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Thread: SFFS New Italian Cinema Nov. 14-18, 2015

  1. #1
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    SFFS New Italian Cinema Nov. 14-18, 2015

    SFFS New Italian Cinema Nov. 14-18, 2015

    General Forum thread.

    Eleven films, four days, again at the historic Vogue Theater, presented by the San Francisco Film Society and sponsored by the NICE (New Italian Cinema Events) program with contributing sponsor including the Instituto Italiano di Cultura.

    Here is the program with the festival blurbs and links to my reviews.

    Full details on the SFFS's website here. The ones I will review or have reviewed are marked with an asterisk. Click on titles of those to find the reviews.

    The films are:

    Wondrous Boccaccio/Maraviglioso Boccaccio (Paolo Taviani, Vittorio Taviani 2015)
    Opening Night film
    In this lively adaptation of The Decameron, a group of young women and men hope to escape the Black Plague by journeying to the countryside where they tell one another stories, most of which center around the theme of forbidden love. The resulting concoction of multiple narratives, starring several well-known Italian actors such as Kim Rossi Stuart and Riccardo Scamarcio, is a splendid reminder of the joys of storytelling and the verdant delights of Tuscany.
    Wednesday, November 11, 2015, 6:00 p.m.

    *Youth (Paolo Sorrentino)
    Following up his universally heralded The Great Beauty (NIC 2013), Paolo Sorrentino returns again to contemplate life, love, aging and man’s continued search for happiness in this English-language tale starring Michael Caine as retired orchestra conductor Fred Ballinger and Harvey Keitel as film director Mick Boyle. The resulting film is a visual treat as the camera roams the nooks and crannies of its resort locale whose guests have come to contemplate beauty in its myriad forms.
    Wednesday, November 11, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

    *God Willing/Se Dio vuole (Edoardo Falcone 2015)
    2015 Davide di Donatello Award for Best New Director
    A young man’s religious awakening becomes the fulcrum for familial upheaval in this playful comedy-drama. When Andrea tells his parents he has something to tell them, they believe he’s going to come out as gay; instead, he confesses that he wants to be a priest, a far more shocking revelation to his arrogant, atheist father.
    Thursday, November 12, 2015, 6:30 p.m.

    Cloro (Chlorine) (Lamberto Sanfelice 2015)
    Delicately tracking how traumatic change can lead to newfound maturity and presenting a memorably defined sense of place, Cloro tells the story of 17-year-old synchronized swimmer Jenny who is uprooted by family misfortunes. Director Lamberto Sanfelice’s potent debut is told with care and precision, features a terrific performance by lead actor Sara Serraiocco and employs an intimate style reminiscent of the Dardenne brothers.
    Thursday, November 12, 2015, 8:30 p.m.

    Mediterranea (Jonas Carpignano 2015)
    SFFS / KRF Filmmaking Grant Winner
    Putting a personal face on the plethora of stories about African immigrants trying to make it to European shores, Mediterranea details the perilous journey of a young man named Ayiva from Burkina Faso to the southwestern Italian town of Rosarno. Told in vérité style and based on the real-life experiences of lead actor Koudous Seihon, the film offers a profoundly humanist reality to counteract the dismissive political rhetoric surrounding immigration.
    Friday, November 13, 2015, 6:30 p.m.
    US theatrical release (NYC) Nov. 20.

    *My Name Is Maya/Mi chiamo Maya (Marco Careri 2015 )
    In this vibrant portrait of urban street life and adolescent angst, two sisters lose their mother in a car accident. Faced with separate foster care situations that will put them in different countries, the girls run away, pursued by a caring social worker named Cecilia. Encountering a colorful cross-section of Roman citizens, including a handsome fire-eater and a dissolute tattoo artist, the siblings reckon with their circumstances.
    Friday, November 13, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

    Italo/Italo barocco (Alessio Scarso 2015)
    Director expected
    Based on a true story and a real dog, Italo focuses on a friendly golden retriever who displays an aversion to leashes and fences and prefers to roam the streets unguided, even though the Sicilian town he’s chosen has recently placed on a ban on strays. Displaying all the waggish charms of small-town life, Alessia Scarso’s touching film is sure to be beloved by connoisseurs of canine cinema.
    Saturday, November 14, 2015, 1:00 p.m.

