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Thread: New Italian Cinema--San Francisco Nov. 14-21, 2010

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    New Italian Cinema--San Francisco Nov. 14-21, 2010

    NEW ITALIAN CINEMA 2010

    San Francisco Nov. 14-21, 2010

    The series presented by the San Francisco Film Society includes a celebration of the films of the Turkish-born Italian director Ferzan Özpotek. Opening night features his new one, Loose Canons (2010). Also to be shown are his Steam: Stea: The Turkish Bath/Hamam: il bagno turco (1997) on Monday, November 15, 8:45 pm, Facing Windows/La finestra di fronte, (2003) on Monday, November 15, 6:00 pm , and A Perfect Day/Un giorno perfetto (2008), on Sunday, November 14, 9:15 pm and Saturday, November 20, 1:00 pm . The new film program:

    Loose Cannons
    (Mine vaganti, Ferzan Özpetek 2010)

    OPENING NIGHT FILM Ozpetek’s latest dissection of family, love and personal liberation gently satirizes a large bourgeois household while creating a memorable panoply of characters.
    Sunday, November 14, 6:15 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema

    A Perfect Day
    (Un giorno perfetto, Ferzan Özpetek 2008)

    Sunday, November 14, 6:15 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema
    In this tense drama, Özpetek presents an engaging cross-section of Roman society, portraying two families from different classes over a shattering 24-hour period.

    Facing Windows
    (La finestra di fronte, Ferzan Özpetek 2003)

    This award-winning drama tells the story of Giovanna, a woman unhappy in her marriage and job who fantasizes about the man living in the building across from her.

    Steam: The Turkish Bath
    (Hamam, Ferzan Özpetek 1997)

    Ozpetek’s rich and poignant debut feature depicts the self-discovery of a married Italian businessman who inherits a Turkish hamam.

    Ten Winters
    (Dieci inverni, Valerio Mieli 2009)
    Over the course of a decade, a man and a woman remain in contact but never have the chance to fall in love.
    Tuesday, November 16, 6:00 pm & Saturday, November 20, 9:15 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema

    I Am Glad You Are Here

    (Meno male che ci sei, Luis Prieto 2009)
    Luis Prieto’s surprising and touching drama takes a turn when a young woman befriends her recently deceased father’s former mistress.
    Tuesday, November 16, 8:45 pm & Saturday, November 20, 3:45 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema

    Clash of Civilization over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio
    (Scontro di civiltŕ per un ascensore a Piazza Vittorio, Isotta Toso 2010)
    In an apartment building in Rome, a surly young man named Lorenzo is involved in a crime, and the residents must piece together what happened in this wide-ranging study of clashing cultures.
    Wednesday, November 17, 6:00 pm & Sunday, November 21, 12:15 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema

    Raise Your Head
    (Alza la testa, Alessandro Angelini 2009)
    Antonio is a shipyard worker training his beloved teenaged son Lorenzo in boxing. When an accident befalls the boy, Antonio is forced to confront his harsh nature and various prejudices.
    Wednesday, November 17, 8:45 pm & Friday, November 19, 6:30 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema

    18 Years Later
    (18 anni dopo, Edoardo Leo 2010)

    In this winning road movie, two estranged brothers traveling in a classically restored Morgan convertible are obliged to deliver their father’s ashes to his hometown in Calabria.
    Thursday, November 18, 6:00 pm & Sunday, November 21, 3:00 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema

    Weddings and Other Disasters
    (Matrimoni e altri disastri, Nina di Majo 2010)

    A middle-aged single woman gets caught up in her younger sister’s impending nuptials in this delightful romantic comedy.
    Thursday, November 18, 8:45 pm & Saturday, November 20, 6:30 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema

    The Double Hour
    (La doppia ora, Giuseppe Capotondi 2009)

    A hotel maid working in Turin finds herself involved in a series of increasingly strange events in this dreamlike thriller from director Giuseppe Capotondi.
    Friday, November 19, 9:00 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema

    The First Beautiful Thing
    (La prima cosa bella, Paolo Virzě 2010)

    CLOSING NIGHT FILM What does it mean to have a beautiful, frivolous and embarrassing mother? This is the problem confronting Bruno, the protagonist of Paolo Virzě’s moving new film.
    Sunday, November 21, 6:00 & 9:15 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-09-2014 at 04:35 PM.

