BERLINALE 2019/The Warrior Children of Naples

A huge bonfire on which Christmas trees and old furniture have been stacked. A gang of kids shouting wildly, their faces and hairless chests smeared with blood.
It is the feast of the “Cippo”, the Neapolitan Saint Anthony.
An almost tribal ritual.
The districts and their inhabitants are in competition with each other to see who has the biggest and brightest blaze.
This is the opening scene of «Piranhas». A traditional recurrence that director Claudio Giovannesi has reconstructed in the smallest detail for his film.
From this which is, initially, just a game, stems a bloody and desperate violent war, with no holds barred, all in the name of the good of the neighborhood. «We tell the story of the loss of innocence of kids who choose crime as a way to do good, convinced that they are bringing justice to their neighborhood. But that choice turns out to be an illusion, leading to an irreversible descent. Doing bad things leads to a tragic destiny. The thirst for power kills their adolescence».


Produced by Carlo Degli Esposti who was also the driving force behind the project, the movie, based on the novel by Roberto Saviano, is the only title representing Italy in Competition at the Berlinale. Almost simultaneously (February 13) «Piranhas» will be released in theaters with the Vision Distribution brand.

«It is a project that began almost two years ago when, together with Maurizio Braucci, we joined Saviano in New York to draft the screenplay» explains the director who already has four drama features and the same number of festivals under his belt: «La casa sulle nuvole», Special Jury Award at the Brussels Film Festival 2009, «Alì blue eyes», best first and second work as well as the Special Jury Award at the Rome Film Festival 2012 and «Fiore», in competition at the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs (Directors’ Fortnight) in 2016. The common denominator uniting them all is the difficult world of teenagers.

After the US trip, the long casting phase began (over 3000 kids were screen tested) in Rome and, above all, in Naples, where Giovannesi went to live for a year and a half. Then the settings were chosen and the screenplay adapted to the decisions made “in the field”. «The script has to coincide with the human beings you have selected. This is crucial when you are working with non professional actors».

With regard to his performers, Giovannesi says that they are «all Nea- politan, mostly from the same neighborhoods we filmed in. Very young, they had to transmit the fragility of their characters, their innocence». Because, contrary to «Gomorra» (of which Giovannesi directed a few episodes) or the novel itself, the movie is not a noir.

In this way it differs greatly from the book where the protagonists aspire to become little bosses for their own sakes so that they can display the symbols of luxury and power, exploit others and boss people around, heedless of the consequences.

«Here the vision expands from the context of a news or sociological story in order to underline the existential element. We investigate the spirit of that age, and its characteristics. We ask ourselves: what happens to fifteen year olds when they make criminal choices? How much do their lives change?There is the construction of a sense of morality at an age in life which is amoral ».
For this reason the movie was filmed in sequence, from beginning to end, to best narrate the changes of the protagonists. «So that the performers could feel the progressive transformation of their characters». 

Daniele Ciprì was chosen as director of photography, filming mainly took place in the Rione Sanità and in the Quartieri Spagnoli. «Which is the ancient, still lively, colorful, bright, people’s Naples.

The Naples of De Sica and Eduardo. Not the “non-places” of the suburbs». A Naples where, basically, it is possible to at least minimally understand why teenagers think of turning into criminals to protect the residents and safeguard them from “outsiders”.

While “Piranhas” is the only film in competition, there is a massive Italian presence in Panorama, a section traditionally dedicated to unconventional movies and young filmmakers. They are: «Dafne» byFederico Bondi, “Selfie” by Agostino Ferrente, “Flesh out” by Michela Occhipinti, and “Normal” by Adele Tulli.


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Nella sezione: Focus on italy