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Thread: SFFS New Italian Cinema Nov. 11-18, 2012

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    SFFS New Italian Cinema Nov. 11-18, 2012



    San Francisco Film Society
    NEW ITALIAN CINEMA
    Nov. 11-18, 2012


    General forum notification and comment thread for this serie: here.

    Here is the program below with the Film Society's blurbs. I will cover the series and provide reviews and ratings of the new films, which are as follows:



    The Greatest of Them All
    Carlo Virzì (I più grandi di tutti, Italy 2011)

    Raucous but with a melancholy air, this is the story of the exceedingly mediocre rock group Pluto and the wheelchair-bound young man who begs the four members of the band to reunite.
    Tuesday November 13, 6:15 pm
    Friday November 16, 9:15 pm
    Landmark’s Embarcadero Center Cinema

    Kryptonite!
    Ivan Cotroneo (La kryptonite nella borsa, Italy 2011)

    Set in 1964 Naples, a myopic boy watches his family members react to the turbulent 1960s—his older siblings donning hippie attire, his mom collapsing when she discovers her husband’s affair, and a possibly gay cousin who thinks he is Superman.
    Sunday November 11, 5:30 pm
    Tuesday November 13, 9:00 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema



    Shun Li and the Poet
    Andrea Segre (Io sono li, Italy/France 2011)

    The friendship between two immigrants amid the xenophobia of a Venetian fishing community is detailed in subtle and visually dramatic fashion in Andrea Segre's first narrative feature.
    Wednesday November 14, 6:15 pm
    Sunday November 18, 3:30 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema

    The First on the List
    Roan Johnson (I primi della lista, Italy/France 2011)

    Set against Italy’s political upheaval in the late ‘60s, this lighthearted comedy follows three young potential revolutionaries who become convinced that there’s going to be a military coup and set off for the border.
    Wednesday November 14, 9:00 pm
    Saturday November 17, 6:45 pm
    Landmark’s Embarcadero Center Cinema

    Apartment in Athens
    Ruggero Dipaola (Appartamento ad Atene, Italy 2011)

    Based on a book by Glenway Wescott, this film tells the story of a Greek family forced to take a Nazi captain into their home during WWII and the effect of his presence on each of them.
    Thursday November 15, 6:15 pm
    Saturday November 17, 9:15 pm
    Landmark’s Embarcadero Center Cinema



    Easy!
    Francesco Bruni (Scialla!, Italy 2011)

    An underachieving writer, currently ghostwriting the story of an Italian porn star, finds out that the similarly underachieving boy he’s been tutoring is his son.
    Thursday November 15, 9:00 pm
    Saturday November 17, 4:00 pm
    Landmark’s Embarcadero Center Cinema

    Hit the Road, Nonna
    Duccio Chiarini (Italy 2011)

    In this playful family portrait, director Duccio Chiarini investigates the life and history of his somewhat belligerent, defiantly unrepentant 87-year-old grandmother Delia, and explores the reasons why she has become a persona non grata in his household.
    Friday November 16, 4:30 pm
    Sunday November 18, 1:30 pm
    Landmark’s Embarcadero Center Cinema

    100 Meters to Heaven
    Raffaele Verzillo (100 metri dal paradiso, Italy 2012)

    A creative-thinking monsignor has an idea to expand the image of the Church—getting the Vatican to compete in the London Olympics—and assisted by his childhood friend, they round up a team of athletes from around the globe.
    Friday November 16, 6:30 pm
    Saturday November 17, 1:15 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema



    The Cherry on the Cake
    Laura Morante (La cerise sur le gâteau/Ciliegine, France 2012)

    A woman, recently separated from her long-term boyfriend, finds the perfect match but is convinced that he’s gay. Surprise—he’s not!
    Sunday November 18, 6:30 pm and 9:15 pm
    Landmark’s Embarcadero Center Cinema
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-03-2015 at 11:55 PM.

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    KRYPTONITE! (Ivan Controneo 2011)

    IVAN CONTRONEO: KRYPTONITE! (2011)


    LUIGI CATANO AND VALERIA GOLINO IN KRYPTONITE!

    Boychick in bell bottom Naples

    The screenwriter Ivan Controneo mixes fantasy, comedy, and melodrama in his directorial debut, based on his own novel. Kryptonite (La kryptonite nella borsa), which has almost too much fun with its early Seventies setting, and revolves around a nine-year-old boy, Peppino (Luigi Cantno) in the somewhat down-at-heels seaside Neopolitan town of Portici, with its wonderfully dreary seaside apartment buildings. When Peppino's mother Rosaria (Valeria Golino) freaks out over the infidelity of his father Antonio (Luca Zingaretti), Peppino falls into the hands of irresponsible relatives, while cared for by the guiding spirit of the nutty Genaro (Vincenzo Nemolato), who thought he was Superman and got run over by a bus. The mop-headed, bespectacled Peppino is taken to happenings with drugs, lesbian love, and bra burning (not necessarily in that order), and looks surprisingly at home in tight bell bottoms and open silk short with gold "Peace" chain. But when this alternates with mom's sessions with a shrink, things get a bit too complicated -- though acting and mise-en-scène are fine and there are cute moments as well as louche and downbeat ones.

