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Thread: Open Roads: New Italian Cinema At Lincoln Center 2008

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    Open Roads: New Italian Cinema At Lincoln Center 2008

    Open Roads: New Italian Cinema At Lincoln Center 2008

    New Italian Cinema: quick overview of the titles this year with links to Filmleaf reviews:

    BIUTIFUL CAUNTRI (CALABRIA, D'AMBROSIO, RUGGIERO)): documentary about the "Massacre of Campania," the ruination of the eco-system by the Neopolitan Mafia, La Camorra, in the environs of Naples

    BLUE PLANET (FRANCO PIAVOLI): revival of 1982 Koyaanisqatsi-like film (not reviewed)

    DAYS AND CLOUDS (SILVIO SOLDINI): drama by Bread and Tulips director about a financial struggle that undermines an upper-class Genoa couple's marriage and a man's motivation (U.S. release, NYC, July 2008; best actress "Davide," Margherita Buy)

    DON'T THINK ABOUT IT (GIANNI ZANASI): adventures of an aging punk rocker who leaves Rome and revisits his industrialist family in the country

    GIRL BY THE LAKE, THE (ANDREA MOLAIOLI): low-keyed murder mystery set by a mountain lake; the big prize-winner at the Italian "Davide" awards this year (ten)

    IN THE FACTORY (FRANCESCA COMENCINI): documentary about factory culture in post-war Italy up to the present

    MS. F (WILMA LABATE): drama about family conflicts within and beyond a working-class Turin family originally from the South during the turning-point FIAT strikes of 1980

    NEW ITALIAN SHORTS
    , various directors, 84 minutes: Catherine McGilvary, Joe Corvaglia, Leonardo D'Agostini, Andrea Jublin, Elisa Fuksas, Emanuele Rossi, Andrea De Sica (not reviewed)

    NIGHT BUS (DAVIDE MARENGO): comedy/thriller/romance about corporate espionage and petty cons, including an airport bus driver

    PIANO SOLO (RICCARDO MILANI) : biopic about the troubled but brilliant Italian jazz pianist Luca Flores, starring Kim Rossi Stewart; some "Davide" nominations including Best Actor for Stewart

    RIGHT DISTANCE, THE (CARLO MAZZACURATI): a journalist and a couple in love in a small town in the Po Valley; multiculruralism and a murder mystery

    SATURN IN OPPOSITION (FERZEN OZPETEK): tragedy strikes a group of 30- and 40-somethings, gay and straight, with Stefano Accorsi; one "Davide" award and four nominations

    SWEET AND THE BITTER, THE (ANDREA PORPORATI): fictional, fact-based composite biopic of the career of a petty Mafioso who turned "pentito" (state's evidence), starring Luigi Lo Cascio

    UNUSUAL TIME TO MEET, AN (STEFANO COLETTA): tensions and disappointments among two generations, first film by an experienced cinematographer

    WALTZ, THE (SALVATORE MAIRA): single-shot tour de force following several plot-lines simultaneiously in a hotel; an award-winner

    _____

    -Preview of OPEN ROADS 2008 in GREENSCENE

    -A perspective on this year's OPEN ROADS and what it says about current Italian cinema from Martin Tsai in THE NEW YORK SUN
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-15-2018 at 11:43 PM.

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    Andrea Molaioli: The Girl by the Lake (2007)

    ANDREA MOLAIOLI: THE GIRL BY THE LAKE (2007)


    TONI SERVILLO, NICOLE PERRONE

    An 'existential' police procedural

    This film set in a mountain valley, well received at Venice last year and feted in Italy, is a slow burner for sure. It's sometimes a little hard to tell if it still has a pulse. But it does move on well-oiled wheels. It develops its portrait of malaise with steely control. As in any good murder mystery, which is what this is, everybody has secrets to hide. Many are simply repressed. Others are depressed, angry, or impaired. Several are seriously ill. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the story is adopted from a Scandinavian source; the lago (lake) was originally a fjord, and the book was Karin Fossum’s bestseller mystery novel Don’t Look Back (apologies to Nicolas Roeg), which Sandro Petraglia adapted for the screen in collaboration with directorial debutant Molaioli.

    Things start when little six-year-old Marta (Nicole Perrone), who has spent the night with her aunt, is sent off home, but on her way is talked into mounting the van of somebody she knows (in this town, everybody knows everybody else), and her safe trip home is derailed. Later, Marta’s mother (Maria Sole Mansutti) frantic with worry, and a search that extends beyond the town is begun. The culprit is Mario (Franco Ravera), who’s crazy. Harmless, some say. Till he's not, says another.

    Though this may seem more a study of provincial angst than a police procedural, the most angst-ridden and the center of the story is a former homicide cop, Inspector Sanzio (well played by noted director and theater man Toni Servillo). He’s newly arrived in these parts (Carnia, in the Friuli), but his instincts were immediately awakened by Marta’s disappearance. Than Anna Nadal (Alessia Piovan) is found dead by the side of the lake, arranged in a peaceful position and with a coat over her naked body.

    Anna has a father, Davide Nadal (Marco Baliani), who loved her excessively; his videos of her have an almost voyeuristic quality. The father of Mario (Omero Antonutti), hated Anna because she had thin legs, and he saw her often running up in the mountains. She was a gifted hockey player, but has recently quit and only runs. The autopsy reveals surprising things about Anna. She has a boyfriend, Alfredo (Nello Mascia), who goes into a funk and stops reporting to work. He’s found trying to erase Anna’s CD-Roms and with other incriminating evidence. There’s another man who says Anna had a crush on him. Meanwhile we get to know the stony-faced but technically impeccable Inspector Sanzio further. His wife is (Anna Bonaiuto) elsewhere and he is hiding secrets about her from his daughter Francesca (Giulia Michelini), which whom he has an uneasy relationship

    This may seem revealing too much, but when we know this, we still know little; the essential information is yet to come along with the confession of the murderer. That scene is a little too collegial and flat for anyone with a taste for noir. But this is never noir (black); it’s gray, gray and misty. And in this “existential” approach to murder—though this is hardly new—it’s not so important Whodunit as what’s motivating everyone, and how much lies hidden in a seemingly quiet, well-behaved town, the turbulence below the placid surface of the lake.

    Andrea Molaioli has worked with directors Nanni Moretti, Carlo Mazzacurati, and Daniele Lucchetti. The Girl by the Lake/La ragazza del lago swept the Italian Oscars with ten Davide di Donatello awards including Best Film, Best Director, Best Editing, Best Actor (Servillo) and Best Screenplay. Shown at the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series at Lincoln Center June 2008.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-17-2014 at 05:22 PM.

