TorinoFilmLab - Training, development, Funding


When I Grow Up

Despina Ladi



Late ‘80s. A small seaside village, Southern Italy.
10-year-old Guido - a vegetarian freediver obsessed with Jacques Cousteau - receives the “Star of Tomorrow” award for his performance in his school’s play. When a famous actor presents him with the award, he whispers the secret of success to him, but Guido does not hear it. Later, when a diving exercise leaves him breathless, he develops a fear of the sea and surrenders to his parents’ wishes. Franco, a butcher, and Valeria, a hairdresser, want him to just focus on acting and stay away from girls.
8 years later. Cinecittà Studios.
Guido lands a job dubbing soft-core porn films. Hiding the news from his parents becomes more complicated when he falls in love with his “co-star” Elena, who remains a mystery in a separate sound booth. He resorts to spying on her from the pet shop across from her flat, where he is surrounded by fish entrapped in glass cases, bringing his aquatic past to the surface.

In the end, Guido finds the secret to success when he confronts his fears of the sea and finally meets Elena, face to face. Now he must break the news to his family…


Adaptation for me is a process that can be a starting point for deconstructing, reconstructing and reimagining the original material. In the case of Porn to Be Alive, some elements - the porn industry, trying to become someone when you are young, the Mediterranean setting - became a source of inspiration that led me to want to explore how one can find their path in life. And so, When I Grow Up was born.

As a writer, I find the porn industry an interestingly complex storyworld, particularly the double life that people involved often lead. What does someone in the porn industry tell their family, especially in a country like Italy, where family bonds are often strong and parents controlling?

Knowing that in Italy, dubbing is the rule for most foreign films and an art in itself, I thought that the world of dubbing was very interesting and one that had not been previously explored on screen.

Considering the dubbing process, there is a very powerful image for me: that of a male and a female voice artist in a studio, in different sound booths, lending their voices, moans and sighs to their naked, fit and attractive alter-egos, while themselves being far from sexy and turned on. It is in this unexpected - potentially funny, ridiculous or erotic - context that the romance between Guido and Elena develops.

The voice artists’ world made me think of how our voice is integral to who we are. Artists –particularly writers - are always encouraged to find their voice. But what does that mean? And how can you achieve it when family, friends and society itself try to pull you in different directions?

Guido’s voice over will be an essential element in the film, used to reveal his repressed thoughts, which constantly contradict his actions. Suffocated by his hometown and stifled by the big city, he longs for the serenity he used to find underwater. It is only once he manages to face his fears and return to this silence, that he is able to reconnect with himself.

Films that for their similar style or tone have been references are: Patrice Leconte’s The Hairdresser’s Husband, François Truffaut’s Stolen Kisses, Emanuele Crialese’s Respiro, Paolo Virzi’s Hard-Boiled Egg, Luc Besson’s The Big Blue and Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

A coming-of-age comedy about love, porn and Jacques Cousteau.
Despina Ladi