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    Valerio Mieli: TEN WINTERS (2009)

    VALERIO MIELI: TEN WINTERS (2009)


    Isabella Ragonese, Michele Riondino in Ten Winters

    Long prologue to love

    In this bittersweet comedy, a young couple takes ten years to sleep together. Well, actually Silvestro (the winning Michele Riondino) and Camilla (the cool, subtle Isabella Ragonese) share a bed the first night they meet but he tricks her into it and it's only because her house is so cold. He purposely gets off at the wrong vaporetto stop to meet her. She's quite standoffish. He's quite flirtatious. It's winter 1999. Year by year, winter by winter, Mieli's understated little first film picks up with Silvestro and Camilla as their paths cross, their lives change, he continues to want her, and she continues to be unavailable. Until finally that changes. Ten Winters is a chain of frustrations, but it's also romantic with love-longing. With side trips to Moscow, it's mostly set in the sublime melancholy of Venice out of season, which is the only place all this could happen.

    The two young people are consistent from the start. On the vaporetto, boyish Silvestro plays with some kids. When Camilla goes to the bathroom, he steals her hat, glasses and book to get her attention. They're both starting out at the university. He doesn't really know what he wants to do but it's quite logical when eventually, years later, he becomes a "famous clown" in a theater. Camilla is serious and accomplished, but she's painfully reserved, maybe traumatized in some way. She is into theater and studying Russian and goes to Moscow a couple years later. Silvestro finds her frightening, attractive -- an unattainable goal he can't get out of his head. They can't come together but they can't forget about each other.

    When Camilla goes to Moscow Silvestro learns how to email and they chat gaily and warmly back and forth. He's living in her little family-owned house where they shared the bed the first night -- they could be pretend siblings. She suggests he come to visit. Six months later he does, a surprise, bringing a cat she left behind, but it's a disaster, because things have changed. She's living with an older, rather handsome theater director called Fyodor (Sergei Zhigunov). She didn't tell Silvestro atout this. The emails had faltered, or not worked. Or she's just not a good communicator. Silvestro leaves immediately, angry and hurt and finding her a fraud. When she went off to Moscow she said she was seeking spiritual solitude. Ha!

    Next year, winter 2004, she's back in Venice, withdrawn, preparing a thesis on Chekhov. Though she makes Silvestro help her prepare for her orals at all hours and he faithfully attends her public defense, she has kicked him out of the house because she's "going through a bad time." She and Fyodor broke up. She hasn't told Silvestro much about that either. Silvestro is raising snails. He gives Camilla some and she likes raising them too, another bond between them.

    In the euphoria of her triumphant success with the thesis they finally seem about to come together but she gets out of his little boat and goes off, missing the surprise party Silvestro had prepared. She got a phone call. Fyodor has appeared. When she comes home, having told Fyodor she doesn't love him any more, the party is over. Silvestro has cooked Camilla's snails and slept with an English girl in an 18th-century dress, and again he and Camilla have a big clash. In the wake of it, in the winter of 2005, they only glimpse each other at a street market and don't speak. But their faces show they're still interested.

    In February 2006 their paths cross socially again as they did the first year or two. Silvestro is studying child psychology now and has a girlfriend, and Camilla is with his friend Simone (Glen Blackhall) and reveals she's pregnant by him. They all go to a wedding in Russia where Silvestro makes a scene. Out in the snow he puts his head on Camilla's lap and tells her he loves her. The girl he's with is none too pleased.

    Camilla has her baby but breaks up with the father: another difficult period and she's staying with her own father up in the mountains, in Valdobbiadene. Silvestro is associated with a theater now. He comes to visit her, again after a long pause, and she's very touched, and vulnerable. They kiss passionately, but he doesn't want to have sex in a van with her father nearby. Again, almost but not quite.

    Another blank period: in January 2008 they glimpse each other in a square but don't say hello. It's in the winter of 2009 that it finally happens. They meet at an auction of her little house. He put in a bid but it was too low, but they go and revisit the house, find a key, and go in, and the promise of the first night a decade before finally comes true.

    Because the action is so thinly spread and the payoff is so quiet the episodic screenplay is hard to carry off, but Mieli, who collaborated on the writing with his wife, very nearly does it.

    Ten Winters/Dieci inverni (2009) debuted at Venice, showed at Rome and Tokyo, was in theaters in Italy in December 2009, and is included in a number of US Italian film series this winter. Shown and reviewed as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New Italian Cinema series. San Francisco showings Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 6:00 pm & Saturday and November 20, 2010 at 9:15 pm at Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-09-2014 at 04:34 PM.