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    Gianni Zanasi: Don't Think About It (2007)

    GIANNI ZANASI: DON'T THINK ABOUT IT (2007)



    Home ain't what it used to be

    Stafano Nardini (Valerio Mastandrea) is nearly 36 and he's playing with a young punk group in Rome. Classically trained, he used to be on the covers of magazines, but the audience makes him feel old; his career seems to have stagnated. It's been four years that he's been working to bring out a record. He doesn't have a girlfriend or a real bed to sleep in: it's time to reconnect with the family he hasn't seen in a good long while.

    When the lead singer gets injured at a concert, Stefano packs up his guitar in his battered car and drives back to Fellini's home town, Rimini, where the Nardinis run a substantial fruit-packing factory. It's a surprise to his parents and his brother and sister, who're all happy to see him. Soon he's deeply involved in all sorts of revelations and problems. All of a sudden he seems to be indispensable, which is pretty funny considering that as a rock musician, Stefano has long been the odd man out in his industrial family.

    Things have changed at home since Stefano was la st there. His father (Teco Celio), a cherubic little man, has had a heart attack and now only plays golf. His mother spends lots of time with a trendy guru seeking peace in a "sciamanic journey" course. The running of the factory has fallen to brother Alberto (Giuseppe Battiston, of Breat and Tulips and last year's Open Roads selection, Eugenio Cappuccio's One Out of Two). A former star athlete who's now overweight, Alberto survives on manic energy and a variety of antidepressants. He's clearly at the end of his tether in more ways then one. As factory manager, Alberto has not been doing such a good job of it, apparently. The business is showing huge losses, everything is in hock, and the workers are owed three months' pay. Since their father isn't usually reporting to the factory any more, Alberto is doing everything he can to hide the facts from him. Meanwhile Alberto's also currently separated from his wife, and sees his two little children only on weekends. Later some of Stefano's and Alberto's male school friends decide they know the solution to Alberto's problems--and her work name is Nadine.

    It's more than obvious that if Stefano thought he was returning to simpler, more idyllic life than he was living in Rome, he was pretty far off.

    Stefano immediately shows himself to be a goof-up himself, since he goes joyriding with Alberto's two kids one afternoon in a parking lot and gets stopped by the cops. And this only underlines the family's and their friends' notion that Sefano's a misfit. In fact Stefano has had his wild, drug-laced years. But nonetheless at this point he gives every evidence of being more stable and perhaps more alert than his other family members, except maybe Michela (Anita Caprioli), his sister.

    Trying to jolt his parents awake, Stefano impulsively tells them that Michela is a lesbian. She has given up on university studies and now focuses completely on her job caring for performing dolphins. She has a roommate, Laura.

    A lot of Alberto's assumptions are wrong. During his stay in Rimini, he reconnects with old friends, some of whom can help, one of whom has had a nervous breakdown. He and Alberto work to resolve the factory's credit problems. This involves making nice with a young politician that they know, who seems to have a special friendship with Michela. In the end the solution is going to come from perhaps the least expected quarter.

    Don't Think About It/Non pensarci is a film made up of mildly manic and often amusing set pieces that move us around among its multiple locations with a steady rhythm, focusing alternately on one family member or another. Of course there is a sense of urgency, especially for Alberto--whose identity crisis Stefano can totally relate to. There's no essential logic to the narrative, but that's an important part of its charm. All the main characters are very simpatico and Mastrandrea and Battiston's are nicely delineated in this warm film whose appeal lies in the way it sees life as a work in progress. A musical sound track that ranges from Chopin to rock links sound to character. After the emotional repression of the Open Roads noir, The Girl by the Lake, Don't Think About It, with its open-ended but celebratory ending, felt very appealing for its loose structure and humanity. Zanasi keeps things consistently light and amusing without descending into frivolity or silliness. I guess if Non pensarci has a motto, it's this: You can't give up your family (especially if you're Italian), but you don't have to take on all its problems.

    Shown at the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series at Lincoln Center June 2008, this is Zanasi's fourth feature.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-26-2014 at 01:54 AM.

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    Stefano Coletta: An Unusual Time to Meet (2007)

    STEFANO COLETTA: AN UNUSUAL TIME TO MEET (2007)



    Muted crises

    Stefano Coletta has been a cameraman and assistant director since 1972, but this is the first time he's directed a film. He may be trying to make up for lost time with this orchestral grabbag that attempts to plumb the depths of a handful of people ranging from a gay university student and a prostitute to a group of Turin professional men and their wives and daughters. It's all held together by, naturally, glossy camerawork, and a warm and mellow jazz score. Coletta might not like to be compared to Gabrile Muccino, whose successful and more mainstream films are symphonic portraits of generations, all of whose members, whether sixteen or sixty, seem to be having midlife crises. But Coletta seems to be doing the same kind of thing here, only with an intellectual art gloss. Muccino is a midcult director, but he has style. He also may have his finger on the pulse of Italy's current superficialities than any high style auteurs. When he's wound up to the right pitch his scenes have a wonderful sense of urgency. He knows how to build into little crescendos and slide off again, making you eager for more and never losing his rhythm. His contemporary Italians may be floundering, but his depictions of them are energetic. Coletta has too many depths to plumb and never achieves Muccino's sense of urgency, partly through a technical sluggishness and partly because he hasn't got enough happening--and doesn't know how to let his scenes breathe either.

    An Unusual Time to Meet/Appuntamento a ora insolita brings to mind the truism that nobody is as happy as they may appear. The rich lawyer hates his devoted wife and sees a shrink on the sly to vent. The professor fails to seduce a female student and his wife cheats on him. A theater director who is single and lonely deludes himself that he can have a long-term relationship with the prostitute. A woman near middle age finds out to her delight that she is pregnant but doesn't tell her husband. The prostitute rejects the director because she sees, even if he can't, that he doesn't respect her.

    These man--surprise surprise--were revoutionaries in their youth in the Sixties. One of them was going to be a painter. Some of them often, all of them sometimes, are nostalgic about those breathless early days. Several people have encounters with somebody they were involved with thirty years ago--but it's no go. These things can't be revived. (This has its parallel in Muccino's The Last Kiss; but while Stefania Sandrelli's scenes were specific and winning, these are relatively flat and lame.) The question Coletta asks is whether anybody understands who they used to be, what a proper relationship between one's past and present self should be. But this is a generalization for which he finds no strong objective correlative in the events of the film, which read overall as desultory. A little more desperation, please, if any of this matters.

    The closest thing An Unusual Time to Meet has to a climax is a dinner where two of the couples confront each other. Not a great deal comes of it. More on the periphery, the gay boy is in love, but his friend rejects who they are. Yet he seems happy in his seeking, even if a female friend accuses him of being hopelessly romantic. Another young woman accuses her boyfriend of not giving her the kind of lovemaking he promised, but he points out it's awkward in a car. "But you don't keep your promises," she said. "Nobody does," he answers. So there you have it. Coletta, in a Q&A after the film's Lincoln Center debut, said he doesn't want to supply answers. Fine, but his film doesn't have the jazz, except for the soundtrack. Note: parts of the film are dubbed, an old, bad Italian habit, and at the collective dinner the lips and timbres of voices are badly out of synch with the visuals.