    *I, Harlequin/Io, Arlecchino (Matteo Bini, Giorgio Pasotti 2015)
    Director expected
    A successful talk show host named Paolo steps into his father’s performing shoes in this rich and heartwarming film set in the world of commedia dell’arte that playfully reinvents that theatrical tradition for the 21st century. Learning to play the part of the mischievous servant known as Harlequin when his dad can no longer play the character due to health problems, the telegenic TV star gains a new respect for his old man’s life and work.
    Saturday, November 14, 2015, 3:45 p.m.


    *Partly Cloudy with Sunny Spells/Tempo instabile con probabili schiarite (Ute Leonhardt, Marco Valerio Pugini 2015)
    Director expected
    Satirizing small-town life and politics while telling the touchingly comic story of friends at an impasse, this film follows two founders of a manufacturing cooperative who discover oil on their factory’s property. Noted Italian actors Luca Zingaretti and Pasquale Petrolo shine as the two co-op leaders while John Turturro brings an effortless comedic polish to his role as a consulting mining engineer from the US who arrives with dollar signs in his eyes.
    Saturday, November 14, 2015, 9:30 p.m.

    Leopardi/Il giovane favoloso ("The Wunderkind") (Mario Martone 2014)
    Filmed in the actual house, library and streets where 19th-century Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi (played in an unforgettable performance by Elio Germano) lived, Mario Martone’s sumptuous period piece offers a scintillating depiction of the life and times of a young writer whose frail body could not keep pace with his intellect. Like Martone’s previous film, the historical epic We Believed (NIC 2013), Leopardi brings the past to life with sumptuous visuals and a propulsive narrative. See Variety review by Jay Weissberg [urlf=""]here[/url].
    Sunday, November 15, 2015, 12:30 p.m.

    *Mia Madre ("My Mother") (Nanni Moretti 2015)
    In Nanni Moretti’s latest moving and comedic work, a filmmaker named Margherita is directing a social-realist drama about a factory sit-in when her mother’s illness leads her to confront her own past. Compellingly delineating the burdens of balancing artistic and familial life, with a radiant central performance by Margherita Buy, Mia Madre also features John Turturro as an over-the-top Hollywood actor named Barry Huggins and Moretti himself as Margherita’s brother Giovanni.
    Sunday, November 15, 2015, 6:15 p.m.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-17-2015 at 01:39 PM.

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    YOUTH (Paolo Sorrentino 2015)


    [From my Paris Movie Journal, Oct. -Nov. 2015]


    Magnificent, yet a chore to watch

    A cloying cinephile's delight, Youth is glorious and static, ambitious and despairing, celebratory and ironic. It lacks the ebullient flow of Sorrentino's previous richly Italian film (starring his muse-collaborator Toni Servillo) The Great Beauty/La grande bellezza. But as it's less specific, it's arguably also more thoughtful, an occasionally arresting, if dry, meditation on life, death, and old age, And it's in English, which works very well, given the general artificiality of the film anyway. The cast featuring Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Paul Dano is impeccable, and Sorrentino has become a director whose films must be seen even when they aren't successes. The ideas here may wind up seeming trite. But as Mike D'Angelo said in his Cannes dispatch for The Dissolve, Sorrentino's powerfully cinematic style is "rooted entirely in editing, in the musical flow of images as they cascade across the screen," and if you love film, you'll want to savor the grandeur of that flow, even when the content doesn't satisfy.

    The setting is a spa hotel at the foot of the Swiss Alps. Fred (Michael Caine) and Mick (Harvey Keitel), are old friends, two kinds of director, orchestral and film, respectively. (Fellini's 8 1/2 may flicker unflatteringly across one's mind.) Fred has quit the game, "apathetic," he's told, due to the loss of his wife, Melanie, who used to sing his "Simple Songs," for which, like it or not, he is most known. Though Fred's to be knighted and a nervous emissary of the Queen (Alex Macqueen) comes to beg him, he refuses to conduct the "Simple Songs" for this occasion with another singer than Melanie. Fred is working on a movie that will be a summing up, but its lead and an old collaborator, the aging diva Brenda Morel (a bravely wrinkly Jane Fonda), is about to drop out, killing the project. Besides, Mick's quartet of young writers seem directionless. Meanwhile Fred's daughter Lena (Weisz) is dumped by her husband Julian (Ed Stoppard), who is Mick's son, for a pop singer (Paloma Faith, a real pop singer who according to Variety critic Jay Weissberg plays a caricature of herself) on the eve of a vacation trip and Lena resultantly stays on and (rather implausibly) sleeps in the same bed with Fred at the hotel, where they both have bad dreams. Some grande bellezza appropriate to aging oglers comes in the form of a Miss Universe who descends voluptuously endowed and totally nude into a pool where Fred and Mick are soaking.

