Quite often, whenever a country selects its foreign film submission, Oscar bloggers stand baffled wondering why the populist choice by American critics’ standards wasn’t chosen.
Such was the case this year when many would have bet the vineyard that Nanni Moretti’s Mia Madre was the top choice. After all, it won the prize of the ecumenical jury at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and was further propped by a stateside distribution deal with Alchemy and arthouse B.O. potential with its U.S. star John Turturro. Forget about Italy’s other notable Cannes entries landing a spot — Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth and Matteo Garrone’s The Tale of Tales — both of them are in English.
However, Italy settled on late director Claudio Caligari’s final feature crime drama Non Essere Cattivo aka Don’t Be Bad. And what a prudent choice on behalf of the country for Don’t Be Bad possesses an uphill behind-the-scenes story that only Academy voters would appreciate. Don’t Be Bad marks the third film that Caligari made in a career that spanned 40 years, and as detailed at Wednesday’s Awardsline screening, if it wasn’t for the efforts of Caligari’s actor friend and Don’t Be Bad producer Valerio Mastandrea, the director’s final film may not have seen the light of day.
Caligari died in May from cancer at the age of 67 with most of Don’t Be Bad in the can. “Following his death, I was able to count on the editor and many people in post production. We all connected with each other to show that there was a great big story here,” Mastandrea told Deadline’s Dominic Patten on Wednesday.
Last October, while Caligari was still alive, Mastandrea wrote an open letter in Italian newspapers to Martin Scorsese in an effort to secure completion funds. He beseeched the Oscar-winning director for funding, and pointed to the hurdles in the Italian film industry with regard to mounting a production such as Don’t Be Bad. Scorsese did not respond. Financing was pulled together from Kimerafilm, TaoDue Film, Rai Cinema, and Andrea Leone Films with Rai Com handling foreign sales.
Don’t Be Bad was finished in time to screen at the Venice Film Festival, and though it was out of competition, it won a slew of awards there, in particular the Pasinetti Award – a secondary prize awarded by the journalists’ trade union – both for best picture and for best actor Luca Marinelli. Don’t Be Bad has been in Italian cinemas since Sept. 8 where it has collected $661K via distributor Good Films.
If there’s a motif in Caligari’s work, it’s that he focuses on the realities of working people. The film is considered to be part of a trilogy of sorts, starting with the director’s 1983 Toxic Love which followed real drug addicts and former addicts between Ostia and the ghettos of Rome. The second title was 1998’s The Scent of Night (which actually starred Mastandrea) about a former cop who segues to a life of crime and spirals in 1990s Rome. And then there’s Don’t Be Bad which follows twentysomething amice Vittorio and Cesare who live their lives steeped in booze and cocaine in Ostia on the outskirts of Rome. Vittorio ultimately matures, finding the right woman. As time goes by, he tries to put Cesare on the right track with legit work, however, the loose cannon ultimately returns to his life on the street.
Mastandrea mentioned on Wednesday that there were more screenplays by Caligari which he is hoping to mount. Don’t Be Bad played the AFI Film Festival yesterday as part of the opening night of the 11th annual Cinema Italian Style, which is presented by the American Cinematheque and Luce Cinecittà.