Victoria Fiore on Nascondino

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The director tells us about her unique, visceral portrait of a young boy growing up in Naples’ Spanish quarters

One of the most striking offerings at last year’s London Film Festival, Nascondino (aka Hide and Seek), from London-based director Victoria Fiore, is doubly powerful: its portrait of a young teenage boy in Naples’ Spanish Quarters across several years is so engaging that watching the young and charismatic Entoni, his reality but also his dreams, his past and the future sketching itself out ahead of him, is almost impossible to bear. But the film is even more impressive in context, as it provides a corrective to years of mythologising portrayals and cliches that reduced a very real place and people to characters and settings that appeared completely disconnected from reality. Fiore’s and her team’s monumental achievement is to portray a life and a city as a real, viscerally felt place, without taking away any of the magic and drama that made it such a rich resource for fiction crime dramas in the first place. The Naples of Nascondino is both a magical and beautiful city, and a locus of untenable contradictions, where even the most incredibly bright and beautiful dreams can be snuffed out.

Elena Lazic (EL): Why did you want to make this film?
Victoria Fiore (VF): I’m from Naples, my whole family is from the region, very close to where we were shooting. I vividly remember the time when I was about 18 and the garbage riot started. There was a huge waste issue in Naples throughout my whole childhood. In fact, the pile of waste in my part of town was so high, that I didn’t even know that there was a sign behind it with the name of my neighbourhood. I only discovered that after the cleanup started. So it’s been a pretty difficult area with a lot of influence from organised crime, and many people work within this system, which can sometimes give you things that the state can’t. 

Obviously, most of the time, organised crime is a cancer in our society, but the experience of living within this system is actually a lot more complex than people started to learn about when the book “Gomorrah” [written by Roberto Saviano] came out. When that first happened, it felt like a great moment. The author had done something that no one else had, by speaking about the issue. We celebrated it, but only until the point when Gomorrah started becoming an identity for all these young people who started to look up to this film, and started to look up to the TV series. In the past, Naples had had a very strong and interesting culture, but at this point, the city had not had a strong identity about it for a great few years. So young people started to look up to these criminals in this series, and in all the offshoots from it, as their identity. Young people I knew, from friends of friends or family members and youth in the neighbourhood, were copying that. But not just the lifestyle — they even copied the way they committed crimes. 

When we started work on the film, there was a huge boom in youth criminality, but at the same time, social services were cut off. A friend of mine, a social worker, hadn’t been paid in three years. In a neighbourhood with thousands of kids and over twenty social workers, there ended up being just three, over a three-year period. It was a very difficult situation. At the same time, I wanted to show what it feels like to be living within this system and these circumstances more authentically. Because clearly, it is not just a case of organised crime. Of course organised crime is a cancer. But it’s also a case of the state, it’s a case of family, a case of culture, it’s a case of religion that makes you believe that something is going to happen that is going to save you suddenly; it’s a case of “the Madonna is going to come down from the sky and help you out at some point!” It’s a case of superstitions, a case of faith. Everything just keeps this system in place. So I wanted to work together with people from the neighbourhoods, accompanied by the social workers, to guide me and help me figure out what we were trying to say. I wanted to show a different film about a story we’ve all seen before — because we’ve all seen stories about kids in these situations — but how do you tell it differently, in a way that’s more authentic? 

Firstly, no guns and no drugs. We already know that there are guns and drugs everywhere, it’s in our collective imagination. As part of a social worker’s organisation, we were also doing film workshops, where kids chose how to tell their own story. This inspired us to do more workshops; one of them was the opportunity to film this traditional ritual that they have with the Christmas trees. Every year, on the 17th of January, it’s like a battle between different inner city neighbourhood kids, where they steal these Christmas trees and burn them to wash their sins away from the past year and sort of commemorate friends of theirs, who are gone, or lost, or in prison. They filmed this themselves, and it was then that I met Entoni, and I loved him! I saw his naughty little eyes and we got along straight away. He was really interested in the camera, he loved picking up the camera and shooting things. He wanted to shoot Titanic on the beach with his cousin. He was like, “I have all these ideas of how I tell my city, which is different from what we usually see.” He loved romance films… I thought, “I need your view on this world, this is great!” So our idea was to show Naples as seen through the eyes of young people. But then, obviously, it erupted into something completely different, once life took its toll. And at that point, it was pretty difficult to stop it. 

During this time, when we were with Entoni starting out, and he was shooting things with the cameras, I met his grandmother, Dora, who liked what we were doing. She asked me, “Do you know who I am?” And I said no, but of course I did. She said, “Well, when you want, you can come up to my house, we can have a coffee.” As we watched many seasons of Celebrity Big Brothers together, and as she did my nails, we developed a friendship of sorts, where she wanted me to tell her story but didn’t want to be filmed. Eventually, she accepted to be recorded but only a little bit, then a little bit more. In four years, we managed to shoot with her as well, which gave us some really necessary context to understanding Entoni’s developing story. 

