Brothers in crime

Brothers in crime

April 15, 2024

The Director’s Chair

Filmmakers – and twin brothers – Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo write, produce and direct Dostoevskij, a melancholic police thriller about a detective hunting a serial killer. They speak to DQ about their debut series, their partnership and why they won’t tell viewers what to think.

With their first three feature films, Italian directors, screenwriters and twin brothers Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo have built a reputation for telling stories with a unique voice.

Their 2018 debut, La terra dell’abbastanza (Boys Cry), follows two childhood friends who become hitmen under the stewardship of a local clan leader, while 2020’s Favolacce (Bad Tales) revolves around a group of families whose seemingly uneventful lives hide who they really are – and their façade could be brought down at any time.
Their third feature, 2021’s America Latina, told the story of a happily married dentist who finds a girl tied up and gagged in his basement, asking for help.

Both Boys Cry and Bad Tales debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival, where the latter won the Silver Bear prize for best script. And this year, the brothers returned to the German capital with their first television project.

Six-part series Dostoevskij (Dostoyevsky) follows the life and investigative work of Enzo Vitello (played by Filippo Timi), a policeman with a dark past who becomes obsessed with the titular serial killer, so called because of the letters – filled with gruesome details – they leave at their crime scenes. Haunted by the killer’s words, Enzo is pushed to embark on a dangerous solo investigation, getting closer and closer to the disturbing truth.

Produced by Sky Studios in association with Paco Cinematografica, the show also stars Carlotta Gamba, Federico Vanni and Gabriel Montesi. NBCUniversal Global Distribution is handling international sales of the series, which will premiere in cinemas in Italy before airing on Sky this summer.

Here, Damiano and Fabio tell DQ about transitioning to TV, how their collaboration works and what they want viewers to take away from their filmmaking.

The D’Innocenzo brothers have made three feature films together

Dostoevskij marks your first television series. What was the experience like?
Damiano: We worked with acts in a mathematical way, with each episode made up of four acts. As we are self-taught, we started reading a text by Pamela Douglas, a manual on how to write or make TV series. But the truth is we started with a TV series divided into four acts because at the time, there were three pauses [for adverts] so you needed four acts for each episode. But we didn’t start saying, ‘OK, a TV series is a longer film.’ No way. A series has its own rules and you have to know the rules if you want to work on the depth of the characters, and have respect for the medium and respect for the audience.

As self-taught filmmakers, have you broken the rules of traditional television production?
: I do believe the very fact Sky enabled us to shoot this TV series is a way of breaking the rules. We have our own twisted way of looking at things, our own vision. We define it as a melancholic dirtiness.

How did you partner with Sky for the series?
Damiano: Sky came to us the very day after we won the prize in Berlin for the screenplay of Bad Tales. They came to us and we signed the contract. It’s like everything for us at the beginning of our career – it starts and ends at the Berlin Film Festival. We talked with Sky and we asked what kind of series they wanted. We were open to everything, and they said they wanted a thriller, a crime story. We made up a story in 10 minutes and then we sent them the idea in a WhatsApp message – and they didn’t block us, which meant they accepted it. It was very similar to a coming together of two artistic visions, because they never asked us for a treatment or synopsis. It was a far-sighted vision. They could understand the way we work. It’s a sign of being great producers, when people know when it is better to interfere and when not to.

Dostoevskij has a distinctive grainy look

What was your interest in telling this story and in Enzo as a character?
Fabio: The main interest for us was to tell a story where the basic principle was the opportunity and possibility of change. Today, it’s not something that is very common. We are afraid of change and deprived of any change. So the story of Enzo is he hunts this killer because he has to, but also because he wants to. This need to hunt is what keeps Enzo alive. I always loved films where there is a second chance. Once upon a time, it was quite common; now we are too nihilistic to have that.

You describe it as a thriller, but it’s very slow-paced and takes its time. Is that your style or just the way you wanted to tell this story over six hours?
Damiano: I do not believe in a style in cinema. Maybe in music, but style in cinema is something that is a distraction for the viewer. We didn’t make a series that was in line with the times and the pace that is required by today’s society. We are very happy we made an unfashionable series that goes against today’s fashion, like an Eastern European film from the 1970s. It’s not our style but our way of dealing with the images. We want the viewer to live and dwell in the images. Otherwise, with another pace, the viewer cannot interfere with the image, they don’t have the time to absorb it and make their own interpretation of it. They don’t have time to give something of themselves to the image. That’s what we want to do. We want to be generous with the viewers so they can formulate something. They can add something of themselves into the image.

How did you decide on the location for the series, which features lots of run-down buildings and vast landscapes, and create its grainy, textured look?
Fabio: Firstly, we shot in Super 16 film. The setting and the places of the film are strictly in line with the initial idea we had that the story is of the winter of a human being. These settings and places and human relations cut to the bone, and the setting is very opaque. It’s a very melancholic place. We wanted to have strong dialogue between the story and the setting. In the world, there is only the possibility of one state of mind, and within that state of mind, change is possible. We were born in the periphery in the slum areas [of Rome] and have the privilege to do this great, fantastic work of being directors, so we are evidence and proof and witnesses that it’s not places that make human beings, but human beings that make places. This wasteland is where the change is possible. It’s like the story of a flower that is blooming.

Filippo Timi leads the cast

You write, direct and produce. How do you do your work – and how do you work together?
Damiano: We are totally together. We are totally united when we work. We spend all our time together, not leaving or empowering one task to the other. It’s a harmony – and it does not end on set. Rather, we keep working once shooting is over for the day. We keep working on drawings, a kind of storyboard, drawings with colours like miniature paintings. Our approach to cinema is like when a child has a blank page in front of them, it’s total freedom. You can do whatever. The first thing we do is exclude or remove anything that the camera is not going to visualise. That is important; that is our modus operandi. In order to work in this way, we need to stay together, to have a common and constant flow of verbal and non-verbal exchanges, and we are very happy about that because it allows us to spend a lot of time together. If we had another job, it would be different. We once worked as gardeners – each one of us had our own garden and we only met at night.

How do you think viewers will react when Enzo reveals some difficult secrets about himself? Is he as much of a villain as the person he is hunting?
Fabio: We don’t want anything [from the audience]. We wrote and directed the series so we don’t expect a specific reaction from the audience. Our approach to the AV world is absolutely democratic. We want the viewer to express or formulate or conceive their own idea about what they’re watching. It would be easier to ask the viewer to have a certain idea, but I like a world and characters that have contradictions, that are maybe shocking sometimes. So as storytellers, we need to have the courage to create characters that are complex and complicated, because the world is complicated. The world is full of chaos, and so are our characters. What we need to keep and preserve is the autonomy of thought, free thoughts about things, so we are not going to say what someone should think about a character.

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