    Shown at the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series at Lincoln Center, New York, June 2008.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-26-2014 at 01:52 AM.

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    Andrea Porporati: The Sweet and the Bitter (2007)

    ANDREA PORPORATI: THE SWEET AND THE BITTER



    Stylishly told life of a petty mafioso

    It would make sense that the writer behind Gianni Amelio's Lamerica would have a grip on some of the deepest and most mythical aspects of the Italian experience. And here in The Sweet and the Bitter/Il dolce e l'amaro Andrea Porporati grabs something killer: the composite life of a humble soldier of the Mafia who eventually became one of the many "pentiti," the turncoats who turned state's evidence and were put into protection after a life of being told what to do and how to think, pretending to be big and really being nothing. That's how Saro (Luigi LoCascio) describes himself toward the end of this eventful 98-minute film. We're tired of hearing about the Mafia, some American viewers may say. Yes, and nobody is more tired of hearing about the Mafia than the Italians. Unfortunately, despite thousands of "pentiti" and the martyrdom of brave judges who dared put mafiosi away, the Cosa Nostra is still very much around. This is not as good a story as Lamerica, and Porporati is not as good a director as Gianni Ameli, but this is a cracking good story and this is not just another Mafia story, even if in melding his composite of three "pentiti" tales he's occasionally forged outcomes and relationships that are a little bit too neat. In movies, neatness works. Even events that at least in retrospect may seem breathtakingly obvious, in the rich mise-en-scene of a well-made Italian film they can make you gasp with a mixture of horror and pleasure.

    In an opening scene, a man and a boy take a leak out in a vast landscspe. It's Sicily. The man tells the boy to look up at the beautfiul moon. But I see the sun, the boy says. Look again, says the man. Oh, yes, the boy says. I see the moon. Why do you see the moon now? the man asks. Before, says the boy, I was looking through my own eyes, but now I am looking through your eyes. That's the way I want you to be, says the man. Thus the Mafia tutors its future servants. A wonderful scene, as funny as it is chilling.

    Poporati has style. The art direction and cinematography are excellent here. Most importantly, one scene after another grabs you. Yes, it's violent. But this is an organization that lives by violence. Early in life, Saro is sent into a Sicilian prison to negotiate with his father, a Mafia lieutenant who's leading a revolt. His father is a good lieutenant and he will not negotiate. That's the last Saro sees of his father: the revolting prisoners are all shot. Saro is raised by his godfather, Don Gaetano, whose son Mimmo (Gaetano Bruno) is an obvious coward who clutches up at a key moment.

    Saro loves Ada (Donatella Finocchiaro), the local (figurative) princess, and Ada loves Saro, but she will not marry him because he's a criminal. She prefers Stefano (Fabrizio Gifuni), whom Saro beats up, but who stoically resists, earning Saro's respect. The flame continues to burn for a long time and is renewed years later after she has long moved to the north of Italy. Stevano renounces everything and studies the law. The next time Saro sees him he's become a magistrate. Mimmo and Saro are initiated into the "Men of Honor" of the Mafia for a double hit in which Mimmo has clutched but Saro has covered for him. The debts and resentments are already deep.

    Saro marries the girl he's told to marry and has two kids and lives in a nice apartment full of art with a large balcony. He's the envy of many. But life is full of the desperate betrayals and impossible demands of the criminal organization. Saro is ordered to kill none other than Stefano (whom he respects and who has already done him favors). But before that he is betrayed by his boss and the devious Mimmo so he's ordered to kill his own godfather, and because he cannot follow through on that he is forced to flee to the north of Italy, leaving behind his wife and kids--but finding Ada. I won't tell you any more, only that the final scene of hilarity during a bank robbery (rhyming with an earlier uproarious scene) made me weep with pleasure. Porporati wields one last scenic coup.

    Subtitles are handy in this one, since most of the dialogue is in Sicilian dialect; most of the main actors, except for Fabrizio Gifuni, are native Sicilians. The casting of Luigi Lo Cascio, which is perfect, makes this film. Americans may have seen him in Bellocchio's Good Morning, NIght. He also has a key role as one of the brothers of Marco Tullio Giordana's popular minor epic The Best of Youth. Lo Cascio is one of the important Italian screen actors of today. Think Lino Ventura with sex appeal. Lo Casio has a lithe coolness. He seems stubborn and angry. When he beats up a future magistrate, it's believable. He's small, yet he's lithe and snakelike. He's a born petty hoodlum, both menacing and cowed. And very, very Sicilian. When he goes up to a woman at a posh party you feel embarassed for him. He looks unprepossessing in that setting. HIs prison mentor may have taught him to appreciate caviar, but he has no class, even though he's a prince in a dark alley. There is something haunting and mythical about Lo Cascio. This film is about him and it builds his myth.

    There has been some Italian hand-wringing about this "TV film" being at Venice, but sometimes a corking good potboiler is a lot better than a limp art film, and this is the standout so far of the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series at Lincoln Center in New York, 2008.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-08-2010 at 05:23 PM.

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    Salvatore Maira: Waltz (2007)

    SALVATORE MAIRA: THE WALTZ (2007)


    MARINA ROCCO

    People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.

    The words of Dr. Otternschlag in Edmund Goulding's 1932 Grand Hotel are ironic, of course. Thefts, seductions, terminal illness and economic disasters run through that turbulent movie. So do Garbo, two Barrymores, Wallace Beery and Joan Crawford. Working more independently with much more limited means in the present day, Italian writer-director Salvatore Maira shot his "Grand Hotel" in a posh Turin hostelry in a single continuous take, using the digital camera's ability to go on shooting and shooting and shooting. Waltz/Valzer was made in three weeks. The crew and a small cast worked in between main mealtimes while the hotel was actually open, doing their best to avoid random appearances by paying guests. The result is a film that's much less grand but more economical than Alexei Sokurov's famous single-hot feature 'Russian Ark.'

    In contrast to the cool and efficient shoot, however, Maira's screenplay alternates uneasily between the tendentious the melodramatic It focuses primarily on Assunta (Valeria Solarino) who's a sort of loosely defined waitress or room service person on her last day of work after a ten-year stint. From her encounter with a surprise visitor a rather far-fetched tear-jerker story emerges. Occasionally the camera leaves Assunta and dips in on a group of devious sports and media honchos who are talking about the state of their business, which is good, according to their main spokesman, some kind of puffy-haired pop culture analyst, because the more dishonest teams, managers, and star players are revealed to be, the more the public loves them. This plot element consists of cameo appearances and op-ed hints rather than solid action.

