The Oscars will be here before we know it, and the conversation once again moves to the many commanding films that were left off of the list. Many focus on the major categories for features, but for me the one that is missing is the short film by Aldo Iuliano, Penalty. This movie was not flashy or high energy, but its impact is still felt long after viewing.
It’s a film that takes you by surprise, not only by the way the tension builds through the simple shots, but for the unexpected construction of the narrative. I was able to interview Iuliano, and gaining an insight to his process opened up a whole new love of this film’s creation. It’s one of those rare films that shows just how beautiful a film can be when all elements work together in unison.
Iuliano didn’t start out as a film director, for his progression through storytelling began as a cartoonist. While the two mediums may seem disjointed to most, for him the connection was logical. They both provide a way to express vision of a world through art, all that is needed is an audience to take it in. However, his love of film was solidified when the access to his vision was able to be conveyed through multiple avenues allotted on film.
“I love to represent dreams and nightmares to the audience, to reflect all together the human emotions, and to analyze when circumstances put pressure on us. Cinema and comics are two similar and powerful instruments for me, letting me use my imagination and give it to the audience,” he explains. “But cinema has the movement and emotions of actors. It shows real humanity that is impossible to replicate on paper.”
That aspect couldn’t be more evident than in Penalty. In the short, a group of men are playing a soccer game, one in which the stakes are higher than anyone could possibly imagine, they are playing for their lives. The film consists of little dialogue, relying on the world of the film to create the story. Translating a film from writing is hard enough, but one that doesn’t depend on dialogue can be treacherous. Luckily Iuliano had a respectful working relationship with screenwriters that allowed for a unique conversation to be had between the written and visual.
“We worked together constantly. For me it is important to share ideas with them in every moment, on the set too,” Iuliano adds. “Alessandro Giulietti and Severino Iuliano (the screenwriters) valued all my visual ideas in the first steps of writing, and I accepted all their professional advice about the plot in every moment of the production. It’s a good team.”
Having a solid team behind the camera is essential, and one that allows for the film to speak through many aspects on multiple levels. Especially when so much emotion and story is told by the blending of these elements. The non-linear storyline of the film creates not only tension but emotion as well. It’s no wonder it was able to be executed with simplicity having a team behind the camera so collaborative. The redefining of the timeline within the film presented an opportunity for the film to be more about the people involved in the action instead of the action itself.
“We started to reflect about the rules of soccer and the wrong actions of humans, so the point is: it is not important; time, place, and the players speak about a fight for survival. The most important thing for the audience is to feel emotions in front of a story,” Iuliano explains. “So we used flashbacks and we flashed forward to arrive step by step to the end, with a dramatic and cathartic twist.”
The tone of the film is largely established by the landscape that encompasses the film. The desolate terrain mimics the emotional turmoil the characters are going through, there is nowhere to escape from the situation at hand. Location is crucial in providing landscapes, physical and mental, to the story, and more often than not occur where you least expect it. For Iuliano and his team, the perfect location was closer than he knew, his hometown of Crotone, Calabria Italy.
“It was a crucial decision, the location, because for me the nature is a character in Penalty. The music is the voice of nature (only female choir), the field is the body of mother-nature,” Iuliano adds. “The players are the child of mother nature, and Mother Nature cries for her children that kill each other. I found this amazing, wild, and evocative place in Foce del Neto, Crotone.”
The children Iuliano speaks of are the men at the center of the story, the playing in this deadly game of soccer. Even with the film’s lack of reliance on dialogue, it’s crucial to recognize that these are not professional actors. The way they are able to convey heightened emotion through an effortless glance is what makes this movie so powerful.
“I needed to feel pain through the eyes of the actors, no words or dialogue, only a direct look at the camera. So I chose real refugees in a camp of Crotone: their eyes are like a mirror for the audience. These eyes represent universal emotions that all people can recognize.” Iuliano says.
This was the most important choice he made throughout production, not only because of what he was able to bring forth in the film, but because it was an incredible adventure for all those involved. He spent time with these refugees, teaching them the ways of cinema and forming a close bond with each of them.
“Some people may think that working with non-actors on something like this could hinder the process,” Iuliano adds. “But it allows other elements, like the built in tension of the story and the cinematography, to really shine through.”
In being able to shape a relationship with these men, Iuliano was also able to shape the characters in the film around them, developing another fierce element to the overall film. These men have continued their journey, some through their permitted movement throughout Europe as others are still in Crotone, but no matter where they go, their story has been captured for the world to comprehend.
Penalty is one of those films that will stay with me, not because of its profound story, but because it was able to balance all the emotions present in each element of film. The perfect balance captivates the story, allows for a transcendence of connections beyond the screen. For Iuliano it was a simple notion of letting his instincts tell an honest story.
“When you feel inside yourself for the right emotions that you wanted on your film, you will find the right technical way and the best organization to manage your time,” Iuliano adds.
This is beneficial advice for filmmakers who are wanting to create a balanced and breathable film, and one we can only hope to achieve one day. For more information on the short film Penalty, please head over to the film’s official website.
Written by Lisa Mejia
Images provided by London Flair PR