Locarno 2019: ‘The Young Observant’ Director Davide Maldi On Preparing For Adult Life

The Young Observant (L’Apprendistato) follows a fourteen-year-old boy as he leaves his life in the mountains to enrol in a catering school.

Director Davide Maldi join us on Close-up Culture to talk about his documentary, the transition from adolescence to adulthood, attending the Locarno Film Festival, and much more.

Q: ‘The Young Observant’ follows teenagers as they adapt to life in a hotel boarding school. What did you feel you could uncover and explore from entering this space?

A: The Young Observant is not a documentary that wants to show something incredible or unknown, but it is a film that records the moment when a teenager becomes aware of what he will become an adult by learning a job made of rules and discipline. It is the story of a teenager who suddenly finds himself confronted by new responsibilities and this raises several questions, it is a paradox that deserved to be explored and told.

‘The Young Observant’

Q: One of the subjects of the film, Luca, goes from up walking in the woods and taking care of his family’s livestock to serving costumers in an orderly indoor setting. Do you think this is a natural step for Luca or any young boy?

A: I am not going to say what is healthy or not for the lives of people and especially a boy. I think it is extremely difficult to learn a job as an adult, even more difficult if you are fourteen, and even more difficult if you are a boy with a wild and free spirit like Luca. Adult life is rather unnatural and full of wrong things. I think it is important to be prepared from adolescence to the difficulties of real life. For Luca this is only a moment, it is a passage that will form him and that will be part of his story.

Q: What struck you the most about the impact this setting had on the boys?

A: In every context we are given a regulation or laws to be respected. In this film the rules provided by the maître to his students can be understood as suggestions to survive once the school is over. These are the rules of the outside world, the rules required by the costumer, the boys learn the rules to work and please those who they will serve.

Q: Could you relate to the boys going through this stage in their lives? Did you go through something similar?

A: My experience is different, almost the opposite of that told in the film.

I attended a Catholic school of nuns and therefore I had an education centred on respect and education, close to that told in the film. I lived in a context in which everyone showed their well-being and their perfection: a perfect life. But it wasn’t like that. My adolescence was full of superficiality without any responsibility. And when the problems came, it was difficult to realise and cope with them.

Q: I understand you used a tripod with fix lenses from the fifties. What was your approach to filming and the visual style of ‘The Young Observant’?

A: I tried to give back to the images the same aesthetic rigour conveyed by the school. Before shooting, I spent a lot of time observing the lessons and gaining the trust of Luca and the other boys. I wanted to be sure what to film and how to film it. I was inspired by the old illustrated teaching manuals, the school remembers an ancient time, it feels like a college of many decades ago. I wanted to underline this aspect by making that place feel out of time, in contrast to the present.

‘The Young Observant’

Q: This is the second film in your trilogy on adolescence. How does it compare to the first?

A: The first film, Frastuono (Uproar, 2014), is a documentary about the indecision of two provincial boys who, coming out of the bubble of their rooms, face the world through the distorted sound of the music they both play, remaining anchored to their voice and spreading a sound difficult to listen to. The Young Observant, the central film of the trilogy, poised between documentary and fiction, tells of the need to prepare for adult life. The third film, which will be closer to fiction but always with elements of real life, will put the protagonist in a position where he needs to save himself after the failure of his family.

In that trilogy there are moments of transition that transform the protagonists into what life intends them to be, the difference from the first film to the last film will be the hardness with which the protagonist rebels against life.

Q: ‘The Young Observant’ will screen at the Locarno Film Festival. What does it mean to you for the film to screen at this festival?

A: I have been following the film festival of Locarno for many years and have always seen important films by important authors, being part of it makes me proud and happy – I hope I can live up to it. Moreover, participation in the competition Cineasti del presente is a great achievement for this film and a great recognition for all those who have worked on the project.

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