Rome Film Festival: Sly’s Day


The sixth day of the festival was all about the biggest star of the 1980s. Sylvester Stallone turned the city upside down with his larger-than-life presence and the world premiere of his latest film, Bullet to the Head directed by legendary action filmmaker Walter Hill, became almost an afterthought.

Stallone began his stay in the Eternal City one day before his official red carpet entrance and, together with the festival's artistic director Marco Müller and Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno, he visited Tor Bella Monaca, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods, where he talked to a huge audience of fans, mostly kids from those same streets that every year are at the center of the city's economic and criminal decline. Stallone moved the audience by telling of his own childhood struggles in New York. "I was one of those kids," Stallone later said to the reporters. "I know what it's like and I know how difficult it is when everyone is telling you that you can't do this or that because of where you come from. But it was important to me to see those kids, to tell them that you must not stop dreaming and fighting with everything you've got to reach your goals."

The love and affection of those kids was evident when Stallone made his big festival appearance, as many of the Tor Bella Monaca boys waited for him on a crowded red carpet for hours and hours.

Some of the kids waiting for their idol on the red carpet, almost eight hours before Stallone's arrival – ICS exclusive picture

During the press conference Stallone talked extensively about his career, and amused the reporters with his account of the first time he met Woody Allen. Apparently the New York director didn't think Stallone looked menacing enough to play the villain in his Bananas, so the actor left the audition room, put some dirt on his face, went back and growled at the director, who immediately cast him.

Stallone also talked a little about his view of Hollywood, which looked like a magnificent dreamland to his younger self, at least until he struggled to get his first paycheck for Rocky. At that point he decided to toughen up because there are no real friendships or loyalty in the City of Dreams.

Sylvester Stallone and Walter Hill at the press conference for Bullet to the Head

Walter Hill, who was awarded the Maverick Director lifetime achievement award by the festival, echoed Stallone's views during the master class he offered to the Roman audience after the screening of his movie. Hill's memories of an older, kinder Hollywood are a perfect match for the director's melancholy style, which is something he's always tried to achieve "not as an artist," he specified, "but as a hopefully competent craftsman."

Walter Hill receives the Maverick Director lifetime achievement award

Hill's craftsmanship comes through in the movie he presented with his star, a movie that captured the festival-goers with its humor and old-style action, including a masterful axe battle / dance between Stallone and Game of Thrones' Jason Momoa. Bullet to the Head  is a well made piece of action film nostalgia which never tries to feel like it was made in the 1980s, but rather uses the tropes of '80s action films (and the presence of Stallone) as a bittersweet homage to an era that the director knows perfectly well can't come back. Stallone is the old-time hero of primal, disputable morals who has to face a younger, faster kind of hero (played by Sung Kang). Their differences offer some amusing moments of classic buddy-movie comedy, but the underlying struggle between an older, simpler view on crime and violence and a newer, technology-based and morally superior heroism is always present and makes of Jimmy Bobo, Stallone's character, a rather tragic, even slightly pathetic (in the unironic sense of the word) figure.

A scene from Bullet to the Head directed by Walter Hill

Both Hill and Stallone said they were aware of this aspect of the movie, and Stallone, at this point of his career, was more than willing to play a tragically passé character. "Maybe next time I will play Rambo fighting against arthritis," the actor joked, "but I will still fight."