Samp is a professional hitman who is hired by a powerful president to kill traditionalists. On a personal level, he has psychological problems he treats with music. After killing his mother, he wanders through Puglia seeking his ideal woman. He encounters all sorts of people as he goes : nature-lovers, people out to find their roots, and an eccentric musician. Suddenly, Samp falls in love, not once, but serially. With women of little substance. He kills someone else and becomes almost human - and that humanity will put paid to his dreams of power.
Hello Antonio & Flavia, thank you for talking to The New Current, ahead of a major festival like Venice do you ever get nervous?
Flavia: I am really excited… it’s a very interesting event, especially because it’s infused with the same kind of climate-apocalypse energy that you will see in SAMP. This is the perfect moment for a movie like SAMP.
Antonio: I’m nervous anyway, it’s not the Festival that can make my temperament worse. In fact, I’m more nervous when I’m at home. Festivals, like all situations where we perform, bring relief. Once the show is over back comes the torment in a body that won’t be reconciled.
You recently received the Golden Lion for the Biennale Theatre, has it surprised you both to get this type of recognition for your body of work?
Flavia: I think it’s the proper recognition for surviving 30 years of the cultural slaughter that has surrounded us.
Antonio: The Golden Lion is an institutional award that we certainly didn’t expect since we have always shied away from the protection of various ministries. It was with great pleasure that we received this recognition. At first I slept soundly thinking of all those who will never win it and will never know how it feels to see that Lion flaunting around the house. We thank Antonio Latella for thinking of us.
Your latest film SAMP will be screened at the 77th Venice Film Festival under the Giornate Degli Autori strand, what does it mean for you to share you unique film at Venice?
Flavia: This is the third time we present a movie at the Venice Biennale. The first film was EScoriandoli in 1996: it was an intense experience…The audience was split, on one side applause and praise, on the other boos and complaints…the producer fell asleep during the screening and woke up abruptly…We wish to receive a strong feedback for SAMP, but a more favourable one.
Antonio: Flavia and I abandoned cinema at the start of the 2000s because we considered it less free than theatre. We continued shooting and editing movies but we didn’t finish them as a kind of payback against an outlook that hamstrings insolence. We can say that as authors we made films and as producers we prevented their release. Thanks to the Giornate degli Autori, a cork has been removed – Samp is the start of a second cinematic life, we have many projects that are almost completed.
Our collaboration began with cinema, in the nineties we systematically won all the independent festivals, we were a sort of integrated cash register of these “kermesses” and with the money we financed new projects. For us, temporarily abandoning the cinema was a rebellion against a system that doesn’t safeguard nonconformity. Not that the situation is better now but we are certainly better. And so, hard times for the film industry.
"The final result is extremely poetic because of the technological imperfection we offer to the audience."
Can you tell me a little bit about SAMP, what was the inspiration behind this film?
Flavia: Me and Antonio have very different sources of inspiration: when we combine our ideas we create a very contradictory narrative that mirrors our contemporary reality. I was mostly inspired by the fleshy architecture of Puglia and its “Land of remorse” (“La terra del rimorso in Italian), a book written by the anthropologist Ernesto De Martino.
Antonio: Samp was shot almost 20 years ago. It’s about a killer who kills his mother and traditions. We aged along with the film. It’s a story that throbs, unhinges and never appeases. It is what we were and what we still are with experience acting as a tutor. For us, not being so far from a catheter, showing ourselves as young is an act of coquetry applied to an ageing skin. Even though now we’re in splendid form and looking forward to at least twenty years more active frenzy.
SAMP began 2001 and was completed this year, did you ever imagine it would take 19 years to complete?
Flavia: I have to say that these years have passed in a blink, the initial spark of intuition has grown in strength with time. Instead of ageing, the movie seems to be more and more in tune with the current times.
Antonio: We never imagined such a long gestation, but we were shocked by the logistics of distribution. We are delicate, combative beings. In that period perhaps too delicate. But always on the right track.
Being so connected to a project over such a long period of time has it been hard to ‘let go’ and hand it over to audiences?
Flavia: Post-production was very long, the editor changed as well. Eugenio Smith was the editor until 2006, then came Barbara Faonio. Shooting took longer than anything else: we chose to regenerate the movie every two years. The only problem, that we turned into an opportunity, was the digital support. The final result is extremely poetic because of the technological imperfection we offer to the audience. They will give us their feedback.
Antonio: Completing Samp was certainly painful, winding things up one loses the atmosphere. But still, you can’t neutralize a work so as to hold it in your head. Because then your head explodes. Ideally one should never allow oneself to be judged by those who see, but then that inhibits the energy that revives subsequent experiences. And so it’s right to give oneself over to abandonment.
What was the process and challenges you faced making SAMP?
Flavia: The challenge was between us and with each of our selves.
