In his new film “L’apprendistato” (“The Young Observant”), which premiered at the 72nd Locarno Festival in the Cineasti del presente competition, Italian filmmaker Davide Maldi explores a crucial moment in a young life as a teenage boy is forced to grow up after enrolling at a prestigious hotel and catering school.
Building on his background as an artist outside of the cinema — as well as citing Jonathan Swift’s 18th-century book “Directions to Servants” as a source of inspiration — Maldi approached a small group of artists from non-cinematic disciplines in making the film, a quiet, involving story which he shot alone within a carefully-selected educational facility frozen in time, ruled by tradition and discipline.
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The result is a well-composed mix of meticulously curated visuals and a rhythmic score, evoking the anxiously anticipated rite of passage that connects to the author’s general focus on coming-of-age, “L’apprendistato” being the second instalment of a future adolescence trilogy that began with his 2014 movie “Frastuono.”
“L’apprendistato” unapologetically borders documentary and fiction, something of a defining path for the young director. Uninspired by the structured routine of regular narrative fiction, Maldi embraced this convergence of fiction and reality with his 2011 film, “Sul Fiume.” “I’m not a documentarist,” he says, “but I like situations that can give me something that I cannot control.”
At the same time, since the message Maldi sought to convey in “L’apprendistato” was restricted to a specific vision, the production process was expectedly challenging. The preparations, with Maldi relying on Micol Roubini, the co-writer of the screenplay – who also produced along with Gabriella Manfré – followed a lengthy pre-production process. Maldi spent a lot of time at the school in order to establish relationships with the pupils and teachers and get them to feel comfortable in front of the camera.
Finding the balance between observation and control that would work for the film was imperative. For “L’apprendistato,” a lot of the control was invested in the initial phase, just before principal photography, opening the actual shoot up to an intimate study of these real people who process their emotions in real-time. “I controlled it before, to get the possibility of getting the real thing after.” The final narrative was then brought together conscientiously in the final process of selecting scenes.
A key part of “L’apprendistato,” and a highlight of Maldi’s confident and empathetic direction, is the sensitive humor with which the film is suffused. The pic shines with Maldi’s authentic depiction of utter boredom. As Maldi puts it, “I probably never saw a happy teenager.”
As the protagonist, Luca (Luca Tufano), hurries to become a man in an alien and over-regulated environment, the shadow of impending adulthood and responsibility hovers over him. However, as mentioned before, “L’apprendistato” is also a witty, entertaining pic. The constantly fidgeting Luca with his expressionless defiance becomes the trademark joke of this endearing film that hints at future accomplishments for Maldi in the vast grey-area of docu-fiction.
[The article’s writers are participants in the Locarno Festival’s Critics Academy.]