EL: One of the things that really struck me about the film is that, as you say, it touches on so many things. It’s not just about a little boy, it’s not just about gangs, it’s not just about religion. It’s a whole thing. And usually, films about Naples or about childhood don’t really manage to touch on all of that stuff at the same time.
VF: What I really wanted to do was to make people think about all of these different aspects, because you cannot solve these issues only through the state. It’s impossible. If the state isn’t accompanied by the mother, or by the community, or if there remains the religious idea that I will magically be saved by someone, or superstition — there’s no way. I don’t want to be cynical here, but I don’t think there’s much of a way that we can sort things out if we don’t work collaboratively together on every front. And there’s a lot of education involved, there’s a lot of state participation involved. No one is the culprit here. People can say, “it’s Entoni’s fault because he could have just stayed in the children’s home.” Or, “it’s the mother’s fault, because she should have forced him to stay well-behaved,” or something. Or it’s the state’s fault because they shouldn’t have taken him so far away, especially knowing he was going to run away. Whose fault is it? That’s open to the public, I’m not answering that question.

EL: The film itself is not particularly long, but it tells such a big story. You include details that give a sense of the atmosphere and a feel for it in the moment — there are many scenes showing Entoni during more interstitial moments, where he is just laying on his bed with his brother, or walking around with his friend — but, on the other hand, you also have this huge perspective that literally spans generations. You start with Entoni but you also look back at his parents, and ahead at his little brother. How did you work on these two scales? How did you put it all together?
I have one answer for this: an incredible editor called Adelina Bichis. She was very central to the process of organising the material so that it made sense. Because one of the battles was that, of course we wanted to show the daily life in Naples — not exposition, but to give the viewer the feeling of being in Naples. That was very important. So we have us walking around and intimately recording. But at the same time, I wanted to show the city the way Entoni saw it. That’s why we have all of these more magical images. For example, there’s the scene showing how he escaped from the children’s home, epic and in slow motion. Entoni wanted it directed in that way. He had this heroic vision of how he wanted others to see how he escaped. So how do you bring that in? Or how do you bring, say, Dora: she wanted her story to have this particular song, and I thought “okay, if it means so much to you, we’re going to bring it in.” And then trying to work that around something more organic, like following Entoni and his brother in his home, and then trying to bring out the magic, the intensity and the density of the religious moments — say, when they’re on a pilgrimage to the Madonna dell’Arco. That was a challenge, and it took a while to figure out how to work it together. But that’s the beauty of scripting and the beauty of having an editor who was also working while we were shooting. 

EL: Most documentaries, especially those about Naples, tend to be very gritty, straightforward in the sense that they don’t tend to have dream sequences, and do not necessarily feature that much music or slow motion. You mentioned that some of these things were suggestions from Entoni and other subjects, but did you think about the place of fiction in the film?
VF: I think that fiction and fictionalised sequences can sometimes say so much more about something than pure observation. The escape scene, for example, gives me such an insight into how Entoni sees himself. It stands in contrast with the sequence that shows him having coffee at home before he is taken away and cries in the car with his head down. That escape scene allows us to get at the contrast of the highs and lows of his life, which I don’t think we would have got otherwise. Part of that was also because we couldn’t film inside the children’s house, so we never would have got his escape. So how do you film the most important time of his life? 

I do see it as a creative documentary, of course. But to me, that doesn’t take away any of the reality. Also, Naples is one of the most magical places on Earth — myth and magic coexist in every corner, and superstition is imbued in everything. To me, it was really important to give a sense of that. With Alfredo De Juan, the director of photography, we really wanted to capture some of that beauty and magic that might have slipped away in a gritty and dark representation. 

Naples is a really dark place. The mythology is all dark and depressing! But fascinating at the same time. In the film, we mention La Janara, a witch that wakes you up in your sleep if you’ve done sins. Dora makes a reference to her, but she wanted a whole scene with this witch, and I said, “no, we’re not going to do that…” There’s also the pilgrimage that washes away your sins and makes you a better person, which a lot of people in organised crime go to; we managed to shoot some of it, where people walk for six hours at night with no shoes, mostly on their knees, up to this church. There were ambulances inside the church because so many people were fainting!

EL: When did you decide that you were going to end the film and not continue telling Entoni’s story, when to stop the film?
To me, it was a really clear point. When I saw Gaetano [Entoni’s brother] walking away from the fire in that shot, I told Fred, who was shooting, “That’s our final shot.” What we wanted to show was this circle that just keeps rolling. It was just so perfect in that moment, when Gaetano was looking away. I thought, that’s our ending. 

EL: Are you working on any other projects now?
VF: I’m working on a fiction film, which is actually based on a true story in my family. It’s called Aida and is in development. I’m also working on a series based on Dora, which is exciting, because there are a lot more stories where she came from! 

Elena Lazic

Elena is the founder and editor of Animus.