    Peppino's voiceover introduces a big Neopolitan family. Besodes Rosaria and Antonio he has a beautiful, with-it older sister, Titina (Cristiana Capotondi), his brother Salvatore (Libero de Rienzo), a seducer of women, and there's Federico (Gennaro Cuomo), supposedly the smart brother. Then there's superhero Gennaro -- who's on the lookout for the magic metal of the title, and after his death, revisits Peppinio at moments of loneliness or doubt. From the start Peppino is thought "ugly" (though he's adorable), and his wearing big glasses gets him abused by schoolmates. In class his teacher Signorina Lina (Rosaria de Cicco) introduces students to a trinity of mothers, the natural one, her, and the Virgin Mary -- a counterpoint to the wildness Peppino encounters with his careless caretakers and the rudderless household created when his father, who runs a Singer dealership, starts sleeping with a younger woman and his mother goes to bed with an endless "headache" and abandons her household duties.

    Some of the Seventies scenes are giddy fun, like one when a Woman's Libber calls for bra burning, and another with erotic partying where Peppino, in teeny bopper hip regalia, swallows a tab of LSD. (He is found in a corner and safely regurgitates it.) But there are other scenes, like a Hair-style Greek chorus dance, that are gratuitous and merely interrupt the story. Likewise a subplot about a lonely woman, Assunta (Monica Nappo), who tries to cruise men down by the deserted beach. The scenes between Rosaria and her psychotherapist, Dr. Matarrese (Fabrizio Gifuni), are warm and interesting, especially in the context of a conventional Italian family, but they too feel poorly integrated into the movie. A narrative sequence running through the first half, in which dad Federico gives Peppino three baby chicks and then is successively responsible for their deaths, is merely sad and odd. As Peppino, Cantaro is charming and has a light touch, but never seems the geek or loser he's depicted as by the adults. If Cotroneo had trimmed out some of the unnecessary story-lines and added more of Peppino at school to balance his character outside the family against his mother's liberating scenes with the shrink, the movie might have had more coherence. Are Gennaro and Peppino linked because they're both gay? Or if not what is it that makes Peppino an outsider? These issues are avoided in the sweet fantasy finale.

    As a writer Cotroneo has worked on the Kim Rossi Stewart vehicle Piano, Solo; Guadagnino's much-publicized in the US I Am Love; and Ferzan Ozpetek's recent choral film Loose Canons, besides a lot of writing for TV. Sadly, despite excellent dialogue, and ironically given Cotroneo's background, the writing is structurally weak. But the directing is good, and so are other elements: even if some sequences go overboard, the period, with contrasts between existing drabness and colorful new styles and manners, is nicely handled. Titina's boyfriend Elio (Carmine Borrino) in red bell bottoms limping on the desolate beach of Portici is something to see.

    La kryptonite nella borsa debuted at the Rome Film Festival in November 2011 and was released in Italy Nov. 4, 2011. Screened for this [/i]review as part of the New Italian Cinema series of the San Francisco Film Society, Nov. 11-18, 2012. The film was scheduled for two showings, Nov. 11 at 5:30 pmand November 13 at 9:00, both at Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2015 at 12:05 AM.

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    THE GREATEST OF THEM ALL (Carlo Virzì 2011)

    Carlo Virzì: THE GREATEST OF THEM ALL (2011)


    DARIO K. CAPPANERA, ALESSANDRO ROJA, CLAUDIA PANDOLFI, MARCO COCCI IN THE GREATEST OF THEM ALL

    Rock craziness revisited

    "They were always [coarse] like that," says rock journalist Ludovico (Corrado Fortuna), watching an old interview with "I Pluto," a provincial rock band from the Nineties he adores and wants to resuscitate for an article. "But another thing strikes me," he tells his associate (Francesco Di Gesù). "How fragile they are. At 20 they were cocky wise-asses, bursting with energy....And now you see them, with no purpose in life. Doesn't it break your heart?" This is a serious and truthful moment in what is mostly a very wild and funny ride. I più grandi di tutti is a more unified and successful film than Virzì's chaotic family saga The Most Beautiful Thing (NIC 2010). The theme of an aging rock band taking a trip down memory lane and attempting a reunion is a familiar one. But Virzì has adopted a light touch and brought something fresh, with help from a good cast.

    Despite Ludovico's lament, the four he brings back together are still pretty energetic -- in their way. Indeed so is Ludovico, which is surprising, since he is paraplegic.

    Ludovico, whose devoted and very wealthy mother (Catherine Spaak) knows how much I Pluto mean to her son and so funds his project lavishly, first locates Loris (Alessandro Roja), the band's drummer, whose brain is pot-blasted, even today. He lives in Livorno (Virzì's home town) in a nice apartment with his wife Simona (Claudia Potenza), the apparent breadwinner, and young son, whom he takes to elementary school. Loris gets a letter from Ludovico and when he sees him, receives a set of checks for a thousand euros each. This leads him to take Ludovico's interest very seriously indeed and track down Maurizio (Marco Cocci, Alberto in Muccino's The Last Kiss), known as Mao, the bad-boy lead singer, who works as barman at a punk rock club, and has not grown up one little bit. They go looking for Sabrina (Claudia Pandolfi), who resists at first. But her facade of respectability drops once she sees old flame Mao again and she hops into the van with them ready to go back to her wild ways.

    The only decent musician in the group, lead guitarist Rino (Dario Kappa Cappanera), now a factory worker who's been taking care of his father, is most resistant to having anything to do with a band reunion, but he too relents when there's a work stoppage. They're all tempted by the glory days, however illusory the image of that glory may be. Trouble is, Ludovico's magazine dumps the project in favor of some newer bands. The reunion concert he envisions hits a dead end: no manager will schedule one. But with his mother's funding, he creates a fake concert for them at Cinecittà, hiding from them that it's all a fabtication. This comes across as a touching gesture.

