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Thread: Contemporary Italian Cinema

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    Contemporary Italian Cinema

    [Chris Knipp]

    Where did you see The Best of Youth? Here's where I saw it http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~iisa/movies.html. They use a laptop to show DVD's on a big screen in a UC Berkeley lecture hall. Italian students put it on for free.

    [Arsaib4]

    lecture hall, nice! and on top it was free so you can't do better than that.

    I saw it first in Toronto last year but didn't really get to enjoy it, my mind was always on what else am i missing as this took almost the whole day. Then i was able to get the french 3 disc-set which has the french language track along with french subs (worked for me as my french is just okay) and appreciated it a little more. It's was nice to see an antidote to the more bland italian cinema available here thanks to miramax (thanks again to miramax) with the likes of Cinema Paradiso to Malena.

    [C.K]]

    Rumor has it the Italian cinema is pretty bland these days over there as well. I'm not sure you can blame it all on MIramax. I'm going to be in Italy for a while this fall and I'll see if I can find any films with more of an edge to them. The UC showing was broken into two segments a week apart which were shown with Italian subtitles for the hearing impaired which help me the same way French ones would help you, only better, because after all, the subtitles were pretty close to the spoken lines (though not exactly--they simplify or use more standard expressions sometimes), and I've been working to tone up my Italian for the past two years.

    Did you see Garrone's L'Imbalsamatore? That was different. It had a limited release and showed at the Lumiere in San Francisco last October.

    [A4]

    No, i haven't this film, i do remember seeing a commerical of The Embalmer and wasn't sure if it was spanish or italian but since it is available here i'll try to see it.

    From what i've seen and heard, italian cinema actually has slightly reemerged in the last couple of years, not enough to call it a 'new wave' or anything but some new filmmakers from the south have energized the industry with their controversial subject matters as much as Berlosconi and the government wouldn't want to see that. And there's always the presence of Marco Bellochhio who's last two films (not seen here) L'ora de Religione and Biongiorno, Notte are on par with his earlier work. I plan to write about one of them soon. It seems like Bellocchio is back doing what he does best, attacking the beaucracy of state and church that exists in his country, kind of things not too appealing to a larger audience.

    The other film i got a chance to see at the italian rendezvous in NY was Sergio Castellitto's Non Ti Muovere with a brilliant performance from Penelope Cruz and Castellitto himself.

    [C.K]


    Great. I'm glad to hear that and hope some more work by these new directors will be on view when I'm in Italy. So you saw all these at the Italian Film festival in New York? When is that festival? I saw 'L'ora di religione' in Italy. I did not think it would make sense to an American audience. Castellitto is a good, versatile actor; I didn't know he had directed films; I'm surpprised Penelope Cruz is capable of a great performance.

    [A4]

    Among the films i mentioned earlier only 'Non ti Muovere' i saw at the festival, i think it was called 'Open reads:New Italian Cinema' which took place in June. I was surprised first of all to see Penelope Cruz in an italian film but it was tough role and she did a fine job portraying a trouble young woman.

    'L'ora Di Religione' is seemingly a rare commodity on dvd in italy also, i was lucky to get a hold of a copy with subtitles, as i mentioned i really liked this film and Castellitto as you mentioned is one of very few recognizable italian actors around.

    The only other film i saw in NY was Sergio Rubino's L' Amore Ritora with Giovanna Mezzogiorno (i'm almost willing to see anything with her in it), a somewhat disappointing fellini-esque metaphysical love story.

    Have you seen anything else from italy recently?

    [Chris Knipp]

    Only a PAL DVD of Casomai (Alessandro D'Alatri) with the one you love, the soulful Giovanna Mezzogiorno which I viewed on my pc. It's another somewhat bland Berlusconi-era romantic saga with a message: trust your heart and your marriage will last. The acting is fine but it has been compared to a couple of "Friends" episodes -- telenovela stuff -- and I didn't think it was as skillfully done as Muccino's Last Kiss, which is so superficial but so smoothly done and so energetic. I thought Muccino's first, Come te nessuno mai, sort of a prequel to L'ultimo bacio, about highschoolers trying to stage a Sixties-type school strike but really mainly just wanting to get laid (a "first kiss"), was his best and I think some Italians agree with me. Casomai was a loan from one of the students who put on the UC campus series. http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~iisa/movies.html

    I looked up reactions to L'ora di religione on FilmUp--it seems to be the IMDb of Italy--and saw that views were very mixed on it, there being af number of viewers uncomfortable with the fantastic nature of the plot.

    [A4]

    I'll try to find more about CASOMAI, as i didn't see that film listed under her name, may be it was guest appearance or something similar.

    I feel the same way about L'ULTIMO BACIO as you do, it's superficial elements were overshadowed by some fine performances (a very believable one by giovanna) and it's brisk pace. Although i haven't seen the 'prequel' i have seen the sequel if one can call that, RICORDATI DI ME (Remember me) with Laura Morante, Fabrizio Bentivoglio and Monica Bellucci. It seems like some of the characters from Muccino's earlier films have grown up, gotten married, had kids, but they still long for the early love of their life. Ricordati di me recently got a U.S distributer.

    I am not surprised by the reaction to L'ORA DI RELIGIONE, typical reaction for a Bellocchio film. It's definetly not his most subtle but he surely gets the point across.

    The Open roads:New italian Cinema series has been going on for about 4 years now, thanks to Walter Reade, Italian Society and Film Comment organizers. This is the first time I went, most of the screening were sold out which was good to see, it usually takes place in the first week of June.

