Luca Manzi is one of the most brilliant screenwriters in Italy, he is the creator of the very successful television series ‘Boris’ and is establishing himself in the Hollywood realm. He has just completed the script of ‘The games of 1940’ with David Seidler (Oscar winner for ‘The King’s Speech’) that will be produced by Frank Marshall.
Besides his vast experience in the film-industry, Luca has a very rich academic career and has now published his first novel that defines fate as an illegal taxi driver, ‘Il destino è un tassista abusivo’.
First of all how did you come up with the definition of fate as an illegal taxi driver?
I’ve always had problems with illegal taxi drivers. It’s quite common in Italy – in airports and train stations – to be approached by these guys without a license who try to allure you into their cabs. It’s always quite embarrassing to get rid of them, because you never really know what to say. I never manage to spot them out, in time to avoid them, and sometimes I have the same feeling about destiny and the way it shifts in our lives. It arrives quite unexpectedly, but you never see it coming. So this is the kind of emotional analogy that made me see my every day life as an illegal cab driver.
Giorgio is a very sensitive, cultured, and yet down-to-earth man, how much of you is in him?
I share with Giorgio some outer aspects of life: I live in the same area of Rome, I love bicycles, I love art very much. It’s like wearing his same clothes, but not really being him. I’m grateful to have a great job, that really makes me happy and fulfils my life, contrarily to Giorgio. This is actually part of his character: being unrecognised and unsatisfied. He’s aware he’s worth something but he’s surrounded by people who don’t seem to notice. Giorgio is basically a coward as he defines himself. He loves to be a spectator, he’s an art critic so he stares and tries to make sense of what he sees but he avoids getting involved. It was a big challenge to portray a character that the audience would love, despite him being a coward, it’s not easy to empathise with someone like that. I have a different attitude: I jump into situations and constantly mess my life in them.
Through the entire story you depict men as victims of the women they love: ready to improve themselves, willing to compromise and always confronting themselves on the sentimental side of relationships. Is this how you see the interaction between genders also in reality?
When you write something, you don’t want to tell everything, you just focus on one aspect. It’s natural and understandable for the audience to think that this is the way you see things. Actually it’s the way you wanted to tell that particular story, it’s not necessarily how you see things. So I know this is not the only way men relate to women but it was the most interesting to see at that stage. I am fascinated by men who take the challenge in trying to understand their women. There are also men who don’t even try, but for a male heterosexual writer these are less interesting to focus on. The amazing journey you have when you really try to understand your woman is much more interesting than when you’re trying to defend yourself from the complexity of your mate.
You also make a difference between the perfect woman and the ideal woman…
The ideal woman is the woman you dream about at a certain stage in our life: most men have this illusion that the ideal woman actually exists. Eventually they get rid of this idea and start to see women for what they really are, no longer for how much they match with their ideal. The perfect woman is a myth, like a Golem, she’s a monster, a nightmare: she’s just too perfect! You can’t really attack her. Nor can you defend yourself from her. She always does everything the right way! She puts you in a constant situation of being inadequate. So you grow a constant metaphysical guilt of being with a woman who is so much better than you. On certain terms these two kind of women are quite similar, but as I state in my novel, ideal women don’t exist, whilst perfect women unfortunately do! They completely devastate your life. It’s better to stick to women full of lovely flaws.
Giorgio falls in love with Agnese at first sight, and you define this moment comparing it to a step in ballet, the ecarté, why did you choose this metaphor?
Because I’m deeply fascinated by ballet. It’s a magnificent, superb, form of art. It’s speechless. It’s a pure expression of beauty, like painting. But at the same time it’s physical and live. From my emotional experience ballet can give such incredible emotions, because the ecarté gives the sense of winning the limits of human beings. You have the feeling of time stopping for an instant. So I thought that was a good way of describing the moment during which you see a woman and you space out.
You also describe Giorgio’s past love affairs, like the one during his university years with Biancamaria. It is very amusing and very profound because they clash under all aspects, nevertheless they love each other very much. A sentence that concerns their break-up is particularly striking: “we had fallen in love when life was incredibly simple and when it became real we couldn’t stand the impact.” What makes it real and in this case caused the break-up?
Bianca is one of the two autobiographic moments in my novel, the other is my grandmother, therefore I really lived the story with Bianca. The coming of the age was the problem. We were kids and fell in love when we still didn’t have responsibilities. That’s the crucial turning-point: it becomes real when you become an adult.
On these grounds, Giorgio acts as a sort of Pygmalion towards Agnese and tells her repeatedly how important it is to know what you want to do in life. Nowadays young people feel quite disorientated and tend to live hand-to-mouth becomes of unemployment and the crisis. Do you think, like Giorgio, that despite the hard times it helps to focus on a very strong goal?
Absolutely, it’s the most important thing in life you must do to respect yourself. If you don’t start giving credit to yourself others won’t feel the urge to either.
Do you think it is more difficult for young people nowadays?
It definitely is. They are raised in desperation, terror and with the constant idea that it’s impossible for them to accomplish their dreams. But it is also true that not all people have a clear mind on what they actually would like to do. I had to wait until after my thirties to realise I wanted to write. It’s a huge gift to have a passion that enlightens your life.
What advice would you give to young people who would like to start working in your field?
To read as much as possible. To really be curious. To place themselves in situations that they have nothing to do with, feeling uncomfortable and estranged. To write. It might seem obvious but it’s not. The majority of people who come to me saying they would like to write, never do. So if you want to write, just do it and see what it feels like. Face the dismay, face the desperation, face the failure, and see if you’re strong enough and love it enough to continue. Writing today is easier, because the technology puts you in the condition of arriving faster and easier to so many people all over the world. So the real subject matter is do you have talent? Do you have strength? If you have them both, you can learn the technique and make a job out of it. But you must figure yourself out first: if you have talent and if you have strength. And write!
In the story there is a very tender reference to youth pranks, like when Franco drags Giorgio to steal broad beans as he used to do in his youth. Today acts of bravado aren’t so innocent, why do you think juveniles have to impress in outrageous ways?
When I was a teenager life was less of a show. You were less concerned about the way other people saw you in these occasions and were more focused on the emotion that you felt doing these bravados. Nowadays you must firstly satisfy your audience. So that’s why people have a tendency to do more shocking pranks today.
In your storytelling you also act as (quoting you) an arbiter elegantiarum dividing people into categories according to what they dress like: wannabeglam, grunge, fake-alternative, bo-bo…what style is most similar to you?
Considering you’re a screenwriter…should we expect to see this novel on the big screen?
It’s a very difficult question: I’m tempted and scared. It’s my first novel and it gave me the chance to widen and extend the spaces for my characters. I was given the means to find and express everything that I wanted, which is something you never do with a script because it has to go on a screen. It felt so good not to have restraints! On one side I think that this novel has a lot of traits for a screenplay, on the other side I’m pretty much afraid of losing all these spaces I explored. Of course I’d be willing to adapt it in a script if someone wanted to produce it but I won’t struggle to do so myself. I’ll let destiny choose for me. It’s been a great experience to write a novel in my late thirties, after having written so many scripts, and I hope to repeat this experience along with my screenwriting.
by Chiara Spagnoli