    There are flashbacks to the Nineties, including band antics and the time when Ludovico was disabled in a tragic car accident while rushing to a Pluto concert, but these are handled with a very light touch and despite the nostalgia element, the emphasis is on the present. Focus is nicely balanced among the band members and Ludovico; dialgoue is funny and follows a sure rhythm. Jump cuts between sequences are subtly handled. Among the strongest moments is the scene when the group visits Ludovico at his mother's palatial house and enters his room, a shrine to their band, for a filmed interview. The irony is that Ludovico knows more about "I Pluto" than they do, and seems to remember their wildest moments better. Mao remembers something, but Loris is a complete blank. They don't even know what the band's name came from, or what it means. This too is curiously touching: the evanescence of memory, the swiftness of time. "Quant'è bella giovanezza che si fugge tuttavia." So wrote Lorenzo the Magnificent.

    The concert sequences are very well handled, and so is the bittersweet reunion and the deception behind the final concert. The whole film is fun and flows nicely, and despite the ostensibly familiar material, is full of little surprises. It's a whole; it may not be profound, but it captures a moment one can hold and ponder.

    To add a sense of rock history context, the closing credits include inset clips of real musicians, I Tre Allegri Ragazzi Morti, I Baustelle, Irene Grandi, i Litfiba, and Vasco Rossi, giving their (mostly negative) "memories" of I Pluto.

    I piu grandi di tutti debuted at Turin in December 2011 and was reviewed there by Jay Weissberg for Variety. The Italian theater release was April 6, 2012. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New Italian Cinema series Nov. 11-18, 2012. Two San Francisco screenings were scheduled, for Nov. 13 at 6:15 pm and Nov. 16 at 9:15, both at Landmark’s Embarcadero Center Cinema.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2015 at 12:07 AM.

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    SHUN LI AND THE POET (Andrea Segre 2011)

    ANDREA SEGRE: SHUN LI AND THE POET/IO SONO LI (2011)


    ZHAO TAO IN SHUN LI AND THE POET

    Cross-cultural loneliness in the Veneto

    Andrea Segre, a documentary filmmaker with a particular interest in immigration, approaches his favorite topic in fiction feature form in Shun Li and the Poet, whose Italian title Io sono Li, "I Am LI," if you read it aloud could also mean simply "I am there." This film is perhaps a little too poetic and gentle and melancholy to the point of sentimentality and easy emotion, but it is also beautifully made, evocative of the delicacy of some Asian filmmaking, and blessed by the extraordinary presence of Zhao Tao, the muse of Jia Zhang-ke, the leading figure of the "Sixth Generation" of Chinese cinema. She won the Italian Davide di Donatello Best Actress Award for her mesmerizing presence. Segre also wisely enlisted the services of ace cinematographer Luca Bigazzi, whose lush, warm images of Tuscany in Kiarostami's Certified Copy contrast with the, yes, poetic watery landscapes of the Veneto he supplies here, with their gray winter mists and rain. A platonic romance, somewhat watery also, between Zhao Tao's character, Shun Li, and Beppi (soulful Croatian vet Rade Serbedzija), a Slavic fisherman, provides the slowly unfolding foreground action, while the story follows Shunn Li's difficult journey as an immigrant.

    An unwed mother, Li has entered the Draconian system of modern indentured servitude as a worker for Chinese businessmen, hoping to remain in Italy with papers and eventually be allowed to have her young son with her there. At the outset she works in a clothing factory on the outskirts of Rome, but is abruptly transferried to an osteria (or pub) in the Veneto city island of Chioggia. All of a sudden she has to go from manual labor to serving drinks and keeping accounts. Dealing with people and speaking Italian become her new priorities. (The actress didn't know the language when the shoot began: her Italian is slow and clumsy but unflagging and serviceable.)

    Beppi has fished there for thirty years, and now, having recently lost his wife, faces his retirement, which his don urges him to do and move in with him and his wife in Mestre. A natural bond develops between Beppi and Shun Li, and their growing affection leads to little rendezvous, but Li has little freedom. When she asks her Chinese handler for a half-day to buy her little boy in China a birthday present, the request is flatly refused. She and her roommate don't know how long they'll work for nothing before they get the "news" that their "debt" is paid and in her case, that her little boy can come. Asian stoicism reigns.

    There is a self-conscious parallel between Beppi's local nickname of "Poet" because he makes up little funny rhymes, and the Chinese poet Li celebrates on his day with dandles floated in the water. This becomes a cute if factitious bond between the two people, apart their shared outsider status, she the new one, he the old one. She pointedly tells him she does not want to marry him. Doing so would not get her out of her indentured status with the Chinese entrepreneurs. Anything but. Serbedzija is adept at navigating the waters of his two roles, salty fisherman crony of the osteria regulars and kindly soulmate to the Asian lady.

    The community of Chioggia is small, of the osteria smaller, and the other customers accept Shun Li a little grudgingly. Her pale face looks strange in this setting, her voice sounds odd. It takes the regulars (non-actors used here) a while to go from calling her "China" to calling her Li. When she and Beppi become more friendly, they express their disapproval to him. They see China as an alien invader, a mafia seeking to rule the world. Beppi has a physical clash with an obnoxious young bully. The Chinese handlers are more blunt about this relationship with Li. She must not fraternize with locals. They tell Li that she must go gack to talking to Beppi only as a customer or her accumulated work time will go back to zero, or worse.

    Some good things happen, and some bad things, after this. The film lags in the middle. But if you stick with it there are poetic moments and healing rituals at the end.

