Andrea Magnani on Crafting His Fairytale-Like World, Directing Italian and Ukrainian Actors in 'Jailbird'

“I had read an article which made me aware about some convicts’ kids who are born and live with their mothers in jail for a few years,” Italian helmer Andrea Magnani told Variety, ahead of the international premiere of his sophomore feature, “Jailbird,” which screens in the main competition of the Torino Film Festival. The movie revolves around young Giacinto (Adriano Tardiolo), the son of two inmates, who struggles to get out of the prison ward, until he takes part in a foot race which promises to change his life.

“This law aims not to break the bond between these kids and their mothers. I realized this was a very interesting starting point to tell a story of a different type, that of a boy who grows up but doesn’t manage to get rid of his own fears and ‘cages.’ […] This is something each one of us may relate to.”

When asked whether he had already thought about Tardiolo and Giovanni Calcagno [starring as Jack, the only male officer within the walls of the female prison] as his leads during the writing phase, Magnani said: “No, when I’m writing I can never think of a face. That process takes place later on. Of course, Adriano already possessed some qualities I was looking for in Giacinto’s character [such as] his gaze, his amazement towards the world and its order of things… […] It’s the gaze made of innocence I have been searching for.”

“Jailbird”

“With Giovanni, we crafted his character starting from his appearance: his mustache, which almost looks fake, is real; his thick eyebrows… The idea was to make him look almost like a monster, even though he’ll prove to be an endearing father figure.”

Speaking about his second time filming in Ukraine and directing a cast of both Italian and Ukrainian actors, he revealed: “It’s been quite easy. The interaction between cast and crew has been natural. We teamed up with the same co-producers and some crew members who worked on ‘Easy’ [Magnani’s debut]. Many of the Ukrainian actors didn’t even speak English, so I had to work with a translator, but sometimes I explained myself simply with gestures. Despite the language gap, I’ve been always aware of their great talent.”

Andrea Magnani

“Jailbird” entered production in late summer last year and wrapped filming after five weeks, with most of the interior-set scenes shot in Kyiv. The most obvious storytelling references viewers may notice in Magnani’s fairytale are Robert Zemeckis’ “Forrest Gump” and “Pinocchio.” “’Forrest Gump’ has been an important reference, and it’s one of the films that inspired me from the very beginning. But I realized there were some similarities with ‘Pinocchio’ along the way,” he admitted. “Two other elements worthwhile mentioning are the symmetry within shots and the chosen color palette, which may also be considered an homage to the cinematography of Wes Anderson’s films,” he continued.

Magnani never thinks about the score while writing or filming: “Before adding the score, I finalize the cut first, and then I ask the composer to join me. It’s quite unusual, as normally composers begin working on the score at a much earlier stage. My fear is that music may hide some pacing issues, which I believe must be fixed first.”

On this occasion, Fabrizio Mancinelli crafted a highly original score made only of two voices (a soprano and a tenor) mixed with some ambient sounds (such as footsteps or clapping hands).

The work on production design, courtesy of veteran Aleksandr Batenev, brought to life the bizarre world of “Jailbird,” and in particular that of the remote prison complex wherein most of the action takes place.

Magnani is currently developing a new picture based on his father’s life. “It’s a challenge I feel I should take on now. It will be an ‘on foot’ road movie, set within a few kilometers,” he disclosed.

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