Luca Machnich: “I simply focussed on the cynicism adults bring to all their dealings with children”

In Independent Shorts Awards, “The Eve” was recognized with 8 awards, to add to the total of 227 conquered so far. A remarkable tour in the film-festival international circuit for the debut work of Italian filmmaker Luca Machnich, who is preparing now his first feature horror film.

The Eve

The Eve

Luca Machnich is a grandnephew of Anton Machnich, one of the movie pioneers in Italy, who opened the first movie theaters in Italy, in Romania, and in Ireland (the latter in partnership with the famous writer James Joyce) in the early 19th century. He studied film direction at the Los Angeles Film School after working as a production assistant in several screen and TV movies (also with Ettore Scola). He authored “Spaghetti Nightmares”, one of the best books on Italian fantasy and thriller movies which was published in Italy (M&P edizioni) and in the United States (Fantasma books). The extended Italian version was very much appreciated by the fans of the genre and the film critics. “The Eve” is his debut as a film director, a disturbing metaphoric story on Santa Claus.

Luca Machnich

Luca Machnich

ISA: What made you decide to make this film? 

Luca Machnich: In 2006 I was studying at the Los Angeles Film School. When I came back to Rome, I decided to film this short as if it were my thesis film. At first, I was going to base it on a horror-fiction tale that the great director Alejandro Jodorowsky had given me as a gift when we met in Milan and, during one of his psychomagic sessions, I let him know that I wanted to direct a film based on one of his stories. But I couldn’t manage to finish the script, seeing that the story had no conclusion, to begin with, and like all the master’s bizarre fantasies, it proved very hard to transpose to the screen. So after a number of failed attempts, I decided to opt for something more personal: an innovative horror film that tells (Spoiler) of a Santa Claus who kills his wife and then, as a joke, gives pieces of her to the children of a village as gifts (End of Spoiler). It was a story I felt very close to. In fact, some years ago a friend of mine who’s a psychologist explained to me that it symbolises the influence on my childhood of a negative, domineering father, as opposed to a positive but passive mother, a situation which, given the affection I ever received from my father, caused me to grow up fearful and repressed.

The Eve

The Eve

ISA: You had a considerable budget for this short film. How was that possible, and was it enough for this project?

LM: I had the good fortune of being able to finance the project myself. At first, the budget was supposed to be the standard amount for a short film. It was a horror drama without any particularly fantastical sequences, so it didn’t strike me as being an especially costly project. But when shooting began, the scenes came out so well that I found myself wanting to invest more in the work, such as the experimental portion that was added, meaning the animated sequence, plus the dream scenes at the end, all of which required more than 120 digital effects in post-production, increasing the budget significantly while also lengthening the production schedule. Overall, the budget was fairly sizeable, though investing a little more in special effects might have improved the final result a bit. But back when we started filming, 3D computer graphics weren’t in a very advanced stage of development, at least not in Italy.

The Eve

The Eve

ISA: How long did the shooting take, and what were the main challenges on the set?

LM: The film was shot in two weeks, with a production crew of 30 people, more or less that of a feature film. The biggest challenge was directing the child who played the lead. His personality was a bit standoffish, and he also intimidated during the first few takes. We did our best not to pressure him, and he came out fine. He even won some awards (including the Gold Award for Best Child/Young Actor in Independent Shorts Awards).

The Eve

The Eve

ISA: This is a work with so many layers of interpretation. Did you have that in mind?

LM: There are three parallel stories which intersect at a certain point. The first is that of the rich, unfeeling, narcissistic parents who, unable to have children of their own, buy a baby from an impoverished woman and treat the child as if it were a toy. The second story is that of the real mother, a mentally unstable woman who would like to get her baby back, though we never learn how that works out. In the third story, Santa Claus roams a village, terrorising the local children unhindered, while the fourth story focuses on a child who, having everything but the love of the adults in his life, seeks shelter in Santa Claus’s castle, only to wind up as a prisoner, the symbolic victim of Santa Claus’ atrocious prank. The original story was nothing but the third plotline, with everything hinging on the terrifying encounter with Father Christmas. It worked well enough on paper, but I was afraid that it would prove too predictable on the screen, so I mixed things up a bit.

ISA: What did you want to tell to the audience with “The Eve”?

LM: To be sincere, the story didn’t allow me to send any particular messages. I simply focussed on the cynicism that adults bring to all their dealings with children, at every level and by every possible means, including fairy tales.

ISA: How difficult is it to make the audience believe in the characters and feel emotionally involved in a short film?

LM: In all modesty, if you have a solid story, like this one, and the artist presents it to the audience as sincerely as possible, I don’t think there’s really any problem.

The Eve

The Eve

ISA: What influences do you think there are in “The Eve”?

LM: My favorite director of horror films is Phillip Ridley, whom I consider to be a genius gifted with an explosive fantasy that deserves to have at its disposal far more resources than it does. If that were the case, he’d be one of the masters of the horror film developed to its full potential. He may be the only filmmaker to have shown me that an innovative horror film can contain strains of other genres as well, along with many other factors. His debut film, “The Reflecting Skin”, gave me an idea of how much remains to be explored in the world of childhood and the parallel reality of the fairy tales, beliefs and stories of monsters that accompany those years. In other words, the delicate dividing line that can make or break the entire story of a film: true or false? Make-believe or reality? An actual place or a non-existent one? We were taught as much by David Lynch, one of the directors I admire most, to the point that I included a reference to his work in my short film, and for good reason. Stanley Kubrick is another of my idols as a director. In fact I consider him the foremost film-maker in the history of the cinema, and have always been particularly fascinated by the emphatic acting style he draws from the lead characters of his films, an approach markedly over-the-top, but tied to the corresponding points of emphasis in the story (the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in “Shining”, or Alex of “A Clockwork Orange”), with the result that his works trigger flashpoints of absolute cinema, a method I have tried to emulate in my own efforts. The outcome is performances that have a weightiness which exceeds reality, though in proportion to the moments of emphasis in the film as a whole, with the story moving forward as a slowly evolving nightmare in which everything is stretched out and tinged with exaggeration, and so the acting has to follow suit. An English critic once held me to task for this method, and my response was to ask him (though obviously without daring to place myself anywhere near the level of the great director) if this mindset of his would lead to savage the acting of the leads in Stanley Kubrick’s films. I never heard from him.

The Eve

The Eve

ISA: Are you happy with the final result or would you change something?

LM: I’m quite satisfied. To date, this debut film of mine has won 227 international awards. Naturally, some added financial resources would have come in handy here and there, especially in the final part.

ISA: 227 awards means a remarkable tour in the film-festival circuit. Did you expect that? What did these awards earn you, professionally speaking?

LM: When I had finished editing the soundtrack, my composer told me that the film was a masterpiece and would surely win a large number of prizes everywhere. I didn’t believe him. I thought it might receive two or three awards, but never this level of success. I find it hard to judge a work of mine. I hold it to be less a masterpiece than a successful experiment. I think its strongpoints were my sincerity as a director and my willingness to explore and experiment. In short, it’s the kind of calling card that a director can use for future projects.

The Eve

The Eve

ISA: What are your overall career goals and what’s next?

LM: I have two projects involving full-length, international horror films, which will finally give me the chance to send some messages and provide answers to the questions of our times. I like this type of socially aware horror film, which owes a great deal to George Romero. These are projects I’ve been working on for years, and I’m counting on bringing them to the screen.

ISA: Do you have any advice for other independent filmmakers, particularly for newcomers?

LM: They should be themselves, telling the story of something that touches them in a deeply personal sense. And they should see lots of films, studying the great masters, though without failing to be innovative and look forward.

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