    [C.K]

    I should have mentioned Ricordati di me, shown in the UC campus Italian student series. I found it tacky; it was like Muccino peaked technically in Last Kiss, but was most authentic in Io come te nessuno mai.

    I was completely off in identifying Giovanna with Casomai; it's Stefania Rocca. I was thinking of Facing Windows, La finestra di fronte, which she's in, and which I consider a piece of fluff. That has been showing in this country, I saw in in NYC in June and it's coming here to the Bay Area shortly I think. Sorry for my mistake. Maybe I should try to come to NYC next time the Open roads:New italian Cinema series is on. I love New York and want to spend more time there.

    [A4]

    yeah, RICORDATI DI ME wasn't much but i was surprised Miramax didn't go for it as this material is right up their alley. By the way, according to imdb, the company has laid off quite a few people recently due to some of the losses they've suffered (cold mountain any one!).

    No problem, Stefania Rocca has been in many italian films recently working with just about everyone. I went with my girlfirend to see LA FINOSTRA DI FRONTE so i can't say anything bad about it, sorry, hell i couldn't even truly appeciate Giovanna while watching it.

    Definetely check out the italian rendezvous if you get the time next year. Besides that there is alway a french and a spanish film series every year at the same place also. Sad part is while the screenings are partly organized by their original distributers so the films get picked up for the U.S, most of them still don't and this opportunity becomes the sole one to watch them with subtitles.


    [Oscar Jubris]

    I've been following your discussion with interest. I have visited Italy several times and continue to watch every Italian movie I come across, Finestra being the last one to play here. I cannot say I don't enjoy modern Italian cinema, but I've only been impressed by two Italian films during the past decade: Palme d'Or winner The Son's Room and Amelio's Lamerica. I will continue to watch them but I cannot say I'll walk into the theatre with high expectations.

    [A4]

    Most of the films me and Chris discussed earlier fall into the same category, barely watchable. As i mentioned i was impressed by Bellocchio's L'ORA DI RELIGIONE and do hope that Wellspring releases his latest BIONGIORNO,NOTTE (Good Morning, Night) soon as this is the best italian film i've seen in many years. Olmi's IL MESTIERE DELLE ARMI was impressive but then you have to go back almost a decade to come with anything decent like Amelio's IL LADRO DI BAMBINI.

    [C.K]

    http://www.filmlinc.com/archive/prog...aly/italy.html

    [A4]

    http://www.filmlinc.com/wrt/programs/6-2004/italy04.htm

    [C.K]

    I've been staging a mini-film festival for myself here in Paris and am listing the things I've seen. Today I will see Gianni Amelio's Le chiave di casa with Charlotte Rampling. Do you know that one?

    [A4]

    I believe Amelio's Le Chiavi di casa premiered at Venice last month, it was also at Toronto but couple of so-so reviews deterred me from pursuing it. However, it seems like the kind of film which will more popular with the general public than the critics. Let us know about it.

    [C.K]

    About Amelio's new film: there's plenty of positive press as well as press that says it's manipulative and that putting a handicapped kid in a starring role was a gimmick to gain the jury's affection. These discussions are interesting, and I want to peruse them in the Italian press as shown online, but I haven't quite got the time to do that in detail now since I'm at a pay-by-the-minute internet cafe and I leave Paris tomorrow. All I can say is that Le chiave di casa is going to stay in my mind. The boy, Andrea, Paolo in the film, as Amelio himself said in an interview (http://film.spettacolo.virgilio.it/...=100&pagina=319), had the capacity to be incredibly open with people, and yet to maintain an ironic distance at the same time. He's a complex, fascinating personality, and Amelio built a fascinating and mysterious portrait improvisationally out of that personality. I found it not so much a tear-jerker as extremely intriguing and fresh, an experience, as another Italian article also said, of life moment-to-moment, not for the past or the future, but in the now.

    Le chiave di casa is the no. 3 box office hit in Rome this week, after Farenheit 9-11.

    [A4]

    Another film which opened well recently in Italy is L'Amore Ritrovato with Stefano Accorsi and Maya Sansa.

    [C.K]

    It's a coincidence that the Italian film you saw listed is L'amore ritrovato, love refound, or perhaps one should translate it like the Proust title that it echoes, Love Recaptured. But unfortunately despite being a pretty film with a nice period feeling, I found it really very lacking in merit. My guess would be that the most interesting current Italian film as well as the most talked about is Le chiave di casa. I'm curious to see it again.

    [A4]

    It's safe to say that you liked Le Chiave di Casa very much. Hopefully we'll get to see it here soon.

    [C.K]

    Yes, Gianni Amelio's Keys to the House (Le chiavi di casa), which has had a very positive reception in Italy, made a strong impression on me when I saw it in Paris -- in the original Italian, of course, with French subtitles, helpful to me since the handicapped boy's Italian wasn't the clearest, and this was I think the most human of the 11 movies I saw in Paris recently. i certainly would like to see more of Amelio's work, including the much-praised Stolen Children, which Oscar has spoken highly of.

    [O.J]

    LAMERICA on dvd

    Il Ladro di Bambini remains unavailable here, but two others have been released on dvd in 2004: The Way We Laughed, which I like less than Ladro, and Lamerica, my favorite Italian film of the past two decades (with the possible exception of Michelangelo Antonioni's Beyond The Clouds). I hope your rental source has it. Lamerica was released by New Yorker Video in anamorphic widescreen and contains deleted scenes and an alternate ending. I find the list price of $34.95 too high. This film is an absolute MUST-see. If you watch it, please share your opinion

    [C.K]

    There are loads of new Italian not to mention French films we don't know aything about, and I just had to grab a few because they were new or I already liked the directors. Now I wish I'd gotten more. But time was limited and so was money. Some were not cheap; for example, Buongiorno, notte was 25 euros -- $30.

