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Thread: NEW ITALIAN CINEMA in San Francisco, Nov. 30-Dec. 2, 2028

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  1. #1
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    NEW ITALIAN CINEMA in San Francisco, Nov. 30-Dec. 2, 2028

    San Francisco's annual New Italian Cinema series is programmed by New Italian Cinema Events (NICE), which has long performed this role of showing new Italian films in a small festival in New York and San Francisco with the aim of promoting new Italian cinema to a sympathetic American audience. Viviana del Bianco is director of the Florence-based organization. Filmleaf will again provide coverage of this series.

    The Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco +
    New Italian Cinema Events (N.I.C.E) of Florence, Italy Present:

    New Italian Cinema
    November 30-December 2, 2018
    At the Vogue Theatre in San Francisco



    LINKS TO Filmleaf Festival Coverage REVIEWS:
    As Needed/Quanto basta (Francesco Falaschi 2018)
    Boys Cry/La terra dell'abbastanza (Damiano e Fabio d'Innocenza 2018)
    Call, The/La convocazione (Enrico Maisto 2018)
    Easy/Un viaggio facile facile (Andrea Magnani 2017)
    Here and Now/L'Assoluto presente (Fabio Martina 2017)
    Hotel Gagarin (Simone Spada 2018)
    Last Italian Cowboys, The/Gli ultimi butteri (Walter Bencini 2018)
    Last Prosecco, The/Finché c'è Prosecco c'è speranza (Antonio Padovan 2017)
    Manuel (Dino Albertini 2018)
    Open to the Public/Aperti al pubblico (Sillvia Bellotti 2018)

    Special Screenings – Eventi Speciali:

    Opening Night Film, Friday, November 30, 6:30pm at the Vogue Theatre
    AS NEEDED (Quanto basta), 92 minutes
    Francesco Falaschi’s delightful romp takes us on a culinary road trip to Florence, culminating in a contest for young cooks. Arturo (Vinicio Marchioni) is a veteran chef with minor anger management problems who, after a short stint in prison, performs community service at a school for teens with Asperger’s. His students are eager to learn, especially Guido (Luigi Fedele), a young man who remembers every ingredient in every recipe. Arturo delays his move to Milan to cook in a sleek restaurant when the opportunity arises to accompany Guido to a cooking competition in Tuscany’s capital. Complicating matters is the fact that the president of the jury, celebrity chef Daniel Marinari (Nicola Siri), is Arturo’s hated ex-business partner and Guido’s social worker, Anna (Valeria Solarino), is Arturo’s unexpected romantic love interest. As Arturo confronts his past and Guido faces the pressure of competition, their initially contentious relationship evolves into a friendship that make both question their values. The Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists awarded the Graziella Bonacchi Award to Luigi Fedele for his exceptional performance in this film that celebrates neurodiversity.
    Director Francesco Falaschi will attend the screening.

    Closing Night Films, Sunday, December 2, 7:15pm at the Vogue Theatre

    The festival ends with two documentaries that won awards at Italy’s documentary film festival, Festival dei Popoli: THE CALL, directed by Enrico Maisto and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC, directed by Silvia Bellotti. Director Silvia Bellotti will attend the Closing Night Screening. The Closing Night screening will also include the announcement of the festival’s City of Florence Award for the best feature film in competition.

    THE CALL (La Convocazione), 56 minutes
    Directed by Enrico Maisto
    The police personally deliver notices to appear to jurors assigned to Milan’s Court of Assize, which tries the most notorious crimes and massacres in Italy. At 10 a.m., sixty tense Italians take their places in the court’s somber chamber, where the lead judge addresses them. THE CALL, a beautifully shot and scored cinema vérité film, observes with profound humanity these unknown jurors tasked with the highest civil responsibility. Enrico Maisto’s documentary is an exceptional chronicle of that special day when a citizen comes into direct contact with the administration of justice. The Call was awarded Best Mid-length Documentary at Hot Docs and the Premio MyMovies Audience Award at Festival dei Popoli.

