francesco Barilli: Indeed! I have a story for you: there was a big calf liver, this big (mimes). One of the extras was despised by the whole crew because he was said to be a fascist; anyway, he just wanted to stay on shot whenever possible. I called him and said: “Listen, why don’t you eat this big liver right in front of the camera? I’m going to make a close-up of you!” (laughs) And he did eat that raw liver, all of it! Just to have a close-up in the movie! However, I had to cut that shot –it was just too gory.

Offscreen: Did you have problems with the board of censors, then?

Francesco Barilli: Yes. My original cut was much stronger: the ending was chilling, and very unpleasant, because every single member of the sect took a huge chunk of raw meat from Farmer’s body and ate it. The blood was black like in Night of the Living Dead. There were 7 or 8 shots which were just too strong for the censors, so I had to cut them out of the movie. But I knew it would happen, so I tried to make an ending so gory that it would still remain shocking even after censor cuts.

Offscreen: Where was that scene shot?

Francesco Barilli: At the Caracalla thermal. An unsettling place, believe me. Anyway, some things you see in it happened by chance, at the very last minute, like the grey aprons worn by the cannibals. Originally all the actors and extras were dressed normally, with jeans and pullovers. But I didn’t like them at all. So I asked my assistant to go and buy lots of drugstore aprons, and while I was waiting for the costumes I shot the close-ups. I think that idea gave the scene a much more peculiar feel.

Offscreen: Speaking of your eye for details, I remember the scene in which one of the cannibals, the road-sweeper, is reading a muscleman magazine…

Francesco Barilli: Yeah, I found that magazine in a corner and thought: “Why not use it in the film?” You see, being a painter, I am often deeply impressed by such details, and I try to put them on film. They help to make a character alive. I didn’t invent anything, anyway: I think I just borrowed from all great filmmakers, that’s all.

Offscreen: Did you improvise on set?

Francesco Barilli: On Perfume, not much. It had a very detailed script, because at that time I was really fussy. I just added some things on set, as I told you. For instance, we even changed a location once, for the scene in which Mimsy Farmer is raped by Orazio Orlando. The art director was preparing the set at Cinecittà, when I got a call from a friend: “Come here, quick!” and I drove to the Parioli district, near Piazza Coppedè. There was an abandoned Russian embassy, which was just perfect for the scene: it’s just as you can see it in the film, I didn’t touch a single thing. There was a baby carriage, broken chairs, plaster falling from the walls…

Offscreen: That scene is very intense.

Francesco Barilli: Indeed. Mimsy stayed in bed a couple of days after filming it, because we did lots and lots of takes. I had some problems with the actor, Orazio Orlando, because he was gay and felt he couldn’t be believable enough as a rapist. I think we spent a whole afternoon shooting the rape scene.

Offscreen: It’s funny because Orlando had this rude, macho air…

Francesco Barilli: There’s more. Remember the flashback scene, in which he is screwing Mimsy’s mother? He was naked, even if you don’t see it in the scene. Well, I was talking with my assistant director when I heard the set dressers burst out laughing. Soon all people on the set were splitting their sides with laughter, and I couldn’t understand why. Then I looked at Orazio and I knew. That guy had a donkey-size dick! Never seen one like that in my whole life! (laughs)

Offscreen: What about Mimsy Farmer?

Francesco Barilli: Very, very nice. As an actress, she had just three facial expressions in all, but was very professional and nice. When the producer told me Mimsy Farmer had read the script and agreed to do the movie, I felt happy. She was just what I had in mind for the role.

Offscreen: At the time of its release, many Italian critics compared Perfume to Dario Argento films. What’s your opinion on Argento?

Francesco Barilli: I have met Argento, he told me he loved my film. Frankly, I can’t say the same about his movies. I kinda liked his first gialli, because they had rather coherent, well-built scripts. But his latest movies are terrible: Sleepless makes me laugh. And look at Opera: within the first ten minutes, Argento is trying to leave you breathless, using all the tricks in his bag to keep the viewer on the edge of the seat with loud music, murder scenes that go on and on, and plenty of visual tricks and camera p.o.v. But where is the story?

Offscreen: What happened after Perfume ?