    [A4]

    Absolutely, but atleast you got the opportunity to be exposed to such films, I know you favoribly mentioned Matteo Garrone's L' Imbalsamatore once and his new film Primo Amore came out recently on dvd (with subs!). I was tempted to go for it but not knowing too much about it prevented me along with the price, this is what a member wrote at imdb,


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    I was one of those people very impressed with 'The embalmer' and i was waiting with anxiety for the second effort by Garrone. Now that the movie is out i'm not disappointed at all. This is a very dark story (probably is better to watch the movie alone!) but if you get connected (and i mean 'really and deeply' connected) with the characters you will be truly moved. Garrone is for sure the most interesting filmmaker now working in Italy and i truly hope he can pursue his personal way of seeing cinema. He's so original that he need no comparison with other great filmmakers to be appreciated and he also always choose very well his actors. Trevisan and Cescon are in fact very effective in their roles and this make us italian movie lovers very happy because we can see some different face on the screen (not the usual ten italian actors or so practically working in every movie!). Now i can't wait to see another movie from Garrone and i also hope he keep collaborating with Banda Osiris! (The soundtrack of 'First love' is simply great).
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------



    I'd love to hear about some of the films even if you don't get a chance to fully review them.

    [C.K]

    I just missed a chance to see Primo Amore for free a week or so ago in the ongoing UC Berkeley Italian Students' film series. I have read about it in detail. It sounds like very odd, edgy material. My Italian teacher said I didn't miss anything! But she is probably more in search of the upbeat than I am. I found L'Imbalsamatore quite fresh and throught-provoking. What a contrast to Muccino! Garrone seems to me to have things in common with Pupi Avati, including the focus on the provincial outlook in Italy, how it limits and defines people. I want to see the rest of Amelio's output too because Le chiave di casa impresssed me a lot. I've got one other one by Gabriele Salvatores among the dvd's I bought in Florence. I've got a couple of Pupi Avati's.

    [A4]

    I think it's hard of find all of Avati's work even in Italy, especially on dvd so not many have seen his output other than at a retrospective perhaps. Having said that I found his latest? called Il Cuove Altrove hard to sit through, it's almost painfully simple-minded. It did get a U.S release recently. Garrone does sounds like someone to keep an eye on.

    [C.K]

    I've noticed that Pupi Avati's output is only partly available. I didn't like Il cuore altrove either; it seemed manipulative (the main character doesn't have a chance), something I never like, and that was my first view of Avati. But I'm beginning to be intrigued by his odd, rather insular point of view. Garrone though, despite his off-center topics, seems more in touch with the rest of the world.

    P.s. I have a chance to see Ermanno Olmi's 2003 Cantando dietro i paraventi this week. Apropos of a revival of Tree of the Wooden Clogs a few years ago the Guardian wrote "No other Italian film-maker of world stature has been as neglected as Ermanno Olmi, " and he's made almost sixty films, but we've seen few of them in this country.

    [A4]

    Ermanno Olmi has certainly been out of the spotlight in recent years but perhaps that's the way he wants it. I read a postive review of Cantando dietro i paraventi coming out of Berlin Festival from a german critic where he wrote that Olmi has begun on a new path where he wants to be free, doing whatever he wants to do and this is perhaps a prime example of it (a costume drama shot in China with Bud Spencer). His previous Il Mestiere delle armi is one of my favorites among Italian films. Both films are coming out on dvd this week, in Italy.


    [C.K]

    I read somewhere today that one of the reasons he's out of the spotlight is he's been ill. And he's old. This one is related to Il mestiere delle armi; both are anti-war allegories. Funnily enough since it came out at the same time as Kill Bill: Vol. 1 in Italy, they were occasionally spoken of together, as twin western orientalist flicks. It's in the hands of Miramax/Mikado as of Oct. 2003, so I guess they're sitting on it. Isn't 98 minutes a bit short for them? The Guardian wrote in April "Olmi is riding high on the back of his Berlin festival hit Singing Behind the Screens"; will he ride high to the front of US screens?

    [A4]

    Ahhh...., "twin western oriental flicks," I wonder however what Olmi would say about all the red stuff in Kill Bill.

    I'd love to see the link to the article, if you can re-post it. I wasn't aware that Cantando dietro i paraventi (Singing Behind the Screens) had a distributer. This just might prevent me from going for the Italian disc which is said to have subtitles.

    [C.K]

    SINGING BEHIND SCREENS (CANTANDO DIETRO I PARAVENTI)


    by JAY WEISSBERG | Oct 27 '03 [Variety]


    (ITALY-U.K.-FRANCE)

    A Mikado/01 Distribution (in Italy)/Miramax (in U.S.)

    Jettisoning all traces of his realist style, veteran helmer Ermanno Olmi has crafted his most complex and sumptuous work to date with "Singing Behind Screens." This Chinese folktale, partly staged in a brothel, is the product of a mature director confident with the range of techniques at his command. Arthouse auds familiar with the Olmi name and sympathetic to Chinese period tales may help to defray, or even cover, pic's 10 million euro pricetag. Stateside, Miramax has already picked up pic as part of a package deal.

    Olmi himself sees the film as a follow-up to his anti-war "The Profession of Arms," but the multi-layered construction and ravishing imagery combine to make it more like a fairytale.