    Io sono Li, 100min, debuted at Venice in 2011 and showed at a number of other festivals, then opened theatrically in Spain and France and some French reviews were very good (Allociné press: 3.6), but one or two noted over-sweetness and a lack of rhythm (the lag I noted). The French title, La petite Venise ("Little Venice") caused some to emphasize the contrast of the setting with the touristic mecca we all love. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New Italian Cinema series, Nov. 11-18, 2012, showtimes Wednesday November 14, 6:15 pm and Sunday November 18, 3:30 pm, both at Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2015 at 12:07 AM.

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    THE FIRST ON THE LIST (Roan Johnson 2011)

    ROAN JOHNSON: THE FIRST ON THE LIST (2011)


    CLAUDIO SANTAMARIA, PAOLO CIONI, AND FRANCESCO TURBANTI IN THE FIRST ON THE LIST

    A story from the early "Years of Lead"

    The First on the List, director Roan Johnson's first feature, is partly cast as a political satire. But it's also the faithful recreation of a true event, set in Italy in 1970, involving three young leftists in Pisa (also the director's home town, despite his English name) who flee to Austria thinking a right wing coup is imminent and will lead to their arrest and worse. They're utterly wrong, but their action truly reflects the chaos and paranoia of the time. Their leader, de facto and self-appointed, is the cantautore (singer-songwriter) Piero Masi. As Masi, Claudio Santamaria, an actor with looks and presence, has the most complex role. He has moral authority and dedication, but his character is also foolish, blind and wrongheaded. In Muccino's The Last Kiss, Santamaria played Paolo, a young man irrationally unable to give up his old girlfriend, who has moved on. Masi's fantasy of a military coup happening in Rome is a mixture of megalomania, misinterpreted information, and justifiable paranoia. This is just a little film, but it will feel vivid and familiar to anyone who has been swept away in a foolish and dangerous venture.

    The film begins with old newsreels and information about contemporary Italian attacks on leftist activists, scenes of armed military in the streets, and then a classroom gathering of student activists to discuss the fear that the recent right-wing coup in Greece might be about to happen in Italy. The three young men's action is foolish, but also a real harbinger of the full-on beginnings of the turbulent period of terrorism and repression in Italy from the last Sixties to the early Eighties, the time of the Red Brigades and the Aldo Moro kidnapping, known by the coverall label, "the Years of Lead." At the end we learn that five months later there indeed was an attempted military coup to seize control of the government in Rome, though at the last minute it was forestalled. The weakness of The First on the List is that it doesn't always know whether it wants to mock and turn things all into a lark, or simply follow the sweaty, nervous adventure as it may have happened -- it can't have been very funny at the time. It's best when it lets the minute-to-minute interaction of the three men speak for itself.

    The two guys who accompany Masi on his sudden improvised flight are younger, in awe of him, and swept away on his sudden road trip almost purely by chance. Renzo Lulli (Francesco Turbanti), whom we see at home, is supposed to be preparing for his exams, which he's already failed once, and his almost comically severe father (Sergio Fierattini) wants to confine him to his room for the weekend to study. He heads out instead in tight jeans armed with his guitar to do an "audition" with Masi to be a fellow protest singer at rallies, presumably, and bask in his righteous leftist glory. His pal Fabio Gismondi (Paolo Cioni), similarly inclined and armed with his own guitar acts as a go-between. We may feel a slight thrill, remembering the famous sticker on Woody Guthrie's guitar, "This Machine Kills Fascists." But when the awed Lulli and Gismondi arrive at Masi's dark, chaotic apartments, Masi's already in such a state of paranoid agitation he can barely listen. He shushes them and rushes all three of them off in Lulli's father's shiny little car, to points north, saying tips he's just had show for sure a neo-fascist military coup is imminent, leftists will all be rounded up, and as protestors they'll all be "the first on the list."

    Obviously Masi may have been good at political songwriting, but wasn't an ace at practical thinking, because they head for Yugoslavia, but when they get to the border, they see a big military checkpoint and turn around and head for Austria. What were they thinking? They stop at a road house for gas and coffee, splitting up their remaining cash evenly: -- five thousand lire each. Masi makes a call to his American girlfriend Nancy, in London, and warns her not to come back to Italy because it's not safe. When she says she had no intention of returning and is headed back home to Connecticut, he is furious, obviously counting on having her under his thumb -- a nice little cameo of sexual double standards and more about Masi's confusion. Suddenly the bar is mobbed by Italian soldiers in a boisterous mood, heading south and saying tomorrow is going to be a big day in Rome. The utterly convinces the three that a military coup is on the way.

    When they get to the Austrian border, they are held up and attempt to flee (the Italian border guards disgracing themselves as well) and subsequently wind up in jail, filled with comic uncertainty about what is happening, since they don't understand a word of German. The jail sequences are the film's best natural balance of realism and the comical, as we observe the trio's slow realization of the extent of their stupidity, resulting in a clash between Gismondi and the now clay-footed Masi, but no dire results from the quietly amused Austrian authorities. There was no coup in Rome, and Lulli's and Gismondi's parents come to see them and get them out, guitars, but not pride, intact.

    The real Masi, Lulli, and Gismondi appear in person at the end, with titles explaining what they're up to now. They must be good sports, because this film hardly shows them in a very flattering light.

    Johnson makes little effort to create a period flavor with sets and costumes -- one old car, some tight pants, and that's it -- but restraint in this area is welcome since it's usually overdone. The jaunty music to accompany the road trip adds a Keystone Kops flavor, however, that ill fist the more serious tone of the action in the car.

    I primi della lista, 85mn, was released in Italy November 11, 2011. It was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New Italian Cinema series, Nov. 11-18, 2012. Showtimes were Wednesday November 14, 9:00 pm and Saturday November 17, 6:45 pm at Landmark's Embarcadero Cinema in San Francisco.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2015 at 12:06 AM.

