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Young Creatives Blog

Finnian interviews 'The Wait' director Piero Messina

Friday 5 February 2016

  • Interview

Piero Messina is every inch the Italian director you’d imagine and hope for as your first PIAF interview. Cigar in hand, with old-fashioned politeness and an oozing passion for film-making, the young Messina’s visit to Perth is for the Australian premiere of his directorial debut, The Wait, at Lotterywest Festival Films. Starring Juliette Binoche and with the same producers as the Oscar-winning The Great Beauty, this is no underground indie flick to debut with.

You spoke in a Q&A on Wednesday 3 February after the screening of The Wait about how you refused offers from producers to direct their feature films and decided to wait out for your ideal film. Why was having such an ideal debut important to you?

I won some awards with a short film in the Cannes Film Festival and so many people asked me ‘what do you want to do?’ and would say ‘I can write you what you want’. But I took my time. I wanted to do my debut in the best way possible. And I didn’t want to compromise because the producer didn’t have any faith in me, so I refused a lot of possibilities so I could do this. Maybe to you it appears arrogant, but in my mind I was sure I would do my own feature movie. In my opinion, Italy’s best producer was the producer on this film (Nicola Giuliano, who also produced the Oscar-winning The Great Beauty and the recent Youth starring Michael Caine). So I sent him my script, and he loved it. My producer is very, very strict on what he chooses – so when he chooses the director, he gives them total freedom. He told me, ‘If I don’t believe in you, I don’t produce your movie. But I believe in you. So if you believe in yourself, you are free’. I was in this beautiful situation where I had this great producer, with one of the biggest production companies in Italy that could give me the money to do what I want, but at the same time leave me to do my arthouse movie without many interferences.

You’ve worked with director Paolo Sorrentino on This Must Be The Place and The Great Beauty as assistant director. What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learnt from working with him?

What I’ve noticed with Paolo is that he’s very free when he shoots. He doesn’t think about anything else but the shoot that’s right in front of him. Before Paolo, when writing and shooting my own films, a small percent of my mind would think about what the critics and journalists would make of it. But after Paolo, I became free. When I’m on set, it’s just me, the actor and the monitor. I do what I feel like. I don’t worry for one second what the critics could think. This was a very important thing to me – I was now able to dance with my crew and camera and actors. It was a liberation.

Even so, this film was nominated for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and won multiple awards.  If you’re not thinking about the critics on set, do these awards and praise mean anything to you anyway?

Absolutely not. Before this movie, it was important for me that the audience would feel the same things that I felt during the shooting and writing. After the movie was completed, I was interested in what the critics would make of it. But after a year since shooting, I’ve read a lot of reviews from the critics, good and bad. Now I just don’t read them anymore. It’s not necessary. It’s much more interesting for me to know what the audience think about rather than what the critics do.

If you’re so interested in what the audience thinks, what’s the best moment of the film to watch with a crowd?

In the Easter procession scene, there’s a moment with Juliette’s (Binoche) face, where the music goes up and the statue loses her veil, and in that moment, sometimes the crowd starts to shake. Sometimes people cry. Because I cried a lot during that moment in the editing room, to see someone else reacting to that moment, I feel very, very close to them.

You’ve also mentioned how sound is very important when making a film, and clearly on display – especially for the great airport sequence. Did the song Missing by The xx come to mind first when writing that scene?

The images of the sequence came first. I started to imagine it when I arrived at an airport with my crew. I was waiting with my luggage and saw this little boy running on the escalators backwards, but still staying in the same spot. This image touched me deeply – it reminded me of when I was young and I would do the same. This really childish, foolish thing to do.  It’s beautiful, in a sense. He’s happy to stay in the same place. And little by little, the scene came together, and the music came much later.  But the music before this sequence is important as well. I wanted it to start with a very old, classical feel, and then when this younger character (from the airport) comes in; she brings something that wasn’t there before.

If you could go back and give a young Piero any advice before embarking upon his first feature, what would you say?

There’s somethings that I’d change with the film, I’d be more precise in some parts, definitely.  But I grew up on this shoot. It was all a little bit crazy. I was young, and it’s my first movie in this huge system, with lots of money and Oscar-winning actors. It’s not easy to do the movie that you want in this way, because there’s a lot of pressure. A lot. I missed out on some things, I’m sure. But at the end? I’m happy. I’d say good work.