Born and raised in Luxembourg, with Italian parents, Marco Serafini has been working for over 40 years in Germany, Italy and France, before returning to the Duchy for his first feature film. Lisa Burke caught up with the director of The Toy Gun to talk about his roots, movies, languages and the impact of coming ‘home’ to Luxembourg.
It was a very wild little town…. I grew up in a little Italian ghetto called Brille.
An Italian in Luxembourg
Marco was born in Esch-sur-Alzette, in the south of Luxembourg. 60 years ago, it was a very different place, but the interplay of different cultures will be familiar to many of our readers. It was a childhood of playing football on the streets with no cars, alongside French and Luxembourgish children and returning home to the constancy of ‘an Italian kitchen’. And there was prejudice that the young Marco encountered every day:
Marco’s family hailed from a village near Pesaro in the Marche region of Italy. They formed part of a second wave of Italian immigrants to Luxembourg in the 1950s (the first being around the turn of the 20th century). Today, in this area of Italy, you can see many Luxembourgish cars, Marco tells me, as the people trickle back.
A Self-directed Movie Career
Every day I had two hours I went to see a movie.
Film sparked an instant interest for Marco, perhaps because his experiences of it were in a setting nothing short of divine:
“The first film I saw was at the ‘Missione Italiana’, a little church in Esch where the priest had a projector…and I loved it. I was very, very young… about four or five years old. There were not many cultural events in Luxembourg… not even much theatre. So in my free time I went always to movies and I became a big fan of Italian cinema and Italo – American cinema, because where I was living there was one cinema who especially played these kind of movies.”
But like many immigrant families, Marco’s parents had high hopes for their son to acquire a ‘better life’ than the generation before. He was one of the first immigrants to attend a Luxembourgish lycée, the Lycée des Garçons in Esch-sur-Alzette. So news of Marco’s desire to become a film director did not sit easily with his parents:
At that time in Luxembourg, there were very few options for a budding director. The European Institutions had not yet been envisaged; there was no SES, no Astra. RTL existed but in a much smaller capacity. So Marco made the decision to move to Germany, which provided him with the education, support and prospects he craved.
Lacking parental support, Marco found a mentor in the form of the famous Hollywood director, Douglas Sirk, one of the teachers at the Munich Film School, who worked with actors such as Rock Hudson and Barbara Stanwyck. They became lifelong friends, writing letters to each other until his death, with Douglas telling Marco that even in Hollywood it was difficult to be a director and that the situation became harder with time.
I became his friend and we were even writing letters to each other to his death. And he helped me a lot.
Enriched by Languages
Marco’s career encompasses many countries and actors from all directions. I wondered how different languages affected the feel and flow of his films.
And it is strange that my first movie, I am shooting it here… I went from Luxembourg with my car when I was 18….
One might assume that fluency in these languages would result in quicker integration in these countries, but growing up as an immigrant is never easy. The feeling of displacement can last a lifetime. Marco explained with poignancy how it is to live as an outsider:
Germany gave me the chance. The Germans never had a problem with my name…. OK they knew he is Serafini but he is Luxembourgish, but at the end I could work like anyone else because they appreciated what I did and my work….
When you were 18 you made a 40 years career in different countries and now you come back to realise your dream, and you realise it where you were born. That was a very strange emotion.”
The birth of ‘The Toy Gun’
And that dream grew from a little yellow book sitting on his wife’s desk, called Una Spieganzione Logica (‘A Logical Explanation’) by Eugenio Tornaghi. Marco read it in an afternoon and felt instantly it could be made into a film. He called the publisher for the rights that day.
Initially, Marco wanted to make the film in Italy; since the recession, however, it became impossible to raise the money there. But at the Cannes Film Festival, Marco got his break with a Luxembourgish producer. To make an international film, Marco and another Italian immigrant, Vince Villani, wrote the screenplay in English with Luxembourg as the setting.
They altered the story a little: a searing hot summer in Milan became the cold, snowy winter of Luxembourg; the time frame moved from the sixties to the present day. However the characters remained the same, plus the premise of the story.
In the book we have a couple who separate. He is in love with his wife and wants to get her back. In the film we see him becoming a man and at the end we see that he realises his dreams in a different way to when one is young.
And this, for Marco, was a great reflection on his own life, particularly as the setting was now Luxembourg:
The long days of filming are now over. Marco mentioned in particular the help and advice he received from his Director of Photography, Blasco Giurato, who worked on many famous films, such as Cinema Paradiso, and has won awards including Baftas and Oscars. However, it is Marco’s unassuming and gracious character that has always elicited the best from his entire team. As Daniel Texter, who was assistant director on The Toy Gun said: ‘I think everyone enjoyed working with a director who has a lot of experience and always knows what he wants and what the film needs.’
The future for Marco
When the editing of this film is finished, what next?
“Being a film director is not easy because you do not have the next job. When you shooting a film you are happy but you do not know what is happening next. You are constantly unoccupied. That’s what it is and that’s what it was the last 40 years but I shot more than 130 movies so I had a lot to do.”
And so I have no fear that Marco will not be without work nor ideas once The Toy Gun is completed later this year. And the growth of the film industry in Luxembourg means that it can entice not just Marco, but more filmmakers here in the future. It’s an exciting time to be in the Duchy.