As Netflix looks to expand their film content in order to become a main contender in the field of cinema, they have reached out to filmmaker’s near and far to foster an international identity.
Ferdinando Cito Filomarino is the latest writer, director to work in collaboration with the streaming service, creating the action thriller Beckett, his second film after 2015s independent project Antonia. The variation of the director’s credits are certainly impressive, having worked alongside the influential Luca Guadagnino as the second unit director during the production of A Bigger Splash, Call Me by Your Name and Suspiria.
Building his expertise across several projects, Filomarino’s latest takes his name to new heights, with Beckett being a high-profile political thriller, starring John David Washington, Alicia Vikander, Boyd Holbrook and Vicky Krieps. With Washington following in the footsteps of his father, Denzel, he takes on the action-packed lead role of a tourist who finds himself embroiled in a political conspiracy after experiencing a tragic car accident.
We spoke to Filomarino prior to the release of Beckett worldwide on Netflix on August 13, discussing the inspiration behind the tale and the influence of the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men.
Far Out: So how did the idea for Beckett come about?
Filomarino: “Well this, let’s say sub-genre of the manhunt thriller, is a type of story both in film and literature that I’ve always loved and always found it to be very cinematic in particular, and the way that there’s a lot of weight put on the shoulders of a single character, but also there’s always a very important matter of landscape. Because if you’re running away, where you are physically, geographically is very relevant. So in that sense, it can be extremely cinematic, as many westerns have taught us.
“I was originally wanting to adapt a specific book, and the rights to the book were not available even though it was a pretty obscure book. So out of anger, I guess [laughs], I thought ‘I’ve read and seen so many stories that play with this, I’ll just make my own’. That’s how it all started, and then, of course, my objective was to find an angle, it’s a very old genre, so how do we make this interesting today?
Is that where the political aspect of the film was born from?
“Well, the political context. That’s part of the original ingredients, of course, it is a political context that is very familiar and recent for us. So of course, that’s new. But if I’m talking about ingredients, the thing that I looked into renewing was the character. So, for example, creating a man who is not a spy, and is just a tourist, who can’t use guns and doesn’t really know how to fight. I was like, ‘what, if a guy like that finds themselves involved in a political conspiracy, what happens then?’. Someone that could be relatable, not just an action man, someone that you could relate to and project yourself onto.”
Nice, were there any particular film inspirations behind that character, or the film itself? It reminded me a little of Tony Scott’s Enemy of the State whilst I was watching it.
“Enemy of the state is a good example of, you know, the very commercial outlet of that type of film, but there is something to that film, and many like it, where it almost doesn’t matter who the character is at the beginning of the story, even if he is an everyman because soon enough, he becomes superhuman. No matter how many times he falls, no matter if he’s run over or anything, he just keeps going. He doesn’t wear it, you know, because it’s more about the spectacle and the supernatural aspect of it, and I was looking both in the character and in the general tone of the film too, to stay a bit closer to the ground.
“You know, that film that you reference I haven’t seen in many, many years, but I remember enjoying it, and it’s because it played with our imagination. It’s like, ‘is this already the world we live in, where they see everything we do?’ So it played on fantasy, whereas I really made it a point to try and stay grounded, and of course, there’s a political conspiracy in this film, but it is actually based on things that I’ve found in the news.”
I feel like that definitely comes across, especially in the fight scene at the train station in the film. In terms of the action scenes, is this realism something you tried hard to replicate?
“Absolutely, in the way that of course, even though there’s a trained killer approaching, he wants to get away. Sometimes that’s not possible. When that happens we tried to make it so, ‘let’s not cheat. How would he really handle this situation?’ He decides to do one thing, but then that doesn’t go according to plan, so has to do something else!”
You mentioned before about landscapes, I thought it’s quite interesting, the idea of being pursued across an unknown plain, were you inspired by a lot of Western stories?