Francesco Barilli: They didn’t let me make the films I wanted to. After Perfume, for years I’ve been offered scripts in which somebody ended up eating someone else. (laughs) It was a nightmare: there were stories set in the Middle Ages, others were political horror movies in which Commies ate Fascist and vice versa… (laughs) Then I wrote a love story set in Tangier in the ‘20s, inspired by an old Jean Gabin film Pepe’ Le Moko, mixed with other things. And it was a tremendous disappointment, because producers thought we needed American backers. It had to be a high-budget coproduction, with US actors… I spent a whole year of my life working on that movie, until the day Euro Films bankrupted. Pity, because I really wanted to do this film, which was called Vento Rosso (Red Wind). I never sold the script, God knows whether I’ll do it or not, someday. As you see, I always had a strange relationship with movies. There are directors who make one film a year, some of them good, others just plain bad. Whereas I want to do the films I like: either they give me money and let me do my job, or I quit. I know I’m a crazy guy.

Offscreen: Let’s talk about L’Occhio, which later became a film directed by Patroni Griffi, called La Gabbia, starring Laura Antonelli and Tony Musante.

Francesco Barilli: L’Occhio was another project I really cared about. I wrote it to show people that you can do a movie on a shoestring budget, and make good money out of it. The idea came to me because of a guy I knew, who lived in a house in Rome that no art director in the world could ever dream of. It was a huge abandoned villa which this hippie had transformed into a beautiful nightmare. It was haunting, stunning and gloomy at the same time. All the windows were sealed with tape and so on. By the way, I had used that house on Perfume: it’s Mario Scaccia’s apartment. I wrote L’Occhio thinking of that particular house. It was the story of a horrible old hag – I wanted renown painter Novella Parigini for the role – who lives secluded in this incredible place. One day, looking out the window, she sees a beautiful young man passing by. She lures him into the house and never lets him go. It was not a completely original story, as William Wyler had done something similar with The Collector, but Stephen King hadn’t written Misery yet. I showed the script to a producer and he told me: “Hey, this is going to be expensive, we need a US coproduction!” “Look, it’s a very low budget thing, I’m even going to shoot it with a hand-held camera! It’ll make lots of money…” I had planned to make it a low-budget, minimalistic horror movie – L’Occhio would cost 240 million liras, which was a ridiculous sum –but they wanted Shelley Winters in the lead… I couldn’t believe my ears. So I eventually dropped the project, then one day Patroni Griffi phoned me and said : “Well, I read your script and really loved it. I’d like to make a movie out of it.” He offered me lots of money, and made La Gabbia, which is a totally different film from the one I had in mind. Let’s talk frankly here, that movie sucks. Instead of a macabre story it looks like a third-rate, soft porn version of Death in Venice. It was squalid. And it flopped.

Offscreen: Let’s talk about your second film, Pensione Paura, which was co-written by Barbara Alberti and Amedeo Pagani.

Francesco Barilli: Pensione Paura was born, as it always happened, in a strange way. As I was telling you, in that period I wanted to do L’Occhio. Then one day a producer, Dazzi, came to me and said: “I want you to make this film.” And he gave me the treatment. I read it and said: “Come on… it’s going to cost a lot of money, the story is so complicated… Listen, I have a script which is just perfect for you, it’s all set inside an apartment, and we even have the whole set ready without spending a single lira.” So he read L’Occhio but once again he insisted it would be too expensive. Same old story. What’s more, I didn’t like the original story of Pensione Paura that much. But since I needed money, I said: “OK, let’s do it.” But I liked the idea of this gloomy hotel where the whole movie takes place, I wanted to do something really claustrophobic, the way L’Occhio was intended to be.

Offscreen: Anyway, you are credited as co-scriptwriter on Pensione Paura.

Francesco Barilli: Well, I took part in the process of scriptwriting, together with my friend Barbara Alberti and Amedeo Pagani, who wrote the original story. As I told you, at first I didn’t like it, then I fell in love with some things in the script and tried to turn it into “my” film. But the producer really drove me nuts.

Offscreen: What about Leonora Fani?

Francesco Barilli: Oh, she was quite good, too bad she disappeared from sight. She looked like a little girl, but had a pin-up figure. What a body! Too bad her private life was all messed up. She had a toothless mother who came to see her with Leonora’s boyfriend, a book-keeper… he was madly in love with her, but she used to give him hell. What’s more, that old hag was a real procuress.

Leonora Fani

Offscreen: The only circulating copy of Pensione Paura, coming from a TV master, is only 84 minutes long, whereas the one that was released in theaters was 99 minutes long. It seems the film was badly cut for TV broadcasting.

