Thursday, May 16, 2019

Raffaella Leone: "Through the western and peplums, my father's cinema continues to live"

Thirty years after the death of the director of the dollar trilogy and 'Once Upon a Time in America', his projects find new ways

By Arianna Finos
April 29, 2019

Sergio Leone passed away the 30th of April 30 years ago, but his cinema still lives and has plans for the future. Not only ‘Colt’, the anthology western that has a pistol at its center will be announced in Cannes and the production will come next fall, but also a peplum, a colossal left in the drawer, “The Eagles of Rome”. Behind the many moments of memory of his extraordinary films - the beautiful Exhibition, curated by Gian Luca Farinelli and the Cineteca di Bologna and organized by Equa, which will open in Rome at the Ara Pacis on the 12th of December - there is a revival, curated by his children Raffaella and Andrea Leone, leading international producers and distributors.

Raffaella, your father died at 60, still full of projects.

"Dad left two days before closing the complicated coproduction agreement between the American production companies and the Russian government. A demanding project he was certainly satisfied with: the story of the days of the siege of Leningrad, a tragic moment of the Second World War told through a love story: an ambitious project, at a time when, even though we were no longer in the Cold War, Russia was not that of today, and had managed to set up the vehicle on the basis of the story, with nothing written, of the beginning of the film he had in mind. Certainly a demonstration of appreciation, trust, esteem on the part of those who engaged in a very expensive film, challenging at the budget level ".

After the economic and rights problems he had with the first film, he decided to produce himself. And he was very good at this job too.

"Yes. I always say that he was a dreamer on one side, a businessman on the other. Things that generally don't fit together, but he did them both well. A pragmatic business sense and a creative soul. From the second film he started to be a co-producer He had opened a production company for his films, which came in handy when he stopped for ten years before “Once Upon a Time in America”, at which point he was more active as a producer. He produced for Verdone and Montaldo, a series of beautiful films that served to deceive the wait ".

At that time he said no to 'The Godfather'.

"Yes, because he wanted to make “Once Upon a Time in America”, he had this book Armed Man, which was not fantastic but which inspired him. The godfather would have been an overlap between two gangster films, even if different, one on the Italian mafia, the other on the Jewish underworld. He said "I already have a project that deals with topics from that historical period. I want to tell my story ". “Once Upon a Time in America” it is one of those that every time you catch it on television you stop to watch, thinking about how much it tells about us.

In an interview your father said: 'My cinema is linked to myth, to ghosts that belong to us'.

"That film, which is my favorite, so hard, was written in a long moment of life, with all the time to see it and see it again, it is a painful project that represents it so much. It tells of itself, of its way of looking at life with a certain cynicism, the disenchantment that comes at a certain age and the need that instead remains intact of certain desires and hopes that instead do not die. Many have called it his search for lost time. In “Once Upon a Time in America”, so many recognize each other ".

What were your father's small daily ghosts?

"He was an only child, his father died young, his mother was ill for many years. He had a strong relationship with the loneliness that comes out of his films, the characters that are islands. This was one of the ghosts that exorcised with a great "A sense of family, of total sharing. He had the pleasure of the family clan, of the people he loved to share life with. He was a great entertainer, he loved to tell, to read, he was very cultured. Friendship is a theme that often returns myth. Even though in reality he knew that friendship is very difficult, and you are lucky even if you have a number of friends that you can count on the fingers of one hand. Yes, one of the little ghosts was this. "

Who was your father's great friend?

"My mother. Basically I would say her. In the sense that she shared a lot with her, even though like all the couples there was discussion, frictions, quarrels. But basically they were a united couple who shared the same passions. My mother was an artistic point of reference, she read everything that passed through the house. She acted as a filter, participated actively, albeit behind the scenes and in a discreet way, almost like a whisper, but she was a person whom Dad highly esteemed, the most important link. The other friends? I think of Ennio Morricone, Carlo Simi ".

Was he betrayed by a friend?

"Yes. In fact, this always comes back. I know for sure and for that reason it was disenchanted. But it happens to all: who has not been betrayed?"

Did he forgive or remember?

"I would say he remembered, but he was not a man who bore resentment. He went on."

He called himself the son of Neorealism, he loved to quote Vittorio De Sica among the directors he had joined, who had him act as a priest in a scene of 'Bicycle Thieves'.

"It is true. He had been a young assistant director and spoke of De Sica who, beyond his talents and ability as a director, was an extraordinary man. He was fascinated by it. He had a tender memory of that period, he was proud in a funny way of this participation as an actor. He made us see himself often, for him it meant so much, for us it was fun, because we saw him differently from how we knew him. It was a small thing, but for him it represented something strong, in his relationship with De Sica. On the set, on a rainy day, there was the invention of this picture, an intelligent and functional idea that had struck him ".

