From cinema to crime novels, Enrico Vanzina, producer and screenwriter, sits down to talk to us as his latest novel is released. He discusses his passion for writing and his stories about the detective Max Mariani, the protagonist of his thrillers, who is himself a mystery, privately tormented but with a talent for exceptional clarity in solving the most complex police cases. We met Enrico Vanzina during literary month at The View in Lugano where he presented his latest work.
You have shot hundreds of films. Have you ever thought about bringing your own crime novels to the big screen?
I’ve often asked myself that question. This novel is the third in a series about the adventures of a Roman detective whom I describe as “very Californian”. Of course I wrote it with the cinema in mind. I start out with this idea which is a fantastic definition of cinema by Truffaut: “Cinema is life with the boring bits taken out.” That’s exactly how it is. I imagine this kind of literature as noir, what the Americans call hardboiled, exactly like that, very entertaining with no boring bits. All my books are written with a very cinematographic slant; you could put all three together and create a short saga about this character. Personally I don’t like starting with me and then rewriting myself for the cinema. In this case, I did too much, I don’t want to do any more. What I wanted to do, I did with literature; I didn’t want to make a film, I wanted to write a book. I really don’t like the idea of cutting or modifying or adapting it to make it interesting for cinema. It’s finished, that’s it! That’s why I’m expecting and have already received a number of interesting offers from directors keen to turn my novels into a long-running television series. This is the format that they best lend themselves to because they make up a short saga which concludes with this book. There are opportunities in each novel, the first, Il gigante sfregiato, is a story of a Chinese man in Rome, the second, Il mistero del rubino birmano, is a spy story a little like Hitchcock, and the third, La donna dagli occhi d’oro, is much more noir, a psychological thriller. As the three stories develop, the mystery behind the protagonist unfolds and the reader discovers why this man is the way he is, why he is a detective, what has happened in his life and slowly they start to discover the character.
Changing the subject slightly, do your future projects include any new films?
Over the past two years I have made two films in Switzerland: Un matrimonio da favola, in Zurich, and half of the film Non si ruba a casa dei ladri, again in Zurich. I rediscovered the country I have known since I was a child, because I went to college in Switzerland, and it is because of Switzerland that I came back! Now, however, I’m working on something I’m really enjoying, but I’m doing cinema and therefore I don’t want to talk about it too much. After that I’m thinking about a novel, a very interesting novel because it is about Rome. It will be called Una sera a Roma, a great crime thriller about Rome. The real mystery, however, is understanding what Rome is. It’s a very demanding book; I have been working on it for many years. If I can, if I manage to really concentrate on it, I hope to have it finished next year.
Talking about today’s society, what are the issues that most interest you? Do you pay any attention? Do you find inspiration?
I’ve had the good fortune, and some small measure of talent, but really good fortune to make films about Italy for more than 40 years, which means that the thing that interests me most of all is observing Italy, and particularly observing its people and their problems. Cinema is always five minutes ahead of everything else; that’s why it’s so important. It gets small numbers in terms of viewers and investment, however, in reality it’s strategic, in the sense that cinema knows a year beforehand what television will be showing a year later. Then I have been fortunate to also be a journalist. A third of my day is dedicated to reading and understanding not just books but understanding what is going on inside us; if you don’t do that, you can’t do this job.
And on a political level? Do you follow politics? Are you passionate about it?
Very much so, with the distance of an old Roman sceptic. I believe my life started mysteriously 2,000 years ago in the city where I was born which has allowed me to become a citizen of the world, because by now I no longer even feel Roman. I’m detached. This is a very bad time which politics will only be able to overcome if we improve ourselves, because politics is a mirror of ourselves. Therefore if we don’t improve, politics won’t improve either. It’s a confused time with big questions and a lot of unrest. The world is opening up to universal problems which our little regions are not used to dealing with. We are facing enormous challenges and the political class and the whole political system don’t have the tools to resolve these problems. Certainly I’m more interested in world politics than Italian politics which is small, very inward-looking, not very stimulating, almost depressing.
Because the problems, compared to those in today’s world, are very complex…
At one time international problems were very far away. Today, however, with communications, in five minutes, they’re our problems too. We’re no longer concerned about problems in Ticino, Lazio, or with the League or even the European Union; we’re concerned about world problems which land on top of us immediately.
Do you have a list of goals?
Yes, I do. They are still the same as when I was eighteen: to try to do well what I know how to do. The best film or the best novel that one can write is one about the relationships with the people you love. That’s important.
Thinking of the future, what would you like for yourself, your family and those you care about? For society, for everyone?
That there will be someone after me who continues doing what I have done, like the work I’ve done following on from my father who did it before me. It’s kind of a little path which destiny has placed in our hands and we mustn’t give up. Like someone who owns a craft shop and has to try to keep it going. In a normal world it’s not easy. I would like someone after me to make their mark just as we have.