    Followed by (without an intermission):

    OPEN TO THE PUBLIC (Aperti al pubblico), 60 minutes
    Directed by Silvia Bellotti; director in person on Closing Night
    The social housing authority of Naples manages the 40,000 public housing units of the city and province. Its offices, open twice a week, become the stage of vigorous verbal arguments between the employees—whose task is to apply norms and regulations with impartiality—and the multitudes of applicants who need help with housing. The people who apply for assistance are a diverse and quirky group, often living in existential and personal conditions that defy classification, thus presenting cases that cannot be easily solved. The beleaguered but kind social workers, who are truly on the front lines dealing with Naples’ impoverished citizens, face the system’s deficiencies with creative solutions, open hearts, and occasionally fraying patience. Bellotti takes on the bureaucratic process with humor, pathos, and a keen sense of humanity. Open To The Public won the Premio del Pubblico (Audience Award) at the 2017 Festival dei Popoli.

    City of Florence Award Competition films:

    Boys Cry (La terra dell'abbastanza)
    Directed by Fabio and Damiano D’Innocenzo, Sunday, December 2, 2:15pm, Vogue Theatre
    Matteo Olivetti and Andrea Carpenzano turn in stellar performances as Mirko and Manolo, best friends who live with their single parents in a tough neighborhood of a Roman suburb. They are still in school, training to be caterers or barmen or something useful, and making minimum wage delivering pizzas. An accident sets off a chain of events, propelling them from good-natured, roughhousing buddies to thugs on the bottom rung of the local gang’s ladder, facing increasingly difficult choices.

    Easy (Un viaggio facile)
    Directed by Andrea Magnani, Saturday, December 2, 4:30 pm, Vogue Theatre
    Isidoro, known as Easy, is lonely and depressed after an unexplained weight gain ends his career as a go-kart driver. When his brother Filo offers him a job so he can get out of the house and behind the steering wheel again, Easy accepts. The assignment seems simple, but the journey is epic: He has to ferry a coffin (containing the body of a worker) from Italy to a small village in the Carpathians, in Ukraine. Easy was nominated for Best Actor and Best New Director at the David di Donatello Awards and won the Jury Prize for Best Actor at the Monte Carlo Comedy Film Festival.

    Here and Now (L’assoluto presente)
    Directed by Fabio Martina, Friday, Saturday, December 1, 1:30 pm, Vogue Theatre
    Three young friends drive through the dark streets of Milan in Cosimo’s new black SUV. Eager to live up to his aspired bravura, Cosimo suddenly stops the car near a park where he and his buddies attack a random passer-by—in a frenzy of blows and imagined power. The real protagonist of the film is the vague emptiness that crosses the faces and bodies of these young men. Here and Now, a modern-day I Vitelloni on steroids, is a compelling portrait of youth who roam the streets in search of meaning. See review by Giancarlo Zappoli in

    Hotel Gagarin (Hotel Gagarin)
    Directed by Simone Spada, Saturday, December 1, 8:15 pm, Vogue Theatre
    A crooked producer dupes five hopeful Italians into traveling to Armenia to shoot a film. Nicola (Giuseppe Battiston), a rumpled history teacher, can’t believe his script will actually be produced, while flighty Patrizia (Silvia D’Amico) embraces her unexpected acting career. Their shooting location, the secluded, wintry Hotel Gagarin, becomes home when they are marooned in Armenia for months because of a military skirmish. There, this fine ensemble cast (including Luca Argentero, Barbora Bobulova and Claudio Amendola) find unexpected opportunities for creativity and happiness. Preceded by the short film THE WHOLE WORLD, ONE STEP AT A TIME.