    A young man (Davide Dragonetti), in what looks like 1930s urban China, gets lost and mistakenly enters a Chinese brothel. Though visibly uncomfortable, he becomes attracted not only to the sexual situations but even more to the staged narration of a Chinese folktale about a female pirate.

    Fable is narrated by an old captain (Bud Spencer) from the deck of a large Chinese junk that fills one end of a huge room. The brothel's clients, in little reed huts arranged with a view of the stage, can either watch the show or indulge in other pleasures.

    Initially only the narrator's voice is heard, and the action is performed as a dance. However, at the moment the young man succumbs to the charms of a hooker, the pic cuts to a real lake where pirate junks are firing on a shoreside village.

    Leader of the pirates is Admiral Ching (Makoto Kobayashi), who's backed by a consortium of profiteers. To calm things down, the Emperor (Xuwu Chen) offers Ching a high title if he'll give up his pillaging. However, Ching's backers, unwilling to lose their income, murder the pirate first with a poisoned carp.

    Ching's widow (Jun Ichikawa) seeks vengeance, pillaging villages and vessels and becoming the most feared corsair of the coast. When the old emperor dies and his heir (Sultan Temir Omarov) ascends the throne, the new ruler personally goes out to capture the widow.

    Olmi has worked with fairytales and fantasy before, from the sweet simplicity of "The Legend of the Holy Drinker" to the childish misfire of "The Secret of the Old Wood." But "Singing" is a more complex realization of the director's liking for creating multiple worlds that work both in the imagination and in real terms, somewhat a la Peter Greenaway. Auds expecting a swashbuckling tale or an anti-war tract will be disappointed: Skirmishes and pillaging are kept to a minimum, and the pirate figure is sympathetic, so it's hard to perceive any pacifist theme here.

    Rights problems prevented screen credit being given to Jorge Luis Borges' story "The Widow Ching, Lady Pirate" from his "A Universal History of Infamy." (In fact, Borges took the plot from a 19th-century Chinese work, and the tale may well go back further than that.) Olmi adds the framing device of the brothel, using the staged play-within-a-play to reveal what is seen as the essence of truth. The plot boils down to a tale of fury appeased by forgiveness; the opulent staging gives a sense of depth to the material.

    Glorious lensing by Olmi's son, Fabio, makes the stunning vistas of Lake Scutari in Montenegro completely convince as a Chinese coast, with majestic, painterly mountains. Where "The Profession of Arms" (also shot by Fabio), was memorable for its icy blues and smoky whites of a frozen landscape, here the dominant tones are opulent blues, rich reds and vibrant yellows, all redolent of the Far East.

    Music mirrors the striking settings, with generous chunks of Stravinsky, Berlioz and Ravel.

    Thesps take a back seat to the visual compositions. As often, Olmi gathers a cast of mostly unknowns, headlined by female dancer Jun Ichikawa (not to be confused with the male Japanese helmer), whose calm, at times hard exterior occasionally slips to reveal the jumble of emotions that thrust her into pirating. Seasoned vet Bud Spencer (aka Carlo Pedersoli) brings flair to the narrator's theatrical recitation, and finds humor in the role without straying into Robert Newton-like excesses.

    Film's title comes from a Chinese poem, in which the sign of a contented home is said to be the sound of a woman singing within its walls.


    [A4]

    Thanks for the article/review, it has certainly increased my curiostiy for the film and proven the fact that Miramax is involved. I did some search on the film and Miramax but at this point it's not on the company's slate either for fall this year or even sometime early next year. Hopefully they haven't dropped it altogether due to the recent budget cuts. Miramax still however has Marco Giordana's epic 6 hr drama La Meglio gioventu (The Best of Youth) slated for March next year (delayed once again from January).

    [C.K]

    To pick up something you said earlier in this thread, I did see L'amore ritrovato in Rome with an American friend who lives there. We tended to find it somewhat lackluster, its pace and setting dreary, the characterizations unconvincing. But its star, Stefano Accorsi, is really emerging as the big new Italian film actor. He's in a lot of things, and good in them, especially in Ozpotek's Le fate ignoranti in a gay role and The Last Kiss, and now I discover he was one of the two leads in Santo Maradona, Marco Ponti's first film which was a big hit in Italy. Last night I saw Ponti's new one, A/R Andata + Ritorno (Round Trip) which is hilarious and brilliant. Sure, it owes a lot to various English language slacker and heist movies, but it's completely Italian. You'd love it. At least I hope so. The only reason everybody didn't love it in Italy is that they so adored Ponti's first film, the aforementioned Santo Maradona, they wanted more of the same, and it wasn't. Santa Maradona was in the first New Italian Cinema series and A/R is in the second.

    Why haven't we seen either? One reason is probably Miramax. Another is that Ponti is too modest a man. The other may be that the Italian cinema scene is dominated by dubbed American movies. But Italian moviemaking is coming back to life and so is Turin as a place to make them.

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    [Chris Knipp]

    To pick up something you said earlier in this thread, I did see L'amore ritrovato in Rome with an American friend who lives there. We tended to find it somewhat lackluster, its pace and setting dreary, the characterizations unconvincing. But its star, Stefano Accorsi, is really emerging as the big new Italian film actor. He's in a lot of things, and good in them, especially in Ozpotek's Le fate ignoranti in a gay role and The Last Kiss, and now I discover he was one of the two leads in Santo Maradona, Marco Ponti's first film which was a big hit in Italy. Last night I saw Ponti's new one, A/R Andata + Ritorno (Round Trip) which is hilarious and brilliant. Sure, it owes a lot to various English language slacker and heist movies, but it's completely Italian. You'd love it. At least I hope so. The only reason everybody didn't love it in Italy is that they so adored Ponti's first film, the aforementioned Santo Maradona, they wanted more of the same, and it wasn't. Santa Maradona was in the first New Italian Cinema series and A/R is in the second.