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    Luis Prieto: It's Good That You're Here (2009)

    LUIS PRIETO: I AM GLAD YOU ARE HERE (2009)


    Chiara Martegiani, Alessandro Sperduti in
    I'm Glad You're Here


    So glad you're glad she's glad

    In Luis Prieto's sophomore outing as a director, I'm Glad You're Here, with a screenplay by Federica Pontremoli based on a novel by Maria Daniela Raineri, a high school girl's parents get killed in a plane crash and in her grief she decides bonding with her dad's mistress will be a good idea. This is a women's-only oddball-buddy picture, set in the Eternal City, with some not-too-deep looks into generational issues and that whole thing about growing up.

    The pathway is a laptop: Allegra finds her way into her father's emails -- turns out the password was her own name -- and before long she's communing with her dad through his amorous extramarital correspondence.

    We have already met this girlfriend, whose name is Luisa, and learned that she was adoring. Allegra discovers Luisa's address and waits for her one day outside her gate. (The daughter-mistress meet-cute involves a tiny car and a peeing kitten.) One thing leads quickly to another, and Luisa takes Allegra in as a paying boarder -- she's an orphan, after all; and her presence brings Luisa closer to the man she loved.

    If this sounds sudden, it is. Transitions are abrupt here and point of view, if there is one, varies. It's a little surprising to find this movie included in the "New Italian Cinema" series of an American film society (and not just one). It's tone is uneven, and it's put together like random episodes of a TV sit-com. There's no sense of a story arc to make the 106 minutes feel nicely structured. The pop music is too obtrusive and too loud, the crises and resolutions too pat. The presence of this film on a festival roster is another sign that despite some great directors, all is not well with the Italian cinema.

    But all is not totally lost. Spanish-born Prieto and his cast and crew are out to give us a good time. Everyone on screen (except the few who are objects of satire, like an egocentric author) is both good looking and charming. Allegra (Chiara Martegiani) is severe-looking but real and adorable. Her boyfriend Gabriele (Alessandro Sperduti) is a cutie whose smile is irresistible. Luisa (Claudia Gerini) is klutzy at times, but beautiful and sweet. Her new boyfriend Giovanni (Guido Caprino) is laid-back and handsome. (He turns out to be unreliable, but that's men for you.) Watching these people, whose problems are as skin-deep as their looks are attractive, is good for the blood pressure. And that's the way with Italian films sometimes. They don't make you think but they make you feel good. A bonus is the wonderful, if here underused, Stefania Sandrelli, as Allegra's grandmother (who's only 60, so some young mothering went on here).

    When Gabriele and Allegra make it for the first time, appropriately just after her 18th birthday, this gratuitous, boilerplate moment is an Italian Hallmark card of the first time getting laid. Gabriele is utterly sweet and non-threatening. (Remember this was written by a woman from a woman's novel.) Nonetheless he's the least stereotypical of the movie's males. Things get more complicated after that, of course, but in this atmosphere of Nora Ephron charm and Kodak moments it's a little hard to take the rough stuff very seriously.

    I'm Glad You're Here/Meno male che ci sei, 106 min, in Italian, was released theatrically in Italy in late November 2009. Seen and reviewed as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New Italian Cinema series presented Tuesday, November 16, 8:45 pm & Saturday, November 20, 3:45 pm at Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema in San Francisco.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-09-2014 at 04:30 PM.

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    Alessandro Angelini: RAISE YOUR HEAD (2009)

    ALESSANDRO ANGELINI: RAISE YOUR HEAD (2009)


    Sergio Castellitto, Anita Kravos in
    Raise Your Head


    A plot that spins out of control

    As the reviewer for Screen Daily wrote when it debuted in Europe last year, this movie about a working class Roman who wants to make his teenage son into a good boxer feels like it might become something great -- but then throws it away in the second half with changes of characters and a contrived ending. But of course the focused, always professional Sergio Castellitto, hands down one of the best Italian screen actors of the past three decades, makes Mero, the dad, intense and real throughout. And that is the reason for watching a story that otherwise goes haywire.

    Mero (Castellitto) has this tall boy Lorenzo (the promising Gabriele Campanelli) on his hands to make something of, his one great love and abiding souvenir from a fling with a flighty Albanian blond. Mero himself was a failure as an amateur fighter but he has a desperate hunger to succeed through Lorenzo. He also has a lot of hostility toward practically everybody else, including Lorenzo's mother (Pia Lanciotti), Malagodi (Giorgio Colangeli), the gym boss he reluctantly turns Lorenzo over to when it's obvious he's taught him all he can, and later a young Romanian girl Lorenzo gets involved with (Laura Ilie).

    Boxing movies always have that classic working class feel, that intensity of focus, the rhythm of the footwork and the jabs, the crowds, the lights, the sweat. This is an arena of hopes and dreams, hard knocks, failures, and the survival of the fittest. There's something wrong with Mero. His firecracker personality will lead to disaster for Lorenzo, whereupon the movie goes spiraling out of control. Maybe there was something wrong with the whole conception, if it has to be abandoned midstream for something else.