    The film was actually shot during the time of a big 2006 "Calciopoli" Italian football scandal revealing fixes of matches and leading to much drama and some punishments to the Series A teams and forfeit of two of the Juventus team's titles. But Maira's sports/media plot is more in the order of moralistic finger-wagging and head-shaking about the decline of sports culture than an expose of anything specific. The aim is to show how venial and cynical the powers that be behind TV and sports are, but it's telling, not showing.

    But at the center of the movie is a more personal story designed to tug at our heartstrings. As fortune and the script would have it, on this day of all days Assunta arrives at work only to be immediately confronted by the father of Lucia (Maurizio Micheli). This downcast gentleman has been in jail in Argentina, believing the letters, which in the order of things he says were all that kept him alive, were from his daughter, one of Assunta's coworkers at the hotel. Not a bit of it. Lucia (Marina Rocco), an unstable young woman who wanted to become a sort of high level call girl, actually disappeared from the hotel and Assunta's life nearly ten years ago, and Assunta herself wrote all the letters. Though the script doesn't say so, perhaps she does this to unburden herself--because the stories she told in the letters were about her own life--and to have an idyllic parental relationship. In the brief opening sequence we see Assunta being driven to work accompanied by her mother, an extremely tiresome woman.

    Much of the film consists of flashbacks showing Lucia's progressive meltdowns as witnessed by Assunta. At the hotel Lucia glimpses women she thinks are no better than herself who consort with seedy bigwigs of the order of the media/sports honchos and share in their huge profits, and she wants a piece of that pie. The flashbacks introduce another unhappy woman who was part of the picture, Fatima (Zaira Berrazouga), a hijab-wearing Palestinan who has seen her family blown up and bursts into tears every time she is touched. It's hard to see her as succeeding even momentarily as a member of the hotel staff. She too disappeared from the hotel a long while ago. There are also a couple of scenes set in the present time involving another waitress who refuses to marry her boyfriend because she says she's unfaithful to him, and the head waiter, who gallantly offers to marry her, though he admits he's "a bit" gay. As a parallel to Dr. Otternschlag there's the concierge (Gianni Cannavacciuolo), who just happens to be retiring from his job that day, like Assunta.

    The Waltz is a marvel of technique in its one-shot fluidity. Everything was mapped out with crews here and there around the hotel, and according to film producer Gian Mario Feletti, present at the Open Roads Lincoln Center presentation, the entire 90-minute sequence was shot ten times, and then narrowed down to four, and then one. Only a little bit of dubbing was used, he said. There wasn't much special lighting, which makes some sequences, especially early on, seem too dark, but in that sense, perhaps more naturalistic.

    But though the film is coolly accomplished in its live-action continuity, its screenplay is too general in its editorializing about the corruption of sports and media, and corny and clichéd in its personal stories. With all this talk of Italian cheating, it's also hard not to wonder if the single shot actually hides some splices, as at least one Italian film writer has seemed to suggest. Maybe not, but the trouble with the concept is that the action is not in "real time" at all, even if the shooting was. It is full of flashbacks to ten years earlier, and apparently condenses a day's work by Assunta, since she arrives at the outset and departs from the job at the end. Given these weaknesses, it seems that the concept is flawed, and the trick to some extent just trumps the content. Nonetheless the film's nominations and awards for its technical feat are not undeserved.

    Shown at the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series at Lincoln Center in June 2008.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-09-2008 at 10:24 AM.

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    FRANCESCO COMENCINI: IN THE FACTORY (2007)


    ARCHIVAL RAI FOOTAGE

    A history without an ending

    In this 75-minute documentary made in collaboration with RAI television, Comencini continues her preoccupation with work and its role in modern Italy, using a lot of footage from old archival RAI documentaries along with her own films and interpolated voice commentary to trace the story of post-war industrial development through the "economic miracle" of the early Sixties, the major strikes of the early Seventies and the loss of working class power during the Eighties, and the influx of foreign workers now taking the place of the old migrations from the Mezzogiorno to the industrial North, first to Germany, then to Milan and Turin and especially to the FIAT factory.

    It is fascinating to compare the techniques of filmmaking and the personalities and faces of five decades of the Italian working class and to get a glimpse of some of the leaders of factory worker strikes and revolts during the early Seventies (including PCI leader Enrico Berlinguer, and others). However, the film suffers from a weakness that isn't entirely Comencini's fault: the fading away of the factory worker from the central place he/she had during the grand and turbulent period of Italy's primary economic development. This in part is due to the wave of downsizing in the Eighties. It's also due to the fact that factory workers still do enjoy improvements from the grim early days when southern Italians working at FIAT had to sleep in the Turin railway station because there was no housing they could afford, ten and fifteen year olds had factory jobs, and all production systems made workers mindless cogs in a big machine. For a variety of reasons factory workers have to a large extent lost their collective consciousness and lack the level of dissatisfaction or solidarity to appear to the public as an identity and a force in contemporary Italian society. It would have been nice if Comencini had explored this development further.

    In the Factory/In fabbrica supplies us with a lot of nostalgic and evocative images and personal voices. Its history of worker organization and major strikes is probably valid in outline but a bit sketchy. It would have been a better film if the early section was reduced to vignettes and summary and the filmmakers had done more footwork in modern factories, interviewing retired and present-day workers in depth, comparing various current factory working situations, and in general producing an original piece of work rather than a compilation of RAI footage with old and some new voice-overs. For those of us who are only vaguely familiar with most of the material, this is a panorama that's fascinating. But it's a story without an ending, and surely what's happening now is what's most important to know about given the uncertain picture of working class today.

    When the film was over somebody in the audience said "paid for by FIAT!" Another shouted "Down with Berlusconi!" Somebody asked me if Berlusconi owned the RAI--state television. Of course he doesn't, but his grip on Italian media is ironclad--and the right wing pro-business billionaire is back in power in the Italian government again at the moment. He has major ownership in the private channels that at least half of Italy watches as well as the publishing house Mondadori. Comencini seems fairly even-handed in this film, but the somewhat flabby latter portion may feel to some to be pro-management. Since it's hard to be neutral in questions of labor and management, her feel-good populism reads as at best a little naive.

    Francesca Comencini is one of four daughters of mainstream "commedia all'italiana" filmmaker Luigi Comencini, considered to be one of the masters of classic Italian film comedy along with with Dino Risi, Ettore Scola and Mario Monicelli.

    Shown as part of the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series at Lincoln Center in June 2008.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-08-2010 at 05:20 PM.

