“Will you stop smoking?” Say the two boys who look as though they have just got up, hair upset, faces wrinkled like shirts, dark sunglasses. They turn to Irene Pollini Giolai, co-writer of the film about them. The first time I met Benjamin and Joshua Israel was at the Venice Film Festival, where The shyness of the hair by Valentina Bertani was presented in the Giornate degli Autori section (in theaters now, November 10, distributed by I Wonder Pictures). They were sitting in one of the Lido beach bars. I had not yet seen the film about them, nor did I know their story (two homozygous twin boys, observant Jews, musicians, with an intellectual disability). The angular faces, the black Blues Brothers glasses, the bushy hair, with tufts – even the “twins” – vaguely “rockabilly” gave them an air of true rebel punk rocker.
“That day, after we met on the beach, we went with the boys to take some photos,” says director Valentina Bertani. “A little later a security man came to tell us we couldn’t stay near the huts. We told him we would only take a couple more shots and leave. But then we got on with it. The man is back. Josh growled at him: “Mo ‘you broke your dick!”. The man, a little less than two meters per hundred kilos, was totally dumbfounded. No one must have ever answered him like that, especially one who doesn’t weigh half as much. Benji and Josh don’t have any filters. We immediately identified with them, from the first moment we met them. They look like Harmony Korine’s children. ‘ Valentina uses the feminine plural because of the Shyness of the hair she is a director, screenwriter and creator, but the project is a collective work of a crew of many girls and a few boys (in addition to the two magnificent protagonists): from the co-screenwriters Irene Pollini Giolai and Alessia Rotondo to the executive producers Federica Spina and Alessia Tonellotto, wife of Valentina, and then the co-screenwriter Emanuele Milasi and the directors of photography Edoardo Carlo Bolli and Emanuele Mestriner.
“A scene similar to the previous one happened to us on the way to the red carpet,” continues the director. “We called a taxi and we were already dressed for the red carpet, I in Givenchy …”. “I’ll tell it!” Interrupts Benji. “Josh had a can of Coca-Cola in his hand: ‘Now I’m going to spill it on you!’ He starts to pour the Coke on the Vale, she moves her leg and a drop falls on the ground on the taxi. The taxi driver got angry and pulled Josh down by force. I wanted him! He held my Ale (Alessia Tonellotto, nda). After a while we changed taxis… ».
Now, almost two months after the Venice Film Festival, on the eve of the film’s theatrical release we find ourselves in Chiaravalle, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Milan, in a bar near the famous abbey. Benji is watching a TV series about vampires on his mobile (the Vampire Diaries) and tells the plot to Valentina and Alessia. Joshua, on the other hand, does not feel too well and is more taciturn, which is curious because in Venice it was the opposite: Josh tends to be more bold and chatty, Benji more silent. “They have always done it, the game of alternating or exchanging roles”, observes Monica Carletti, the mother. “They have often passed off as one another, but I recognize them even before they were born …”. On Joshua’s health, Benjamin jokes annoyingly: «he has Covid! He has Covid! », In reality, his mother just gave him a swab and it’s negative. She then she has some for us: «You write for Rolling Stone?! I don’t like the Rolling Stones, they shit! ».
Let’s talk about how the film was born. “My brother and I were going to play football,” says Benjamin. “Vale saw us on the street, approached us and told us that she wanted to make a film about us. “They are too beautiful!”, She must have said to herself. But we totally gave a damn about it. She asked if we were of age. “But what does this want from us? Who knows you?”. She didn’t trust her hair at all (Valentina has rasta braids, nda), we left. But she didn’t give up, she started asking around for us and got the phone number of the lady sitting next to you (the boys’ mother, nda). She wanted to meet us, she came to our house, but I kept asking myself: “What do you want this from me and my brother? Because me vo ‘breaks’ them cojoni?! “. After a while we started seeing each other for some dinners, at first with mom and dad (Sergio Israel, nda), and finally convinced us. And we started shooting. If I see the film now I don’t physically recognize myself anymore, I’ve changed a lot! Look at the haircut (sports a clipped hair, nda) “.
The shyness of the hair it takes us into the world of Benji and Josh. It focuses on their real exam at the Marconi Music High School (drummer the first, trombonist the second), their loves, driving in the car with their father, the Jewish camping, the prayers in the synagogue (shot in the synagogue of Mantua, why get permits in Milan is more complicated) and, finally, the trip to a military camp in Israel where they decide to go (in the film it is not shown but Joshua was later awarded as the best cadet). What will happen now? “I am already an actor, footballer, drummer …” says Benji, who always speaks in Roman dialect, even in the film, although he is very Milanese. We ask him why. «I was a scout and at every campsite in Rome, Turin or Florence, I was more with the girls girls, the little Roman girls, and I have attacked this beautiful “disease”. And from mo ‘sto to speak’ Roman. My head is Rome, ‘in my city. In my head I already live there … ».
“I don’t know what I want to do,” Josh replies, “maybe one day go back to the Israeli military base I attended. I also met my best friend, Akiva (an autistic boy, nda), he never talks to anyone and instead he talks to me. And then I like to shoot, I’m good, I have good aim. After the Conservatory, which we have already started and lasts seven years, I would like to return to Israel. I’m also good at basketball and archery ». In the film we see Josh playing basketball. He is wearing Olimpia Milano’s jersey number 43, the number of Croatian champion Krunoslav Simon, former Olimpia player (Scudetto in 2016). «” Kruno “is my idol! That’s why I’m wearing his shirt! ». After the shooting, the director managed to get a video in which Francesco Totti greets the “Roman” and Romanista Benji, and gave him an autographed shirt. «Hi Benji, I’m Francesco Totti. How are you? I send you a big greeting. Be good! ». Valentina also filmed Benji while she watches the video gift in loop: «Nooooo! The captainoooo! Nooooo! Grandeee! ».
Since the film shows Benjamin and Joshua a few times in prayer and in the synagogue, we ask the boys if they are religious. Benjamin replies: «I believe in God, but I don’t believe in Our Lady, Jesus and the saints. I observe Shabbat, from Friday evening until Saturday evening, when I then go out to drink and see the kids. Until some time ago I prayed a lot, now less. We are circumcised, it still hurts just to think about it… ». Joshua intervenes: «I was religious, especially at the Jewish camp. Before I believed in God, now I don’t. ” “That’s why you are rude!” Benji urges him.
The title The shyness of the hair it refers to some types of trees which, when they grow parallel, at a certain point in their existence stop touching each other with the branches. «The theory», Valentina observes, «is that they do it so as not to overshadow each other». The title refers to the personality of the brothers, but also to their hair (even if now they have cut a lot). «As twins», Valentina resumes, «Benji and Josh grew up together, but then they also have to separate to emancipate themselves. To have a distinct identity ».
The film had a gestation of five years and is a powerful, original and poetic portrait of two identical twins, but different from everything and everyone, starting with the tuft. Between obsession with sex, anger, reconciliation, unpleasantness and a sense of inadequacy. One of the best Italian documentaries of the year. A destabilizing, heartfelt and truly unique debut feature. It brings to mind that Roland Barthes comment on the photo Mental institution by Lewis H. Hine in The clear room: “I strip myself of all knowledge, of all culture … I only see the enormous starched collar of the child (with a head too small, nda), the girl’s bandaged finger (big-headed, nda) “. Or to quote Basaglia: “Up close, no one is normal.”