    Alessandro Angelini knows how to do something right. This is the second time Angelini has made a movie whose star got the Best Actor prize at Rome. His 2006 debut Salty Air , which also featured a complicated father-son relationship, got that for Giorgio Colangeli. Here Castellitto got it, again at Rome. Nice for Roman-born Angelini and Castellitto.

    The writing is another matter. Raise Your Head/Alza la testa disoslves into too many different plots. And to begin with, there are flaws in the conceptions of the characters that may be why they spin away long before the film's done. Mero is too unstable. He brings out disaster, and then goes into an obsessive spin to make up for the loss of his boy. And what of Lorenzo? The writing makes Mero so dominant it's hard for him to emerge at all, and small moments are out of wack -- knocking things around in the dining room on the night before a fight and then, on his first day with the outside coach, almost afraid to go in on his own. There was no reason to make him quite so immature.

    Be that as it may, the opening sequences focus the audience's attention and emotions on Mero and Lorenzo and on their big project: making a good fighter out of the boy. When that's thrown away in the middle, we feel betrayed and Raise Your Head becomes rudderless.

    Castellitto is a wonderful actor to watch from movie to movie. He can be an Italian cook full of joie-de-vivre; an ex-lover mad at his girlfriend who wants him back too late; a doctor with desperate problems; he can be Inspector Maigret in a TV series or the complex protagonist of films by Rivette or Bellocchio. He is the consummate professional, the actor's actor. But he's not really a star. He might look like diminutive Jean Gabin, but he lacks Gabin's immense presence. And just think of Mastroianni (or Gassman). He's no matinee idol. He has no special aura. He just goes from movie to movie, whether it be Italian, French, German, or American, delivering the goods. He does great work. But the suave professionalism means that je ne sais quoi is lacking, that grace beyond the reach of art. If that could have helped.

    The important thing about Campanelli, who plays Lorenzo, is his lanky, loose physicality. He looks like a young Adrien Brody with a toothy smile and he has an openness that's so natural he doesn't seem to be acting. He seems passive, but bursts into life during his big fight. The scene is flashy and dramatic, and the scene where Mero has to celebrate with his older friends, getting drunk and dancing around in an empty club while Lorenzo is out with a girl, has a sad poetry that's memorable. Cinematographer Amaldo Catinari uses a hand-held camera to achieve immediacy and nervous energy. Angelini has style and knows how to deliver emotion. But it goes wrong with the screenplay, which was written by Angelini with Angelo Carbone and Francesca Marciano. Raise Your Head must be remembered as an interesting failure.

    Raise Your Head/Alza la testa, 87 min, produced by RAI Cinema, in Italian, debuted at the Rome Film Festival October 17 and opened theatrically in Italy November 6. It is being shown in various international and US Italian film series and was seen and reviewed as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New Italian Cinema series with showings on Wednesday, November 17, 8:45 pm and Friday, November 19, 6:30 pm. at Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema.

    The reviews in Variety and Hollywood Reporter say the same thing: the plot derails the movie halfway through.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-09-2014 at 04:30 PM.

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    Nina Di Majo: WEDDINGS AND OTHER DISASTERS (2010)

    NINA DI MAJA: WEDDINGS AND OTHER DISASTERS (2010)


    Fabio Volo and Martherita Buy in Weddings and Other Disasters

    Pre-wedding flirtation

    With her pleasantly faded looks and good humor, Italian star Margherita Buy is the anchor of this mildly entertaining, neutral-style knockoff of an Ephron-esque Hollywood comedy about an old maid in a well-off Florentine family whose younger sister is about to get hitched. Nana (Buy)'s last serious fling with a guy ended up with him turning to the priesthood. She now runs a nice bookstore with a friend (the subject of a pointless subplot) and says she likes her life as, putting it nicely, a "single independent woman." Whatever. Anyway she's available when her sister Beatrice (Francesca Inaudi) has to leave town -- a Florence as postcard-y as anything in Under the Tuscan Sun -- to cooprate with Beatrice's fiance to move forward with the wedding plans.

    An odd situation, borderline implausible, but it performs its necessary function of putting Nana together with Alessandro (Fabio Volo) -- himself the only reason for watching the movie, and a self-made man who turns out to be more complex than he first appears. Needless to say, Nana and Alessandro hit it off, and before long he's politely hitting on her. He's a bit nutty and he drives his expensive Alfa like a madman, but he's playful and real and surprisingly modest and the fantastic backstory he tells to a priest turns out to be true. If only this movie were about him and he were at the center of it. Unfortunately it's not and he's not, and when Volo's offscreen the champagne quickly goes flat.