Antonio: The only challenge was that of continually suspending it over the years, every time we tried to complete it we realized that it wasn’t the right time. Here in Italy autonomy is almost a disease. I’m surprised that they haven’t yet invented face masks to protect one from other people’s independence.
SAMP was filmed in Puglia, what was it about this place that connected with you both as filmmakers and as a place to tell this original story?
Flavia: The story was written specifically for Puglia: at first it was a fascination, and then we wrote a script that would only address the dynamic issue of work. Eventually we decided that SAMP is a killer, the main character, the annihilation of traditions, the quest for origins, the falling-in-love and few other points. The script was completed on the road and in the cutting room… I mean, time was our main production feature after all.
Antonio: Puglia is white, with sweeping landscapes. We are surly with rage and grouchy towards the world around us. So perhaps Puglia was a tranquilizer.
Looking back at SAMP do you think there is anything or any choices you would have done differently?
Flavia: my answer would be no….to hold regrets would be unforgivable.
Antonio: If after twenty years in the making one had regrets it would be unforgivable. I believe that Samp is what it has to be, a poetic, sublime film made of rhythm and perdition, colour and paradox. Of blind love for our way of being. No remorse, on the contrary, lots of audacity.
Coming from a renowned theatre background how do you create a sense of intimacy that is readily available in theatre but can sometimes be lost in film?
Flavia: Cinema and theatre are two completely different disciplines in terms of communication: in time we have reapplied the concept of editing to theatre but the result has nothing to do with cinema, and transferring theatre to cinema is basically impossible, the only thing they have in common is that me and Antonio develop both of them through improvisation techniques and concepts.
Antonio: I strongly disagree with those who define the films made by theatre people as theatrical films, that’s ridiculous, it’s a gross error of judgement that indicates prejudice. Our cinema is made up of absurd shapes and lopsided bodies. One who is different from the rest is not theatrical, one who is similar instead is inefficient. If two people in celluloid speak in unnatural poses they get associated with theatre. We live in a third world of perception that has no future. Intimacy cannot exist in a work of art, we are not friends with those watching the film. The relationship between he who watches and he who makes must be that of two antagonists who meet by chance.
"Such preoccupations should never arise from here to the swan-song."
How did you both meet and how has your approach to your projects evolved since you started working together?
Flavia: Despite all monotheisms and social restraints we are very strong together. We are not tied to each other by any emotional blackmail. The evolution is relentless, each creative moment could be the last one.
Antonio: We first met thirty-three years ago. We continue working together because what we do is great. Our artistic relationship will end if ever there should be a wavering of talent. Or if one of the two should prevail on the other despotically, arbitrarily. Such preoccupations should never arise from here to the swan-song.
Where did your passion for theatre and film come from?
Flavia: I have always worked in communication, with Antonio I have explored cinema and theatre, practiced at different stages according to the creative freedom that was present at each moment. We embarked on our creative journey in a photographic gallery, the FOTOGRAMMA. From there, everything else followed.
Antonio: From the desolate province where we live. There’s nothing, just us and the sea plus some other inhabitants here and there. But they mind their own business. So, our discipline, remotely controlled with crystal clear rigour, was created thanks to the absence of intuitive incentives which the province is happy to do without. Everything is going as it was intended to.
How important is the collaborative nature of your work?
Flavia: it’s essential, we work separately and then we exchange ideas.
Antonio: It’s essential to know that our philosophies will ever negate the initial integralism. Should Flavia and I ever stop working together I know that her philosophy will remain intact and she knows that mine will reflect every premise. We’re well aware that the other is a constant point of reference.
Do you have a favourite theatre quote?
Flavia: I don’t have any particular theatre quote but I always keep in my mind something Michelangelo Pistoletto once said: “for partnership I intend a non-competitive human relationship based on a perceptive and sensitive mutual understanding. Give a piece of myself to someone who is ready to give a piece of themselves. It’s the artwork that interests me”.
Antonio: “Lightheartedness should be cut off at birth” is the start of our show “Fratto X”, or “Maliciousness about shit is never justified” taken from “Fotofinish” or even “what is catarrh if not a yellow apostrophe between the words I love you” from “7-14-21-28”. I could go on and on.
Is there any advice you would offer any emerging film or theatre maker?
Flavia: learn as much as you can and then do the opposite of what you’ve learned with the same dynamic of what you learnt.
Antonio: Free yourself of any economic control and productive pressure. Art belongs to those who do it, not those who sell it. And even less those who buy it. We have proved that it’s possible to not put up with compromise. We are a beacon that can shine. So why not benefit from it. As we benefited from other shining beacons. Those who come after, start off advantaged.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from SAMP?
Flavia: Freedom of expression and a deep love for the wrong thing.
Antonio: I hope no-one will take anything away from Samp. Samp is ours and we’re not going to dismantle it. But you can take away its freedom of expression, its impertinence, the hint that if everyone was like us the world would be a better place.