Well, you know, the Western was, historically, the first real genre that existed in narrative filmmaking. I think the reason is that it’s got an immediacy to the cinematic language, it’s so sparse and clear. The western had something sort of primordial about genre, the chase, the police, the train robbers, etc. Landscapes, covering distances, ‘can they get to that place in time’, establishes itself as a very important aspect of genre filmmaking.
“In this case, for example, it was also important to me that we went somewhere that was not explored in narrative cinema, setting the film in the Greek Northern Mountains. It begins in the mountains, but it was important to convey just how much Beckett needs to travel to solve the problem that he finds himself in, and the best way to do that, to me, was for the landscape to change.
“Greece has this rich array of variety of landscapes, you know, mountains, rivers, flat country, dry country, wet country, cities of all sizes, and they’re all very, very dense with history, and very interesting, and beautiful. We tailored the escape and the chases on that specific place.”
Yeah, the location stands out, it’s quite an unusual place for a big action film to take place.
“Usually, when Greece is represented in non-Greek films, it’s usually summer, it’s on an island, there is like that scorching sun, its golden lights.”
Just like Mamma Mia…
“Yeah, that’s part of Greece, it almost has this typical sort of idyllic tourist idea. But Greece is a very interesting place, it was also undergoing very interesting political and social moments in the last few years, but there was so much more to it.
“I didn’t really know Greece very well, but with the help of a local production company I did get to know it a lot before even adapting the story to it. There’s just so much more. It’s more fun to me, in my opinion, to see places that you wouldn’t normally expect, represented in the way that you wouldn’t expect to see them.”
In terms of the writing process, how did you work together with Kevin A. Rice to bring the story to life?
“It went great because I had written the first draft of the story, which he liked and then our conversation started and we had a great understanding. I was interested, as a European filmmaker, in collaborating with someone like Kevin who went to AFI and has this very American technical background to him.
“There was something to his writing and his thinking, and structural thinking that I felt would perfectly balance and complement my more sort of raw desire for a specific type of story. The two different actors fusing together for something unique.”
Speaking of actors, how was it working with John David Washington?
“It was amazing. It was a privilege at the stage I’m at to work with somebody at that level, and what was amazing was that he responded to the material. First of all, he’d seen my first movie, which is a small, little Italian movie, he spent the first few minutes of our first meeting talking about that, which was cool. Then we spoke so much about the script in the instinctual reactions that it evoked in him, and I guess, he found something relatable in that character, which is how we built it.
“The fact that it responded to him opened the doors to the possibility of this collaboration, which ended up being amazing because he’s so passionate and giving, and of course, also an amazing, very sophisticated performer on top of being an amazing screen presence.”
In terms of the wider genre of thriller cinema, are there any films you find to push the envelope of filmmaking? Any you find particularly inspiring?
“Well, in terms of men being hunted across landscapes, definitely No Country for Old Men is a film that will probably stay in the history of cinema forever. I mean, it already is in the history of cinema, as far as I’m concerned.
“It’s perfection in that sense, and it fuses several genres while also maintaining a very, very deep spiritual sense of a kind of human existentialism, it’s amazing, it can do all those things at once. So that’s definitely, to me, a very high mark, and standard in terms of pushing the genre to and beyond its limits, that’s a movie that I admire with all my love for cinema.”
I can definitely see the inspiration in Beckett as well, in terms of the cross-country journey, and that the realistic take on travelling across the unknown frontier. In respect to working with Netflix, did you find the experience particularly liberating?
“Well, the collaboration is great, because, you know, they acquired the film when it was basically finished, and we found a perfect balance and dialogue and understanding in the way to promote the film, making sure that the film was represented in the way that I envisioned it originally and that I feel it should be. Then Netflix doing all the amazing muscular work that they can do with all their expertise and reach. So it was a perfectly balanced and fruitful collaboration.”
Nice one, so having worked with Netflix on Beckett, what’s next for you? Will you be sticking with them for another genre film?
“Well, I’m working on something which I’m not entirely ready to talk about yet, but it is still a play on genre.”
Any particular genre, or does that remain under wraps?
“Well, it still involves elements of thriller and a very strong character. I like that combination.”