    Why haven't we seen either? One reason is probably Miramax. Another is that Ponti is too modest a man. The other may be that the Italian cinema scene is dominated by dubbed American movies. But Italian moviemaking is coming back to life and so is Turin as a place to make them.
    Yeah, the reviews I've read on L'amore ritrovato are also less than enthusiastic, it seems like they wanted to combine the two emerging Italian stars in a romantic film.

    I haven't seen Santa Maradona but I've heard about it, I believe it was part of one of the Italian showcases recently. Also, I think the central themes of some films, no matter how popular they are in their homeland, prevent U.S distributers from picking them up. Isn't this movie based around Soccer to some extent?

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    Thanks for doing the amazing job of putting all these together into a sequence that makes sense, for us, hopefully for others.

    Yes, L'amore ritrovato combines new romantic leads by combining the ubiquitous Stefano Accorsi with Maya Sansa, who's in both Il meglio gioventu and Bellocchio's Buongiorno, notte, (which I've got a copy of. But isn't Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Accorsi's costar in The Last Kiss, a bigger romantic star? She's a powerful actress as well as beautiful.

    No, Santo Maradona isn't based around soccer, that's just the name of a song. It's a slacker romance. I haven't seen it so I can't comment on how it would play in the US, but I think its failure to make it here is more bad luck than anything else, Ponti's and ours. It was shown at the previous NICE New Italian Film Festival in New York and San Francsco sponsored by the Italian Cultural Institute. I'm attending the latest one this week. You can find them at the NiceFestival website http://www.nicefestival.org/ing/nice...niceindex.htm.

    Monday at the festival I saw two of Garrone's earlier works, Terra di mezzo, Land in the Middle (three semidocumentary films about illegal foreigners around Rome) and Estate romana, Roman Summer, a Cassavetes-style improvised film about a set of assorted somewhat marginal artistic/theatrical characters in Rome in a somewhat Seventies-esque environment. I would call it making a film out of nothing. It seemed to me a bridge to The Embalmer, L'imbalsamatore. It showed how he could take odd, semi-real characters and make a coherent movie out of them, but in The Embalmer he had a stronger narrative basing the film on a news story (as he did also for Primo amore I think) that gave the whole thing punch. Plus maybe making it in a provincial region away from Rome added flavor. Monday we were supposed to see Ospiti (Guests). also about the young Slav illegals depicted in the second segment of Terra di Mezzo, which could be a bridge between Terra di mezzo and Estate romana, but it arrived without subtitles so they couldn't show it. I have to see Primo amore before I say Garrone is the most important new....etc. as the guy on IMDb does, "Garrone is for sure the most interesting filmmaker now working in Italy." That's speaking pretty loosely. There are plenty of others, such as Amelio, Moretti, Muccino, Avati, who've accomplished more. and I would not toss out such masters as Bertolucci and Bellocchio. Garrone is more offbeat than them and has more of a sense of social responsibility, an interest in people on the edge of society. (Unfortunately he came to New York but had to go back to Italy and didn't make it to San Francisco.) But now I've found a wild, more entertaining talent, Marco Ponti. He has his intense political moments -- more blunt than any of the others. In A/R Andata + ritorno, Round Trip the cab driver gets himself and his fare stoned and goes completely bonkers and yells "BERLUSCONI, NO! BERLUSCONI, NO!" about ten times. It's the Italians' favorite moment in the film. And when the heist is getting set up the planner, Dante Cruciani (Libero Di Rienzo), asks at one point, "Have you any questions?" and somebody comes forward and says, "Yes. Whatever happened to Saddam's weapons of mass destruction?" Andata+ritorno has Spanish as well as Italian in it because the flight attendants are from a Spanish airline. Ponti has shamelessly but cleverly combined elements of some of the more original directors of the Nineties such as Wong Kar Wai, QuentinTarantino, Danny Boyle, perhaps Kevin Smith, as well as referring to many others in passing, notably Mario Monicelli whose comic heist film, I soliti ignoti (Big Deal On Madonna Street) provides the main character's name and alludes to Italian comic great Totò.

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    The New Italian Cinema Event -- a partial roundup

    (Forgive some repetitions -- I wrote this to stand by itself.)

    Marco Ponti: A/R Andata + Ritorno (2003)

    The New Italian Cinema Event in San Francisco in 2004 began with a reportedly boring new film by Lina Wertmuller which I missed and moved on to a "tribute" in the form of a couple of the interesting new director Matteo Garrone's early films, his 1996 Terra di mezzo and 2000 Estate romana, neither completely successful, but both essential clues to his talent. We were supposed to have seen his 1998 Ospiti. There's a clear progression here: Terra di mezzo, Land in the Middle, is a collection of three short semi documentary films about lavoratori extracomunitari, illegal foreign workers, around Rome; Estate romana, Roman Summer is a Cassavetes-style improvised film about three marginal artistic/theatrical characters, also in Rome, in a somewhat Seventies-esque environment. Ospiti (Guests) is about one of the three groups of foreign workers observed in Terra did mezzo -- young Slavs -- but focuses on just two Albanians in a narrative closeup, which would make it a bridge between the documentary fragments of Terra di mezzo and the fuller narrative of Estate Romana. Garrone is more offbeat than any other well known Italian director working today and has a more acute interest in people on the edge of society. His L'Imbalsamatore (The Embalmer), a Diane Arbus-meets-David Lynch drama based on a news clipping about a strange provincial liaison, is his first really potent work; Primo amore, First Love, which I haven't seen, reportedly ventures even further onto the wilder shores of love. (Unfortunately Garrone came to New York but had to go back to Italy before he could make it to San Francisco.)