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    Davide Marengo: Night Bus (2007)

    DAVIDE MARENGO: NIGHT BUS (2007)


    GIOVANNA MEZZOGIORNO, VALERIO MASTRANDREA

    Pursuit of love, a microchip, and the magic of Gorodish

    The spirit of Diva hovers over this debut feature by the young Italian director Davide Marengo, which, like Jean-Jacques Beineix's classic 1981 first film neatly earns the designation, comedy/thriller/romance. In Diva two sets of rival heavies were looking for a pirated tape of a recording-shy opera singer, whose innocent maker falls in with a guru named Gorodish and his cute Vietnamese girlfriend. There's a nasty cop involved in a crime ring too, but nobody can resist the devices of Gorodish, the smartest guru who ever puffed cigars in a free-standing bath tub.

    Would that Night Bus, which revolves around a similarly intense treasure hunt, were as clear as Diva, or took the time to linger as satisfyingly over its main characters, soaking up their charisma and cruising their nifty pads. There's a lot of running around in Marengo's plot (adopted from the eponymous novel by Giampiero Rigosi) and the result isn't as satisfying and debonair as the little novel by Delacorta Beineix worked from. But Night Bus still has fun with its wistful romances; and its double-double-crosses provides a fun ride.

    This time there's no Diva. Instead the prize is a microchip worth a lot of money to some shady foreign billionaire. It's fallen into the hands of somebody shady--a barman named Andrea (Ivan Franek). Almost immediately, a soulful young woman who lives by her wits named Leila (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) steals it from Andrea. She's pursued by two heavies who're on the trail, Diolaiti (Roberto Citran) and Garofano (Francesco Pannofino), and, losing her shoes and her wallet and her composure to the chase, she pals up with Franz (Valerio Mastandrea), driver of a night bus to Rome airport. Franz is a lonely guy. He's also a former philosophy student ("an intellectual!" exclaims Leila) who owes a big gambling debt to his old pal Titti (Mario Rivera). Meanwhile, working for a mysterious billionaire whose face we never see is a sophisticated, but also like Franz lonely, ex-cop called Carlo Matera (Ennio Fantastichini). Matera is in constant touch with the billionaire, as one of the heavies is in touch with his boss and his wife and mom, each of whom has a comical identifying cellphone ring. Matera has $4 to pay for the microchip, which needless to say is an important detail.

    Well, that's about enough, but I have to tell you that Carlo is engineering a reunion with an old flame (Anna Romantowska) whom he regrets jilting long ago. She was too revolutionary for him. I wouldn't say like the Variety reviewer that this is "a major detour." This movie, after all, is one "major detour" after another: Matera's reunion rhymes nicely with Franz and Leila's tentative attraction of opposites. It's just that, as I said, things are never as neat as Delacorte's and Beineix's Diva, and it would be much nicer if they were.

    Marengo and everybody involved has a good time. The music is a bit obvious, but it does the right things at the right times and highlights the sense of fun. The movie tries a little too hard in its look and its content to rival American thriller romances, particularly in a chase sequence involving two buses that feels clumsy and unnecessary, though at least it rides along with the bus theme and helps build Franz's cowardly lion persona. The latter sequences, in which there are more double-crosses and escapes and we're held in suspense to the last minute over whether the couple will run off together or not, do not disappoint. The closing credits, in which evidently everybody who worked on the film and some of their children march happily out of a bus, again recalls the happy cinema of the Eighties by invoking the early Jonathan Demme.

    Shown at the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series at Lincoln Center in June 2008.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-16-2016 at 05:32 PM.

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    Ricardo Milani: Piano, Solo (2007)

    RICARDO MILANI: PIANO, SOLO (2007)


    JASMINE TRINCA, KIM ROSSI STEWART

    The sad old story of doomed genius

    The association of artistic genius and madness is a banal one, but this film starring Kim Rossi Stweart is a subtle and sadly convincing portrayal of the tragic short life of contemporary Italian jazz great Luca Flores, whose demons caught up with him. Walter Veltroni, from 2001 to 2008 the popular leftist mayor of Rome, wrote a book about Flores called The Disk of the World on which this beautifully photographed film biography is based. With its harmonious earth tones and recognizable but never clich�d images of Florence, the cinematography is another reason for watching, besides the performance of Stewart and a good supporting cast and the music itself, which evokes a now legendary musician who played with Chet Baker and Dave Holland and left a legacy of fine recordings but took his life in 1995 at the age of thirty-nine.

    Stewart is a handsome and charismatic actor, one of Italy's chief current matinee idols, who seems to have an innate mystery and distance and sadness about him. His recent outstanding performances include the repentant father of the severely disabled boy in Gianni Amelio's powerful 2004 The Keys to the House/Le chiavi di casa, the aptly named "Il Freddo" (the Cold One) in veteran actor Michele Placido's 2005 directorial debut Criminal Romance, and the husband in his own strong 2006 beginning as a helmer Along the Ridge/Ance libero va bene.

    Flores' father Giovanni (Michele Placido) was a geologist who worked in Cuba and Belize and then took the family to Mozambique, where (as the film shows it) Luca fell free from a car that crashed, killing his mother. He never overcame this trauma.

    The film elides early events, showing Luca in an audition for the Luigi Cherubini conservatory of music in Florence in which he dazzles everyone by sight-reading a challenging solo piece by Rachmaninof with concert quality even though he's had no previous formal training. The next thing we know two young local jazzmen, Alessandro (Claudio Gio�) amd Raffaele (Roberto De Francesco), give Luca a Bud Powell record and with some disapproval from his father Luca starts to play in a successful jazz trio with the pair in a club and they get a glowing national review right away that leads to recordings. At the club Cinzia (Jasmine Trinca) falls for him and takes him home and a long love affair follows, but he turns bitter and suspicious toward her just when she's pregnant. He remains in touch with his brother and sisters Pablo (Corso Salani), Heidi (Mariella Valentini), Baba (Paola Cortellesi), and especially close to Baba. Even when he and Cinzia are estranged she continues to love him and is the only one who can help him at some moments of crisis.

    In the sequences that follow the early successes, things slow down as the tone darkens and the "male oscuro" increasingly hovers over Luca, who despite his love of family and of Cinzia further and further withdraws into his music--or, in moments of utter confusion, into obsessively repeated scales. After a particularly bad crisis, Luca goes back to the Africa of his childhood where he rides thousands of kilometers on a motorcycle, finds peace, and returns to music. But he also relives the traumatic accident. Along with whatever mental instability he had, Flores had a terrible case of survival guilt. He had the impression that he was killing everybody. When Chet Baker fell from the balcony and died in 1988, Flores said he'd killed him with his scales.

    It's the sad old story of doomed genius. The later sequences are hard to watch, not because they are maudlin or forced-- this is the most tasteful and understated of films--but because the ending is so inevitable. Taste triumphs here, and a visual style so consistent that its browns and soft lights soak into your brain.