    The mother of the bride, who Nana says is thinner and more elegant than she is, is played by Marisa Berenson, who as Variety says was "oddly punished by the costume designer" (Grazia Maria Colombini). To the story, there's no real trajectory. Of course Beatrice comes back, and there's no trouble, just more and more flirtation and drunken byplay at the last minute, and then the wedding, where everybody is happy. Nana talks to the ex-boyfriend priest and finds out he's still turned on by her. His joining the priesthood wasn't her fault. She goes on being a Meg Ryan substitute. And the movie's repertoire of pop songs in English dries up.

    Besides being Hollywood in the palaces the people live in, their glamorous good looks, and the glossiness of everything, this movie's approach to its Florence location is also wholly touristic. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself and remember they're speaking Italian. Passably entertaining for anybody who likes this kind of comedy, but only of real interest when Fabio Volo's character is on screen, and, all in all, another sign that Italian cinema is not in top form.

    Weddings and Other Disasters/Matrimoni e altri disastri opened in theaters in Italy in April 2010. Reviewed as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New Italian Cinema festival, shown at Landmark's Embarcadero Theater on Thursday, November 18, 8:45 pm and Saturday, November 20, 6:30 pm. Also included at Seattle's very similar Italian series during this same time period -- but omitted from Lincoln Center's bigger June series.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-09-2014 at 04:25 PM.

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    Paolo Virzě: THE FIRST BEAUTIFUL THING (2010)

    PAOLO VIRZĚ: THE FIRST BEAUTIFUL THING (2010)


    Valerio Mastandrea and Stefania Sandrelli in The First Beautiful Thing

    Dramas, dramas, dramas

    The First Beautiful Thing is an exaggerated melodrama that focuses on Bruno (Valerio Mastandrea) a disheveled, disenchanted, drug-and-alcohol abusing literature teacher who is lured back to his native Livorno because his mother has inoperable cancer. (As played by Stefania Sandrelli, she's still remarkably vivacious, a real lover of life.) Bruno's return occasions a series of flashbacks to his childhood and young adulthood in the 1970's and 1980's. The scenes of decades earlier are so long and numerous they overwhelm the portrait of Bruno as an adult, though the present-day narrative will make a bid for attention with an operatic finale combining feel-good elements -- revelations, reunions, tears, the dying mother's wedding to an elderly admirer and her death at the wedding party. The director, Paolo Virzě, is ambitious, and here more serious than usual -- though this new film could have used some of the ironies of his earlier ones. His desire to unite with the glories of the Italian cinematic past leads him to make overt reference to Italian movies when they were great, to post-War Neo-realism, to Anna Magnani, and to Macrello Mastroianni, who starred in several of Fellini's masterpieces and still symbolizes Italy when the world looked to it for movie glamor and movie creativity. And La prima cosa bella has been taken seriously by some Italian critics desperate for signs that their cinema is coming back to life. The cinematography by Nicola Pecorini, yellow-toned for the nostalgic 1970's sequences, is excellent, as are the period costumes and sets, and there is a good cast.

    Unfortunately it's hard to care deeply about any of these people, and impossible to understand Bruno's disaffection with life. As a little boy in the flashbacks (played by the excellent Giacomo Bibbiani) he is often disapproving, while his sister Valeria (young, Aurora Frasca; in 2009, Claudia Pandolfi) seems to enjoy vicariously the dubious triumphs of their young and beautiful but flighty and promiscuous mother Anna (played at this stage by Virzě's wife, Micaela Ramazzotti). Later the mature Valeria will have a chance to reprove Bruno for abandoning her as a young adult. As the little boy Bruno, Bibbiani pouts convincingly, but also looks beatific when in his mother's embrace. The young Valeria is a motor-mouthed dummy. They make a vivid pair of siblings, and their scenes give a strong sense of how much they're left to their own devices.

    In the opening scene, Anna , by sheer chance, wins a local beauty contest. This makes her jealous husband Mario (Sergio Albelli) so furious that later that evening he throws her and the two children out of the house. When her judgmental sister is cruel to her, she runs from her house that same night and drags the kids through a pour-down rain to a cheap hotel. This leads to a series of liaisons, some involving the favors of a movie producer when Anna's an extra in a film featuring Mastroianni, with the children forced to wait around in makeshift accommodations. Anna's behavior is so bad, it's understandable when her husband kidnaps back the kids; but later they escape again to be with their mom. For a while the story of the kids is a strong thread, and Bruno and Valeria have some powerful moments toward the end of the film as adults. Each scene is as tumultuous and loud as the last. Those involving the older, ill Anna are meant to show that this lady, bad girl though she was, had a joie-de-vivre that was heroic. Hovering over this tale is the enormous attention Italians pay to "la mamma."

