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7 March 2017

At War for Love: Interview with Pif and Michele Astori

At War for Love: Interview with Pif and Michele Astori

Following their first film The Mafia Only Kills in the Summer, Pierfrancesco Diliberto (a.k.a Pif) and Michele Astori come back to London to present their new film At War for Love at Cinema Made In Italy.  Despite their busy schedule, they found the time to talk with us about their period comedy set between New York and Sicily in 1943, during the Allied invasion of Sicily. With their characteristic good-humoured and playful attitude, they discuss the relationship between the Mafia and the Allies, the Scotten Report and future films.

ICC: Is it your first time in London presenting At War for Love?

Pif: Yes, it is the first time in London. But I’ve already presented it in Madrid.

ICC: How did you come up with the idea for the film?

P: You need to ask Michele’s wife about it, because we initially wanted to talk about the resistance movement in Italy. However, it was a very difficult and problematic topic to deal with.

Michele: Indeed, it is a topic that still creates a lot of controversies.

P: It is a thorny issue. So when we were discussing the topic with his wife and we said that we were interested in setting the new film in 1943, she suggested focusing on the Allied invasion of Sicily [codenamed Operation Husky]. At first, we were against it because we felt that our authorship was called into question [laughs].

So we asked if she could stick with what she was working  on and we would continue with our tasks. But then we looked at each other and said: that’s actually a really good idea! No one else has already told this story and it would represent the prequel of The Mafia Kills Only in Summer (2013).So we, decided to adhere to this historical theory.

ICC: Did you do some research to support your theory with historical facts of World War II?

P: Yes, we did some research.

M: Very, very long research, because the audience must know this. In order to work with Pif, you need a Bachelor’s Degree in Archival Studies at least, if you want to get the job. Otherwise, it is impossible. This happens because he is so passionate about reading and studying historical documents. And then from these documents he reads, he builds on the story he wants to tell in his films. Have I spoken the truth, Master? [laughs and winks at Pif]

P: Yes, because there is the risk that the film will be shown in schools and it has to be based on historical facts. It is a feature film, so we did have more freedom compared to what we would have had in a documentary. However, the facts are true and documented. Of course, there are some other theories, but this is the most trustworthy according to several types of research.

ICC: Where did you find these documents? In Italian archives or elsewhere?

P: I don’t believe there are any documents in Italy.

M: I think there aren’t any about the Mafia in those years at all, none!

P: It is very difficult to find them, just very rarely they come up. Many historians, for example, argue that Lucky Luciano has never existed because he doesn’t appear in official records. This is true, however, we do have so many witnesses and the chain of events is so important and influential that I don’t understand how anyone can deny it.

M: In addition, we can say that the plot has developed differently since our first project. There were moments in which we didn’t know if we would be able to finish the film, because it seemed like a big,  insurmountable thing. But everything changed when we found a report written by an American Military Intelligence Officer, Captain W. E.Scotten.

P: The report is conserved here in London, at Kew Gardens.

M: This completely changed our approach towards the film. Because there are several historians that deny this theory, we needed a solid proof to sustain our argument. And this is what we were looking for. The Scotten Report was written by a U.S. Army Captain in 1943 and the main message was that the Allies were leaving Sicily in the hands of Mafia bosses.

P: This is the story of Italy and, specifically, of Sicily. What we want to explain is that Americans in Sicily did what they will also repeat in Afghanistan and Syria. They ally with the enemies of their enemies. At first, it is a strategy that works because it obtains good results, but not in the long run. In Sicily, however, the case is different. Because after Fascism, there was another enemy: the Communist threat. In this context, Sicily represented a focal point of interest for the U.S. The importance was acquired because of the proximity to a country with the biggest communist party in the western world. However, we are Americanophile and we are glad that the Allies came instead of the U.R.S.S.

M: No, the Russians, please no.

P: Despite the fact that we are not communist, we can’t deny the consequences of the Allied Invasion of Sicily. They remain still visible today. This strategic alliance between the U.S. army and the Mafia was solid and active until the fall of the Berlin Wall. Indeed, it is not just a coincidence that the first operations against the Mafia were successfully concluded only after this important event, when the communist threat did not exist anymore.

ICC: Why does the film revolve around a love story to investigate the relationship between the Mafia and the Allies?

P: The love story is just an excuse to convey a political message.

M: It is a common plot device to create engagement in the audience around a specific theme. I personally hope that, soon or later, we could talk about a specific film genre attributed to Pif’s films, a recognisable style. In this term, it is a Pif love story. Anyway, we don’t want to reduce the importance of the love story as a plot device, but it is always the start for talking about a bigger theme.

P: In addition, in Italian comedy films, there is often the story of a man facing the great challenges that History presents in front of him. After all, World War II wasn’t only about Hitler and Mussolini, but it was about thousands and thousands of stories of ordinary men.

ICC: Why did you choose Arturo Giammaresi and Flora as the protagonists of the love story again? Is there a connection between The Mafia Kills Only in the Summer and At War for Love?

P: Initially, it was just a game. Then, if I think about it, Arturo and Flora in At War for Love can be the ancestors of Arturo and Flora in The Mafia Kills Only in the Summer. And I have to say that I am getting emotionally attached to those names.

M: We might have Arturo and Flora again as the protagonists of our third film.

P: Arturo Giammaresi is very likely to be in it. I am not sure that the same will happen with Flora. Essentially, it is just a game. We don’t want to give them any symbolic or complicated meaning.

ICC: You mentioned the third film. What can you say about it?

P: As soon as we are free from our TV programmes in June, we will start working on it. But we are already discussing it every time we meet. We do several projects together, such as the radio programme we host on Rai 2, I provinciali. Whenever we have the inspiration, we talk about it. For example, while we were on the plane to London, we were considering two or three ideas.

M: Anyway, to come up with something good, you need to take your time, sit down and discuss it at length. I won’t mention the number of projects we considered before choosing At War for Love.

P: Both of us also do TV programmes, but we take different approaches for films in comparison with TV. Speaking about my approach, I think that TV is an excellent tool to talk about contemporary issues. For example, in my TV programme The Witness (Il Testimone), I take the camera with me and go filming. I believe that films, instead, must be elaborated and pondered. I personally don’t like instant movies, when the music score is the same songs you hear playing on the radio.

ICC: What topic did you have chosen for the third film? Is it still focusing on the Mafia?

P: No, we have already said that we don’t want to deal with this topic in the third film. We also did a TV series on The Mafia Kills Only in the Summer. One day, I would like to make a film about the Maxi-Processo (Maxi-Trial), from which I know they are converting the documents into a digital format. However, I don’t want to make films just about the Mafia.

We are Sicilian and, after a while, it becomes an obsession. I understood that when I couldn’t stop talking about the Mafia even with my friends. The great aspect of this job is that you can tell stories about everything and talking only about the Mafia won’t let us explore other topics.

At War for Love is nominated in several award categories for David Di Donatello 2017, the prestigious Italian film awards taking place the 27th of March in Rome.

Interview by Elena Losavio

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