    Shown at the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series at Lincoln Center June 2008.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-16-2016 at 05:33 PM.

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    Silvio Soldini: Days and Clouds (2007)

    SILVIO SOLDINI: DAYS AND CLOUDS (2007)


    MARGHERITA BUY, ANTONIO ALBANESE

    Degeneration of a lifestyle, regeneration of a marriage

    In this study of work and marriage by Bread and Tulips director Silvio Soldini, a well-off Genovese couple face the dissolution of their marriage when their financial world crumbles. Right after Elsa (Margherita Buy) receives her degree in art history and is given a big surprise party attended by most of her friends to celebrate, Michele (Antonio Albanese), her husband, is forced to reveal that due to hard times and restructuring and his own stubbornness, he was pushed out of the firm he co-founded with Roberto (Alberto Giusta) and hasn't been working or receiving a salary for months. They're in debt. The first thing that happens is that Elsa is angry at Michele for not telling her. His judgment was that it was better not to worry her, but now that she has to know, it angers her to have been lied to.

    One night the couple go out to dinner with friends and Michele insists on paying, even though the bill is $300. This angers Elsa too. Elsa also has difficulty talking to her best friend, Nadia (Carla Signoris). It's hard to confront people now that their status symbols are being removed.

    Whether they're getting along or not, their beautiful apartment must be sold. Their maid, Daisy, must go to take a full time job, and they have to sell something to get her severance pay. Elsa has to give up her art restoration project, which was her passion but was not a salaried job, and find part-time work in telemarketing and in the evenings as a shipping company boss's secretary.

    Michele gets desperate one day to do something, anything. He takes a day job through an employment office delivering packages on a motor bike--and his daughter Alice (Alba Rohrwacher) sees him. So she finds out. Alice has used the money her parents gave her for university to open a restaurant, and she works there. Michele doesn't approve of Ricky (Fabio Troiano), who Alice lives with; now Alice is torn between anger at Michele and serious concern for her parents.

    Michele doesn't take what turns out to be the best offer he's likely to get, and winds up doing minor rehab work with two of his former employees, Vito (Giuseppe Battiston) and Luciano (Antonio Carlo Francini), who were let go by his firm before he was. signor Salviati (Paolo Sassanelli), the shipping boss, has a weakness for Elsa. Roberto gets increasingly depressed when Vito and Luciano get hired back in the shipping industry and he can't do the rehab stuff alone. Now he doesn't even go to interviews.

    The question the film subliminally asks is to what extent relationships, and peace of mind, may rest on a lifestyle--how much economic security changes everything. Now that Elsa and Michele's "days" are full of "clouds" and their nerves are on edge (and Elsa is exhausted from her new make-do jobs), they get into fights easily. It's not certain their marriage will survive. After a fight, Michele sleeps over one night with Ricky and Alice. He finds out Ricky's not so bad as he thought. Nor is it so bad that Alice is independent.

    Elsa's restoration project, which we see her presenting during the opening credits, involves unearthing a fresco that may be the work of a painter she's intersted in. Toward the end of the film, she returns to the project and finds that her intuitions were correct. She's vindicated, her professor is admiring, and this becomes a metaphor for discovering a future. In the final scene, Elsa and Michele agree to forget the past and move forward as best they can.

    While this starts with a premise like that of Laurent Cantet's Time Out of a man hiding that he's been pushed out of the corporate world, the development here is much more practical and everyday. The film succeeds because of a lack of tricky plot developments and the charisma and polish of Buy and Albanese. Soldini does a splendid job of evoking the upper middle class lifestyle the couple lives in Genoa. Events are nerve-wracking because they're living so much on the edge. This is probably a more common situation than it used to be. It's not very hard to identify with the couple and feel the day to day insecurity they suddenly live with. The security blanket is easily ripped. In a world of globalization and ever more rapacious capitalism, the upper bourgeoisie is yet another new proletariat, and Days and Clouds/Giorni e nuvole is a sympathetic portrayal of what that may mean.

    Shown as part of Open Roads: New Italian Cinema at Lincoln Center June 2008, Days and Clouds has US distribution and opens in two theaters in New York July 11, 2008.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-16-2016 at 05:21 PM.

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    Carlo Mazzacurati: The Right Distance (2007)

    CARLO MAZZACURATI: THE RIGHT DISTANCE (2007)


    AHMAD HEFIANE, VALENTINA
    LODOVINI, GIOVANNI CAPOVILLA


    Provincial cub reporter cracks crime

    Basically a good murder mystery, The Right Distance brings in contemporary issues like anti-foreign prejudices, marriages arranged with Eastern European women online, kids with computer smarts adults lack, and how these changes disrupt life in a little town. A beautiful young woman named Mara (Valentina Lodovini) comes to replace a schoolteacher in the Po Valley. Trouble ensues. One person in town doesn't miss a trick: 18-year-old Giovanni (Giovanni Capovilla). He is highly motivated to become a journalist and has persuaded Bengivenga (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), an editor at a big city paper, to allow him to work as a low-profile stringer in the town. His job is to keep his eyes and ears peeled without anybody finding out that he's a reporter. Naturally, he's good with the Internet. He helps Mara set up her connection and in the course of dong so finds out her email password. Giovanni checks in on it from home and starts reading the accounts of day to day experiences she emails to her best girlfriend back home. Thus over time he finds out that she's attracted to the local bus driver, Guido (Stefano Scandaletti), and that Hassan (Ahmed Hefiane), who runs the garage he himself works in, is attracted to her--and is stalking her outside her house in the dark. He also knows that Amos (Giuseppe Battiston), the tobacconist who's making a fortune taking people fishing, went out in his boat with Mara and made some moves on her. It's Amos who has the Romanian wife chosen from an online "catalog."

    Hassan is an older (but handsome) Tunisian man. He has family members in the area but isn't married. He has been in Italy a long time.

    An odd plot twist comes when Mara discovers he's stalking her, yet dates him.

    Somebody is killing the dogs in the area. As Giovanni reports in one of his stories for the city paper, this was the original M.O. of the "serial killer of Milwaukee."

    Mara's connection with Hassan leads to trouble.

    The title refers to some of Bencivegna's advice to Giovanni on how to be a good reporter. Don't get too close to your subjects, maintain your objectivity. The irony is that it's precisely getting too close that gets him his best story.

