Leonardo Guerra Seragnoli’s debut drama Last Summer combines an impressive production team and cast with an intriguing premise.

Oscar-nominated Rinko Kikuchi stars as a mother who is given a few days on a luxury yacht to say goodbye to her young son after losing a custody battle.

Producers are Elda Ferri (Life is Beautiful) and Luigi Musini (Black Souls), editor was Michael Haneke regular Monika Willi and Seragnoli collaborated with Italian comics artist Igort and Japanese writer Banana Yoshimoto on the script.

The 34-year old Italian writer-director Seragnoli graduated in film scoring from Boston’s Berklee College of Music. He went on to direct a number of shorts and for a time studied for an MA in screenwriting at the LFS.

Fortissimo handles sales on the English-language drama, which received its world premiere at the Rome Film Festival.

How did this film come together?

I first met Luigi Musini a few year ago in Cannes through a friend. I had been developing a US film inspired by a Flannery O’Connor book but the US producer eventually dropped out of that project.

Soon after that I also met Elda Ferri. That is when I started thinking about Last Summer. 

I had been doing an MA in screenwriting at the LFS but had to leave early when we went into pre-production.

Where did the idea come from?

There were a few inspirations.

I was fascinated by the idea of what a mother would do if she had only one day to say goodbye to her son.

I wondered whether a farewell could also contain a beginning and whether an unhealthy situation such as this one could ultimately produce some healthy feelings that could endure and last.

I also grew up with Japanese culture around me so was keen to make a film with a Japanese connection and the boat itself was another inspiration.

Was it hard to finance?

It was easier to put together than I expected. Rai Cinema contributed a large big chunk of money and we used the Italian tax credit.

I met Rinko briefly in Venice in 2011 after Norwegian Wood. I then wrote the film with her in mind but wasn’t necessarily expecting to get her.

I had to fight for her. She was going to make an Isabel Coixet film so I had to put pressure on the producers to make sure we could get her in time.

I gather 22 of the 24 shooting days were on the boat. How challenging was that?

We had bad weather for the first ten days to the extent that we had to think about rewriting the script. It was rainy and rough. Finally it broke.

But the actors were mostly fine. Not too much sea-sickness. The challenge for them was that there were no trailers. There was only one room for all the actors. This created a great camaraderie but also a little drama. You start to feel a little claustrophobic.

Actually, we chose our crew with one eye on their comfort at sea. Our DoP has his own boat, for example. It was important that the crew felt comfortable at sea.

Did the language prove challenging for Rinko?

It was a challenge for her. But language can be worked into another form of isolation, so that suited the plot in a way. When her character recovers to speak Japanese she undergoes a great transformation.

How did you come to work with Italian comics writer Igort?

It was Elda’s idea but I was more than happy to do so. With his graphic novel and comics background he was able to help me strip away surplus material.

Banana helped a lot on the Japanese character. I didn’t want to fall into stereotypes.

What’s next?

I’m hoping to collaborate with Rinko on another film about the family, this one set in London. I’d love to do a triptych about family, separation and rebirth. It would be about a Japanese mother and Italian father whose son is born and raised in London.

In parallel I’m working on an Italian film based in Rome about narcissism. Both projects are at treatment stage.