    The festival moved on from Garrone to a first film by the half-Finnish, half-Sicilian director Anne Ritta Ciccone, whose L'amore di Marja (The Love of Marja) is a semi autobiographical melodrama told by the elder of two (half-Finnish, half Sicilian) sisters about growing up in Sicily with the joy and burden of a luminous but tormented ex-hippy Nordic mother, a semi-estranged father, and his family. This rather conventional tale of adolescence, madness, and repression in the Italian south left one hungry for something a bit fresher -- and that came in the form of the wild, hip Marco Ponti film, A/R Andata + ritorno, (Round Trip).

    Andata + Ritorno has a double plot with echoes of Wong Kar Wai's ChungKing Express-- as well as many other non-Italian film allusions. A handsome slacker named Dante Cruciani goes to Spain around Christmas while Nina, a lovely flight attendant with a Spanish airline, gets stuck in his home town of Turin due to a general strike, and when all hotels are full up a hotel employee called Tolstoi, who's Dante's best buddy, sets her up in Dante's big but desolate pad. She adopts it and his friends and cleans it up and repaints it with their help, meanwhile -- having little else to do -- soaking up everything about Dante's life from his photos and journals and falling madly love with him. After switched bags and a short prison stay, and missing a large hunk of cash he'd borrowed from some criminals, Dante unexpectedly comes home and in the middle of the night climbs into his bed -- not noticing Nina. When they discover each other, Dante and Nina have a dreamlike transformative night of love. They wake up to the problem of what to do about the criminals who're around looking for their cash and threatening dire consequences if they don't immediately get it (though these are Italian heavies, and they're actually rather nice). Dante, Tolstoi, and his pals work out a successful lightening heist to restore the dough. When it's all over, Nina departs, like an angel come from on high.

    The film stock is ultra high contrast, which gives Dante a fashionably shallow slacker look and makes all the images both dark and beautiful. The air hostesses wear tall caps that look like rooster crowns and give them a distinctive, campy silouette. This is a buddy picture, a heist picture, and a fable-romance full of jokes, political ironies, and film references. Libero Di Rienzo is a perfect slacker hero, combining the requisite blank irony with masked soulfulness. He's a comer, in seven films since 1999 including Catherine Breillat's À ma soeur. Tolstoi is veteran Indian star Kabir Bedi, who exudes a kind of macho mellowness worthy of Luc Besson's alter ego, Jean Reno. The good angel-flight attendant is the Spanish, but Italian-speaking actress, Vanessa Incontrada, who was the blonde deceiver in Pupi Avati's Il cuore altrove, The Heart Elsewhere. The whole movie has a kind of dark giddy energy that makes it feel smoothly executed even though it was made on a shoestring.

    Like Garrone, Ponti has a social and political concience too, but he's an entertainer. In Andata + Ritorno, a cab driver gets himself and his fare stoned and goes completely bonkers and yells "BERLUSCONI, NO! BERLUSCONI, NO!" about ten times. It's a liberating moment and the Italians' favorite scene in the film. And when the heist is getting set up the planner, Dante Cruciani (Libero Di Rienzo), asks at one point, "Have you any questions?" and somebody comes forward and says, "Yes. Whatever happened to Saddam's weapons of mass destruction?" Andata + ritorno has Spanish as well as Italian in it because the flight attendants are from a Spanish airline. Ponti has shamelessly but cleverly combined elements of some of the more original directors of the Nineties such as Wong Kar Wai, QuentinTarantino, Danny Boyle, perhaps Kevin Smith, as well as referring to many others in passing, notably Mario Monicelli whose comic heist film, I soliti ignoti (Big Deal On Madonna Street) provides the main character's name and alludes to Italian comic great Totò, who was the Dante Cruciani of the earlier film. Among Round Trip's many giddy pleasures are its fast movement and its sense of camaraderie.

  5. #5
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    Yeah, Giovanna has certainly appeared in more "popular" films like L' Ultimo Bacio and La Finostra Di Fronte, and she's very beautiful; but having also seen Maya in few of her films I think she might be the next great Italian actress, atleast she has the potential. Just a look at her filmography and she has already done two films with Bellocchio, has appeared in the very popular Il Meglio Gioventu, I even liked her performance in the noirish lesbians on-the-run flick, Benzina (Gasoline).

    It must be nice to sample the early works of Garrone, look forward to hearing more about them in the future. You mention some interesting names among the directors; another one of note is Paolo Benuventi who's hard to categorize but he has done great work nonetheless. I was lucky to see his 1988 film, Il bacio di Giuda (The Kiss of Judas), a film that every The Passion lover should see. Olaf Moller wrote a review at F.C.online (www.filmlinc.com/fcm/online/judaskiss.htm). However, like most of his work it has disappeared into oblivion. The most recent example of that is his latest, last year's Segret di Stato (Secret File), a film I'd love to see and from what I've read it's ferocious in its attack on the church and state. According to Moller again, the film was pulled from theatres in Italy after couple of weeks. It's distribution company is Fandango, owned by Medusa, owned by the man himself, Bushusconi.