    Scenes of the adult Bruno's gradual reconciliation with his dying mother continue to alternate abruptly with the tumultuous adventures of the young Anna. To say too much is happening on screen is an understatement. Ultimately it's unclear whether the movie is really about Bruno, the relations of the siblings, or the wild life their mother has led. The primary weakness of all this has to be traced to the screenplay penned by Francesco Bruni, Francesco Piccolo, and Virzi. They did not know how to subordinate parts to the whole or to bring out coherent themes. There is plenty of good acting, but what is Bruno moping about? What made him give up writing poetry and turn to drugs and alcohol? And if he is as much of a mess as he's made to appear, how come he has a decent job and faithful wife back home? Despite all the loud scenes between the young Anna and her various men, none of them provides a sense of what it might have been like to be her. The First Beautiful Thing has people, places, and emotions, but no discernible ideas. The structure is overwhelmed from the start by the overlong flashbacks, and the 1980's ones even cause confusion with their introduction of a handsome, sensitive-looking Bruno (Francesco Rapalino) whom it's hard even to connect with the pouty child and depressed adult.

    Paolo Virzě, whose ninth film this is, was born like Bruno in the Tuscan seacoast town of Livorno and studied literature in his youth. With his first film, La bella vita, he won the Ciak d'Oro, the Nastro d'Argento and the David di Donatello prize for Best New Director in Italy. Now his 2010 film The First Beautiful Thing has been selected as the Italian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards. The 122-minute film was released in Italy January 15, 2010. Seen and reviewed as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New Italian Cinema series, shown as the Closing Night film Sunday, November 21, 2010 at 6:00 and 9:15 pm at Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-15-2017 at 02:13 PM.

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    Giuseppe Capotondi: THE DOUBLE HOUR (2009)

    GIUSEPPE CAPOTONDI: THE DOUBLE HOUR (2009)


    KSENIA RAPPOPORT, FILIPPO TIMI IN THE DOUBLE HOUR

    Two lonely people, a romance, a robbery, a mystery, a dream

    The Double Hour, an intriguing and very successful Italian noirish thriller built around a quiet romance, begins with the unpromising setting of "speed dating." In a big room bells a few minutes apart signal shifts of table. The unfortunate men and women sip drinks through straws and warily consider each other, exchanging names and neutral pleasantries. If they like anyone they pass numbers to the scrawny, cigarette-puffing hostess on their way out. Thus does Guido (Filippo Timi of Bellocchio's Vincere), who tells the hostess he's her best and most faithful customer, meet Sonia (Ksenia Rappoport of Tornatore's acclaimed mystery melodrama An Unknown Woman). Since Sonia is a ringer for Antonioni's alluring muse Monica Vitti and Guido would be a very reasonable stand-in for Javier Bardem at his most sexy and mellow, things look more than a little promising. But our couple is living a shadow existence. Sonia is half Italian and half Slovenian, a virtual orphan, rejected by her father. She works anonymously tidying rooms in a Turin hotel with her pal Margherita (Antonia Truppo). Guido is an ex-cop who's reduced to manning the elaborate electronic security system of a large and very posh villa outside town.

    The title is like one of Wong Kar-wai's cute devices: Guido tells Sonia about the idea that when the numbers are double on the clock, 11:11 or 20:20 or 09:09, you can make a wish. Is it true? He doesn't think so. But double hours keep popping up in a story that continually blends the sinister and the romantic. The Double Hour is pervaded by a sepia-toned dreaminess as well as danger. The writing works, very well in fact; the direction and editing are spot-on. The casting is brilliant. At the heart of a complicated whirl of overlapping, tricky sequences are the two protagonists' faces, Timi's full of warm irony, Rappoport's sad, yet hopeful. Emotions flit across Rappoport's face so quickly and clearly, like small clouds on a windy day, no novel's interior monologue is necessary. The moodiness and love-longing linger even though the romance has been curt short early by a violent surprise.