    The Last Italian Cowboys (Gli ultimi butteri)
    Directed by Walter Bencini, Saturday, December 1, 3:45 pm, Vogue Theatre
    Walter Bencini’s beautifully shot documentary, a love song to the Maremma region of Italy, profiles the butteri, or cowboys, who work on one of the last ranches that breeds cattle and horses in the wild. Shot over the changing seasons in an area that stretches between southern Tuscany and northern Lazio, the film chronicles the lives of these amiable weather-beaten wranglers, their synchronicity with the rhythms of the land, and their relationship with the animals they steward. For anyone who loves the Tuscan countryside, this film’s exquisite lensing provides a close-up of sweeping vistas of the Tyrrhenian Sea, bucolic shots of cows (and the cowboys reciting their names), and a unique perspective on how an organic, free-range ranch carries out Italy’s slow food traditions.

    The Last Prosecco (Finché c'è prosecco c'è speranza)
    Directed by Antonio Padovan, Saturday, December 1, 6:00 pm, Vogue Theatre
    Antonio Padovan’s witty thriller unravels on the hills of Valdobbiadene, where Prosecco grapes grow. The film features Rade Serbedzija as a count fighting to protect his terroir and Giuseppe Battiston as a stubborn police inspector who has a murder to solve. The Last Prosecco has all of the elements of a good whodunit: politics, greed, multiple murders, and a cast of potential culprits, including the count’s mistress (Silvia D’Amico), his estranged South American daughter (Liz Solari), and his longtime housekeeper (Giselle Burinato). The Last Prosecco explores the lure of the vineyards, the effervescence of bubbles, and the conflict between those who are driven to exploit the environment and those who are called to protect it at all costs.
    Documentary Presentations (in addition to the two Closing Night documentaries)

    Manuel (Manuel)
    Directed by Dario Albertini, Sunday, December 2 12:00 pm (noon), Vogue Theatre
    At 18, after a five-year sojourn, Manuel leaves the education center where he was placed after his mother was jailed. He is unusually focused on his main objective: taking responsibility for his mother so that the two remaining years of her sentence will be commuted to house arrest. Shot in a neorealist style, Manuel features a stand out performance by Andrea Lattanzi as a sweet young man who desperately wants to do the right thing. MANUEL was a triple winner at the Montpellier Mediterranean Film Festival (Best Film, Critics' Prize, and Student Jury Prize).

    The Whole World, One Step At A Time (Tutto il mondo piano piano)
    Directed by Gianmarco D’Agostino, Saturday, December 1, 8:15 pm, Vogue Theatre
    Many years ago, Rudy left his wealthy life in Italy, choosing to live in Bangladesh and assist homeless children there. His friend, Alex, joined him and together they built schools where poor children could receive education and healthcare. D’Agostino’s short documentary profiles the lives of Bangladeshi children, who are eager to learn in a harsh environment where access even to something as basic as potable drinking water is not assured. Together with their Bangladeshi counterparts, Alex and Rudy challenge poverty, corruption, and violence with care and love. This is a story about how every man can change his life by trying to change the world. The whole world, one step at a time.

    Documentary Presentations from Festival dei Popoli

    Tickets: General Public $14; Seniors, Students, Disabled: $13; Italian Cultural Institute members: $12.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-26-2018 at 06:04 PM.

  2. #2
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    AS NEEDED/QUANTO BASTA (Francesco Falaschi 2018)




    The centerpiece of this charming little film is an Italian dish called Timballo. The star is a young man called Guido. With his pursed lips and sly eyes, and his perfect focus, Guido, in the person of the actor Luigi Fedele, is like a young Daniel Day-Lewis. His every gesture counts. His key declaration is this: "Il mondo ha più bisogno di un perfetto spaghetti al pomodoro che d'un bronzino al ciocolato" ("The world needs a perfect spaghetti with tomato sauce more than it needs sea bass in chocolate sauce"), a dictum he proudly attributes to "my master, Chef Arturo Cavalieri."

    Guido is an aspiring chef. Arturo Cavalieri is a fallen three-star chef whose anger issues have landed him in jail, but who gets early release for community service, whicch takes the congenial form of coaching a group of cooking students with Asperger's. Guido emerges as gifted. He can correctly identify by the smells every ingredient of any dish he's offered. Because of his gift and his precision in the kitchen, the awkward but handsome Guido is permitted to go off to compete in the Young Tuscan Chef contest, with Arturo as his coach and minder.