    I recently located the dvd of Primo Amore at a U.S retailer. No, not Amazon but one that specializes in vintage porn, however, I must that they do have a few art-house releases. I'm still trying to find more about it, hopefully you'll get a chance to see it.

    http://www.xploitedcinema.com/dvds/dvds.asp?title=3060
    Last edited by arsaib4; 11-19-2004 at 06:52 PM.

  6. #6
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    It's distribution company is Fandango, owned by Medusa, owned by the man himself, Bushusconi.
    I heard in Rome they call him 'Berluscolini.'

    I expect to see Maya Sansa in something else tomorrow at the festival on its last day: Fiorella Infascelli's 2003 Il vestito da sposa, "The Wedding Dress."

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    Links to my reviews of Italian films

    Since my website reviews aren't indexed -- yet anyway -- here are links to the pitifully few so far concerning Italian films. I should be doubling this number soon as I view my new dvd's and the very few films I saw in Rome in October.

    New Italian Cinema festival -- Part 1 http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?t=367

    New Italian Cinema festival -- Part 2 http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?t=366

    L'ultimo bacio http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?t=304

    La meglio gioventù http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?t=305

    La stanza del figlio http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?t=299

    L'Imbalsamatore http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?t=155

    L'ora di religione http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?t=64

    The latter is probably too dismissive, but I just didn't get it or like it. Some do, no doubt. Religion isn't my thing, to begin with.

  8. #8
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    Final installment on the New Italian Cinema Event in San Francisco Nov. 2004

    This is the third of three instalments about the N.I.C.E. festival in SF posted on my website, which you can find here, linked to the other two:

    http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?t=368



    And the winner is…Andrea Manni's "Il fuggiasco"

    Winner of the City of Florence award (the audience prize) of the Italian Cinema festival in San Francisco in November 2004 was Andrea Manni's Il fuggiasco ("Runaway"). It's the true story of Massimo Carlotti, who in 1976 was railroaded into jail at eighteen for a murder he came across in his hometown of Padua. He was innocent of any involvement but police and magistrates ignored the lack of evidence or motive and nailed Carlotti for being an activist and member of the leftist group La Lotta Continua. The director, Manni, was a contemporary of Manni and fellow La Lotta Continua member. When he read Carlotti's memoir in the early Nineties after the pardon, he knew he wanted to make a film and contacted Carlotti. Runaway follows the 17 years of imprisonment, escape, hiding out in France and attempting identity change in Mexico, the fugitive's return to Italy, retrial and reimprisonment, releases, and reimprisonments. Finally Carlotti got a presidential pardon through his supporters and a faithful lawyer. Carlotti's case and the interest it aroused led to changes in the Italian penal code that would prevent such a miscarriage of justice from recurring now. The classic political biopic takes us into a world of changing identities and addresses and networks of political dissidents that recalls the weary Franco resistance underground so memorably depicted in Alain Renais' 1966 La guerre est finie. Massimo Carlotti was no partisan, though, and was never content with the existence dominated by silence and cunning that his flight to France led to. He sought only to be exonerated and allowed to return to his own life -- though he lost touch with the ambitious, idealistic man he was when first put away. The thirty-two-year-old Liotti looks rather like a Seventies underwear model. He's adequate as Carlotti, going through various vississitudes and changes of tonsure and age makeup manfully, but he's no Yves Montand, who apart from his depth and charisma was twelve years older when La guerre est finie was made. Il fuggiasco's wide aspect ratio gives it beauty and sweep and it has enough suspense and excitement to be watchable. The director in person impressed by his commitment and seriousness, but the movie isn't an example of an exciting new filmmaker at work.

    The festival's best new directors: Marco Ponti, Francesco Apolloni

    Besides Marco Ponti's wildly entertaining and inventive A/R Andata + Ritorno, another film at the Italian film fest that deserved recognition for its creative directorial style was Francesco Apolloni's Fate come noi, (Just Do It). The ebullient young Roman Apolloni makes extraordinary use of his actors: Fate come noi is a symphony in two movements of oddly mismatched characters and fresh, warm humor. Francesco Venditti as the twenty-three-year-old "Il Bove" ("Beef") is half Gere, half Travolta, a preening, cocky, but essentially clueless youth who reminded me of Pasolini's pet and frequent actor, Ninetto Davoli. His sidekick and pupil is the eighteen-year-old Pechino (Mauro Meani). In the first scenes we see the foolish Bove advising Pechino on how to deal with women. Only someone as naïve and innocent as Pechino would listen to his nonsense. This alternates with scenes of a wispy, aged, raspy-voiced lady of ninety-something, played by the amazing Pupella Maggio, going through one of her normal days. It's the eve of Ferragosto, the Italian August bank holiday. There's a serial killer around, the TV news tells us, who's bumping off old people; so when Pechino jumps into the old lady's window with a knife in hand and robbery in mind, we fear the worst. But the Mr. Magoo-like old lady can't see Pechino and thinks he's her grandson. She gives him a plate of spaghetti and her pension money and they become fast friends. The scene is hilarious and touching. Later adventures follow involving Il Bove, a beautiful woman called Giordana (Agnese Nano) who commandeers his services for the evening, and a precocious little girl named Livia (Arianne Turchi) who does the same with Pechino and who tricks some hoods out of their money. Her wild riffs include explanations of what fairies are and a reading list that includes Italo Calvino's Il barone rampante. It seems she's a bit of a fairy herself. This all happens on Christmas Eve. The way the characters and events are made to dovetail in the end is very neat. Apolloni has a keen sense of timing and structure and he knows how to make magic happen onscreen. If you like P.T.Anderson's Magnolia you may like this, but it's more modest and is a series of wistful, sweet little songs rather than Anderson's elaborate arias. Writer-actor-director Apolloni assisted Gianni Amelio on Il ladro di bambini (The Stolen Children).