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    APARTMENT IN ATHENS (Ruggero Dipaola 2011)

    RUGGERO DIPAOLA: APARTMENT IN ATHENS (2011)


    LAURA MORANTE, RICHARD SAMMEL AND GERASIMOS SKIADARESSIS IN APARTMENT IN ATHENS

    The claustrophobic nightmare of occupation

    Italian director Ruggero Dipaola's solid and promising, if not exceptional, first feature is an adaptation of Glenway Wescott's well-known 1945 WWII novel of the same name (only published in Italian in the last decade), shot on the location of the story and in the appropriate languages -- though three of the principal Greek characters are played by Italians, and an Italian version was done as well as a dubbed Greek one (there is dubbing in both versions). When German Captain Kalter (Richard Sammel or Inglorious Basterds) bounces at some length on the Helianos family bed, it means he's going to take over their bedroom, during the wartime Nazi occupation of Athens. And it is not going to be a pleasant experience. It's interesting to compare this tale with the novella of Vercors, clandestinely published in Paris in 1942, Le Silence de la Mer, adapted on film in 1949, the first feature of the great Jean-Pierre Melville. But we'll get to that later.

    First of all, the situation here is quite different, because there is a focus on conflicts within the Greek family, whose spacious apartment the Captain invades, turning them into his virtual servants. Nikolas Helianos (Gerasimos Skiadaressis) is or was a successful publisher of textbooks. His dutiful wife Zoe is played by the Italian movie star Laura Morante of The Son's Room, who has just debuted as a director with The Cherry on the Cake. There was an older brother, Kimon, who died in combat. They have two remaining children, Alex (Vincenzo Crea), who's twelve, and teenage Leda (Alba De Torrebruna), who has her first period, and looks a little like a very young Dominique Sanda, though her "large head" is commented on unfavorably by her mother. Alex tells her there's a line of men waiting to marry her. The two young newcomers hold their own with the three adult veterans.

    The stay chez Helianos of the German officer has two phases. In the first one he has the family wait on him, serve him food, take his coat when he comes in, change his bedpan, and use the lavatory in the courtyard while he takes over exclusive use of the bathroom in the flat. He favors Leda, stroking her cheek and hair and complimenting her, and she seems enamored of him at first, or of his uniform, as her mother explains it. He dislikes Alex, who eats some meat scraps he's supposed to take to his commanding officer's dog, and the Captain whips him with his belt. The parents cower and argue. Only Alex seems to preserve some dignity and remain unwilling to collaborate.

    Phase two begins when the captain goes away for two weeks. The family rejoices and goes back to eating at the dinner table, the parents to sleeping in their bedroom. When Kalter returns, now a major, he is changed, due to bad news back home whose nature we learn later. He now has no appetite and seems initially humbler, treading Nikola more like an equal, drinking and discussing life with him, eventually no longer always in uniform. But this seeming relaxation is insidious and misleading. He is deeply embittered and becomes stranger, knocking down Leda and accusing her of an unnatural attachment to him. His intimacy with the enemy visitor alienates Nikola from his wife, who's not included in it, but also proves dangerous. It hardly matters whether Kalter's unwilling hosts fraternize or remain aloof: it's a no-win situation. The oppressive mood is palpable and the action suspenseful.

    Vercors story is more subtle, its action more understated. It focuses on two things. First is the brave, stoical, silent resistance of the old Frenchman and his niece, who never agree to speak to the German officer staying in their house, despite his long daily speeches to them in impeccable French. The other more detailed focus is on the gradually shattered illusions of the officer. He is a great lover of all things Gallic and a would-be composer. He expounds upon his dream that a victorious German culture will blend with the French and improve both. But after a trip away, like Kalter, but in his case to Paris, he comes to understand that the Third Reich only wants to crush everything in its wake, including French culture. His idealistic, then disillusioned, speeches to his unwilling and silent hosts are haunting. Eventually he goes off to what he knows is his doom. Since Kalter also declares himself above all a lover of music and is also deeply changed by a trip away from his unwilling hosts, Le Silence de la Mer and Wescott's story have a structural similarity. But Vercors was attempting something more hopeful, while Wescott's novel expanded on an anecdote told him by a Greek resistance fighter.

    Dipaola achieves the requisite solemnity and quiet horror with a slow even pace and use of almost-sepia images shot by Vladan Radovic. The quiet outdoor scenes with their lonely playing children evoke Cartier-Bresson or Clément's Forbidden Games. The actors are good and the film does its job, but Apartment in Athens lacks magic -- or Wescott's beautiful prose. The screenplay was co-written by Dipaola with Luca de Benedittis and Heidrun Schleef. The latter did the screenplay for The Son's Room.

    Appartamento ad Atene, 95mn, in Greek and German, has been shown in a number of festivals, starting in fall 2011, and was released in Italy Sept. 28, 2012. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's Nov. 11-18, 2012 New Italian Cinema series, with showings Thur., Nov. 15 at 6:15 pm and Sat., Nov. 17 at 9:15 pm at Landmark’s Embarcadero Cinema, San Francisco.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2015 at 12:08 AM.

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    EASY! (Francesco Bruni 2011)

    FRANCESCO BRUNI: EASY! (2011)


    FABRIZIO BENTIVOGLIO AND FILIPPO SCICCHITANO IN EASY!