Francesco Barilli: Well, when the movie came out in theaters it was forbidden to minors. When it was acquired by television, all the most disturbing scenes were left out. For instance, the scene in which Luc Merenda’s lover [Jole Fierro] lures Fani into her own room and then lets the man rape her, was cut to the bone. At a certain point, the elderly woman even stuck a finger in Luc’s ass as he was fucking the girl, in order to somehow give him pleasure, too. I think I still have a “Playmen” magazine issue with the photo session taken on the set.

Offscreen: There is a scene in which Merenda and his two accomplices are planning to steal his lover’s jewels. Leonora Fani is hiding in a closet, spying on them. He eventually discovers her, and there is an abrupt cut.

Francesco Barilli: That’s how the scene continues: Luc hears a noise, goes to the closet and notices the girl’s feet behind a corner. His accomplices ask him if anything’s wrong, he says it’s just a cat. He reaches Leonora, and what you don’t see on TV is that he lifts her skirt, takes off her panties and leaves her like that, naked and with the skirt’s edge thrust into her mouth. She is humiliated, but can’t utter a word because the men in the next room would find out about her presence. The scene was quite unpleasant and morbidly erotic, with the camera slowly ascending from Leonora’s feet to her legs, belly and face – yet it’s absolutely not vulgar.

Offscreen: There is an extremely violent scene, in which Merenda’s acolytes kill a man who gave them fake passports, which seems cut as well.

Francesco Barilli: They kick him to death. I guess it was just too violent: these guys keep kicking the poor man in the face as he’s lying on the ground, while outside a storm is raging. Perfume of the Lady in Black and Pensione Paura were both cut for TV broadcast. On Perfume I was allowed to operate the cuts myself, whereas Pensione Paura was butchered without them even asking me.

Offscreen: Did you shoot different versions of the most erotic scenes for Pensione Paura, one for Italy and the other for the Spanish market?

Francesco Barilli: No, I’ve never been asked to. I know it was a common practice at that time, though.

Offscreen: Did you choose the cast or was it imposed by the producer?

Francesco Barilli: No, I chose all the actors. However, actors are not a problem… unlike producers, I shall add. And sometimes directors too! (laughs).

Offscreen: What about Luc Merenda?

Francesco Barilli: Oh, Luc is such a wonderful guy! I lived at his place for about three months, and lots of funny things happened! You see, there were lots of girls calling from all over Italy, even late at night. “It’s me, Luc. Eugenia from Trento… remember me?” “ “I’m sorry, Luc’s in Paris now… “Come on, it’s you, Luc, I know… “ Those phone calls were surreal… sometimes these girls were masturbating on the phone, thinking I was Luc! (laughs)

Offscreen: Merenda’s character is quite cool.

Francesco Barilli: He was just perfect. He thanked me when he saw the finished film, because I’d let him play a character that was quite different from his usual tough cop roles. He had this black moustache, hair smarmed down… a perfect Italian gigolo of the Forties.

Offscreen: You managed to put several weird characters in the film, such as the parish priest who stares lewdly at Leonora Fani, while making conjuring tricks.

Francesco Barilli: I invented that thing on the set. The actor was a real-life usurer who lived in Manziana, where we were shooting. I saw him doing those tricks with a coin during lunch break, so I told him: “Get yourself dressed as a priest and come with me.” In the original script the character was just a priest, whereas I wanted him to be obscene, slimy, repellent …

Offscreen: Adolfo Waitzmann’s music was good, too.

Francesco Barilli: Waitzmann was good, he had worked mainly with Spanish directors [such as Jess Franco, Ed.].

Offscreen: While on perfume you had worked with Nicola Piovani…

Francesco Barilli: Exactly. That was his first important film.

Offscreen: Unlike your first film, Pensione Paura was badly distributed theatrically.

Francesco Barilli: You see, the main problem was the producer, who was inept. I told him not to sell Pensione Paura to Euro Films (which was about to go bankrupt) but to some other distributor, which would pay less but would guarantee the movie ample distribution all over Italy. But he didn’t listen to me, and just when the film was ready, Euro Films bankrupted. That’s why Pensione Paura came out just in a couple of major towns, like Turin, for a couple of days, then it disappeared. I abandoned it to its destiny, because I had had enough of quarrelling with Dazzi. Some years ago I discovered that the same story had been used for a Spanish TV movie in 3 or 4 parts: there is a young girl alone in a big hotel inhabited by these weird guests, and the Spanish civil war instead of WWII. I found it out by chance, while zapping late at night on satellite channels. I found out they can do this, because the Spanish coproducer had the rights to the script for his own country. Anyway, they can do whatever they want with it. Frankly, I never cared much for Pensione Paura. I only like some things in the film: most of all the atmosphere, the place…