    Like The Great Beauty in this respect but with less unity and energy in the flow, Youth is a series of tableaux. Sorrentino makes the most of the beautiful setting and posh hotel where the guests enjoy baths, swims, massages and daily medical tests. At the end Fred is told he has absolutely nothing wrong with him, even his prostate, though he and Mick exchange notes on how few drops they have peed that day. There is a jaded young actor (an unusually dashing Dano) with the picturesque name of Jimmy Tree, who's remembered only for playing a robot, just as Fred is known solely for his "Simple Songs." Occasionally there are songs by a pop singer. Occasionally we see an immensely obese former footballer with a giant Karl Marx tattoo on his back hobble around and do this and that. Once Fred conducts a herd of cows tinkling their cowbells. Several times the Queen's emissary comes to beg for Fred to conduct and he refuses. Several times the screenwriters think of lines for Mick's new film. Several times a young masseuse (Luna Mijovic) massages Fred, or, by herself, adopts dance poses. There is a Tibetan monk meditating in the greenery who's said to levitate, which Fred debunks (but finally he does levitate, higher up than Michael Keaton at the outset of Birdman). Fred and Mick bet on whether an elegant couple who dine every night at the hotel will speak to each other or not. Fred and Mick, who've known each other for 60 years, have lacunae in their knowledge of each other due to talking only of the good things.

    All this seems arbitrary and desultory enough, and that quality is not helped by Fred's apathy, which threatens to invade the viewer. Weissberg ingeniously links this film's spotty mix of scenes to the German romantic thinker Novalis, to whom Mick refers, and his "philosophy of fragments" and the idea that "fragments can often convey ideas more powerfully and subtly than grand statements." Indeed, but too many of them can lead to general blur, as here. Still it is wondrous to observe Sorrentino's increasingly baroque style and his control of detail. It was amusing to see how much, under Sorrentino's baton, Michael Caine begins to look like Toni Servillo, which makes one realize the extent to which Servillo at some of his greatest moments may have been largely Sorrentino's creation. (See how strangely he transformed Sean Penn in his oddball and largely inexplicable 2011 film This Must Be the Place.) Or course Michael Caine has no need of remaking, but as a cool, crabwise kind of final statement, this role is a noble one, for him, even if this movie, for all its style, feels grandly irrelevant.

    Youth/La Giovinezza, 118 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2015, and has been in other festivals big and small, including Karlovy, Toronto, Vancouver, London, Chicago, and Denver. It opened in France 9 Sept. 2015, and opens in the US (Fox Searchlight) 4 Dec., UK 29 Jan. 2016. AlloCiné press rating an excellent 4.9, but my touchstone French sources, Les Inrockuptibles and Cahiers du Cinéma, were extremely unimpressed. Screened for this review at Paris' historic La Pagode 23 Oct. 2015. Included in the SFFS-sponsored New Italian Cinema series at the Vogue Theater, San Francisco, Wednesday, November 11, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-12-2015 at 12:50 PM.

  3. #3
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    SE DIO VUOLE/GOD WILLING (Edoardo Maria Falcone 2015)



    "Comedy" around hip priest pushes trite "lesson"

    In Se Dio Vuole ("If God Wants"), Tommaso (Marco Giallini), a bossy, busy surgeon, gets turned around after his son Andrea (Enrico Oetiker), a promising medical student, suddenly declares he's decided to become a priest instead. Tommaso, who is an atheist, is furious, and seeks to subvert Andrea's plan by undermining the reputation of Don Pietro, the charismatic, trendy priest who has inspired Andrea. There are a few laughs, but this isn't really a comedy because it has too obvious an agenda. It's basically an advert for hip modern Italian Catholicism. The priest, who melts Tommaso's resistance, is played by by hottie actor Alessandro Gassman. The Tommaso-Don Pietro bromance doesn't convince; it's merely the result of Don Pietro's patient and relentless pushing of his program (also the movie's). This hokey relationship is at the heart of the film's lack of rhythm or momentum and moves jerkily toward a trite "lesson" about acknowledging fallibility and giving God a chance.

