When Angelina Jolie read Alessandro Baricco’s novella “Without Blood,” the basis for her next directorial effort, the Italian fable about the brutality of war and the healing afterward had an immediate therapeutic effect.
“I read it right when I was going through the beginning of a very dark time in my life. I read it in the month that followed my divorce [from Brad Pitt in 2016],” recalls Jolie, who shot the adaptation at the Cinecittà studios in Rome. “It had the effect on me that it has had on so many people,” says Jolie, noting that the blurb on the cover says the book is about the complexity of the human condition.
“I didn’t understand that when I first read it. I just knew that the book had a profound effect on me,” she says. “I think it’s one of those works of art, from someone’s intuition and mind, that presents something that has a lot of truth about who we are as people.”
she speaks with variety amidst filming on a bustling soundstage where a key scene is being set up after a shootout at an isolated farm. ironically for a film titled “without blood”, the wooden floor of the farmhouse built on the cinecittà set is covered in blood and bullets, and the finishing touches are being put on a riddled mannequin lying on the ground. “a Westerner?” Jolie says, about the tone of the film. “We have accepted that.”
“we love corpses; We definitely have dead bodies,” says Emmy Award-winning production designer Jon Hutman, who remembers meeting Jolie in 2010 on the Venice set of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s “The Tourist.” he has worked on four of the actor’s five films since then.
“Having a lot of shootouts means you have to have multiple of the same costume,” says costume designer Ursula Patzak, who adds that the main visual reference she got from Jolie is “The Godfather,” which “has a lot of black costumes.” . and white suits. the color palette of the film’s outfits is sober because “the color distracts from the narrative of the story and the actors.”
“my first movie was about the war in the balkans,” jolie recalls of “in the land of blood and honey,” saying she wrote it “trying to understand” how people who love each other can turn against each other others. “how is it that at the beginning of the movie they love each other and at the end they are killing each other?” she says. “The film is a study of how that happens.”
but “without blood”, which is told in a series of flashbacks, is a more complex work about violence, war and elections. “This film raises different questions; There is no clear right and wrong in this movie, even though there is clearly bad, horrible, horrific and criminal behavior.”
(This interview was conducted before a 2016 FBI report leaked last week in which Jolie alleged that Pitt assaulted her on a plane ride, leading to their divorce.)
having the human condition at its center creates a nuanced narrative in the book, for which jolie personally optioned the rights. “It’s pretty extraordinary,” she says. “Baricco gives almost every character a memory, a story, many textures. so it is almost impossible to see where one ends and the other begins.”
baricco’s novel is set in an unnamed place with echoes of mexico and in an unspecified time, although the film covers from the twenties to the seventies.
The story revolves around Nina, played by Salma Hayek, who, as a young girl, witnesses the carnage inflicted by her father’s enemies on her father and brother. She escapes by hiding under the floor of the family’s country house, and although one of her killers, a man named Tito (Demián Bichir), sees her, she decides to remain silent. Many years later, they will meet again.
After reading the book, Jolie met with Baricco and wrote the script. But it wasn’t until six years later, after meeting with top executives from Fremantle and Lorenzo de Maio, who launched De Maio Entertainment in 2021 with the backing of Fremantle, that he was able to gather momentum to bring this exciting project to the screen. “They loved the material, so it really bonded,” she says. “I couldn’t believe it because they don’t make a lot of movies like this these days.”
Earlier this year, Jolie signed a three-year contract with Fremantle; “without blood” is the first project of that pact. de maio he calls it “a great opportunity for us”.
andrea scrosati, group coo and continental europe ceo of fremantle, points out that just a month after signing the global agreement with jolie, “without blood” was already in pre-production, fully financed by fremantle, which has been doing a great impetus to cinema the budget, which is high for continental europe, is kept secret.
the film’s casting came together “very quickly and organically,” says de maio. This was thanks to Jolie’s close relationship with her “Eternals” co-star Hayek, and also because Bichir starred in a Baricco play in Mexico and holds the writer in high regard. “Most of the cast are Mexicans who speak with a Mexican accent,” says Jolie, who calls the film a “hybrid” in terms of nationalities and genders.
has been happy to shoot “without blood” in cinecittà, where fremantle has a long-term lease, and elsewhere in italy, including the ancient southern italian town of matera, where the car chase of opening in bond pic “no time to die” was shot; in the adjoining region of puglia, “angie’s favorite set”, according to hutman, where they shot the field hospital where nina’s father, a doctor, worked; and procoio , an estate west of Rome where the perfect farm was found for the opening scene of the film.
several paintings by andrew wyeth serve as a visual reference for the farmhouse scene, says hutman, who notes that “in addition to the farmhouse hue, there are a lot of faded whites and natural woods throughout the movie”.
a climactic scene very close to the end of “without blood”, in which nina and tito meet again in an art nouveau cafe, was shot at night in the piazza della repubblica in central rome to capture the cafe, and then reworked in cinecittà using a giant led wall.
now the plan is that “without blood”, which is being edited in los angeles, will be completed during the second half of 2023.
Regarding the film’s themes of war, revenge, and forgiveness, “the reality of these endless wars that we have has helped me see violence, trauma, and revenge in very different ways, and there is no one answer easy”. says jolie.