The dream scenario of every acquisitions person is to find the gem which lies buried and undiscovered. No one knows of it and somehow it comes only to you. The big dilemma for a jaded acquisition executive who is tired out from watching at least five films a day is, Is the film as good as it seems? It is difficult to judge objectively a film when one’s instincts are blunted by too many mediocre films and when no one else is talking about the film.
When the press announcement of my joining IndieWIRE was released, I heard from many people including quite a number of old friends with whom I had lost touch. One of these sent greetings to me and I returned them. Then I received an email from a producer who told me that my old friend had referred him to me and he invited me to see his film which he was screening privately during Cannes. Written by one of the co-writers of Gomorrah, one of my favorite film in Cannes in 2008, the film had an immediate allure for me.
Once seated, as I watched the credits, I saw Beatrice Kruger, Europe’s top casting director (e-Talenta European Actors & Artists Connection at www.e-talenta.eu) had cast it and Sigrid Narjes, Germany’s top talent and literary agent (Above the Line) was also given a credit. These are two of my best friends in the business and so my eagerness to see the film was increased. However, during the opening shots I had that horrible feelling that I was about to watch a horror film, the sort of film I gave up seeing after Nightmare on Elm Street 2 (1 is my all time favorite horror film) because I could not stomach the anxiety and fear horror films create in me. But something held me in my seat. By the end, I was totally riveted to it. This film’s suspense is what makes the viewer endure fear and malaise. And yet nothing is horror or supernatural in it. All the well delineated characters are basic and realistic people and all they are doing are basic and human deeds. There are no zombies or vampires, though at some moments one fears that the woman next door to the house a young Italian man inherits from his father might be a witch.
This film reminds me of the 1988 film The Vanishing by Dutch director George Sluizer, a picture which made viewers experience a malaise and dread unexplainable by its simple telling of events. And like The Vanishing, it is the film, not a remake of the film which is the masterpiece.
I have mentioned it to some people, not wanting to reveal its name until the producer and director had a clear strategic plan on how to get it into the market, but I finally broke down and mentioned it by name to two friends who are also acquisitions executives and who were doing the usual acquisition dance, complaining and fearing they would not find a film worth going for. Yet, oddly enough, I had the feeling they would not follow up on my revelation that I had just seen the best film I had seen in quite a while, and certainly the best of films unattached to any sales agent or distributor. I can hear the usual objections: It’s in Italian and yet is a “genre” film — though it defies any genre definition. It’s a mixed genre — another reason for turning it down. It’s by an unknown first time director and first time producer, and though the cast is superb and the lead is in a very popular Italian TV series (Romanzo Criminale) selling well throughout Europe, I can hear the naysayers: There are no names, the star is from TV which doesn’t cross over.
And yet it was watched in the two private screenings by Venice and Locarno film festival programmers, and Toronto and Rome are asking to see it. This is a film that must be seen internationally and especially in the North American market because it shows us how cinema can tell a simple but emotionally riveting and effective story and also demonstrates the basic art of great cinema in all its glory. Creepy, unsettling and deeply moving.
THE HEIR (L’Erede)
A film by Michael Zampino (an Italian who studied film at NYU and just graduated)
Produced by Frederic Olllier (a French man living in Italy who has recently left film financing to produce this film)
Starring Alessandro Roja and Guia Jelo