    The film has a surprise extended coda in which a crime and a trial have taken place, but Giovanni goes back and researches the results and discovers the real guilty party. He has already been hired by this time as a reporter on his mentor Bencivegna's newspaper and is living in the worse quarter of Milan but loving his new life. Newcomer Capovilla is adorable, and the film is skillful in keeping the theme of his journalistic efforts alive without letting it distract us from the film's study of character and locale that makes it interesting as a story. Mara is soulful and attractive; it's believable that she'd galvanize all the men around. The town is little more than a scattering of houses and businesses, and its vulnerability to whatever forces enter it is clear. In most of The Right Distance Giovanni is in the background, hovering, reentering occasionally with a bit of voice-over. Part of the neat construction of the film is the way Giovanni's efforts as a journalist (stories that get little space in the paper, and others that do, finally the crime story he breaks that appears in all the major news outlets) is quietly woven into an overal picture that is much larger. In this sense director Mazzacurati does maintain "the right distance." An entertaining film and a good story.

    Shown as part of the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series at Lincoln Center, June 2008.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-16-2016 at 05:35 PM.

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    Ferzan Ozpetek: Saturn in Opposition (2007)

    FERZAN OZPETEK: SATURN IN OPPOSITION (2007)


    STEFANO ACCORSI, ISABELLA FERRARI

    Of love and death and togetherness and ping pong

    The prolific gay Turkish-Italian filmmaker Ferzan Ozpetek's recent Satun in Opposition/Saturno contro resembles his 2001 His Secret Life/Le Fate ignoranti. Again at the center of things is a multicultural group in Rome that forms a very gay-friendly nontraditional family that frequently eats and celebrates together and pulls together when trouble comes. Both times it's a sudden death in the group that gives rise to the extra need for solidarity. Not only that. Both movies have the same wise-cracking Turkish fag hag character played by Serra Yilmaz. There are jokes and tears. The mix works pretty well and Ozpetek continues to perfect his shtick. But it's beginning to look a bit familiar (Ozpetek's work has always looked slick and superficial to me). This time the initial relationship and back-stories are roughed in so fast it's hard to care--though care, and care a lot, is certainly what we're supposed to do.

    Last time he worked for Ozpetek Stefano Accorsi was determinedly gay, which seemed novel and showed his mettle as an actor, since he was such a lusty (and indecisive) fellow in his popular early success, Gabriele Muccino's The Last Kiss (also 2001; Accorsi was a busy and versatile boy that year). In Le Fati ignoranti the death of Margherita Buy's husband touched off the action. This time Accorsi and Buy are a married couple called Antonio and Angelica, and they've got two young kids (though she's visibly a good deal older). At center stage is a successful children's book writer called Davide (Pierfrancesco Favino). Favino is also an alumnus of The Last Kiss: it was his wedding that drew Accorsi's character to the fatal meeting with the young blonde. But Davide's in a long-term relationship with the handsome young Lorenzo (Luca Argentero). Davide's the center of things group-wise, the cook, the social manager, the host; and the main proceedings get under way with a dinner gathering at which all the cast of characters is invited. Antonio's not there; he says he has a bank meeting. Well.....

    A special guest is the bi- Paolo (Michelangelo Tommaso), another handsome young man, who's excited to meet Davide because he writes stories himself. Angelica by the way works at an anti-smoking center, which is ironic because Roberta (appealing relative newcomer Ambra Angiolini), who once had a thing going with Paolo, has a lot more things to give up besides smoking. She's a self-declared drug addict; she's an old friend and classmate of Lorenzo. Serra Yilma this time is called Neval, and she's an interpreter. Her boyfriend is Roberto (Filippo Timi), a cop, not much a part of the group or perhaps even of the relationship with Neval: he stammers when he talks to her, and is pretty much a cipher. Also present is the somewhat older remittance man Sergio (Ennio Fantastichini) Davide's ex.

    All this may seem like an awful lot of detail and indeed, I wished I could have stopped the film and jotted down notes. But the relationships are essential preparation to make clear why, when Lorenzo keels over at the dinner table and is whisked away to a hospital, never to be seen again, it affects everybody deeply.

    There is also the obligatory "storia," love affair, that comes out after the trauma of Lorenzo--not involving Davide and Lorenzo, but Angelica and Antonio. Antonio's having the "storia" with Laura (Isabella Ferrari), who runs an eye-filling florist shop (lots of big red flowers). When the kids overhear them fighting and know what's happening, it's cute--which is frivolous, but entertaining.

    I think my favorite character is Sergio, who shows his relationship with an older tradition of homsexuality saying, when he's asked if he's "gay" (using that word in Italian), "no, sono froscio," "no, I'm a fag." The word "gay" is a lot newer to Italians than it is to Americans. This is a more telling wisecrack than Neval's cute answer when asked "are you foreign?"--"No, I'm Turkish." Or Roberta's various remarks about reincarnation and horoscopes and her drama-queen tendencies.

    Ozpetek is good at keeping things light, through the sadness. The multi-cultural/non-traditional "family" fairly camps out in the hospital where Lorenzo is hidden away from us. New characters come to take his place, Lorenzo's father Vittorio (Luigi Diberti), who never accepted his son's gayness but touchingly changes course about that. Minnie (Lunetta Savino), Vittorio's second wife, and an understanding but occasionally severe nurse (Milena Vukotic), who looks the other way when the group lingers far beyond visiting hours.

    All this is immensely smooth and accomplished in its way--save for the periodic exotic pop songs in Turkish, Spanish, French etc, which are quite pointless and silly-- but the events are all somehow unconvincing, chiefly because they all arrive too easily and too fast.--and now that one's seen some of Ozpetek's work, too predictably. The complete disappearance of Lorenzo is just one of the more obviously facile devices. When Lorenzo inevitably and, according to the nurse, fortunately, does not last--he had a cerebral blood clot that would have made him helpless and probably vegetative--Davide has his declarations of inconsolability and everybody does a quiet aria of sadness in the hospital hallway.

    Meanwhile Antonio moves out of the house and leaves Angelica with the children--but that issue is never quite resolved. The trajectory of the plot leads to the point, at Davide's fab country house in the hills, when he moves from despair to smiles after Antonio, who has his own issues to wrestle with, lures him into an early morning game of ping pong. And that's it. If you can smile and play ping pong, you're going to make it.

    Shown at the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series at Lincoln Center, June 2008.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-16-2016 at 05:25 PM.

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    Calabria, Ambrosio, Ruggieo:Biùtiful Cauntri

    ESMERALDA CALABRIA, ANDREA D'AMBROSIO, PEPPE RUGGIERO: BIUTIFUL CAUNTRI (2007)




    CHILDREN NEAR TOXIC WASTE DUMP

    The Massacre of Campania: Polution is profit

    Many different actions that have a devastating effect on the environment are immensely profitable. Apart from sheer ignorance (whose presence is dubious) this is the essential reason why the planet is moving toward human-induced meltdown. It's making somebody--actually a whole lot of somebodies--very, very rich. And the baldest, ugliest example may be the toxic waste dump near human habitation.