    The Timballo is an Italian baked dish consisting of pasta, rice, or potatoes, with one or more other ingredients included. When Guido makes the final bake-off with one other young contestant, the dish to be prepared is a Timballo with pasta. Every ingredient provided by the organizers must be used, and the final one is a crinkly cellophane bag of - chocolate. Guido refuses to add it, thus ceding victory to his opponent. But the sense of the scene is that Guido has the admiration of the audience, and of Arturo's own master, Celso (Alessandro Haber), who is also present, and after publicly tasting both Timballos, takes away Guido's chocolate-free one to savor it at his leisure and declares that the use of chocolate in the dish to be "pure heresy."

    Guido belongs with such off beat winners-by-losing in real life as Ivo Pogorelich, the pianist eliminated from the Chopin competition at Warsaw in 1980. The great Martha Argerich walked off the jury in protest, and Ivo became world-famous. Or three years ago the young self-taught Lucas Dubargue, who came in only number four in the Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow, but became the contestant most talked about since.

    It's of secondary importance that Guido's on the autism spectrum (though actual persons with autism may not be happy with such a representation). It simply means that, like most geniuses, he has to be handled with care, and his abilities are special. Guido's story questions easy descriptions of handicapped or gifted. Like an average boy, he longs most for a job and a girlfriend. This is also a comeback story for Arturo, whose damaged reputation means his only way back is to start his own restaurant. He is negotiating for that through the other action. And the followup a year later is satisfying. As Needed is a conventional feel-good picture, but it blends the ingredients in just the right proportions and has an arresting and appealing young protagonist.

    As Needed/Quanto basta,92 mins., written by Filippo Bologna and Ugo Chiti with help from director Falaschi and Federico Sperindei, was released in Italy 5 April 2018 and in Hungary in August. Luigi Fedele won the "emerging talent" award from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists. The film was screened for this review as part of the 2018 San Francisco New Italian Cinema series, showing opening night, Fri. 30 Nov. at 6:30 p.m.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-25-2018 at 10:46 PM.

  3. #3
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    Thrill seeking youths in the cold city

    In a film inspired by a news story from Verona in 2004, three young friends aged twenty drive through the dark streets of Milan in a new black SUV. Full of aspirational bravura, the driver of the vehicle suddenly stops near a park where he and his pals attack an innocent person they met earlier in the day in a frenzy of blows and imagined power. Nothing is so evident as the young men's lack of affect or purpose. Here and Now has been called "a modern-day I Vitelloni on steroids." It is a portrait of youth without purpose, seeking meaning in random violence.

    Here and Now achieves some moments of genuine edge and shock unusual in contemporary Italian cinema, though it's overall effect remains rather patchy. The three youths are Cosimo, or Cosimino as his friends call him (Yuri Casagrande), Riccardino (Claudia Veronesi - i.e., he is played by a she) and Giovanni (Gil Giuliani). Cosimino is a would-be tough guy. He has a rich, powerful father, he has a shaved head, he has the expensive black SUV his rich and powerful father (whom he gets on well with) has just given him, and he has the desire to make trouble. When he first appears he is working out with weights. Then he gets the SUV. He seems energetic, threatening, and dangerous, except that there is a smile that plays about his face much of the time that softens it. For a while he meets up with an older brother, who makes a lot of noise and kisses and embraces him. Riccardino is giggly, almost hysterical. Giovanni is depressed.

    It is Giovanni who is given the lengthiest segment by himself, an episode that may be more metaphorical than real. Giovanni is the son of a famous photographer. We learn that when he takes a train to visit an institute of photography where he is looking for admission. He rides with a plump, unprepossessing young man, also with a portfolio, also going to the photography institute, who is totally awed to learn who Giovanni's father is. This harmless young man goes to the bathroom and leaves his portfolio with Giovanni for safe-keeping. Giovanni takes the photos, rips them up, and throws them out the window. When Giovanni gets to his interview, the official dismisses the photos he shows as technically accomplished, but unimaginative, lacking in individuality. This seems to fulfill Giovanni's own expectations to the hilt.

