Thursday 22 December 2016

Delusion (USA 2016: Dir Christopher Di Nunzio) plus short interview with the director

Anyone worried about 'the state of cinema' would do well to look past the popcorn fodder that fills the multiplexes, which represents only a percentage of total film output, and search out the plethora of independent movies currently available to view, although not necessarily on cinema screens. Christopher Di Nunzio's Delusion is a fine example of a movie that knows the limitations of its budget and instead works on creating a sombre downbeat mood which harks back to the regional indie US movies of the 1970s.

Frank Parillo is a lost soul. In grief over the loss of his wife Isabella, he's torn between cherishing her memory but wanting to feel a woman's love again. Belatedly receiving a letter from Isabella some three years after her death (a strange scene which shows, in his passive acceptance, how mired in grief he remains), which implores him to live life to the full, he encounters a strange and much younger woman, Mary. She quickly seduces him, despite a warning from a fortune teller that she is not what she seems. Frank's life begins to fall apart as he realises that the fortune teller is right and Mary may well be supernatural in origin. But by then it's too late.

Di Nunzio's short and full length film output has oscillated between supernaturally and crime themed movies, but all have been more character than narrative driven. 2009's Livestock mixed Sopranos-style gangsters with occult horror. His second feature, last year's A Life Not to Follow, was a fractured neo-noir tale of drug dealers and more gangsters. Frank Parillo, a tough, grizzled type with a New England drawl, could equally have stepped out of a crime movie. But rather than showing us a violent side, Parillo's actually a software developer (although we never see him at the day job). He's amiable but aimless, a man wandering through a life now without purpose, seeking an end to his grief.

David Graziano as Frank Parillo

Delusion takes its time in unveiling the supernatural elements of the story - when they arrive, they're delivered as matter-of-factly as the rest of the film, although we're not really sure what we're seeing. We learn that Mary has been spending some time 'in Mexico' and from various clues around the house it is assumed that she is connected in some way with the country's festival of the dead - but does she really exist, or is Mary simply a manifestation of Frank's grief? Delusion is leisurely and contemplative, but never boring - only the infrequent and bizarre dream sequences break the movie's overall pacing. I was reminded of early 1970s independent quasi-supernatural output like George Romero's Season of the Witch (1973) and the 1971 movie Let's Scare Jessica to Death, but also, via the roving camera of Nolan Yee and the naturalistic performances, Nick Cassavetes' slow, intimate dramas like Husbands and A Woman Under the Influence (1970 and 1974 respectively).

As Parillo, relatively unknown actor David Grazanio is a revelation, with a natural style and soporific world-weariness that makes him totally believable. His hangdog expression and yearning for a female connection make it quite understandable that he should fall for Mary's (Jami Tannille) chilly charms, even though the audience can see that she's T-R-O-U-B-L-E (her encouraging of Frank to live life to the full is of course a repetition of the advice of his dead wife, albeit with disastrous consequences). There are a number of supporting actors who don't do much but are crucial to establishing the movie's small town feel (Delusion was filmed on location across Massachusetts): Carlyne Fournier, as Isabella, is a standout, having the difficult job of conjuring up a believable character seen only in flashback.

Jami Tannille as Mary
I was sufficiently intrigued by Di Nunzio's output to seek him out and ask a few questions. The director was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts and attended film classes at Massachusetts College of Art, School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston:

DEoL: What was the genesis of the idea for Delusion?

CDN: It's hard to say because it evolved from an older script. I knew I wanted to make a film with more controlled camera movements and tell a more obscure story then I did with my last film. For me it was really about trying to control the emotional arch. 

DEoL: Your 2009 film Livestock and this one both have supernatural/occult themes but nothing is really made specific in either. What is it about this theme that appeals to you?

CDN: I've always been into the occult since I was a teenager. I remember staying up late researching all these different organizations and theories. I love the imagery and movies with that theme. I guess I have always been fascinated with the concept of hidden knowledge. I also like the idea that something supernatural could happen and you don't have an answer for it. It's refreshing and weird, things really do happen no matter what you believe in. It leaves a lot of room for interpretation. 