    Strangest and ugliest film

    The most brutal film to watch in the 2004 San Francisco Italian film fest was writer-journalist David Grieco's Evilenko, the story of as ugly a serial killer as you could ever imagine. It's based on the life of Andrej Romanovich Chikatilo. This actual person's M.O. included pedophilia (rape of both sexes) and cannibalism and while the cops tracked thirty-six of his murders, when he was caught he proudly and in precise detail catalogued fifty-five. All this happened in Russia in the Eighties and Nineties and so corresponded with the decline of communism. Grieco has a somewhat far-fetched theory that this process produced a bumper crop of such madmen, and that Eviilenko/Chikatilo's being an ardent communist when that was no longer the fashion contributed to his schizophrenia. This is the director's stated main interest -- the interrelation between the decline of communism and an increase in the criminally insane -- but it's pure conjecture. It would be better if Grieco spent less time on his hobbyhorses and let the facts speak for themselves. For all intents and purposes this is primarily a very strange and very disturbing serial killer story with a somewhat fragmentary police procedural element. Some of the story has to be taken with a grain of salt, because Grieco's book on which the film is based is a novelization, not a purely factual account. On the other hand Grieco researched the story himself in Russia, finding out things the police had ignored, and was able to spend four hours alone with the crazy killer during his trial. It's not that he's unaware of the facts but that he may move too freely beyond them. According to Grieco, he always knew the actor to play Evilenko had to be Malcolm Macdowell. And hence the movie had to be made in English, though shot in Russia, by an Italian director. That's a peculiar combination, and though Macdowell is amazing and totally scary, wasn't it a bit obvious to choose a longtime professional monster for the role? Mightn't a less known actor have made the role more thought-provoking (rather than just terrifying) and less a bravura piece? This is a tough call, because certainly Macdowell is extraordinary: it's one of his most remarkable performances and is the reason for watching the film. There are some other good performances, notably that of Frances Barber as the wife and Marton Csokas, a New Zealander, as Vadim Timurovic Lesiev, a magistrate who pursued the case for twelve years. But perhaps because the director is working in English for the first time, there's some awful dialogue and some scenes that are pointlessly shrill and grating. Angelo Badalamenti's mood music works, but might work better with a lower keyed direction. Like Manni's Il fuggiasco, inclusion of this piece in a film festival is due more to uniqueness of subject matter than to directorial originality.

    A cancelled wedding

    Fiorella Infascelli's Il vestito da sposa (The Wedding Dress) is somewhere in between. The direction has some original touches and a good cast, but they're undercut but poor pacing and a weak ending. Il vestito da sposa is the story of a woman who calls off her wedding because she's just been raped, and then unknowingly falls in love with one of the rapists -- who happens to have designed and made her wedding dress. He then gets run over by a bus just at the moment when she discovers the truth about him. It's an unusual theme, with too easy and convenient a resolution. What's interesting is to watch the laser-sharp energy of Maya Sansa as the bride; the actress makes the character's sudden changes of mood totally convincing; and likewise Salvatore Lazzaro as Andrea the dressmaker/rapist/suitor, who's interestingly creepy and not a simple villain by any means. Lazzaro makes Andrea's ambiguous nature believable, but Andrea turns out to be too complex a character for this meandering, rather low energy film to develop, and the situation has nowhere to go, hence the fake resolution of the copout ending.

    Final screening

    The final hors concours showing of the SF Italian film festival was Beppe Cino's Miracolo a Palermo (Miracle in Palermo-- though misleadingly retitled here "A Sicilian Miracle"), whose uplifting story of poor Sicilians and small time thieves and a young boy who throws away his pistol and refuses to carry out the vendetta his father's gangland murder calls for is both an affectionate portrait of the filmmaker's city and a semi-fabulous depiction of social redemption. The title invites comparison with the Zavatini/De Sica 1951 bittersweet post-neorealist classic, Charlie Chaplin with a Tuscan accent, Miracolo a Milano, whose main character -- like Cino's -- is a young innocent called Totò. Cino's film focuses on two young brothers who collect junk and sell it to a conniving relative, and on their widowed mother, played by tall tan goddess Maria Grazia Cucinotta, who supports the family by scrubbing floors and cleaning up the junk dealer's warehouse. The events of the day transform everyone. The director spoke eloquently about his social concerns after the showing. But it would be asking too much to expect Miracolo a Palermo to have the poetry and invention of Zavattini and De Sica (whom by the way no one after the screening thought to mention, not even Cino) -- and it doesn't. It lacks both the pacing and the ability to involve and touch us of the earlier film, and, omitting the latter's comical industrialists, it also lacks the sense of a larger economic and social picture. La Cucinotta was there, towering over the short, plump Cino. This movie has -- somebody proudly declared -- gotten distribution in 26 countries. But maybe a De Sica rehash won't play here.

    [I have not commented on the shorts. One of the worst won, perhaps because it had John Turturro in it. There was an interesting variety. My favorite was I'd Like to Know About Love (Volevo sapere sull'amore), directed by Max Croci (11 minutes, 2004),a takeoff on a TV horoscope/card reading show where the star's own son calls in to tell her he's gay. It was a warm spoof that caught the tacky look of such Italian shows perfectly and was beautifully paced.]

    The SF Film Society site has details on all the festival films and shorts:

    http://www.sfiff.org/pt/articles/new_italian_04.html
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-23-2004 at 10:01 PM.

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