    Boychild finds father, in Rome

    In this smooth, feel-good coming-of age cum midlife crisis story, a boy finds his father and in the process they both grow up a little. We might wish a little more had been attempted, but this mentoring story is a pleasant enough re-cooking of a familiar theme in Roman sauce. The two main characters are tutor and pupil. But when the boy's mother Giovanna (Paola Tiziana Cruciani) gets a job in Africa, she reveals to tutor Bruno (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) that he's father of the boy Luca (Filippo Scicchitano) and Bruno agrees to let Luca live with him in her absence.

    Bruno has a kind of disheveled past-it handsomeness, with his reading glasses, hand-rolled cigarettes, and shabby-chic duds, but it's Luca who steals the show. He's a baby-faced hunk who talks only in salty Roman tough-kid slang, and walks around the flat in bikini briefs. The plot involves a lot of Latin lessons -- with reverence to Aeneas as a symbol of filial loyalty -- plus Luca's tricky run-in with a gangster called The Poet (Vinicio Marchioni of Romanzo Criminale, sharp and memorable in a brief role), who at a crucial moment turns out to remember Bruno fondly as his teacher. A not-so-gripping side plot involves Bruno's ghost writing for Tina (Barbora Bobulova), a former porn star who turns out to be as lonely as he is and, wouldn't you know it? They both just want to cuddle. As for Luca, of course he needs some structure in his life. He's full of confidence, to a fault. He's funny and may even be kind of smart.

    Luca and Bruno had a good rapport to begin with, the boy regarding his tutor as a WTF kindred spirit. It's when Bruno meets with Luca's teacher at school and learns he's likely to flunk that he gets serious, but it's not till they've been through a couple of scrapes together that the affection develops. The most original, if carelessly staged, sequence is the one in which Luca enters The Poet's posh modern house and steals stuff from him, while The Poet is discussing the arts with his underlings and preparing a group "CineClub" viewing of "the great Truffaut's" The 400 Blows. He's just bought a Schnabel. Who knew that Roman gangsters were cluture vultures, collecting Eighties superstar artists and reciting lines from Pasolini?

    As Luca, newcomer Filippo Scicchitano is utterly believable. It's a smooth and engaging performance, and as one Italian critic put it, "the boy of the streets is in his veins," and I too hope to see him soon in other roles. When he walks he swaggers a little like Pasolini muse Ninetto Davoli, but he's of a greater physicality, more athletic, beefier and less goofy. He does impressively in a boxing scene, which is when Luca and his mates are introduced to a gangster. The tattooed boxer Luca fearlessly goes into the ring with works for The Poet, and wants the boys to sell drugs to their classmates. Scicchitano steals the show, but this is not to say that Bentivoglio isn't perfect for his role as the jaded former intellectual and loner. Can we guess that there's a chunk of Bruno in director Francesco Bruni, who has a ton of writing credis prior to this directorial debut? That was true of the Roman Gianni Di Gregorio, also a long-time Italian film writer who turned late to directing. But Di Gregorio stayed much closer to home and came up with a little classic, Mid-August Lunch. This doesn't get there. It's premise is too much of a cliché. But it's still a fun watch and is notable for the introduction of Italian rap into the otherwise light and airy musical background.

    Scialla!, 95min, screenplay by Bruni from a story by Giambattista Avellino, debuted at Venice in September 2011, opening its Controtempo Italiano section, devoted to "new trends" in Italian cinema. (The new trend would be the street talk and the hip hop, not the Good Will Hunting plotline.) Bruni's last job was writing the screenplay for Italy’s Oscar contender The First Beautiful Thing, directed by Paolo Virzì. The film showed at some other festivals, with a Nov. 18, 2011 Italian release. It was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New Italian Cinema series of Nov. 11018, 2012, with showings Thurs., Nov. 15, 9:00 pm and Sat., Nov. 17, 4:00 pm, both at Landmark's Embarcadero Cinema in San Francisco.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2015 at 12:08 AM.

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    HIT THE ROAD, NONNA (Duccio Chiarnini 2011)

    DUCCIO CHIARINI: HIT THE ROAD, NONNA (2011)


    DELIA UBALDI AND DUCCIO CHIARINI IN HIT THE ROAD, NONNA

    Working girl makes good, leaves family behind

    Documentaries by relatives may show deep insight and certainly benefit from good access, but they also run the risk of bias. This "Nonna" (Grandma) is certainly an interesting personality apart from her problematic relationship with her family. As for the family, it's open to question what the root cause is of her son and daughter-in-law's apparent dislike for her. Was she simply always a "stronza" (mildly rendered as "bitch") as her son announces early on? Or does the family come to resent her partly just because she was so far from the traditional Italian "mamma"? This is a fascinating story, and the family certainly gets to have its say. Or at least the son, Alberto Chiarini, father of the filmmaker, ddoes. Delia Ubaldi, the mother and grandmother in question, was one of the first i first women entrepreneurs in the world of international pret-a-porter. She rode the postwar Italian boom of the 1950's to amass a vast fortune, which she later lost by involvement in a high fashion company with an unscrupulous German partner. To do this, she gave up the traditional role of wife and mother. Is this film about Delia's achievement and her quirky personality, or about her son's resentment? A little of both. The fact is there are many powerful women in Italian life. The "Mamma" is a formidable figure. Most of them don't make such a splash in international business. In Delia Ubaldi's case, it can't have been easy, and the drive it took may have made her hard. Or maybe she was a "stronza" all along.

