The life of an Italian gangster makes for a heady stew of Catholic guilt and naked ambition, self-hatred and lust for power. Alessandro and Flavio Vivarini immerse us into this maelstrom of emotions, bringing in references from Christianity and Caravaggio, in their intense Mascagni’ Symphony | Inno all’Infamia (Hymn To Infamy) depicting the seedy underbelly of the Milanese underworld. Through floating widescreen frames, operatic music and poetic voiceover, the viewer is both entranced and repelled by violent men and the way they wield authority. With a great eye for authenticity, bravura editing and a sense that anything can happen, the latest chapter in their Mascagni’ Symphony pays a multilayered homage to the streets of their youth. Ahead of today’s premiere, we had the chance to chat with the brothers about personal inspiration, using heavy colour contrasts, researching the accounts of Judge Giovanni Falcone (himself murdered by the Sicilian mafia), and creating an ethereal, haunting quality through voiceover.

You are from Milan yourselves. Growing up, did you ever encounter this atmosphere that you created in this film? Did this inspire you to make it?

Flavio Vivarini: We grew up just a few kilometres north of Milan’s iconic Duomo, in a small neighbourhood that bears the name of its main street: Via Pietro Mascagni. Drawing inspiration from the famous composer, we chose to pay homage to him by incorporating his music and naming this collection of stories Mascagni’ Symphony. Through this, we aimed to elevate our neighborhood as a symbolic representation of the entire province.

I want to clarify that it is not a ghetto at all; rather, it is an isolated area, part of a vast metropolitan outskirt where different social backgrounds coexist, resulting in a mixture of poverty and ignorance that can manifest in episodes of pure madness, some of which find their way into the news headlines. Yet, it’s precisely this world that we closely observe, assuming the role of spectators. There’s a certain fascination that arises from our vantage point in the theatre, allowing us to grasp the neighbourhood’s romanticised aspect, its real struggles, distorted philosophies and genuine human needs.

We aimed to elevate our neighborhood as a symbolic representation of the entire province.

The clash between the old-school criminal and the young one portrayed in Inno all’Infamia is inspired by a grim incident that occurred just a stone’s throw from our doorstep. We reconstructed it in a narrative key, using the genre as a tool to convey our perspective on the matter. Our mission with our work is to reimagine this debauched environment in the most iconic way possible, unmasking its hypocrisy and remaining true to a damned poetics that we passionately make our own.

Was there any additional research needed to understand this world?

FV: The book Cose di Cosa Nostra is a collection of interviews by Judge Giovanni Falcone. In his discourse, among other things, the magistrate explains in detail how various noble concepts such as honour, respect, and loyalty are completely distorted when justified within a criminal context. These pages played a significant role in our project, more than any other source. For narrative development, the reading of the Gospel of Judas was crucial. The Catholic component is dominant in the short film and, besides having a close correlation with certain criminal imagery, its iconography completely captivates us.

Various noble concepts such as honour, respect, and loyalty are completely distorted when justified within a criminal context.

Other research primarily focused on the Milano crime scene of the 1970s, particularly the so-called Anni di Piombo (Years of Lead) – which we incorporated into the story. To do so effectively, we drew inspiration from the incredible investigations of Carlo Lucarelli. It’s worth mentioning that there is a notable presence of individuals who experienced those tumultuous years and now frequent the same establishments as us (former inmates or mere eyewitnesses). Their readiness to share astonishing anecdotes about robberies, brawls and ‘loose cannons’ is astonishing, which, if not for the extensive documentation found in the newspapers of that era, might be challenging to believe.

I loved the opening shot of the man being stitched up, shot from above. What was the challenge like of placing the camera and shooting the scene? It looks logistically complicated?

Alessandro Vivarini: Yes, it was. The location was quite small. We had to find a way to securely position the camera on the ceiling, which led us to climb and attach it using a metal hook. To achieve the desired visual impact, we opted for our widest lens, a 17mm, and controlled the camera remotely. The ‘God’s Eye’ perspective added a sense of solemnity and fate to the story, aligning perfectly with our creative vision. It was a deliberate choice to include this shot early on during the Prelude, setting the tone for the tragic unfolding of events, and then revisiting it later on the same character when he’s left disfigured on the ground, establishing a connection between the two scenes.

Their readiness to share astonishing anecdotes about robberies, brawls and ‘loose cannons’ is astonishing.

There are heavy contrasts in the use of colour as if to suggest additional figures lingering in the background. What kind of equipment did you use in this film and how did you approach the composition?

AV: This short film was made on a very limited budget with a minimal crew, so I decided to opt for lightweight equipment. We used the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K paired with vintage Canon FD lenses, the Zhyiun Crane 3 Lab gimbal, Arri 300 Plus lights and battery-powered RGB LED lights. Since we had a small team, I took on various technical roles, so it was crucial to have a deep understanding of the equipment.

Regarding the aesthetic choice of colour contrast, our aim was to emphasise the emotional intensity of the narrative. We had extensive discussions with our cinematographer, Andrea Donadoni, about the noir aesthetic and the raw atmosphere we wanted to create. His artistic sensibility played a crucial role in shaping the visual style of the film. He decided to rely on ambient lighting for creating dramatic shadows, employed a key light when necessary, and used a strong and often coloured rim light for backlighting. This lighting setup allowed us to achieve a raw and epic tone with strong contrasts.

They evoke the chiaroscuro of the classical paintings, which are referenced throughout. Can you tell me a little bit about these compositions, what they signify, and why you wanted to incorporate them?