    The presence of Laura Morante as Carla, Tommaso's fed-up wife, reminds one of a similar role she played in Carlo Verdone's funny comedy of attempted partner-swapping, Love Is Eternal While It Lasts /L'Amore è eterno finché dura. Verdone's more mainstream, ordinary comedy may inform us about contemporary Italian mores surrounding marriage and adultery with its speed-dating sequences, but it has no agenda. Instead it's just funny and alive with Verdone's brand of vernacular Roman humor. Edoardo Maria Falcone's sappy prosteletyzing masked as comedy is another example of the rut Italian movies have been in lately. Of course Verdone is not vintage Italian film comedy: for that one must go back the the Fifties and Sixties. But his film shows Italian movies can still be fun.

    As Tommaso Giallini is smooth, vigorous, but essentially colorless. The most one can say for Gassman is that he is so suave and charismatic, his priest's glib platitudes seem to fall away and leave him unscathed. The film ends with an ambiguous Hallmark moment where the skeptic seems to have become a believer due to the power of fate (and bad driving).

    Se Dio vuole/If God Wills, 85 mins., opened theatrically in Italy 9 April 2015. It was screned for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New Italian Cinema series presented at the Vogue Theater in San Francisco, Thursday, November 12, 2015, 6:30 p.m.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-12-2015 at 12:51 PM.

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    MY NAME IS MAYA/MI CHIAMO MAYA (Marco Careri 2015)



    Two sisters' briefly escape from foster care in this slight coming-of-age tale

    In this attractive but slight film set mostly in Rome two young sisters are left alone when their briefly charismatic mother (who's great with horses) is killed in a car accident. Since social services are compelled to put them in separate foster care, even send one of them to America, because they have different fathers, they decide to run away together. Most of the time is spent with 16-year-old Niki (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) and serves as a kind of high speed coming of age story. Her 8-year-old sister Alice (Melissa Monti) is relegated to the background. In the course of three days Niki gets a piercing and a punk hairdo and loses her virginity with a handsome young street performer, a mangia-fuoco (fire eater, played by Giovanni Anzaldo, recently seen in Paolo Virzì's Human Capital), perhaps falls in love. She doesn't find a new life but she certainly tries on grownup lifestyles for a vengeance. How much of a stretch for her these are we hardly know since we saw little of her pre-runaway life. As all this is going on a dorky, nice social worker called Ceci is gently in the background.

    he film as a whole is mildly colorful, but has little emotional heft. There are no real hard knocks -- not even emotional ones -- and the setups occasionally, sometimes obviously, strain credulity. The girls' life with their mother is vaguely glamorous, and seems to revolve around horses. Mom is seen taming an unruly stallion men can't seem to calm down. All the horses are beautiful thoroughbreds. Later the girls talk about how nice it was in the Camargue, around all the wild horses. Did they do anything else? Of course the accident that kills their mother is a hard knock. But we are clearly warned that it's coming. Mom leads the girls in one of those cliché mad in car singalongs and it's obvious she's not paying attention to her driving. Lookout! Yet the event is shown from above to indicate it's not her fault but the other driver's. That little Alice gets a broken arm, and Niki is unscathed, while the mom is instantly killed, is -- miraculous.

    So are, in a milder way, the things that happen from there on. The girls just happen to run into the two young women they know who lead to the adventures. For young female viewers, this might add up to an entertaining film, but its content is a bit thin for adults.

    All the attention is on the teen coming-of-age adventures of Nike (who when dolled up calls herself Niki on a whim), with a little screen time given to the shy, nice social worker on the girls's case, Ceci (the
    handsome Valeria Solarino done up to look plain). Other cast members provide momentary local color. The film's best aspect is its authentic use of locations, which shows the filmmaker's (and dp Davide Manca's) solid documentary experience; but Niki's adventures don't go beyond the conventional for such tales.

    My Name Is Maya/Mi chiamo Maya, 95 mins., debuted Apr.-May 2015 at BA Film Festival, Cineteca Milano, and Rome Independent Film Festival. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New Italian Cinema series where it was shown to the public Friday, November 13, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-15-2015 at 02:29 AM.