Offscreen: Where did you shoot Pensione Paura? The hotel in which the story takes place is truly an unsettling location…

Francesco Barilli: We shot it near Bracciano’s lake, even if the film is set in Northern Italy. The hotel is in Manziana, a small village about 20 miles from Bracciano: there were these abandoned hot baths, which are stunning and highly dramatic at the same time. I used them for the scene in which Leonora Fani gets rid of the victim’s bodies.

Offscreen: I think the film benefits enormously from this claustrophobic setting: the hotel is a cloistral microcosm, separated from the rest of the world and only sporadically reached by the echoes of war, such as in the beautiful scene in which the guests are dining while an air raid is taking place in the distance…

Francesco Barilli: Yeah, that was a good scene. But we had no money, I had to shoot the film on a shoestring, improvising on the set from time to time.

Offscreen: What about the melodramatic ending, which seems in jarring contrast with the rest of the movie? Was it your idea?

Francesco Barilli: No, that was in Barbara Alberti’s original script, and I didn’t like it at all. I got extremely pissed off, because I wanted the film to end in a quite different way –I can’t remember how, right now. However, we had lots of arguments about that damn ending.

Offscreen: So working with Barbara Alberti was not easy…

Francesco Barilli: Don’t get me wrong – we were good friends. The real problem was the producer, Dazzi, who had co-written the story. Whenever I tried to change something, he gave me hell. But you know, I’m not a very good-tempered guy. On the set of Pensione Paura we often had these arguments, because I was being told: “We’re not going to shoot this scene, as it’s not in the script!” I didn’t even listen. I just placed the camera and shot it. And I edited the film the way I wanted to.

Offscreen: Were you offered other horror films after Pensione Paura?

Francesco Barilli: No. Just before Pensione Paura, as I told you, I wanted to do that giallo, Il Vento Nei Cespugli di Rose. I still regret it fell apart, as it was such a good script. Anyway, I always loved film noir more than horror, even though some of my favourite directors made lots of horror flicks, like Polanski and Romero. Night of the Living Dead still gives me the creeps. But my favourite writer is Raymond Chandler: his brilliance in describing characters is just amazing.

Offscreen: Is there any other project you still keep in your drawer?

Francesco Barilli: Well, I’ve been trying to make a giallo set in ancient Rome for the last ten years. I had discovered an obscure authoress who had written a series of excellent period whodunits, and tried to convince everyone to let me put one of them on screen, but producers laughed at me. Now this woman writer – her name is Comastri – has become one of Italy’s best selling phenomenons, and now people keep telling me: “Why don’t you make a movie out of those books? They’re terrific!” (laughs) You see, I always tried to make films which would be good for the foreign markets as well, like The Perfume of the Lady in Black which was sold all over the world. My idea of an exportable Italian movie is Mario Camerini’s Ulysses with Kirk Douglas – by the way, I’d like to remake Homer’s tale in a contemporary setting, it would be fun. But of course, after finishing this TV movie, I’d been offered another one called Padri which is once again about fathers and sons. And guess who’s starring? Fabrizio Frizzi! (laughs) [Note: Frizzi is a popular, obnoxious TV host] Another movie I’d like to do is a weird story set in a prison: I showed it to a TV executive and he said: “Gee, that’s great! What about Harvey Keitel in the lead?” (laughs) Same old story… What’s more, making TV movies you have to suffer so many limits, because your work is going to be shown on prime time.

Offscreen: No sex, no violence, no obscene language…

Francesco Barilli: Sure, and if you put a little spice in your film, be sure it’ll be broadcasted late at night… unless they just put it on a shelf and leave it there.

