Michele Placido on Daniele Vicari’s ‘Orlando’: ‘One of the Most Beautiful Roles I’ve Been Offered’

Orlando Zurro, played by Michele Placido, has never left his Italian mountain village. At 75, he runs his little farm alone. His wife died a long time ago, and their only child, Valerio, dreaming of other ways of living, emigrated to Belgium at 20. Since then, father and son have not spoken to each other.

Even when they lived together, they didn’t share much: Orlando is a quiet man who keeps his feelings to himself, only making his voice heard when he has “something to say,” as he says in the film. But when Valerio, who is sick, calls for help, it is his face that speaks for him, and displays, in every look, every wrinkle, every breath, all the love he has for his boy.

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Presented out of competition at the 40th Torino Film Festival before its Italian release on Dec. 1, “Orlando” starts with this race against time. The main protagonist jumps on the first train to Brussels, without even having a valid ID, to see Valerio one last time. He will arrive too late. His journey will instead be one of discovery of the world his son had built for himself in the heart of a multicultural Europe of which he knows or understands nothing. A world in which lively Lyse (Angelica Kazankova), Valerio’s 12-year-old daughter, whom Orlando didn’t even know existed, took center stage. Her mother being unknown, Zurro gets custody of her. If he agrees to start a whole new life at 75, that is.

Director Daniele Vicari’s “Orlando,” co-written with Andrea Cedrola, could, at first glance, seem to be just another movie about a grumpy man and a bright child trying to tame and help each other. It is not. Without ever overdoing it, the strength of feelings infused in it makes this “modern tale,” as it is labeled in the trailer, an intense feature.

The emotional charge of the film was there from the start: Orlando is the name of the director’s father. This Italian-Belgian co-production between Italy’s Rosamont and RAI Cinema, and Tarantula in Belgium, distributed in Italy by Europictures and abroad by Vision Distribution, brings out what unites the generations more than what opposes them.

“Daniele Vicari is a director who knows exactly how to tell the story of two seemingly contrasting worlds while managing to build a bridge between them. In ‘Orlando’ he shows us that the future must not forget the past, and that the past must be capable of looking to the future,” coproducer Federico Pedroni of RAI Cinema explained in Turin.

The past is embodied by Orlando, his life in his village isolated from the world. The future is represented by polyglot Lyse and by Brussels.

“Brussels is a beautiful city, the heart of Europe. When Valerio, like many young Italians, left to live there, his father felt betrayed. For him, Europe is an abstract thing, it never interested him,” said Vicari in Turin. “In fact, Brussels is really a city of the future: when we transform our cities, we even use the term ‘bruxellisation’.”

The challenge of Zurro, “who can barely read and write, and only speaks his dialect,” is to learn to cope with a world where he has no reference points. “The meeting with Lyse completes this journey because she ‘is’ Brussels in the sense that she is the future. She lives fully in this future that he had never considered before,” Vicari said.

“Orlando” is above all a film of performance, carried masterfully by Placido who for 122 minutes does not play a single false note. In his scenes, often little spoken, all the thoughts and emotions that Orlando always felt must be hidden, inhabit his every gesture. His eyes speak a thousand words like those of the ones tired of having lost too much.

“It’s one of the most beautiful roles I’ve been offered in recent years,” said Placido at the Torino Film Festival. Before joking: “Even if we were so cold while shooting in Belgium!”

To compose this character, Placido – a self-taught actor and director, who released his latest directorial effort “Caravaggio’s Shadow” in November – called on memories.

Placido said: “With Daniele, we have this common denominator: we have a family history of migration and that helped me a lot. When I arrived in Turin to present the film, many memories came back from the time when my uncles and my father came to work there, in the restaurants or at the Fiat factory. These migration stories touched me a lot in Belgium too, where many Italians emigrated at the time. As an actor and as a director, I am interested in the human experience. I have no method. Experience is my method. I have always looked at life rather than into film manuals.”

“Orlando” is also a performance film thanks to newcomer Angelica Kazankova, who portrays the determined and independent granddaughter of Orlando.

“Laura Muccino and Sara Casani, who cast the film, looked everywhere,” Vicari said. “We saw Italian girls in Italy, in France, in Belgium, and in a few Eastern European countries. When Angelica came in – and this is always what happens with great actors – just by the way she walked towards us, you could tell she was the character. She still has a lot to learn, but she did a very difficult thing for her age: she didn’t play herself. She interpreted. From the first scene we shot, she became this tough character that Lyse is.”

The young talent, daughter of champion free diver and actor Marina Kazankova, enjoyed the experience: “It made me discover a new me. We all have these emotions inside of us that we never use. I am different from Lyse and to interpret her, I had to use those emotions.”

Two strong characters, and both with the same problem: How will Orlando manage his life, far from home, as he is forced to take a precarious and physical job to raise his grandchild? How will Lyse rebuild hers, when her whole world has collapsed within the three months her father has been ill?

“Orlando comes from the war, and after the war he had to invent a future and invent a country. His generation managed, even with all the difficulties they had, to make sure that the middle generation, mine, lived in peace,” Vicari said. “Lyse, on the other hand, has a war ahead of her and must invent a future. Both have to understand the world they are in.”

This search for a balance between past and future also explains why the film is dedicated to Ettore Scola, director of Oscar nominees “A Special Day,” “The Family” and “Le Bal,” and Cannes screenplay prize winner “La Terrazza.”

“I did it as a testimony of a deep affection towards a person who, during the last 10 years of his life, granted me a rare friendship,” Vicari explained. “We met when we were both part of the founding committee of the Scuola d’arte cinematografica Gian Maria Volontè. I had always admired him artistically. In these 10 years we have often found ourselves reflecting on what was happening to our cinema and the difficulties we were facing. So, it seemed natural to me to dedicate the film to him in memory of these reflections. Because, somehow, he, like Orlando, had found his way. We have not yet found it, but we are looking for it.”

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