    And that surprise is a shock. Twenty minutes in (but enough time to establish lots of mood), the couple are held at gunpoint in a burglary. Shots ring out. Identities and loyalties become suddenly far less clear, and what will finally happen remains a mystery that is only resolved in the final seconds. Sonia has to struggle to piece events together. What happened and how? We think we know and then we don't. Suffice it to say that writers Alessandro Fabbr, Ludovica Rampoldi, and Stefano Sardo have collaborated closely with the director and the stars to produce a movie whose many motifs and complications -- some of which are just vaguely sinister characters, like Guido's omnipresent cop friend Dante (Michele Di Mauro) and the hotel's fastidious deputy director (Lorenzo Gioielli) -- recur so rhythmically that a unified mood develops, and holds you in its spell. And though there remain many might-have-been possibilities we're left to muse upon, the movie does not leave us hanging. The rhythm and flow are nicely handled, and despite the need of doubling back a bit to make things finally clear, a hundred recurrent objects and faces are skillfully manipulated to maintain the mystery and yet wind up with a simple, unified sense of things. Horror and mystery alternate with romance in the rapid shifting of genres. The spirit of Dario Argento was present at the conception of The Double Hour as well as Antonnioni's.

    Though first-timer Capotondi is a veteran of fashion shoots and music videos, he and his crew never succumb to the lure of chicness. Tat Radcliffe's cinematography makes much use of mobile hand-held shots to convey a sense of danger and uncertainty. The look is a little rough at times but there's also a poetry in the images of disheveled hotel bedrooms and shuttered flats.

    With beginner's luck no doubt, Capotondi, whose film debuted at Venice, conspires successfully with his writers to break one of the cardinal rules of mystery-writing: he undercuts a large chunk of his narrative two thirds of the way through (the revelation comes when one hour and one minute have passed, at 01:01). In other ways, everything is done right, and some aspects of the noir genre pay off well. Sonia's distracted air of uncertainty and Guido's genial sense of being a loser somehow make their finding each other seem both happy and doomed. Somebody is certainly likely to go down, or just return to the speed dating place and the scrawny lady with her perpetual cigarette. A girl has jumped out a hotel room window. Somewhere there is a snapshot of a happy couple in a big South American city. There are glimpses of faces, and notices in the want ads may be signals.

    After seeing this film one feels more then willing to see it again soon. One also has the feeling that Rappoport and Timi can do anything and one hopes they'll have a chance to.

    The Double Hour/La doppia ora, 102 min, a film in Italian, was shown and reviewed as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New Italian Cinema Series, screened Friday, November 19, 9:00 pm at Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema, San Francisco. It has also been shown in Italian series in NYC and Seattle and previewed in Santa Monica. There is interest in buying the rights to a US remake.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-09-2014 at 04:20 PM.

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    Ferzan Özpetek: STEAM: THE TURKISH BATH (1997)

    FERZAN ÖZPOTEK: STEAM: THE TURKISH BATH (1997)


    Mehmet Gunsur and Alessandro Gassman in The Turkish Bath

    Titillation and coziness from a Turkish-born Italian director

    Since San Francisco's 2010 New Italian Cinema series featured a partial retrospective of Ferzan Özpetek (four of his eight features), a review of this Turkish-born director of Italian films, also partial, is in order.

    Özpetek's atmospheric first feature as an independent director, an Italian production with Italian main characters but set mostly in Turkey, introduces a primary theme of his, the family outside the family. An Italian goes to see what remains when a Turkish-resident aunt dies, and becomes close to the family that took care of her during her last days. Turkey in a sense also becomes his second home and family, as he discovers in Istanbul something warmer than squabbling with his wife over their Naples decorating business. A married decorator? Yes, he turns out to be gay -- a surprise only to him when the central theme is a Turkish bath, with its homoerotic associations. In future the director will have gay characters who don't have to go to an exotic land, or into a Turkish bath, to discover their sexuality. It is just as well that Özpetek stp[[ed resorting to that arbitrary and unconvincing geographical solution. The scenes in the bath, indeed the casting of the indubitably sexy but inexpressive younger Gassman, are a matter of gay fantasy. (A largely forgotten second film, the 1999 Harem Suaré, is an elaborate costume fantasy set mostly in the days of the Ottoman sultans. That wasn't a train worth working further either.)

    In later films, Özpetek has perhaps wisely exchanged titillation for coziness. Thus the down-to-earth gay character played by Stefano Accorsi in the director's first movie made fully in Italy, His Secret Life (2001), replaces the cold, emotionally one-note performance (and role) of Gassman in Steam. As a gay director working in a homophobic Catholic country, Özpetek has shown courage in dealing consistently with gay themes and characters in his films, but he has also avoided overt sexuality or stories that might otherwise shock. He has not faced the kind of social violence or grown up with the kind of bi-cultural sophistication evident in the German-born Turkish director Fatih Akin, whose work is both bolder and more significant.