Offscreen: Your directorial comeback is dated 1991, with Le Chiese di Legno (Wooden Churches), an episode of the omnibus film La Domenica Specialmente written by Tonino Guerra…

Francesco Barilli: That was really a tragedy! (laughs). Every film I make is a tragedy (laughs). When Amedeo Pagani came to me with Tonino Guerra’s script and offered it to me, I was to be the director of all four episodes. Then I had a crazy idea: why not make a movie together with three other directors, who would alternate behind the camera? When I’d stop and have lunch, another one would take my place, without me knowing what he’d do, and so on. The filmmakers I had chosen were Carlo Mazzacurati, Daniele Luchetti and Alessandro D’Alatri. Then one day there was a terrible quarrel between Tonino Guerra and Mazzacurati. Guerra had just written the episode “Il cane blu” (The Blue Dog), which then was made by Giuseppe Tornatore, and we were having dinner at his hometown, Sant’Arcangelo. Mazzacurati came with his wife: big mistake, never bring your wife to work. What’s more, Mazzacurati started to explain to Guerra how he wanted to change his story: there would be no more “blue dog”, instead Mazzacurati wanted a catfish, then he planned to put in the film the town major travelling on the river with a boat, and so on. It ended up with Guerra yelling at him like mad: “How dare you? I worked with Antonioni, Angelopoulos…

Offscreen: So the project had to be totally reworked.

Francesco Barilli: Exactly. The film I had in mind died and we called three other directors: there was Giuseppe Bertolucci, Marco Tullio Giordana who didn’t do a bad job with his episode… and of course Tornatore, who ruined everything! Because in the meantime he won the Oscar with Cinema Paradiso, he felt he could dictate the rules. So he went to the producer and asked him to cut the framing story I had directed, otherwise he would ask for his episode to be removed from the film. We even quarrelled, but the film eventually came out in the US without my episode. What’s more, he claimed to change the original editing after the film’s premiere. Tornatore’s really an insufferable person. Shooting La Domenica Specialmente was a terrible experience, even though with such a great script I’d do that film again just tomorrow.

Offscreen: Your episode, Le Chiese di Legno, with a man wandering through the night in a chaotic summer resort by the sea, is truly remarkable.

Francesco Barilli: Well, it was rather experimental. The editing was peculiar: the film starts out with a bang, with flashy cuts and subliminal shots to the rhythm of house music, then it becomes very slow, contemplative, ecstatic. If I can’t make experiments, I don’t have fun.

Offscreen: Changing your style on every movie is quite challenging.

Francesco Barilli: Yeah, the problem is that this way I make a film every ten years! (laughs)

Offscreen: But you had the chance to stand in front of the camera as well, as an actor, on Luciano Mannuzzi’s Sabato Italiano (1992) and Mauro Bolognini’s Casa Ricordi (1993).

Francesco Barilli: Casa Ricordi was fun to do. I knew Barbareschi on the set –it was such a big budget production, with lots of “name” actors involved. Bolognini saw me in Sabato Italiano, and wanted me to play Puccini, then one day he called me: “Massimo Ghini will play Puccini, whereas you’ll be Giovanni Ricordi! ” “Listen,” I objected, “I look more like Giuseppe Verdi… ” “No, you’ll play Ricordi!” I insisted, but to no avail. Then, at dress rehearsal, they gave me a black dinner-jacket, with top hat and a scarf. When Bolognini saw me he was left speechless: “Gee, but you do look like Verdi!” (laughs) Too late, they had already cast another actor (Mariano Rigillo) for the role. Casa Ricordi cost a lot of money, about 14 billion liras, but the result in my opinion was mediocre. Bolognini didn’t care much about the film. Sometimes I asked him: “Mauro, why don’t you do a tracking shot or use a dolly, with all this money we have?” Too bad. However, the film was widely sold abroad. Recently I made a giallo/horror tv series, 3 Casi per Laura C starring Barbareschi’s former lover, Lucrezia Lante Della Rovere. These are extremely violent TV movies.

Offscreen: There have been polemics because of the violence, indeed.

Francesco Barilli: I was in the third and last instalment, playing an alcoholic Roman nobleman who may or may not be a murderer. It was weird stuff, and as we were shooting I kept asking myself: “Do they really think this will be shown on prime time?” You see, there was blood, razorblades…The atmosphere was macabre, but I just couldn’t figure out what the story was about! (laughs)

Offscreen: Is there any contemporary horror novel you’d love to put your teeth into?

Francesco Barilli: An author I absolutely love is Stephen King. Whatever he writes is destined to become a movie. He’s infallible. Every page, an idea. Think about The Green Mile. It’s just a fable after all, and like many other King novels it’s full of stuff you’ve read somewhere else before. But it’s got those marvellous characters, such as the gigantic black prisoner… King knows how to make you love a character. When you’ve finished the book, you think of them like comrades.

Offscreen: Did you like the movie?

