During this year's Locarno Festival, a few of the films I watched although narrative features, felt more like documentaries. Wonderfully gratifying documentaries without judgement or a cliche point of view in sight.
One such film was Leonardo Guerra Seràgnoli's 'Likemeback'. Perhaps because of the spontaneous acting by three exceptional young women -- Angela Fontana as Danila, Denise Tantucci as Carla and Blu Yoshimi Di Martino as Lavinia -- or maybe due to Guerra Seràgnoli's script and intimate way of filming this trio of friends on vacation on a sail boat, 'Likemeback' felt real.
Unforced and unequivocally cool.
In this age of #MeToo and TimesUp movements, 'Likemeback' offers a cautionary tale on the power of female sexuality and seduction and how that can be harnessed for the worst intentions. But it also places us in a front row seat on viewing the dangers of social media, when in the hands of the young and inexperienced.
I personally believe we should all get a license before joining Instagram. Or at least take a class.
But what makes Guerra Seràgnoli's film so perfect is that the filmmaker himself isn't as opinionated about the social media phenomenon and the power of cellular phones in the hands of today's youth. In fact, he called the film "an experiment" during our interview in Locarno, and credited his actresses with having created an exchange and collaboration with him -- thus allowing the film to fully succeed.
I caught up with the three beautiful young stars and their director Guerra Seràgnoli in Locarno and following is our fascinating interview.
Leonardo why set a film about social media on a boat?
Leonardo Guerra Seràgnoli: Because the sea is also a no-man’s space, you have no signals of society, it’s a void.
Angela, how much are you personally connected on social media?
Angela Fontana: Me personally not much. Because I find them useful but I know we shouldn’t abuse our use of them. I found it difficulty in interpreting the role of Danila exactly for this reason because she does abuse them in some ways. I don’t judge other people who show themselves on SM because if done in a positive way, I think it can help other girls who really have problems or have suffered somehow and by seeing examples of others who use social media in the right way can gain more insight into its use.
And what do you think is the right way to use SM?
Fontana: You can even show your body, but in a non-vulgar way. I don’t want to use the wrong terms, maybe vulgar is too much, but to use it in a constructive way. Show your shortcomings on SM in your photos, because girls our age shouldn’t just see perfection on an international platform but also bodies that aren’t perfect — like shown in the film — and beautiful. We are normal girls. We have pimples and all. We are natural, unplastified and who don't intend at age 18 to get breast implants or plump their lips. A good balance between those who do, and I don’t judge them, and those who don’t.
And Leonardo, this ever present social media aspect of 'Likemeback', when and how did that come in?
Guerra Seràgnoli: Today with social media you are always physically in a place and mentally somewhere else. So it was interesting for me to investigate how the real and virtual world, how they invade each other and how the virtual especially can interfere with the real. Then I thought, lets try to do this experiment. I call it experiment because it was very distinctive.
I wanted to make a small budget film, before making a bigger film which would require more time. It’s a small small crew and working in a sort of collaborative way with the actresses. The whole point for me to get a glimpse of this new generation, get as close as possible. This is not something that is going to pass, social media, it is their lives, it’s the way they live. It’s how they grew up and it’s their second nature.
From my POV I could be easily judgmental and I like to challenge myself not to be judgmental with things around me. And one way is to know better, this idea of working with females, instead of writing my story as an 18-year old today, I thought better to create a dialogue where I know less and they bring more. Rather than me writing a monologue about kids today. I felt there would be more possibility of exchange and collaboration this way.
Blu, your character Lavinia seems at first almost disinterested in social media and then we find out she has a whole other life online.
Blu Yoshimi Di Martino: I think that deep inside Lavinia needs acknowledgement absolutely, from her followers. She has such a deep void that brings her to extreme acts. I also think that among the three she is the one who fails the most. She doesn’t succeed in having any of what the other two girls attain. It’s strange because she is the one who is paying for the vacation which could appear like she is the one holding the power and yet she is constantly searching for something.
First she goes on Tinder to find a guy, but she really never finds him while Carla does. She tries to find success through these videos and she never finds it while Danila does. It’s interesting because Lavinia it’s like she has many different faces and tries to be many different things, when in reality, she’s a deeply sensitive girl possessing a sweetness and a frailty that I initially hadn’t understood for the role. Initially, I saw her as superficial, arrogant and self centered, so much negativity I saw in her that I really needed to pull back and begin to understand her. Comprehend her and love her through her shortcomings.
Carla is the most complex perhaps, because she doesn’t seem at all like the one who will get into trouble and yet, she does, despite herself. How was she as a character to interpret Denise?
Denise Tantucci: Carla, as the other two characters, is an extremely sensitive girl who hides everything behind a well-written program. She begins her vacation knowing that as soon as she gets back she will need to throw herself into continuing her studies. In fact, as soon as she steps on board she hopes the connection will continue so she can study for her university admission test. She is definitely a person with her feet planted on the ground, aware of having a future already written out with a bit of performance anxiety. She would like to satisfy all her expectations. She has a steady long time boyfriend so she’s a person very much under pressure and like all people under pressure at one point, she blows.
She finds her rebirth in a way when she frees from her phone — not done by her free will but because of a disastrous event. At that point she has to deal with the reality at hand: she won’t find a phone, her friends won’t lend her theirs to study so she’s bound to forsake her studies during all her vacation days. What will she do? Well she begins to actually enjoy her vacation. She begins to realize the situations around her and it’s the reason why, in my opinion, there begins the first breaks between the three girls.
This generation lives virtually, not normally… How do you feel about this statement Leonardo?
Guerra Seràgnoli: For me it’s not negative. It's a movie that is so close to their age that only when I made it and spent a lot of time with them, the actresses, I realized that it’s the way they live. And only us, that we don’t live there can think that this is negative.
What I’m trying to say is that it’s their life. We had our own life and they have their life and we have to start accepting it, maybe creating a bridge of comprehension, a dialogue. For me that’s a little bit the point. They will never realize it’s bad, they were born with it. That’s their life. If you take the phone away, they’ll continue to go on, maybe miss it but it’s not such a shock.
Obviously from the eyes of who is watching today, from all of us — we are not eighteen — and we’re looking at something that is not really understandable.
My half sister who is fourteen watched the film and she never once mentioned the phone as an obsession or that it’s disturbing that they’re always on the phone. She said things like “oh, she was mean to her,” it’s almost like the phone is not even present. It’s embedded in their hands, it’s second nature. It’s a given.