    This grim documentary about environmental degradation near Naples is very much like last year's Open Roads entry, Enrico Caria's See Naples and Die, which I described as "a rough view of a rough scene." This is an even rougher and grimmer view of a grim and depressing scene. Again the filmmaking technique is rudimentary, the coverage is even more relentless and monotonous, and the subtitles are difficult to read.

    The message again concerns La Camorra, the Neopolitan branch of the Mafia. La Camorra, which by its essential nature and organization is indifferent to the law and specializes in illegality, has long controlled refuse collection. The result: illegal toxic waste dumping in Campania, the greater Naples region, where there are more illegal sites than anywhere else in Italy. The Camorra controls the local and regional politicians; hence, movements to investigate the situation and correct it get bogged down for year after year and nothing significant is done.

    The Campania region comprises 5.8 million people in an area of 13,595 square kilometers; it's the most densely populated region of Italy. The film doesn't really make clear what part of that region it is dealing with. What we do see is the dumping, small and large, the containers that have been left in huge pyramids for years instead of being incinerated and removed; the sheep, especially baby ones, pathetically dying a slow death because of dioxin poisoning and the whole flocks of sheep that eventually have to be taken away en masse and killed. And we see the small families and shepherds, some with young children, and the small farmers, working on the edge of all this, with who knows what health problems resulting for them (details of that are not given).

    In the Wikipedia article on Campania none of this is mentioned. Whoever wrote it didn't apparently talk to the angry people caught by the camera of Calabria, Ambrosio and Ruggiero.

    This film, unlike last year's See Naples and Die, has no voiceover narration, English or Italian. It relies on a lot of infomational titles at the beginning and the end and on the outspoken voices of those interviewed, as well as an angry crusader, Raffaele Del Giudice, who drives around spying on the illegal dumping and confronting politicians on site.

    The title is an ironic Italian transliteration of the words "Beautiful Country."

    This film was presented in collaboration with the FSLC Green Screens program, in the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series at Lincoln Center in June 2008.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-16-2016 at 05:47 PM.

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    Wilma Labate: Ms. F (2007)

    WILMA LABATE: MS. F (2007)


    VALERIA SOLARINO

    An attempt to weld the personal and the political

    This new film gives flesh and bones to the economic turning point that happened in the early Eighties when workers were defeated at the FIAT plant in Turin. Twenty-four thousand layoffs followed a the factory, with many more elsewehre, and a life of downsizing and diminished union power followed throughout the West--a world to be increasinlgy dominated by the likes of Reagon, Thatcher, and ever-growing corporate power. In Italy, the communist party (PCI) was ultimately to vanish, and the way was paved in the country for Berlusconi and his billionaire's media-based Forza Italia. Director Wilma Labate makes extensive use of archival footage of the labor struggle that ensued after workers initially learned of the planned firing of 14,000 FIAT employees. She also generally recreates the period with clothing, hairstyles, music, even Rubik's Cubes, and tells a story of a group of people torn by conflicting loyalties and backgrounds.

    The love story for which all this is the setting is almost inevitably a bit overwhelmed. It's indeed hard to know what personal narrative wouldln't be swept away by such a powerful historical moment, but the romance between Emma Martano (Valeria Solarino, who also appears in the Open Roads Waltz) and Sergio (Filippo Timi, of Saturn in Opposition and last year's Open Roads In Memory of Me), however hot while it lasts, certainly isn't intense enough to seem compelling. A comparison with Laurent Cantet's film about a family torn by labor-mangement struggles suggests that Ms. F/Signorina Effe didn't even need a romance to make it come alive, and in fact loses momentum by introducing that element.

    Emma is from an originally southern working-class family long resident in Turin, but as the story beings, she's deeply involved with an engineer and FIAT manager, Silvio (Fabrizio Gifuni, who also appears in The Girl by the Lake and The Sweet and the Bitter). She's also a brilliant mathematics student and through the help of Silvio is being set up in a high tech job at the factory at the managerial level herself. But just as the workers' strike is getting under way, she has a rough encounter with the bearded, earthy Sergio, who symbolically traps her in the work floor and dirties her blouse. On Sunday Sergio goes to dinner with a family to meet Magda (Sabrina Impacciatore), who's eligible. Impetuously, his roomate Antonio (Fausto Paravidino) comes along, and he immediately links up with Magda even though he's much younger; not longer after he declares that he weants to marry her and have "thousands" of kids. This turns out to be Emma's family, and the hot, combative relationship continues, with Sergio as quickly as Antonio declaring his passion for her.

    Sergio is a leader of the strikes. Emma's boyfriend isn't a pro-management pig: he's actually hostile to a meeting of managers declaring their intion of backing the brutal firings, and walks out. Nonetheless when the strikes begin, he sneaks in early in the morning with other managers supporting the scab effort. It's actually Emma's father (Giorgio Colangeli) that she's most in conflict, though. He dates from a time, apparenlty, when the only good was to work and better oneself, whatever the physical and psychological cost, as he delcares in a scene.

    The idea is that in the "chaos" of the strikes, which Antioni declares exhilerating--this is a wonderful period for him, his whole life seems to be opening up to him--Emma is drawn to the excitement and energy of the workers and simultaneously to Sergio as the embodiment of that spirit. But she's inwardly conflicted, not only because of her father's essential oppositon to the shutdowns, but her love for Silvio, which hasn't evaporated. She's on and off with Sergio.

    The trouble is that Ms. F. makes the conflict at FIAT Fiat Mirafiori seem just passions and flirting--with big closeups to dramatize the romances, the sexy Sergio, the cool, driven Emma. The screenplay gets bogged down in its effort to provide the plotline as some kind of objective correlative for the management-labor struggle, while at the same time toward the end of the film increasingly giving way to detailed presentation of the actual events through the archival footage. However charismatic the stars are--and everybody's good here, including notably Impacciatore and Paravidino--and hoever dramatic the closeups, their presence seems oddly peripheral, even though they're obviously meant to be central.

    One can contrast this with Laurent Cantet's remarkable 1999 feature Human Resources, which concernsd a young man from a factory worker family who returns from Paris with special training that makes him enter at the management level at the very place his dad has humbly strived for decades. When again a downsizing layoff wave threatens and inside information shows the young man how cynical and cruel lmanagement is he detaches from his father, who like Emma's has a relatively regressive attitude toward workers' rights, and joins the strike, while his father tries to be a scab. The result is a story that is at once much more political and much more personal and gut-wrenching--without the need for any romances. In the light of the success of Human Resources as a powerful labor-management story that is intensely personal, Ms. F.--despite being well-meaning, well-researched, and well-cast--seems wrongly conceived.

    Ms. F/Signorina Effe was presented as part of the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series at Lincoln Center, June 2008.

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