To an interviewer who calls him a father of the western, he replies 'I don't like being considered a father even by my children, who call me Sergio'.

"This thing is not so true. I used to call him dad. But it is true in a metaphorical sense. He was not a classic father, he treated us like we were adults forever, I felt like a child and happy, but I was treated as a person, with an identity, respected and considered. Our opinions, the way of feeling were received by the adults of the house. We shared everything, there were no lunches or dinners to which we could not participate. Ours was also a friendship. "

Girlhood memories? Which actor affected you?

"Many flashes, we dressed up on the set of “Once Upon a Time in the West”. I remember the troupes more than the actors. Surely I was hit by De Niro in “Once Upon a Time in America”, also because I was older, the first film in which I worked with my father. I was twenty and I was aware. Robert was a complex man, but very fascinating.

Your father took the work ethic and intuition for stories. Any other little things you inherited from him?

"I don't know. My brother Andrea comes to mind, the one who grows up and the more he resembles father. In times of reaction to things, movements, gestures. After all, he looks a lot like him, he has a lot of daddy both in his approach to work than in reports ".

The saddest memory and the happiest one with your father?

"The saddest is the day of death. To call it sad is a euphemism. After thirty years there is still anger, disbelief. I still can't think about it serenely. It was a black hole. The happiest thing? I have many. The first I remember is the struggles on Sunday morning on the bed, I was 5, 6 years old and there was a habit on the weekend, with my sister we woke up and went to the bedroom with him and we began to struggle on the bed, moments of absolute lightness ".

Of the great international success too - from Tarantino to Green book - that today you have as a producer your father would tell you: "I'm proud", "I expected it" or "I didn't expect it" ...

"A success that I share in everything with my brother Andrea. Dad would be proud of it and I like to think that he expected it in some way. Part of people's success, if they have this luck, comes from the family and cultural baggage they carry with them. Surely I have always felt sure of what I was doing that came from their approval. From the fact that my mother and my father respected me and considered me in what I did and said. The road opens up, you buy a little courage which is what it sometimes takes to take some roads more than others ".

Does it strike you that Sergio Leone's cinema is still so well known and loved in the world?

"It makes me happy. Any child hopes that what their father and mother have done remains, is a way of not letting them go away at all. This continuous recognition of what they have done together, this presence of his work and what it was is a wonderful feeling, the perception that so much of him is still here ".

Who is his heir to the world?

"Every director has personal characteristics; it is difficult to find an heir. But for his diversity, for what he has done, I would say Quentin Tarantino. Even if he is not an heir, but he has taken an inheritance and transformed it, as they do I would say that if I think about what he did, about filmography, he belongs to a later generation than my father, I think his films, his talent, his genius have the same strings as my father's ".

Will you make more films together after 'The Hateful Eight'?

"I hope so, it was an important collaboration. Now this new movie “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” was challenging, a major film, and there was no possibility of access. But yes, I would love to work again."

Finally the set of 'Colt' will start, the project of your father will be directed by Stefano Sollima.

"Yes, Dad's idea was to tell the west through a gun, the story of this gun that passed from hand to hand and doing so told stories of so many lives, so many characters, so many realities. He told America, which was his favorite subject. Years ago we tried to make a series but it was too early to do it. This thing remained in the drawer like other things, which we would like to gradually realize. Until we met Sollima and the work he had done.  He is the right person to tell this thing, take this legacy and transform it. From there this collaboration was born. We started working on a television series, a story that my father would love very much, with ups and downs, because Stefano was engaged, he made “Soldato in America” went more slowly than we had set for ourselves at the beginning, and today he is taking a new path: we will make a film that will go into production in the fall, because the original project was that of a long film, that was his natural destiny ".

Is there another project in your father's drawer that you would like to make come true?

"Yes, there is one of the first things he wrote, a peplum, a film about ancient Rome. Made with his spirit, his way of seeing things that is certainly also ironic, particular, with a different edge. It is called “The Eagles of Rome”, one of the first scripts he wrote, a first draft, there is work to be done, but it is a very intriguing story, another thing that we will slowly develop: we need to identify the right director for a project of that type, to understand then whether to make a series or a film of it. Now we are devoting ourselves to ‘Colt’".

It's also the way to do another piece of the road with his father ...

"Yes, the thing we set for ourselves with Andrea, since we bought back all the rights to his films, to be able to reassemble “Once Upon a Time in America” and present it again in its original version. These are things that are good for you and that go beyond the "Commercial aspect of our work, these are things you do because you think they are important and right. And it's a way to thank him."

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