    Delia Ubaldi's story is well chonicled by her grandson with a wealth of visuals, even some showing her in elementary school, and many recording milestones of her early life, including her two husbands (before the last, German one, twenty years her junior). When she was a small child Delia's parents took her with them to France, to the Lorraine, in the 1920's to work in farm and factory. Her mother must have had some of her own fierce determination, because the story is that when the time came to go to high school, she went to the good one, dumped a bag of potatoes on the principal's desk, and said she didn't have the money to pay for the school but wanted her daughter to get a good education and would pay in farm produce. Delia got a proper French education, which raised her above her family's peasant roots.

    She also learned German, and later moved back to Italy, slipping back with a handsome prisoner of war whom she married, and grew up fluent in three languages (she was to have three husbands too). Her language fluency was a major asset. First she worked at the post office, then a knitting mill, then she met with buyers and began in trading her own designs with big French, Italian, and German department stores. She traveled constantly, visiting fashion shows and making copies, knock-offs essentially, which she marketed to bargain hunters of moderate stores. Always on the go, "hitting the road," Delia lost good relations with the family, and seemed more like a visitor, and a disruption, than a caregiver. We get a fleeting idea of the factories, the deals, the multiple department stores, the husbands, the resentments. Duccio Chiarini, who's shown coming to visit the 88-year-old "nonna" at her home in a small German town, provides a wealth of illustrative material and a detailed chronology of the career, alternating along the way with interviews with his always disapproving father and mother, and plenty of family video footage of "happy" times together that as they tell it, weren't so happy.

    As a kind of climax, after making a billion lire in one year -- always pretending to her French clients that she was French -- and unwisely putting all her money into conspicuous display items (always according to Alberto) -- and owing at one time a castle in Florence, villas in Cannes and the chic "intellectual" Italian resort Forte dei Marmi, an apartment overlooking the Eiffel Tower, and more, she got into high fashion -- and into big financial and legal trouble. One of the Juschi stores she opened with her unscrupulous German partner, on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, is entered by Richard Gere in an important scene of Paul Schrader's 1980 film, American Gigolo. But the debuts incurred by the partner required Delia to sell most of her villas to pay. She did not go to jail. She married Klaus Voit, whom she met during the trial. It's Delia and Klaus whom Duccio visits at their house in the little winter resort German town, in the present time.

    There are conversations in which Delia muses on her life and expresses a fear of death. She is robust, still extraordinarily good looking at 88, but she becomes ill and goes to the hospital. The film trails off. It doesn't say so, but she died in February, 2012. There are enough stories to show she was, in fact, a bitch, at least in her daughter-in-law's eyes. She and her son used to summer with her at Forte dei Marmi, and at a club Delia pushed her son to flirt with other women. She and the daughter-in-law, who is anything but fashionable, didn't get along.

    Missing here are interviews with outsiders, more people whom Delia worked with, a more 360-degree image and a more thorough exploration of her business successes and the Juschi failure. Still, though claustrophobic in the telling, this is a juicy story about a formidable woman who by her own admission did not know when to stop or what she truly sought. Even in her eighties she and Klaus were forever on the move.

    Hit the Road, Nonna (press kit), 64min., was shown at Venice Days and won awards at Bologna and Florence festivals. It is showing in multiple overseas Italian film series and was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film society's New Italian Cinema series, Nov. 11-18, 2012, which showings Fri., Nov. 16, 4:30 pm and Sun, Nov. 18, 1:30 pm, both at Landmark’s Embarcadero Center Cinema.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2015 at 12:10 AM.

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    100 METERS TO HEAVEN (Rafaelle Verzillo 2012)

    RAFAELLE VERZILLO: 100 METERS TO HEAVEN (2012)


    LORENZO RICHELMY (CENTER) IN 100 METERS TO HEAVEN

    The Pope's team

    Verzillo's very mainstream, middle-brow Italian comedy concerns a monsignor at the Vatican who conceives the idea of publicizing the company brand by mounting a Vatican team to enter the London Olympics. If this were a film by Matteo Garrone or Paolo Sorrentino it would be steeped in complex 21st-century ironies. But though Verzillo jokes around and throws in some curse words, he means for us to take his premise straight. This is such a square movie it could almost have come from the Fifties. Consequently it is doomed to oblivion, despite the efforts of a competent cast featuring Jordi Mollà of Colombiana. This effort is not far from its director's TV comedy origins. However, as local reviews have noted, it's unusual for the Italian film industry to produce a "sports epic."

    The basic premise is a dubious and unusual scheme whose success requires suspension of disbelief. Young, energetic Monsignor Angelo Paolini (Domenico Fortunato) is a minor papal functionary with a bumptious enthusiasm. He is always dreaming up absurd gimmicks to update the image of the Catholic Church and communicate to the younger generation. These include jiggly-head Pope dolls, cell phone apps heralding the Virgin Mary and rap jingles -- all stuff his straight-laced superiors, like Monsignor Higgins (Ralph Palka) reject with annoyance. The idea of a Vatican Olympic team is something more solid. Angelo gets by his two superiors' objections by tricking each into thinking the other has approved it. He's helped in this by childhood friend and eager dad Mario Guarrazzi (Mollà), whose runner son's Olympic dreams he's pushed for years, and who now suddenly wants to become a priest.

    Mario is the classic parent trying to satisfy his frustrations through his child. He himself was a 100 meter champion, but never made it to the Olympics. Now he wants Tommaso (Lorenzo Richelmy) to achieve that dream, and he doesn't want Tommaso's recent decision to join a monastery to get in the way. It's when Mario begs Antonio to change Tommaso's mind that the monsignor has the brilliant idea of fielding a Vatican Olympic team. This would enable Mario's frustrated dream to come true and also promote the image of the Holy Sea to youth and to the world. And the 2012 London Olympics are coming up.

