The Beginners by Claudio Cupellini: instructions for life

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‘If this film touched you, as you said, it means that your nature is similar to the ones of the main charachters and so you can trust it’, explains Claudio Cupellini,  director of The Beginners, one of the nine films screened during Cinema Made in Italy at Ciné Lumière in London. Cupellini, who has already shot three films, among them A Quiet Life, explains that  he put in the story all his past experiences.

The main characters are Fausto, an ex-convict played by Elio Germano, and Nadine, a beautiful French girl who becomes a model while he is in prison. Reunited in Milan, they will try to re-establish their relationship through many difficulties.

The original title is Alaska, but it has been translated The Beginners. Are Fausto and Nadine beginners? Why?

This title sounds good in English, and in French it would as well (Les dèbutants), but in Italian it was not so clear. Nadine and Fausto are beginners in their sentiments. They are immature, they go through different mistakes and cannot handle their love. That’s why it was a good title in English.

Alaska, which is the name of a nightclub, is the driving force of the story and it’s the business that makes Fausto rich. The word Alaska reminded me the adventures of the 19th century gold diggers. If you were lucky you could get rich, if not, you could die. The lovers’ challenge has that flair and it’s like a bet that makes them almost ready to give up.


Which are the cinematographic and literary references in this movie?

In my opinion there are a lot of references in my movies. American directors such as Terrence Malick, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma and Francis Ford Coppola influenced me. In the 70’s Peckinpah shot amazing films as well. They were strong and violent, but emotional as well, and that’s the cinema I like. As far as the sentimental side, Truffaut and the Novelle Vague influenced me. Somebody saw a homage to The Woman Next Door by Truffaut in a scene of Alaska.

Also, I am sure that while I was listening to Tangled Up in Blue by Bob Dylan I was thinking about the story I had to write. This song is about a love story that is like a flow of emotions.

Later on, the story also reminded me The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald. Gatsby decided to get rich to conquer the woman he had loved and lost because of the war.

There is no reference to the family, neither to the one of Fausto or Nadine nor to Sandro’s.

A Quiet Life told the story of a difficult father-and-son relationship, a theme that I will probably use again in my next movie.

Despite of my interest in the family relationship, I wanted two orphans for this film. Two lonely characters. I thought their fragility would be stronger. At the beginning Fausto is alone in a foreign country.

I think that this kind of loneliness is the most fertile for a great love story to flourish. However, Shakespeare would say I am wrong, since in Romeo and Juliet he wrote a love story focused on two families.

Where do the physical and verbal violence come from?

We live in an extremely violent world. We are subjected to violence and sometimes we use it. We must protect ourselves in order not to suffer, but this does not mean that we have to be aggressive.

At the beginning of the film Fausto wants to become a maître and open his own restaurant. Later on he experiences how power and richness can be brutal.

Fausto is a young waiter trying to find his way in Paris. Why did you choose the French capital instead of London or other cities where many Italians live?

I could have chosen London or Tokyo or Hong Kong. I wanted the set to be in a fashion capital. London is now more important than Paris and Milan for fashion, but I think that my inclination towards France is linked to my family history. My grandfather was half French, part of my family lived in France and I speak French.

What’s the importance of the language in the lovers’ relationship?

At the beginning Fausto lives in a foreign country and so he cannot use his own language. The same will happen to Nadine in Italy. When they move to Milan and Nadine loses everything after the accident, she also becomes an orphan in a foreign country.

I needed a mixed language (half French and half Italian) because like many people I experienced this situation in which the language can be a secret code between two people. There are words that are more related to love, other to anger, and you end up using this kind of mixture which is typical of many modern couples.

The world has become smaller because it’s easier to travel, but languages exist, and we can use them to describe the reality.

What’s the idea of happiness, a theme that you often repeat in the film?

The main characters look desperately for happiness, but they look for a world in which everything is perfect.  This is not happiness. According to me, happiness are just flashes of perfection we rarely experience , where everything is harmony.

During their travel my characters understand they can be serene. You cannot achieve happiness, even though you can try.

What role does music play in this film? Let’s think about Sandro’s suicide that starts and ends with a song (My World is Empty Without You by Supremes).

I had already picked that song during the screenplay, which is very rare. I was sure the it would work. The lyrics express Sandro’s sad feelings, but at the same time it is a happy song. In the most dramatic moment of the film, this contrast makes the scene stronger.

I always choose carefully the music in my films because music has been music my very first passion, well before cinema. Since I was a child, I have been stealing and collecting records.

How was shooting in a prison?

It has been hard, because you feel a difficult atmosphere. We were allowed to shoot in some cells and hallways, while prisoners were in the cells next to us. You enter the building and leave the mobile and all your belongings. But you know you leave later on, while the others won’t. Moreover, the troupe is mixed and male prisoners see women beyond bars.

It has been an experience that has taught me a lot. In our spare time I talked to the prisoners and I discovered unbelievable stories.

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