Interview: Massimo Donati • Director of Diario di Spezie – “It was important for me to keep elements of film noir alive within a subversive structure” – /Italy

“It was important for me to keep elements of film noir alive within a subversive structure”

– The Italian writer-director speaks of the book-to-screen adaptation of this story exploring figurative art and the art of cooking

Figurative art and the art of cooking. Restoration and spices. What obscure links exist between Luca Treves (Lorenzo Richelmy), a famous chef and expert in spices, and Andreas Dürren Fischer (Fabrizio Ferracane), a famous restorer of Flemish paintings? Massimo Donati made his writing debut with Diario di Spezie [+see also:
interview: Massimo Donati
film profile] and has now signed his name to this film version, too, which is the only Italian title competing in the Noir in Festival. The cast stars Fabrizio Rongione as Chief Inspector Philippe Garrant and Galatea Bellugi as Juliette/Rose. Diario di Spezie is expected to be released in Italian cinemas in the spring.

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Cinecittà News: This represents two firsts for you, in terms of writing and film direction. Where do you feel most at ease?
Massimo Donati: Literature is always a slower process; it took many years to write the book, not least because I didn’t come from a writing background: I graduated in Physics, then I went to film school, leaning towards theatre at a certain point and then pursuing film-related activities, initially documentaries. The book was born out of a story for a film which I wrote on the occasion of the Solinas Prize. I had this story in my head, which was part arthouse and part genre: the real adrenaline-hit for me was the film; when shooting kicked off, it was a huge leap; when the cameras start rolling and it comes together, or it’s a total catastrophe… And I think it did come together, not least because of the huge amount of prep we carried out with the actors, who were very keen to make themselves available.

Why did you see Richelmy as the perfect chef for this story, and Ferracane as having the mindset of a restorer with a passion for haute cuisine?
Richelmy has the softness and gentleness that I wanted for the character. And then he won me over with his incredibly deep questions and analyses, which we then used to develop the character, and which were so convincing they caused me to overhaul everything I’d previously thought about the character. Fabrizio’s face and the way he speaks are things which fed into the development of Andreas: straight away, he communicated strength and truth to me, which were a key part of the character, in my mind. He has this great authenticity, both in real-life and in his performances, and Andreas is a character who triumphs in his bleak existence, and when it comes to his true nature as a human being.

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What led you to believe art and cooking would make the perfect recipe for a thriller?
Ideas relating to art and cooking in the film came from passions which I still nurture: I became interested in cooking before TV programmes were made about it; all different details fascinated me. I read specialised magazines, I liked reading and hearing about cooking… I made decisions with a view to enhancing the value of what we could film: for example, we shot in a castle which was quite varied, architecturally speaking, and we highlighted its existing artistic elements, such as the little medieval chapel, which we used as a backdrop. In terms of the food, we collaborated with professionals who tried to convey taste through images, which is why the dishes were put together with a particular focus on colours, shapes and lay-out, and not just in the aesthetic sense: the role of food changes within the film, from the first feast scene to the point where it expresses voraciousness in the face of life, and on until the final fight.

Diario di Spezie is also a story about dual identities: Andreas/De Ober, Juliette/Rose, and Luca’s father’s “double”.
Doubles are classic figures in noir films. In my mind, it was important to keep certain figures characteristic of the genre alive within a somewhat subversive structure, especially in terms of the plot, in order to avoid startling viewers. I’ve studied crime films and, more recently, American noir films, in depth: I wanted to convey an arthouse feel but I didn’t want to lose the noir aspects. So doubles make their return here, as do various other elements which lay down the tracks for the film’s direction; for example, water is generally associated with life, but here it’s associated with death, which was an intentional and considered decision. Obviously, I looked to Melville and his classic works, not least for the sense of bewilderment that I so often read in his characters, somewhat dangerous and lost souls in an infinite metropolis where they feel all alone: it definitely inspired the character played by Rongione so perfectly, whose imagination brings a French feel to proceedings.

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(Translated from Italian)

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