    The plot provides ample opportunities for humor, misunderstandings, hopes and color, the latter through some quick trips to such far-flung spots as Colombia, Brazil, and Chad to recruit priests or nuns with athletic talent. There's also a love interest for the frustrated Mario (Giulia Bevilacqua), and some scenes of finals. The whole idea isn't that far-fetched: after all, the Vatican City is, technically, an independent state.

    This is a perfectly pleasing movie, full of boisterous energy and well suited for a less discerning tube-trained audience.

    100 metri al Paradiso, 95min., was released in Italy May 11, 2012. It was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New Italian Cinema series, Nov. 11-18, 2012. Local showtimes Fri., Nov. 16, 6:30 pm and Sat., Nov. 17, 1:15 pm, both at Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema, San Francisco.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2015 at 12:09 AM.

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    THE CHERRY ON THE CAKE (Laura Morante 2012)

    LAURA MORANTE: THE CHERRY ON THE CAKE (2012)


    LAURA MORANTE, ISABELLE CARRÉ AND PASCAL ELBÉ IN THE CHERRY ON THE CAKE

    A dragged-out misunderstanding

    The beautiful veteran Italian film actress Laura Monrante has finally chosen to make her debut as a director with a rom-com -- in French. The so-so The Cherry on the Cake/La Cerise sur le gâteau depicts the amorous confusion of Amanda (Morante), a fifty-something woman living in Paris reputed to have man issues. Anthrophobic, her friends call her. It takes seemingly forever -- though the actual running time is only eighty-three minutes -- for Amanda to realize the nice guy she's met at a New Year's Eve party, sad-eyed Antoine (Pascal Elbé) isn't gay, and they can be more than just friends. Is it worth it? What might have been funny or psychologically enlightening is neither. This movie kicks around the same limited idea for its entire duration without ever getting anywhere with it. Cherry on the Cake has the usual Parisian movie gloss to make it attractive to arthouse film-goers, there are some sweet and poetic moments, and Morante and Elbé are almost a handsome couple. But those things are not enough since the screenplay is one-track and awlward and the movie never establishes a rhythm. Nobody on screen appears to be having much fun and you probably won't either.

    The setup is clumsy and confuses the issue. In the opening scene Amanda's current boyfriend Hubert (Frédéric Pierrot) botches a tête-à-tête birthday dinner for her completely. His present is a fancy cigarette lighter when only recently she's declared she's giving up smoking. A little cake comes with a big cherry on top -- and while she's at the lady's room, he eats the cherry. Problem is, discomfort with this apparent loser doesn't seem like anthrophobia, just good sense, and no other examples of Amanda's man aversion are provided. Then comes the December 31st party and the friendship develops between Amanda and Antoine, whose extreme reticence keeps him, for the duration of the movie, from explaining to her that she's mistaken about his being gay and he's really in love with her. Her friends seem to think she and Antoine hit it off so well because of the misunderstanding, which makes the relationship safe for her.

    This goes on, and on, and on. Some artificial suspense is created when Hubert's apartment-hunting efforts lead to a real find. He and Amanda have talked about moving in together; the cherry and lighter incidents apparently weren't that serious. He has discovered a beautiful, quiet place looking out on the water, with a fireplace and plenty of room, all she dreamed of having. She has to make up her mind in four days.

    I wish she'd taken the apartment, which is wonderful, and forgotten about Antoine. It seems a better bet. But Amanda really seems averse to commitment, more than to men.

    Amanda and Antoine's "friendship" is on and off. He remains too shy to break the misunderstanding but it sometimes becomes so uncomfortable for him that he just stops answering her her calls. At other times they are often together, dinners, movies, walks, long late night web chats, the lot. You'd think she'd have sense enough to realize there's more than a gay-straight pal thing going on here, but the screenplay stagnates. In fact Amanda and Antoine are so dumb you want to shake them. And it's not funny. They both go around wearing such dreary expressions whether together or apart that it seems uncertain whether they'll ever be happy whatever happens. Hubert and Amanda lose the dream apartment. Hubert gets pretty fed up with Amanda, and suggests she get a dog.

    Antoine pretends he's sick, with the help of a gay friend, to get to spend more time with Amanda. His shrink tells him to spill the beans to her about being straight, but he still can't do it. Would anyone this spineless be a fit lover? But of course if handled with real wit, this could all have been funny. Only it isn't.

    Amanda's agency works out a deal with an oil millionaire, Mr. Faysal -- played by an Italian called Ennio Fantastichini, who speaks English with a French accent. Apparently an Arab actor couldn't be found. Or maybe his fakeness is meant to be funny. It just seems cheesy.

    Finally when Amanda is about to stop seeing Antoine for some reason -- again -- he grabs her and kisses her, the charade ends, and they become lovers. A final scene suggests that's not going to work out either. Are we surprised?

    Laura Morante is fluent in French, though it might have been more fun if she had a heavy Italian accent. But above all it might be better to leave French romantic comedies to the French. Morante and her co-writer Daniele Costantini have made a hash of this. The stiff, grim Pascal Elbé seems a poor choice for the male lead. He and Laura are two sad sacks. Isabelle Carré makes little impression as Amanda's best friend, Florence.

    La Cerise sur le gâteau opened in Italy in April 2012 and in France in early May and was shown at Montreal. French reviews were poor (Allociné press rating 2.1; viewers rating even worse, 1.9). Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New Italian Cinema Series, Nov. 11-18, 2012 for which it is the closing night film, showing Sunday, Nov. 18, 6:30 pm and 9:15 pm at Landmark’s Embarcadero Theater in San Francisco.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2015 at 12:10 AM.

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