The main character of The Vertical Line is Luigi (Valerio Mastandrea), a man who discovers he has a tumor and will need to undergo a delicate surgical operation. Through his eyes, we enter the hospital world, one of which we all more or less know the rules, but that holds extraordinary tragicomic surprises when explored more deeply.
The series concentrates mainly on the lives of the patients, not only Luigi, but also on the latter’s sundry companions on this journey: an Iranian with radical beliefs, a restaurant owner who knows everything about medical science, a priest undergoing a crisis, a taciturn intellectual and dozens of senior citizens, wicked in captivity. And then there’s the hospital ward staff: from the head physician professor Zamagna, famous surgeon and absolute genius, to the various other assistants who day after day work together in this microcosm separate from the ordinary world, with its own rules, hierarchies and power balances, which are put to the test on a daily basis. Here everyone is always active, involved in a struggle, each with their own means; the doctors and nurses to treat their patients, the patients to try to recover and carry on living their lives.
The Vertical Line is based on an autobiographical hospital experience, but more than the need to describe a personal affair, my wish was to describe, in the Italy of today, a cancer ward in a public hospital of absolute excellence. And one captained by a surgeon who overturns the cliché of the arrogant big-shot head physician detached from reality and who, on the contrary, with his kindness, generosity and love for his profession, represents the idea of a possible alternative Italy. The Vertical Line is the clinical adventure of Luigi, a forty-year-old who finds himself forced to fight a cancer two months before the birth of his second child. Faced with hospitalization and surgery, Luigi can hang on to two throbbing hearts: his extraordinary wife and the remarkable surgeon who operates on him. The Vertical Line follows two objectives: keeping a theatrical dimension, with the series set exclusively in the hospital ward, and a narrative freedom in facing a complex issue that is unfortunately more and more present in our lives. The ward is our stage; this is where the series takes place, because as well as being the main character’s new temporary home it is also a small universe in its own right and one that follows its own fascinating rules. Though it always looks the same, it is also ever mutating; the patients change, the doctors and nurses follow their shifts, its life is made up of great joys, heart-breaking pain, but even of great (and sometimes involuntary) comedy and friendships that end up lasting forever. Life, death, suffering and illness: everything is methodized according to a routine you soon become accustomed to and that represents a formidable human experience. I directed The Vertical Line with a posture similar to the one I’ve always adopted for the stage; in a regime, in other words, of great productive agility, essentiality and maximum concentration on the writing and on working with the actors. In the same way as for the series Boris, here too the actors, as well as being top-rate performers, shared in the intentions of the story, sponsored it and guaranteed its achievement. Together we tried to stage the comedy as seriously as possible, with no winks and nudges or complacency, never farcically and always with passionate accuracy. Working with them I found the emotional climate for the series, which shifts from the tragic to comedy, at times quite boldly, even within a single scene. This is what the ward I was in for one month was like. For me this was the most stimulating aspect: the privilege of being able to again describe a social reality that is completely different from how it may appear from the outside. Narrative freedom, on the other hand, consisted in overstepping the traditional 25-minute series structure (main plot and two subplots). The attempt here was to proceed without a safety net, describing very realistic events from a clinical point of view, but freely, often audaciously. In this sense, even if our main character is a fish out of water in this complex world, totally new to him, his off-screen voice takes us through the narrative with sociological digressions, stories of human events and hospital “liturgies,” as well as the incredible paradoxes of medical science. Finally, The Vertical Line, despite the painful tragic context, describes illness as an opportunity for growth, learning and even redemption.
Arcangela di Lorenzo
Guido De Laurentiis
Producer for RAI
Producers for Wildside
Rai Fiction – WILDSIDE
TV Production Direction