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How ARRI technology helped to create four visual worlds in Netflix's Robbing Mussolini


A longtime collaborator with different Italian directors, cinematographer Gian Filippo Corticelli renewed his partnership with Renato De Maria for the Netflix film Robbing Mussolini. The heist movie is set in 1945, when a Milanese entrepreneur recruits a crew for an elaborate robbery of a legendary treasure belonging to Benito Mussolini. The film is structured into four worlds, linked to four characters and four situations, explains DP Corticelli in our interview about the twelve weeks on set in Italy. Talking to ARRI about HDR grading, colorist Andrea Red Baracca explains how he brought the colors of this nuanced project to life.

Copyright Netflix

Cinematographer Gian Filippo Corticelli created distinctive aesthetic worlds in Robbing Mussolini

Interview with DP Gian Filippo Corticelli In which locations was Robbing Mussolini filmed?

In total, filming lasted twelve weeks. The first half of the movie was shot in and around Rome: at Italo Balbos office at the Ministry of Aeronautics in Castro Pretorio, at Snia, or in the Soratte bunker. In Largo Preneste, there is an old abandoned industrial structure that, with the addition of some rubble, looked like a war zone. Then the set moved to a castle in the Viterbo area and other locations around there, before we advanced to Trieste, where we shot a rather long part in a location called the Black Zone within the film. For this, we recreated a suburb of Milan in the old port of Trieste, where the scene of the theft of Mussolinis treasure, the heart of the film, takes place. The last scenes were captured in Tarvisio, where the final chase ends. Additional sequences were shot in Turin.

What guidance did you receive from the director on the visual style of the film?

Renato De Maria gave me precise recommendations, and he did the same for the costume and set design departments. He divided the film into four worlds, related to four situations and four characters. The first was Cabiria, a nightclub where the protagonist Yvonne works. The nightclub is frequented by fascists, Nazis and partisans: a diverse humanity that comes together in a place where one forgets the war for a while. For this world De Maria thought of the color red, evoking blood and the flow of life. Then there is the world of fascist protagonist Borsalino, Mussolini's right-hand man in the film. His is a cold world of ice and marble, marked by a somewhat aseptic white light and buildings with marble stairways. Then there is the world of Isola, the male protagonist, a world linked to the war and its scars, made of gutted buildings and rubble, in which the dominant colors are rust, brown, and green. Finally, there is the Black Zone, in which the central scene of the film, the robbery, takes place. It is a dark, shadowy world, a super-guarded zone, illuminated only by control lights that scan the darkness for possible raiders. It is an almost black-and-white situation, with less color and more light and shadow.

Copyright Netflix

Director Renato de Maria gave precise directions to the crew about the visual style of Robbing Mussolini

What specific references did you have in mind for Robbing Mussolini ?

I was mainly interested in having different chromatic characteristics mixing in the frame: mainly cold and warm light. With Renato we thought of Peaky Blinders, Inglourious Basterds, and 1917. The rust of the trenches seemed like a good reference to evoke the world of Isola and the war situation. We also wanted a bit of graphic novel light, so I deviated from my commandment, saying: Always make a real, natural light!

You used the ARRI ALEXA Mini LF. How did the choice come about?

We had three cameras: two ALEXA Mini LFs and one ALEXA XT as a third camera, with ARRI Signature Prime lenses. Of course, I have personal preferences on lenses and sensors, but I try to approach each film from scratch and figure out what system might be best for that individual film. Kind of like when you leave the house and you have to decide what shoes to put on: if you go jogging, you dont put on your boots. When I start a project, I like to do tests by comparing different sensors and lenses. Then, I discuss it with the director and find the right look. In this case, I tried other sensors, but ARRI seemed the most suitable for a period film set in 1945, as it has a certain roundness. Plus, wanting to use different chromatic characteristics within the frame, it seemed to me that the ARRI sensor better separated the warm color from the cold, while the others all tended to flatten a bit. Robbing Mussolini is a Netflix project, it had to be shot in native 4K. So I opted for wide format, also to experiment with the different depth of field compared to Super 35.

Copyright Netflix

Being a Netflix project, Robbing Mussolini was shot in native 4K

What added value did ARRI Signature Prime lenses bring?

While I have my favorite ARRI series, I approach each project by conducting trials to find the best look for the specific film. Again, I tested with three or four types of lenses, and everything was leading me in the direction of ARRI Signature Prime. Robbing Mussolini is a war film, so I could explore vintage, raw tones to reproduce the year 1945. The round sharpness of these lenses was perfect for the purpose, a mean but delicate sharpness in a look with rust and green tones. In addition, there are some ever-present elements in this film: smoke, water, and blur. Blur is a feature I really love in anamorphic lenses, where it emerges more magical than spherical. However, the ARRI Signature Prime lenses have a very fascinating blur with the aperture all open. They are spherical lenses with a short depth of field, especially in wide fields, which is a special feature of large formats. Last but not least, I really appreciated the lightness of these lenses. Working with Roni
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