With a bright and expressive colour palette mixed with a smooth new rhythm and blues soundtrack, Delia Simonetti’s promo for David Blank and PNKSAND’s Foreplay is a gorgeous celebration of Afro-Italians in Milan. Using references from paintings and capturing its subjects against large sheets that evoke an artist’s atelier, it blurs the line between music video and fashion shoot, perfectly complementing the song’s retro-futuristic vibe. Created with the help of a tightly-knit community residing in Milan, Foreplay boldly seeks to reassert the contribution of Black and queer people to contemporary Italian culture. We caught up with director Simonetti to talk about taking inspiration from the theatre, the in-depth collaboration with set, hair and costume design and her desire to direct more music videos in the future.
How did you first get in touch with David Blank?
I already knew Protopapa the artist’s manager. The artist was famous in Italy, but I never heard about him. Then I happened to listen to a song by him; he usually does this kind of new soul. It was like a brick fell on my head, I really loved the song. I wrote to a friend of mine asking if we could do something together. When we talked about it the first time, he introduced me to this song with another singer. After meeting the manager, we met all together.
Do you have a strong relationship to the Afro-Italian community?
I have a lot of friends here in Milan. They’re usually people I’ve met through my queer community in Milan. Milan is probably the most international city in Italy but it’s not even close to places like London, New York or even Paris. It’s starting with the new generation to have more integration in every level of society.
Do you feel that in contemporary Italy, there is not enough acknowledgement of Black and African contribution to culture?
Yeah. Italians value the concept of family by blood a lot. This is in every aspect, especially in fashion, with everything that’s “Made in Italy”. For a lot of people, it’s really difficult: you can have things that are made in Italy, but don’t ‘count’ as they’re not done by someone who has been Italian for five generations. Italy is really slow in this.
With every shot and person we changed the lights.
The film has a sharp sense of cinematography, with the use of some gorgeous split diopter shots with one character talking and the other holding still. Can you walk me through the approach?
I’d never worked with the cinematographer Alessandro Ubaldi before, but we have the same references. We wanted to do something that looked like paintings in motion. In everything I do, I really value movement in conversation, as it’s something I started doing in theatre. From the cinematography part, I think the interesting thing is there are no big lights at all. It’s always really small but with a lot of different angles. With every shot and person we changed the lights.
The colour of the film feels very expressive, almost like technicolour…
The colour is the thing we worked on most. There was one week of editing, then one or two weeks of colour correction. As I’m terrible in colour correction, I think I’m the nightmare of every editor. It was very difficult to match the colours with the backgrounds and clothes. I’m not always a fan of correction that is super bright in style, but I had a feeling that in this world it was the only way to give proper attention to everything in the composition.
It looks like everyone was having fun during the shoot!
One thing that was really good in general is that it was a really joyful set. Everybody was really happy. The strange thing was that it wasn’t stressful at all — even if we had to shoot twenty people individually, changing lights for every person. It was a nice atmosphere as the talents know each other: they felt they were with friends. I mean, it’s a small network. People told me that they felt really comfortable as they weren’t really pushed into doing anything. Of course, there were a couple of people who were a bit shy but they felt they had time. The most important part was that they felt comfortable.
The film looks like it’s set in an artist’s studio. Did you want to make it look like everyone is coming in to have their portrait done?
We wanted to create a transition from the Italian classical and Renaissance paintings to a more contemporary and inclusive Italian art, where a lot of Italian paintings are used as specific references and archetypes. The set designer Binta Diaw is an artist basically. She usually does something totally different, working more with raw materials and the smallest paintings. I think she saw this as a massive challenge as she’d never worked with the dimensions of a set. But she worked really closely with the props master and the DoP to manage the lights behind the sheets to kind of resemble the sky in paintings.
We wanted to do something that looked like paintings in motion.
This is complemented by the glamorous costume and hairstyling. How did you collaborate on this?
It’s similar to the talent. The three girls who did the hair styling are three people that usually do hair here in Milan for the African community. There was one girl always on set who worked mostly with hair. The other did the hair before people arrived, because hair like this lasts a month, so it was something done the day before. The Stylist Thais Montessori Brandao also proposed a lot of hairstyling, so worked closely with the set design and everyone else. I have the feeling she came with a lot of ideas that basically achieved the shots by themselves.
What are you working on next?
I’m trying to do more music videos and I would love to work more in London. It depends on how things are going. For sure, the thing for me is to move more into music videos. I’m also working in fashion, but I think the music video was a part I forgot for some time, so it’s nice to be back on it.
Foreplay is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.