We had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with the Italian filmmaker Beppe Tufarulo, the director behind Baradar (Brother), a film focuses on the true story of Ali Ehsani, a story which focuses on the harsh separation of two migrant brothers. A film which is eligible to be considered for a 2021 Academy Award, we were able to speak with Beppe and ask him how he would of handled the situation if he were in his position, why it was important for him to tell Ali’s story, the casting process, what he wants people to take away from the film and many more.
How do you think you would’ve handled the situation if you were in Ali’s position?
Ali has gone through so much and has shown such an extraordinary strength and resilience, that I can’t even imagine myself in that situation. Perhaps children have an instinct to survive, adapt and go through changes – something that once you grow up you tend to forget. Or perhaps those born in the midst of a war see life in a way unknown to us.
What measures did you take to ensure that Mohammed and Ali’s story was properly told?
I always thought it was important to talk to Alì and get him involved. Together with Francesco Casolo, screenwriter but also co-author of the book on the story of Alì, we worked in this direction. Alì came with us to meet Danosh and Nawid Sharifi, the two Afghan brothers we ended up casting as the protagonists of the film.
Ali was also fundamental in my work with the two actors, during the days I spent in Rome for pre-production. He helped me overcome the linguistic barrier (the two kids at the time didn’t speak a word of Italian) and find the right nuances to tell the drama he experienced in real life.
Why did you choose to make a film about this specific experience?
I firmly believe in the strength and humanity of people, and this is what I would like to tell in all my projects. When I read the book by Francesco Casolo and Alì, I had no doubts: this was the story I had been waiting for for a long time and which had the urgency to be told – a true, powerful, and above all universal story.
Ali’s life is also the proof that dreams can indeed come true, no matter what the starting point is.
How did you personally relate to Mohammed and Ali’s experience?
Reading their story on paper was strong in itself, hearing it from the man who lived it, and trying to recreate and bring a small part of it to life was a mix of overwhelming emotions, and a real punch to the gut. This is why I have always tried to manage everything in the most sensitive way, and to maintain the greatest possible delicacy and respect towards Alì, the memory of Mohammed, the legacy of this powerful story and also the kids acting in the film, who were coming from a similar experience.
How did you locate and decide on the film location?
The story is set in Turkey but shooting there was out of the question, not only for a budget issue but also for the involvement of the two actors who had just arrived to Italy to reunite with their older brother and couldn’t possibly travel abroad. Together with the production we immediately thought that Puglia could be the right place because it has a great variety of landscapes. The excellent art direction did the rest, in order to evoke the atmosphere of the story.
Why did you choose Daniele Carmosino to score the film? Did you follow Daniele’s work previously?
I had already worked with Daniele in the past, and I had the opportunity to appreciate his approach and his sensitivity. With Baradar once again he proved his great skills in interpreting my request on the basis of the elements and suggestions I sent him. The idea behind the creative process was to create music that spoke to everyone, regardless of nationality, age or gender. With its themes of hope, strength, and determination in the face of adversity, the story of Baradar is relatable to people everywhere. Because of this, Daniele wanted to steer away from using traditional Middle Eastern influences and instead create a contemporary score that would resonate with the audience everywhere.
Why did you leave Ali’s journey and emotional turmoil following his brother’s death up to the audience’s imagination?
For two reasons: first of all because, in my opinion, a short film needs to focus on a limited segment of events, and Alì’s perilous journey was too broad and complex to be explored in such a limited timeframe. And then, more importantly, because I wanted to focus on the last days of their life together and show the strength and beauty of their relationship which, to me, is the root from which the rebirth of Ali, now alone in the world, could blossom. Those moments represent an opportunity to talk about many things: their habits, their intimacy, their bond and their parents. Last but not least, how important it is to remain faithful to your memories in order to always know where you come from and understand where to go. I always thought that the film should end on the face of Alì by himself, to try to evoke that sense of absolute solitude that the child was experiencing, and to make everyone understand the strength he had to find to go on. In my opinion, reading on screen what he then became, immediately after that close-up, makes his drama and the sacrifice of his brother even stronger.
During the casting process, how did you settle on Danosh Sharifi and Nawid Sharifi?
First of all, I was looking for two teenage Afghan brothers living in Italy, which in itself is very limiting. I contacted UNHCR and many associations that deal with political asylum until I came into contact with Binario 15, a voluntary association that acts for the protection and legal support of migrants, in particular refugees fleeing Afghanistan who, over the years, have passed from platform 15 at the Ostiense Train Station in Rome.
They introduced me to Danosh and Nawid Sharifi, who had just arrived in Italy to reunite with their older brother. It was an exciting but also difficult meeting because cultural and linguistic differences made interaction difficult at first. With the help of Ali and a cultural intermediary, however, I managed to gain their trust and work with them for a few weeks before going on set.
Tell us about your upcoming projects?
I have recently shot a documentary for Amazon Prime Video on Tiziano Ferro, a famous Italian singer-songwriter, and I’m currently working as a series director on a new project for Prime Video. I’m also developing my first feature film and
I’m always looking for universal stories, stories of those tragic heroes struggling to get their lives back.
Describe Baradar in one word.
It’s a touching story of brotherly love, hope and resilience.
What do you want people to take away from this film?
Hope and courage. And then it is important to make it clear that people who flee their country nowadays do it just as Italians did in last century, because we are all children of the same world looking for a better future, and there is no border that should prevent us from reaching it. I would like people to understand the hope that animated Mohammed and Ali during their long journey. We deliberately kept away from any political or ideological judgment to portray the pure facts, knowing that sincerity would allow us to get through to everyone, by addressing the very essence of our humanity.