    In a very positive introduction to the director on the occasion of a mid-career 2008 MoMA retrospective, Eliott Stein <a href="http://www.villagevoice.com/2008-12-03/film/facing-ferzan-ozpetek-at-moma/">wrote</a> in the Voice that Özpetek "left home as a teenager to study film history in Rome and entered the industry in 1982 as an assistant to Massimo Troisi (Il Postino). He went on to work with Lamberto Bava and Ricky Tognazzi, then, in 1997, made the leap to directing his own features with Steam: The Turkish Bath, which turned out to be both a critical and commercial success. His oeuvre has been marked by a masterful handling of actors, often in densely populated ensemble stories involving characters from different backgrounds and sexual preferences. Clearly a movie nut, he has been instrumental in bringing former stars of the golden age of Italian cinema back to the big screen in significant roles."

    Stein is good at bringing out this vaguely Tarantino-like function of reviving careers. Thus he describes the direcotor's first fully formed work, La finestra di fronte: "Facing Windows (2003), Özpetek's most affecting and complex work to date, links a pair of illicit romances—one gay, one straight; one set in the present, the other dating from World War II and kept alive in a faltering memory. It's particularly notable for the work of Massimo Girotti (the best-looking leading man of his generation, who starred in films of Visconti, Pasolini, and Antonioni) as an elderly survivor of the Nazi death camps. Girotti never got to see his superb last performance—he died before the picture was released. Stein laments that Özpetek's A Perfect Day (2008), not written by him and from a novel, gets bogged down in loud music and minor characters who don't fit in.

    It remains to be said that while all this is very well, Özpetek's rise to some prominence as a director in Italy comes at a time when Italian cinema is at a pretty low ebb, and his fluidity in ensemble work with actors doesn't quite make up for a weakness for arbitrary and unconvincing plot devices. These are evident right from the start when, in The Turkish Bath, he provides the death of an aunt as a simple way to get his handsome son of a famous Italian actor (Vittorio Gassman, of course) over to his own native Turkey, and then twists things more than a little bit to get Gassman Jr's testy wife over and mellow her into a devotee of things Turkish. In choosing to feature Ferzan Özpetek over a more important and challenging Italian director like Gabriele Salvatores (whose recent films were shown currently in Seattle), San Francisco has made a decision whose logic is best known to themselves. The bigger summer New York Italian series, Open Roads (Jun. 3-10, 2010), included new films by Salvatores, Francesca Comenncini, Carlo Verdone and Gabriele Muccino (those two aren't challenging directors, but they are culturally relevant and entertaining ones). The concurrent Seattle New Italian Cinema series (Nov. 16-20, 2010) had a similar program otherwise but instead featured Salvatores.

    The two outstanding selections of the 2010 San Francisco New Italian Cinema series were two first films, Valerio Mieli's elegant, low-keyed almost-love story Ten Winters and Giuseppe Capotondi's excellent psychological thriller, The Double Hour.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-09-2014 at 04:36 PM.

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    Link index to these reviews

    ALPHABETICAL LINKED INDEX TO THE N.I.C. FESTIVAL COVERAGE REVIEWS:


    Double Hour, The
    (La doppia ora, Giuseppe Capotondi 2009)

    A hotel maid working in Turin finds herself involved in a series of increasingly strange events in this dreamlike thriller from director Giuseppe Capotondi.

    First Beautiful Thing, tHE
    (La prima cosa bella, Paolo Virzě 2010)

    A substance-abusing teacher returns home to be with his dying mother -- and many flashbacks to his childhood and youth follow -- in this Italian entry into the Best Foreign Oscar competition for 2010. Also part of the San Francisco New Italian Cinema series.

    I Am Glad You Are Here
    (Meno male che ci sei, Luis Prieto 2009)
    A 17-year-old girl in Rome loses both parents and bonds with her father’s former mistress. Part of the New Italian Cinema series of the San Francisco Film Society.

    Raise Your Head
    (Alza la testa, Alessandro Angelini 2009)
    Emotional drama starring Sergio Castellitto about a father who coaches his son as a boxer goes astray in the second half. A film in the New Italian Cinema series of the San Francisco Film Society.

    Steam: The Turkish Bath
    (Hamam, Ferzan Özpetek 1997)

    Ozpetek’s debut feature depicts the self-discovery of a married Italian businessman who inherits a Turkish hamam.

    Ten Winters
    (Dieci inverni, Valerio Mieli 2009)
    Two young students in Venice take ten years to fall in love. Part of the San Francisco New Italian Cinema series 2010.

    Weddings and Other Disasters
    (Matrimoni e altri disastri, Nina di Majo 2010)

    A single, independent woman finds herself organizing her sister’s wedding with the help of her future brother-in-law. Part of the San Francisco New Italian Cinema series.

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