Salvation Through Cinema: Interview with ‘Boys Cry’ Directors Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo

Remember these names: Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo. The Italian twin brothers are taking european cinema by storm with their debut Boys Cry (La terra dell’abbastanza), and they don’t plan to stop their rise any time soon.

Before making the rounds in festivals such as São Paulo, Karlovy Vary, Chicago and Athens, Boys Cry first screened at Berlinale last February. The coming of age crime drama had its world premiere in the “Panorama” section and brought international attention to the brothers, who entered the film industry motivated by their pure love of the medium.

Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo didn’t attend film school. Their cinematic education came in the form of books and movies by great Italian and American directors such as Pier Paolo Pasolini and John Cassavetes, respectively. Their upbringing in the outskirts of Rome also played a huge role in their focus on suburban stories of criminality.  

In Boys Cry, the D’Innocenzos present the devastating yet exhilarating tale of Mirko (Matteo Olivetti) and Manolo (Andrea Carpenzano). The two high school best friends moonlight as pizza delivery boys until a stranger with ties to the criminal underworld accidentally steps in front of their car near the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, leading to a fatal accident and an unlawful spiral for both characters.

The directors, who recently collaborated with Matteo Garrone on the script for his last film Dogman, are currently working on their second feature, which will mark a departure from their debut. Ex Vedove (working title), featuring a script that was selected by the Sundance Institute and revised by mentors such as Paul Thomas Anderson, will be a vintage female western set in Italy during the 1800s.

And that’s not all. The D’Innocenzos are also set to direct a TV series about a present-day exorcism. The drama will be helmed by the Cattleya production company. 

After a screening of Boys Cry during the Geneva Film Festival, the D’Innocenzo brothers took some time to answer questions for Vague Visages. The twins responded by email as if their answers were delivered from a single voice, just like the jointed creative force behind their work. 

What drove you guys to make Boys Cry your first feature film?

DB: We were born in a similar neighborhood (as shown in the movie), an outskirt in Rome called Tor Bella Monaca. We immediately felt a strong connection with those kind of poor areas, basically because everything is more in the surface. We wanted to fight against this kind of “crime cinema” that doesn’t show humanity and compassion for all the characters. Humanity is the first thing you feel if you are raised up in some territory like that. We already listened to the characters speak, even before writing the screenplay. For us, it was an act of honesty to start our journey in filmmaking with this story.

It’s often highlighted in other interviews that you didn’t study cinema in a “formal way.” Do you think there’s a “right path” to become a director?

DB: There’s no right way to approach cinema. Everyone is different, and everyone has a different pain and a way to look at reality. We felt it was unnecessary to go through a school of cinema. We started writing for other directors as ghostwriters, and at the end of this long process of learning, we collaborated on the screenplay of Matteo Garrone’s Dogman. Matteo was a turning point for us. We worked two months with the best Italian director. It was a big gift from him, and we’ll never stop thanking Matteo. He has become a part of our family.

What was your relationship with movies growing up?

DB: We watched a lot of movies. Good and bad, doesn’t matter. At 10, we fell in love with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders. Then we discovered Pier Paolo Pasolini, and his novels as well, and so on: John Cassavetes, Michelangelo Antonioni, Billy Wilder, Werner Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Takeshi Kitano, Roberto Rossellini, Paul Thomas Anderson and a lot more. But we never thought we would become directors. It’s just happened. We love cinema as part of the audience, and even now we prefer to remain as such, first of all. Cinema really can save you.

How would you describe the experience of shooting Boys Cry?

DB: As an act of instinct. We shot the movie in the spring time because we wanted the “classic time” for falling in love. Colours, mood, also the choice of the area (Ponte Di Nona, located at the East border of Rome) with all those colorful little council houses. It was something between Pasolini and Tim Burton. We always thought of this movie as the love story of two best friends. The producers, cast and crew respected this vision and gave to us all the energy to make it real. 

The way Mirko and Manolo, the main characters, end up in a criminal life seems so “easy” in the context they live, where even some relatives encourage it — it’s kind of frightening. Why do you think they are so attracted to that after the tragic incident at the beginning of the story? 

DB: It’s a sort of paradoxical escape of the sense of guilt they feel. Saying “I choose to kill” is better for them to admit the fatality of life and staying with that in their mind, day by day. And, sure, the context of their life helps this possibility of an apparent escape. Mirko and Manolo are not so far away from the main character of The Stranger by Albert Camus: they prefer the chaos to the order, because the order of the reality is extremely painful.

Andrea Carpenzano and Matteo Olivetti’s chemistry as friends, or brothers, is really strong. It seems like they’ve known each other since they were kids. Did you do any special work with them?

DB: Andrea and Matteo are the greatest actors of their generation in Italy. They have different backgrounds, but both have the same curiosity about life. They always study little details in everything. They didn’t know each other before the casting. But after the first meeting, they started to become friends. Their strong friendship is not fiction. We talked everyday through two years. 

How did you collaborate between each other through the different stages of making the feature?

DB: We are twins, so, — as with other aspects of our life — we share all the experience: no specific roles, no divisions. We just have the double of time. And when you realize cinema is part art and part sport, this is very helpful. 

Could you describe the whole Berlin Film Festival experience and all the promotion and travelling the movie has taken you on? 

DB: Berlin was kinda a big bang: amazing press from Europe and U.S.; interest of big actors and co-producers in our next projects and a lot of buzz around Boys Cry. We shared seven days in Berlin with Andrea and Matteo, and — for all of us — it was almost surreal. People stopped us on the streets just to say how much the movie had an impact on them — especially the younger audience. Berlin was special. And the promotional tour around the world as well. You share your story with foreign people and you never know how the audience can react. It’s exciting.

How’s the process of getting into your second movie? Do you feel more confident after having been through the process of Boys Cry?

DB: Well, our second movie is a sort of new debut. We chose to make a completely different story to stay fresh, and we changed the territory. We want to make a western movie, and as you can imagine, the whole production is bigger. Sundance Institute Lab selected our screenplay and gave us the opportunity to work on the script with Paul Thomas Anderson and other amazing masters. We know it sounds strange, but we don’t feel more confident. For us, making cinema is accepting a blind journey and trying to reach some aspects of life you didn’t know before you started.

Boys Cry (La terra dell’abbastanza), premiered at the “Panorama” section of 2018 Berlin Film Festival. It’s currently screening at the the 2018 Brussels Mediterranean Film Festival. The film is distributed internationally by The Match Factory. 

Pablo Staricco Cadenazzi (@pstaricco) is a France-based Uruguayan journalist, film critic and member of FIPRESCI. He worked as a staff member for the newspapers El País and El Observador, and he is currently part of the the movie podcast Santas Listas (from @polentapodcast) and the comics publisher Pantano Editorial.