Open Roads series dispatch: Dino and Filippo Gentili’s directorial debut “I Am Alive”
I attended the Friday afternoon screening of I Am Alive in the “Open Roads: New Italian Cinema” festival (a FSLC and Cinecittà Luce‘s joint presentation). In attendance was screenwriter-turned-debut director Dino Gentili who answered questions about the film for FSLC audiences (his brother Filippo, co-writer/co-director, is on the other side of the world presenting the film simultaneously at another festival).
“In Italy, we have a problem with genre,” writer/director Dino Gentili tells us. In decades past, Dario Argento, Sergio Leone, and other Italian filmmakers crafted powerful, passionate works of genre. But in more recent years, Gentili says, “we are meant to be ‘authors,’ we are required to shoot our own lives.” The Gentili brothers, with careers as professional screenwriters before deciding to direct their own script for I Am Alive, are eager to explore possibilities of returning to genre “without abandoning the auteur.”
In the film, tough, financially-struggling Rocco accepts the cash-off-the-books job to guard the corpse of beautiful, tragically young Mariam Resti overnight until her father arrives at 8:00am the next morning for the funeral service. What Rocco’s fellow watchman Gianni interprets as laughably easy money — he quickly disappears off into the night with a hot date, leaving Rocco stuck with the corpse — Rocco takes as a serious matter indeed, more a vigil than night watchman duty. (He gives his portion of the cash advance back to Mariam’s father as a contract with him to ensure he will take the job seriously.) Over the course of the night, while waiting with Mariam’s body, he runs into the various men who have been a part of her life, each offering a differing account of her life and her death.
By exploring the subject matter of this film within the conceit of a noir/thriller, the Gentili brothers are able to accomplish a sneaky bit of alchemy: joining two incongruous stories into one film. On one hand, Rocco’s painful struggle to make money to provide for his family in a society where it is difficult to find steady work, and on the other hand a murder mystery set within the context of Mariam’s upper middle class household. We know something of Rocco’s personal struggles to survive, but also Rocco is the classic noir anti-hero: tough, more action than words, as likely to break rules as uphold them.
Dino Gentili points out, “Rocco is from another story, another life.” Tough on the outside but secretly vulnerable inside, only he has the sensitivity to arrive at the truth himself of what has happened to this dead girl. The other men are only able to “project their own ideas of death onto the girl.” By renovating genre conventions, the Gentili find with their conceit a tool to demonstrate how we might come to understand the essence of a life so unlike our own.