  5. #5
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    I, HARLEQUIN (Giorgion Pasotti, Matteo Bini 29014)


    TV host drawn back to the roots of theater by his father's demise

    Giorgio Pasotti may not be quite a leading man, but there's something undeniably sexy about him. And he's had an interesting life outside acting, having so excelled in martial arts as a youth he studied them in China as a teenager and lingered to play in wu xia films there, then returned as a sportsman to Italy. His story has parallels with that of Mark Salzman, who studied Chinese and martial arts in China, and played himself in a film made from his autobiographical book about his experiences, Iron and Silk. Salzman and Pasotti were both in China around the same time, in the late Eighties, Only after costarring in Muccino's successful The Last Kiss did Pasotti declare himself an actor. Now at forty-two, Pasotti has costarred in a new movie that he also directed, in collaboration with Matteo Bini, called I, Harleuin/Io, Arlequino.

    I, Harlequin is about Paolo (Pasotti), an actor with a successful but essentially mediocre career as a TV show host who returns to his native Bergamo, near Milan (Pasotti's actual home town) to be with his dying father, Giovanni (Roberto Herlitzka). This father is a veteran of the most antique and classic form of acting there is, commedia dell'arte, and specializes in playing that free spirit, the masked figure, the Harlequin.

    If this is a self-reflective midlife crisis metaphor for Pasotti about returning to roots and rejecting the relative superficiality of his own thespian involvements, that had interesting possibilities, even if they've not quite been realized. But Italian critics of I, Harlequin are no more enthusiastic than I can be. The consensus is that the best thing about the movie without question is Herlitzka. Apart from his authority as Harlequin, Giovanni and Paolo are lookalikes. Pasotti still has a mop-headed, long-necked, lean athleticism that makes him very youthful, but Herlitzka's lean frame, beak nose, and strong cheekbones do give him and Pasotti a strong family resemblance. Herlitzka is an actor of understated, natural authority.

    Giovanni is gnarly, but still vigorous. Though his local doctor has told him that his condition is beyond treatment, he refuses to acknowledge his cancer and focuses on commedia dell'arte as always, now planning a big performance in a grand old theater in the city that has magically become available. Actually Paolo, who has the influence and the means, has arranged it as a kind of farewell offering, and his father knows this. The charm of the all-too-brief commedia dell'arte sequences lies in Herlitzka's performances, particularly his legendary "fly" routine, reminiscent of French mime, and the excitement of the younger actors in his troupe, including the young woman, Cristina (Valeria Bilello), the big-haired younger clown (Eugenio De Giorgi), and a black actor (Harouna Dabré). Another young supernumerary is Paolo's egocentric girlish fidanzata Francesca (Lavinia Longhi), whom he's finding TV opportunities for. Unfortunately these characters aren't individualized much, nor are the rich details of commedia dell'arte brought out. And Italian critics have been merciless about the filmmaking here, damning the collaboration with the equally under-experienced Bini (who's only done shorts and documentaries), calling the lighting and camerawork mediocre, and pointing out that framing and music have spoiled some of Giovanni's best moments. That didn't strike me so much. It was just that the action lacks weight. Nothing comes of the contrasts between father's and son's lives.

    A clearly ineffectual element of the story is the TV show. Paolo must meet back in Rome with his director and coproducers, etc., but none of that matters to us very much; it is merely noise. What matters is what's happening in Bergamo. But that's until Giovanni dies. Then, Paolo must go back to his show in Rome, and when he insists on playing Harlequin in the Bergamo theater in the place of his father, things change. It's a fairytale, symbolic ending, but it's charming. And Pasotti's physicality carries off his commedia dell'arte turn quite nicely. Perhaps this is a predictable wish-fulfillment and a too-easy declaration of freedom, but it's a fresh, lighthearted and original second half.

    Apart a few major figures -- Matteo Garrone, Paolo Sorrentino, and Marco Bellocchio -- and Bernardo Bertolucci is still in the game -- in the lifeless, bland state of Italian cinema today many directors seem like accomplished mediocrities. Pasotti hasn't joined either group officially yet. He's simply thrown his hat and mask into the game.

    I, Harlequin/Io, Arlequino, 85 mins., debuted Oct. 2014 at the Rome Film Festival. It opend in Italian theaters Jun. 11, 2015. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New Italian Cinema series, showing to the public at the Vogue Theater Sat., Nov. 14, 2015, 3:45 p.m.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-16-2015 at 11:13 PM.


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