Totò, the heir of Don Quixote. The lost film becomes a comic. Interview with Fabio Celoni

From a cinematic treatment that never landed on the set to the return on paper, in images and words. The project that the Prince of Laughter would have liked to carry out and which he never carried out lives a new life thanks to Fabio Celoni’s pen and pencils. “Totò united Italy more than Garibaldi”. The interview

A film that has never seen the light of day, a great project left on paper and now back, ironically, still on paper, bringing back to life Totò, in the role of Don Quixote or at least one of his very close descendants. Totò, Don Quixote’s heir it had to be a feature film for the cinema, a decidedly ambitious project, perhaps too much for the many commitments of the Neapolitan actor who died exactly 55 years ago and who at the end of the 1940s exploded in all his popularity. So it was never realized, but that cinematic treatment arrived in the hands of Fabio Celoni, a Milanese cartoonist who grew up with Totò’s films and decided to pay him homage. Totò, Don Quixote’s heir (Panini Comics, 112 pages, 18 euros, 23 with slipcase) is a comic divided into two parts, exactly as if you were in the room, the first of which comes out on 21 April for Panini Comics, with Aldo Fabrizi as shoulder to Totò. A complex and courageous work in which Celoni puts herself in the shoes and mind of Totò, to make him herald and, if you like, executor of his will. Between spectacular tables, bright colors and a surprising naturalness in replicating the language and comedy of the Prince of Laughter.


Fabio Celoni – Panini Comics

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Can you tell us how and when this cinematic treatment never translated to film came into your hands?
I looked for it. I learned of its existence by surfing the internet, looking for something related to Totò, and I found it in a book by Anile (Alberto, film critic and journalist, ed). So I discovered that in the 1940s a group of very important scriptwriters had set to work on this film of which almost nothing was known: a parody of Don Quixote. So I tried to track him down and I did it. I found these documents in original form, typescripts from the late 1940s, at the Centro del Cinema in Cesena directed by Antonio Maraldi, who made the material available to me. And after I got very excited reading that Totò film that was never made, I got to work.

Totò, by the way, seems perfect for playing Don Quixote. Why do you think this film was never made?
The exact reason is unknown, at least that I know of. The production was already advanced, the subjects had already been completed, I found 14 different versions, a cinematic treatment had even been written, complete with a lineup and Totò had already signed a contract. It wasn’t a vague idea, it was something that had to be done. It was probably never filmed for reasons related to Totò’s super commitment in those years, we are talking about ’48 -’49 and it was the moment in which Totò exploded with films like Totò Le Mokò And The Emperor of Capri. He made many films a year and this which, from the cards, should have been something very demanding, would have taken too much time. Probably they have not found themselves with the times and Totò was no longer able to grab him. Until today.


Fabio Celoni – Panini Comics

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Not a simple comic, almost the posthumous realization of an unresolved desire by Totò. How does it feel to be in the shoes of the dream maker?
For me it was a desire to realize a dream of Totò but consequently also my dream, which was to pay homage to his art in some way. This seemed to me the perfect conclusion, Totò strongly wanted to make this film, and my gift to him, as a thank you for all those he did to me, really wanted to be to make him shoot it after so many years, not on a cinema screen. but on paper. And I hope I succeeded.

Was there ever a time when you were afraid of the responsibility of such a project?
I do not deny that there was a moment of fear, I always have it when I work on a work, I have no great certainties and I am always very self-critical of me. In a situation like this, then, in which I was dealing with a major international film project and above all with the figure of Totò, it was complex on a psychological level. On the other hand, however, everything was offset by the great fun that his work has always given me. I tried to balance things and not get overwhelmed by the sense of responsibility.


Fabio Celoni – Panini Comics

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What was the most complex part of the job? How difficult was it, as an author, to immerse yourself in a canonized comedy like that of Totò?
I believe that writing as Totò spoke is fundamentally impossible, simply because Totò’s mind only had it. Even for the screenwriters themselves who worked on his films it was not easy, and what we see on the screen was partially the result of the screenwriters and largely the result of the improvisation of Totò and his great art colleagues. It was certainly very difficult for me to approach or imagine what Totò could have said in such a context. In the original treatment that I found there were some dialogues, but in my opinion they were too refined and very linked to the idea of ​​the work of Cervantes and to the literary weight of Don Quixote. I tried to get as close to Totò as possible, because I believe that in the end Totò would have bent Don Quixote to himself, the opposite could hardly have happened.

How did you do?
I retraced in my mind all of Totò’s filmography in the dialogues that I know practically by heart, having listened to them all my life, trying to imagine what he could have said in such a situation. Obviously filtered by me and not by him, if not in spirit.


Fabio Celoni – Panini Comics

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We are used to seeing Totò in black and white, you present it in color and you have made a warm and lively tub. Why?
Initially I wanted to make this work in black and white for a very simple reason. As for me, the Don chisciotte it is linked to the figure of Gustave Doré, who was one of its first graphic designers at the end of the 19th century. Doré, with his engravings, the half-tone and shades of gray, has created a mammoth work that has remained in my memory exactly as for the Divine Comedy. Then when I managed to read that the film should have been in color and would probably have been the first Italian film in color, I changed my mind, I completely changed my style and made it in color. Taking twice as long.

You are from Milan, Totò is from Naples. What unites you and what divides you?
It may be curious for some to think that a Milanese approached this work by Totò, a Neapolitan par excellence. But I have always felt very much at home, or perhaps I have always felt very close to Naples thanks to him. However, I believe that Totò is universal, there are no architectural or geographical barriers with him, on the contrary I believe that he has united Italy much more than Garibaldi.


Fabio Celoni – Panini Comics

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55 years after his death, Totò still remains relevant, still a yardstick with which every comedian, every mask of today, must measure himself. Because?
I believe that Totò’s topicality is due to the fact that he is not tied to his time but has managed to transcend the years. This is because his comedy has always been linked to the universality of the human being. In his comedy there are universal characters, a bit like in Chaplin’s, so managing to touch points present in all men he managed to pass the time because man, if not for small nuances, does not change with pass generations. Society and customs evolve, but what is profound in us, fears, miseries, anguish and laughter, remain the same. As Chaplin said, tragedy is very close to farce, it just depends on what point of view it is observed.

When will the second half come out?
It’s already in the works, the storyboard is ready, I just have to work hard to complete the film. In the meantime, you can have some popcorn during the intermission.


Fabio Celoni, Totò, Don Quixote’s heir. First half, Panini Comics, 112 pages, 18 euros – Fabio Celoni – Panini Comics

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