AV: We aimed to visually convey the cursed tone that underlies the monologue right from the first frame. To achieve this, we immersed the scenes in darkness and utilised distinct cuts of light. The gradual contrast between the cold tonalities of the shadows and the vivid red of the parked cars symbolises the moral decline of the characters. It’s a descent into hell, and the intensifying red serves as a visual representation of the path they have chosen, leading to the damnation of their souls.

As the monologue unfolds in a stream of consciousness, characterised by its irrationality and instinctiveness, we deliberately included explicit symbolic references, particularly drawing from religious imagery. The association with Judas and the influence of Caravaggio naturally emerged, reinforcing the themes of betrayal and downfall.

You have these gorgeous wide shots which seem to float around the characters. Did you build a special rig to capture those shots? What is the benefit of widescreen?

AV: No special rig was built for that shot. The Crane 3 Lab allows for unlimited camera rotation. After setting the focus parameters, I focused on executing a 180-degree rotation while being propelled forward on a dolly, which was actually a wheelchair. The choice of such a wide format contributed to the sense of vertigo we were aiming for. We achieved the shot successfully without the need for many retakes. This particular shot holds significant symbolic value as well. The breaking of the traditional perspective, culminating in the reflection, suggests the illusory nature of the depicted world. This unconventional approach was chosen to expose the dark and hypocritical aspects concealed beneath the values expressed in the voiceover.

I love the voiceover, which really evokes this murky, morally complex world. I can feel the care that has been put into every line here. What was it like working on it? Did you know you always wanted voiceover?

FV: I’m glad you enjoyed it because I really tried to pay the utmost attention to each line in the monologue. My intention wasn’t to tell the protagonist’s story, but rather to capture his state of mind and his desire for revenge, both within the context of a profoundly twisted worldview. I aimed for a stream of consciousness that had a psychological component, allowing complete freedom for the visual style. At that point, the voiceover wasn’t just an option but the only possible solution.

I wanted the narrator to be a morally corrupt yet highly cultured individual, someone who remained ambiguous until the final frame, emphasising the fact that anyone who shares that path is inevitably destined to believe in the same dogmas and confront the same terrible demons. As a result, the project took on an ethereal quality, aiming to craft a visual experience that transcends the viewer’s rationality and delves into their subconscious.

The choice of such a wide format contributed to the sense of vertigo we were aiming for.

To me, it’s about these types of characters who believe that they might be larger than life, but as all classical gangster stories show, this life cannot necessarily be sustained forever. Even the capo di tutti capi in Sicily seem to be found in the end. What was it like sustaining that illusion before exploring how it crashes down?

FV: Your insight is remarkable. I believe that the illusion you mentioned is sustained solely by the thirst for power, a thirst that historically has not only proven insatiable but has also blinded millions of people.

Do you think some of these guys think they’re invincible or do they know they are marked for death?

FV: The concept of self-awareness is an incredibly intriguing topic that genuinely sparks differing opinions. Honestly, I don’t know how to express myself exhaustively, in the sense that I believe there isn’t just one correct answer. When delving into these situations, I am more interested in examining the motivations that compel individuals to act as they do, whether driven by circumstances beyond their control (and such cases abound in the world) or fuelled by vanity, madness, or any number of other factors. The eternal ambiguity of human nature often manifests in the most extreme circumstances, and it is within this ambiguity that the true essence of the fascination surrounding the criminal world may lie.

It’s great to see Mirko Frezza again after watching Dogman all those years ago. What was it like casting him in the project? Was he keen to take part?

Both: We never considered anyone else for that role, even during the writing process, although we had no hope of actually being able to cast him. Since we didn’t have anything to show him, we filmed a demonstration sequence: the first part of the assault, which we ended up using in the final version as well. Mirko didn’t realise it was a demo; he thought it was a reference taken from some film. However, he fell in love with the monologue. He called us to accept the role and told us that what struck him was the violence and the poetic nature of those words, which resonated not only with his own personal experiences but also with those of many people he knew.

The project for this feature film aims to delve into the themes of personal growth and individual responsibility within a corrupt setting.

On set, Mirko was more than just a professional; in fact, he truly embodied the role of an older brother, giving us his whole heart, which is truly enormous. He immediately embraced our instinctive and sometimes over-the-top approach, supporting us throughout the production process and making his vast experience and boundless talent available to us. For this, we are truly grateful to him, and we take this opportunity once again to emphasise how honoured we were to have him on our team.

So this is a spin-off of a larger screenplay? Can you tell me a little bit about your feature film project?

AV: Yes, Inno all’Infamia refers to a larger story, inspired by the same dark atmospheres. The structure revolves around the elements of the noir genre, to which I have adapted all the peculiarities of the suburb where we grew up. The project for this feature film aims to delve into the themes of personal growth and individual responsibility within a corrupt setting. Currently, in the development stage, we are actively seeking a production company that shares our vision and is interested in collaborating. As we pursue those opportunities, we decided to shoot this small series of spin-offs (Mascagni’ Symphony) as a proof-of-concept to convey the essence of the narrative universe we are exploring.

What are you working on next?

FV: At the moment, we are actively shooting the second short film in our series. It will delve into the intricate dynamics of a father-daughter relationship set against the backdrop of addiction. Unlike the previous film, this instalment will feature sparse dialogue, emphasising a strong narrative structure that amplifies the raw emotions at the core of this compelling story. Titled Idillio all’inferno (Idyll in Hell), the film aligns with our vision of incorporating a Classical Opera tone into our storytelling.

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