Francesco Barilli: Well, it was not on a par with the book, still very engrossing. We just couldn’t make a movie like that in Italy, and you know why? We don’t have the mice! (laughs) You remember the mouse in the film, don’t you? I’m sure there was at least one trainer on set to take care the mouse would do what it was required to in the script. Whereas in Italy they give you an ordinary mouse, then you have to make do for yourself! (laughs) Anyway, speaking of writers, these days I’m reading Fogazzaro’s Maolombra. I’ve been offered to make a film of it, starring Stefania Rocca.

Offscreen: Mario Soldati made a film of Malombra in the ‘40s. It’s sort of a Gothic novel, with the lead character being obsessed by the thought of her dead lover.

Francesco Barilli: Yes, I saw Soldati’s film, which is not so good. There is also a silent version directed by Carmine Gallone. The book is very slow, but the story is so beautiful. It’s set in the nineteenth century, but I want the movie to be set in 1910, and press the pedal on the Gothic imagery, with séances and so on. Obsessive love is such a powerful theme.

Offscreen: Speaking of literary references, did the title The Perfume of the Lady in Black pay homage to Gaston Leroux’s novel?

Francesco Barilli: No, it’s got nothing to do with the book, which I didn’t even know about. The title was born by sheer chance: one day D’Avack and I were writing the scene in which Mimsy Farmer’s mother is perfuming in front of a huge mirror, all dressed in black, by a terrace. I was raving, as usual (laughs): “I want to shoot the scene in studio, with a patently fake sunset in the distance so as to pay homage to Hitchcock…” and so on. And suddenly the title came to my mind. A month afterwards, we found out about Leroux’s novel.

Offscreen: The terrace scene, when Farmer throws herself down and then all the lights suddenly shut out, is quite beautiful.

Francesco Barilli: There are two shots missing on that scene. There wasn’t enough time to shoot them, you know. It was the very last day, about midnight, and we had all been working like mad to keep on schedule. There had to be a shot of Mimsy on the moulding and a reverse shot of the void beneath her. But we needed three/four hours more to set the camera and lights… it was the only scene I had to keep out of the movie.

Offscreen: How much time did it take to shoot The Perfume of the Lady in Black ?

Francesco Barilli: Eight weeks. It was a big budget production, all shot in English for foreign markets. The Perfume of the Lady in Black even won a prize at the San Francisco Festival and one at the Noir Film Festival in Barcelona. It caused a sensation when it came out: some said I was sort of a genius, others claimed I should quit directing, as I was hopeless! (laughs)

Offscreen: So the critics were divided, some loved it, some hated it…

Francesco Barilli: Indeed. Elderly film critics, the most prestigious one, were mad at me, because of the graphic violence I think; what’s more, they just couldn’t understand why a director who had worked with Bertolucci would chose a horror story for his film debut. It was like a treason, to them. Whereas younger critics and intellectuals loved the way I tried to blend atmosphere and cruelty. Anyway, the film made lots of money, even if I never really liked it.

Offscreen: In 1987 you directed a documentary for the 50th anniversary of Cinecittà, which was shown all over the world…

Francesco Barilli: Yeah, it opened a number of festivals and even won a prize in Vienna. That was a marvellous experience, because I had the chance to film great directors at work: when I shot it, Bernardo was shooting the Last Emperor, Terry Gilliam was working on Baron of Munchausen, Fellini was on the set of L’Intervista. By the way, Fellini didn’t want anyone to film or take pictures while he was shooting, so I had to hide with my camera operator behind a tree. But he eventually noticed me, got really pissed off and started running at me with a megaphone in hand, shouting… until he stumbled and fell on the ground! I put it all in my film, even if they kept telling me: “You’ve got to leave this stuff out!” “You are crazy! Are we gonna make a documentary on Cinecittà without Fellini? He is the true symbol of Cinecittà, since he created all his own fantastic world there!” So I eventually convinced them to keep that segment for the film’s premiere, even though I knew I’d have to cut it afterwards. There were a thousand people that night, including the Prime Minister… and of course Fellini! Believe me, I was so embarrassed… anyway, when they saw the scene, with Fellini shouting at the megaphone, running towards the camera and stumbling on the yard, the audience got up and broke into a huge, long, spontaneous burst of applause in homage to the great filmmaker. Later on, Fellini invited me to dinner and told me: “That was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen about Cinecittà.” What I mean is: don’t listen to anyone, just do what you feel like doing. If I had listened to the producers, that magic, casual moment would have been left out. If I have to do things wrong, I want it to be my fault, not the producer’s.