DEoL: Delusion reminded me of a lot of 1970s US indie low budget flicks. Were there any films (or TV, books etc) that you had in mind when filming Delusion?

CDN: I am a big fan of Let's Scare Jessica to Death and 1970s crime and horror films. It was a good decade for occult films but I didn't have any specific film in mind. Me and our Director of Photography Nolan Yee watched a few scenes from the films of Bella Tarr to get an idea of where we wanted to go with camera movement. Not that we're trying to do anything like those films but it's a fun way to get the conversation going about cinematography. I do like to help create organic and natural performances. I always preach subtlety as well. Not to sound clichéd but I feel like when you take that approach you find the truth in the character. I think the audience can sense that and helps them connect to the performance better, and that's always a good thing for a film. 

Christopher Di Nunzio
DEoL: The acting was uniformly good but David Graziano was a revelation - the way he combined grief, desire and overall world weariness was fantastic - also he could have stepped out of The Sopranos or a crime movie, except he's a software designer! Tell me about the actor and the character of Frank.

CDN: Funny you say crime film because David and I first started working together on a crime film I co-wrote and directed called A Life Not To Follow. He was recommended by a friend of ours, Skip Shea, and I thought he looked like a detective from a 70s film which made me want to cast him. I quickly learned he gives 110% and is very professional. He is always game to try something new. For Frank I wanted to create an average every day type of guy. Someone you can picture as an uncle, someone's dad or even a neighbour. I felt by making him relateable that way his journey would be that much more tragic. David and I talked a lot about the psychology of the character and what is going to happen to him and in concentrating on creating a natural, real performance we would add a lot of depth to Frank. I also gave David a piece of music that was 19 minutes of this weird pulsating sound, and at certain moments in the film I wanted him to play that song in his head over and over again. Almost like the powers were calling to him. 

DEoL: Could you tell me about some of the other casting choices and did any of the characters change from the original scripting when cast? 

CDN: Nothing really changed from the original script but of course some things naturally do change when making a film, like suddenly you want to have a character with an edge. Maybe you randomly thought up some sort of new trait or tick. Maybe you explore a different angle last minute. Something seems to always develop or changes but nothing too drastic to mention.

Jami Tannille who plays Mary was someone I saw in a film and really liked her look and thought she had amazing timing and screen presence. It would've been really hard to recast her. She has a lot of range. 

Carlyne Fournier, who plays Isabella, is someone I've seen in a few films and known for a while. I just thought she would be a great fit with David plus she's talented and professional. Also a lot of fun to have on set!

DEoL: My readers always like a few shoot details - could you tell me a bit about how long the shoot was, budget, location choices, any compromises etc.

CDN: It took us nine days to shoot the whole film. We had a lot of long days and one sleepover. There was also a month or so break in between. The house we used was in Cape Cod and belonged to our sound recordist Laura Grose's girlfriend's Dad. We were lucky to get the house since it fit the character Frank so well. We also shot all over Massachusetts and in Rhode Island. We shot at a diner in Gardner, MA that was also used for the film School Ties [1992 movie with Matt Damon and Brendan Fraser]. We also shot the little car chase scene in Ashburnham, MA which I had no idea was even a real town until right before we shot there. Pretty place but nothing around. 

DEoL: The film is streaming on Amazon Prime in the UK. Did it ever get a theatrical release? Also what are the future distribution plans for the film?

CDN: Unfortunately, it didn't make it into the theaters. As of right now it's just on Amazon Prime in the US, Canada, and UK. I'm not sure the exact strategy yet but our distributor will be releasing it on more platforms soon. They like to release it on Amazon first.

DEoL: What's next for you?

CDN: I'm trying to get a name actor attached and find funding for new feature crime film. It's about a hitman who had second thoughts about doing what he does and trying to walk away from it all. I have my fingers crossed! 

DEoL: Thanks Christopher and best of luck with Delusion and your future projects!

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