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Berlinale Bloggers 2024
“Dostoevskij“ – The bitter tales of the D’Innocenzo brothers

A scene from “Dostoevskij” by Damiano & Fabio D'Innocenzo
A scene from “Dostoevskij” by Damiano & Fabio D'Innocenzo | Photo (detail): © Sky Studios Limited, Sky Italia S.r.l., Paco Cinematografica S.r.l. (2023)

Fabio and Damiano D’Innocenzo’s macabre series celebrates its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. A thriller that explores the themes of pain and the human psyche.

By Sara De Pascale

The D’Innocenzos return to Berlin

After a four-year break, the D’Innocenzo brothers are back in Berlin to showcase another of their works. Produced by Sky Studios, the series Dostoyevsky is featured in the festival’s Special programme. Despite its title, the story has nothing to do with the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky, but is centred around a ruthless police officer who is investigating the crimes of a brutal serial killer who leaves long letters detailing his gruesome deeds at the crime scenes – hence the nickname Dostoyevsky. Coming to Italian cinemas shortly, the series will subsequently stream on Sky and Now TV.

An evening of film premieres

During the interval, I make a mental note of the number of Italian visitors present in the auditorium: there are quite a few, but not that many. The series is screening at Kino International, one of Berlin’s biggest cinemas.

In the very last back rows, the centre seats are occupied by the directors and members of the cast. During the interval – the series is shown in full with a ten-minute break after the first two and a half hours – Damiano D’Innocenzo takes a moment to greet some friends. He hugs a man: “Hey, we won 3:0!” he exclaims, and names the players who scored the goals for Roma in yesterday’s match.

Meanwhile, people elsewhere speak in hushed tones. I hear Italian being spoken, perhaps by critics or by fans, but what they’re saying is barely audible. The only word I can make out is scrittura, and then the phrase è nello stile loro, perhaps alluding to the film-makers’ distinctive style.

Outside the cinema, the smokers light up. Someone with a “PRESS” sign tagged to his collar talks pompously about the films he’s working on, dropping a few famous names into the conversation. Another person asks questions, while a young man, probably fresh from this afternoon’s Shorts programme, ventures: “Well, the Balkan countries produce five films a year, but all of them are good. Not like here, where they churn out 120 films, but almost all are bad.”

Returning to the auditorium, I see several men in tailored suits walking up the carpeted stairs ahead of me. It’s only then, as I glance upwards, that I understand the significance of attending an uncut D’Innocenzo world premiere. As I’m about to sit down, I hear the jubilant cry of one of the two film-makers: “Incredible – we’ve won 3:0!”

The internal dimension

Maybe this is what I like about the D’Innocenzo brothers: this level of reality, a dimension that is also inscribed in their films. They weave their own view into the fabric of their narratives, and they do this in such a skilful way you don’t even notice when you internalise it yourself. After a while, you think to yourself: they’ve tricked me! I’m part of their story, I’m thinking the way they think, and I didn’t even realise it.

To get the lingering audience to take their seats, Damiano says: “We have to speak English here. Ah… the film is about to start. The film is starting, come on, please!” It’s the first time I’ve heard English spoken with such a thick Roman accent.

Remarkable accomplishment after two years of work

Compliments to everyone! Dostoyevsky is indeed – as the D’Innocenzos referred to it themselves – a novel. One of those really good, compelling books where you don’t see the letters alternating and forming words as you read, only images that flow abundantly, rich and raw. Two whole years went into the planning and production of this series.

A lot of what you see repulses you, turns your stomach, triggers an overwhelming sense of shame and discomfort. Just like many of the things you encounter in real life. And in this natural, cyclical rhythm, it goes on and on and on.

It is a disturbing story about people who loathe themselves and, with their self-loathing, sow evil in the world. As the D’Innocenzo brothers never tire of stressing, it is an evil hidden in the most ordinary of things, in the secrets of the most ordinary people. They themselves do nothing other than present a cinematic perspective.