Offscreen: Your latest work is a TV movie for RAI television, Giorne da Leone, starring Luca Barbareschi.

Francesco Barilli: Being a painter, to me cinema is a succession of images. No matter if it’s made for the small or the big screen. You see, these last years I’ve watched Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander about ten times: even though it’s made for television, it’s so beautifully shot and photographed…a real masterpiece. So, who cares if it’s not ‘real’ cinema, if you know what I mean. That’s why I accepted this job for RAI television: I saw it as a challenge. First of all, it was a comedy, and I had never done comedy before, since my previous movies were all very different, and rather crazy too. Then, I wanted to make a TV movie just as if I was working for the big screen. Of course I did not tell them! (laughs) Anyway, at the beginning everybody in RAI was desperate: “Who’s going to direct this one? Barilli?!? That pain in the ass?” But my elder son told me: “Dad, be a good boy this time!” (laughs) And so I did. The executives were bewildered, since they thought I would be impossible to work with. My problem –if you can call it a problem– is that I won’t shoot unless things are exactly the way I want them to be. I am the director, so what? Whereas producers would prefer Aladdin’s genius of the lamp, who’ll make a film out of nothing without ever questioning them. This time, for instance, they wanted me to shoot extra scenes in order to make the story more comprehensible for a TV audience. I shot those scenes, but never edited them. I thought they were just useless. You see, TV producers ask you to put lots of exposition scenes in your film because they think people will go to the bathroom, lose their attention, get off the sofa for a glass of water… What the hell do I care about them? Am I making films for people with prostatic problems? (laughs) Moreover, they keep telling you: “The audience is ignorant, they don’t understand a thing of what’s going on…” This way, they are creating television for the mentally retarded, feeding viewers with stuff like “The Big Brother” show. Gee, it’s unbelievable…

Offscreen: What’s Giorne da Leone about?

Francesco Barilli: It’s a kind of an autobiographic story, about a photographer for the National Geographic, who embarks on a trip through Italy in order to meet the five children he has had with different women: this journey is the chance for him to discover he has got a family after all. It’s a sort of road movie, you know. Therefore, I tried to show something different than the usual anonymous interiors, because I wanted people to discover a part of Italy just like this man discovers how it feels to be a father. So I shot the film all over Italy. There was a scene set in Riccione, by the Adriatic sea, in which Barbareschi and his children are eating sandwiches all together, on a bench. Well, initially it had to be filmed by a blank wall, a hundred yards by the hotel where the crew was staying. But I refused: Riccione is a small but lovely village, so it makes no sense at all to shoot on location only to end up in front of a wall. So I asked the set to be moved a hundred yards farther, by an exquisite fountain (which, by the way, had been designed by Tonino Guerra). The crew was upset: “What’s wrong with this set, Mr. Barilli?” “Listen, guys, we’re making a movie, aren’t we?” Of course, when they saw the rushes, they were delighted: “Gee, what a beautiful scene!” Well, always better than shooting by a blank wall! (laugh) Whereas other directors work assembly-line style, trying to please the producer in order to make one more film, always keeping quiet and never raising their voice. And their movies are crap.

Offscreen: Did you have any problem working with Barbareschi, who’s notoriously hot-tempered?

Francesco Barilli: Not at all. On the first day of shooting, though, he tried to be clever: “Why don’t you do some close-ups of my face for this scene?” I didn’t even answer. From then on he kept quiet. Barbareschi is a good actor, however; just don’t mention Cannibal Holocaust to him…. (laughs) However, on this movie I acted as I always did: just like an ostrich, putting my head under the sand whenever a producer would try to make me do something I didn’t want to, and then shooting the film just the way I wanted to! (laughs) By the way, Mario Scaccia, with whom I worked on Perfume, is in it too. He’s very old… I think he’s 85, still alive and kicking!

Offscreen: Will you be working again for television?

Francesco Barilli: I’ve already been asked, in case the film is successful, to shoot a sequel. But if I have just told the story of a man who gradually changes along the film’s three hours until he eventually learns how to be a father, what should I say more? Then, since in the film Barbareschi refuses to leave for an important photo session in Amazonia in order to stay with his children, I told RAI I’d rather shoot the sequel abroad, with all the family reunited for a journey in Australia. Of course, they looked at me as if I was a loony! (laughs) They’d rather want me to tell the story of each child as they grow up, making it like a sort of teen soap opera, and I’m not doing that, no way.

Offscreen: You don’t seem to like young Italian directors very much, do you?

Francesco Barilli: It’s not that I don’t like them… I mean, I don’t like Silvio Soldini films, he makes a kind of cinema that I absolutely despise. For years we’ve been making movies about the couple who lives next door, without ever telling who these people really are. Those movies all looked the same: there’s a crisis, she is insufferable, he’s a poor asshole… You see, I love Kusturica films, because they give you a slice of true life: he can tell stories of gypsy people, about whom you never even cared before, yet he makes you fall in love with his characters. His films are full of alcohol, animals, ideas. This is the kind of pictures I love, because they have got a soul. I don’t care whether it’s the story of a Milan bank teller or an astronaut: the point is, you gotta have a story to tell, and a good one indeed. Whereas nowadays directors simply don’t know which story to tell. You see, I always tried to make ‘different’ films. The ones I love the most are those I wrote and I eventually did not make. I still have the scripts, never sold ’em. Maybe one day I’ll make these movies… or maybe not. Pasolini used to say that the most beautiful films are the ones you dream and you never make, and that’s true. Lately I’ve been writing very strange scripts: I mean, I find them perfectly normal, but when producers read them, they get upset, because they want you to write the same story, over and over. That’s why they keep making horrible flicks which nobody wants to see, that’s why young Italian filmmakers can’t grow up.

Offscreen: What would you like to do next?

Francesco Barilli: I asked RAI to let me make a giallo. I would write the script with my friend Carlo Lucarelli Note: Lucarelli is Italy’s most renowned mystery writer, who has co-scripted Argento’s latest, Sleepless; Alex Infascelli’s Almost Blue is based upon his novel of the same name. The story I have in mind is set in Romagna, by the sea. I’d like to shoot it in winter, when this region almost looks like an eerie no man’s land. There’s a city called Cesenatico which looks like a ghost town in winter. You could shoot a post-atomic flick in it.

Offscreen: And RAI didn’t accept? I mean, Lucarelli is such a famous name in Italy, his books sell like hot cakes…

Francesco Barilli: The fact is, they are afraid of gialli: they want to produce “safe” films for the whole family, innocuous comedies and the like. To them, ‘gialli’ are mafia movies like La Piovra, not mystery stories. Whereas I would like to make a film noir, the story of an insurance agent who is sent to Romagna to investigate a case and finds himself trapped in a web of deception and murder…

Offscreen: Sounds great, but not innocuous at all…

Francesco Barilli: Indeed! That’s why they peed in their pants when I told ‘em about it. Hell, they even tried to censor dialogue in this comedy I just finished directing, because they didn’t want any four-letter word in it. “This is OK, this is not…” I did my best ostrich impersonation a

Francesco Barilli Interview

Roberto Curti is an Italian film critic and film historian who lives in Cortona, Italy and has written many books on Italian cinema, with a focus on Popular cinemas. He’s a regular contributor to Nocturno and has collaborated, among others, to the Spanish mag Quatermass. In 2003 he co-wrote (with Tommaso La Selva) Sex and Violence, a volume on extreme cinema, which is in its second edition, 2007, and in 2004 a Spanish-published monography on James Coburn, El samurai del oeste (The Samurai of the West). He is also the author of Italia odia (Italy Hates, 2006), an in-depth history of Italian crime and noir films, and Stanley Kubrick: Rapina a mano armata (Stanley Kubrick: The Killing, 2007), an in-depth analysis of Kubrick’s The Killing, Demoni e dei, a book on the devil and god in American horror cinema, and Fantasmi D’Amore, a book on the Italian gothic across cinema, literature and television. Since then he has published many books in English on Italian cinema for McFarland Press, including Italian Crime Filmography 1968-1980 (2013); Diabolika: Supercriminals, Superheroes and the Comic Book Universe in Italian Cinema (2016), Tonino Valeri: The Films (2016), Mavericks of Italian Cinema: Eight Unorthodox Filmmakers, 1940s-2000s (2018); Riccardo Freda: The Life and Works of a Born Filmmaker (2017), and a trilogy of volumes on Italian Gothic Horror Films (1957-1969; 1970-1979; 1980-1989) in 2015, 2017, 2019 respectively. He has also written the monograph on Blood and Black Lace in the Devil’s Advocates series for Auteur Publishing (2019).

Volume 15, Issue 12 / December 2011 Interviews   italian cinema   italian horror