    In fact, when Giovanni is with Cosimino and Riccardino in the SUV, they mock Giovanni for his passivity. He never does anything but take photos, they say. But is that a criticism? isn't that what a photographer does? Is Giovanni's flaw that he is passive, or that he is a photographer? Everything involving Giovanni is one-note and over-written.

    Another sequence shows Cosimino showing his two pals the spacious empty floor of a new building, which he says will become his office. Here is a moment when, in fact, they take a step away from the "here and now" and look to the future. Cosimino seems to have a promising future guaranteed to him, while Giovanni will presumably only go on being depressed and Riccardino, from what Cosimino mockingly tells him, will just be an underling sent out for coffee.

    Throughout, the film emphasizes new skyscrapers when it shows the skyline of Milan, which in Fabio Martina's vision becomes no different from any modern city, in Australia, perhaps, instead of the old, elegant Italian center of economics and fashion. Perhaps this film would feel more authentic if shot in South America. Why should Milan be turned into a generic city?

    Cosimino and Riccardino seem to share a giddiness, except that Riccardino seems (not surprisingly, since he is played by a female) effeminate, and borderline hysterical, while Cosimino at least wants to seem macho. But this is a film that ultimately seems itself giddy and excited, and not ultimately sure where it wants to be going. An editorial essay on the film on the website CameraLook cites the philosopher Umberto Galimberti as the source of the title, and attributes to him the statement that today's youth fear the uncertainty of the future and hence escape into an "absolute present." CameraLook links the film with the void we encounter in Antonioni's L'Avventura and Rossellini's Germania anno zero. It sees similarities in Gus Van Sant's Elephant. All this may be true, but that doesn't make Martina's Here and Now cohere in its own "here and now."

    Here and Now/L'Assoluto presente, 90 mins., debuted in Italy in Dec. 2017. It was screened for this review as part of the 2018 San Francisco New Italian Cinema series, where it shows Sat. 1 Dec. at 1:30 p.m.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-25-2018 at 10:50 PM.

  4. #4
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    "Si ruba cogli occhi" (You steal with the eyes)

    The guy tells us right away: they are not Italian "cowboys." They are "butteri." In Argentina (and other South American countries) there are the "gauchos." In Hungary there are the "zigos." In America there are the "cowboys." And in Italy there are the "butteri." E basta.

    Once in a while a documentary comes along about something special and unique that is beautifully made, and this is such a documentary. This is an absolutely stunning documentary, and it is not yet listed on IMDb. It is as beautiful as it is filled with specific information, so it is richly informative and also aesthetically satisfying and thought provoking. It is not the new kind of intensive observation like those of Harvard's Sensory Ethnography Lab (Sweetgrass, Foreign Parts, People's Park, Leviathan), but of the more conventional kind, and there is much dependence on talking heads and voiceover narration by participants. But the tapestry is rich and the mood at times is enchanting, thanks to continually beautiful visuals of cattle, horses, men, and varied landscape, and the emerging sense of a way of life that is as tough-mindedly practical as it is moral and aesthetic.

    Alberese, in the Tuscan Maremma, is home to the last three remaining butteri, heroic men who still rear cattle in the wild, living examples of the possibility of redemption between humans and nature. They speak of the legends, Augusto Imperiali, Italo Molinari, and Mario Petrucci. The eyes of these men and their animals reflect the feeling they have of living a life with meaning, a life that they will never give up. Two young men have joined the group to learn this traditional craft, a tough job that few can do. Only one of them will make it. The future of this ancient world will lie in his hands.

    When we think of cowboys we think of vast western lands, and of course the Wild West, the frontier, Indians. The butteri reside in the Maremma region, a coastal area of western central Italy bordering the Tyrrhenian Sea. It was adapted and tamed in the past as a place where men could cultivate with animals and live in harmony with them (It was a malarial region, but that was ended by the Second World War.) It includes much of south-western Tuscany and part of northern Lazio. It is a civilized region, and a beautiful one, to which Walter Bencini's camera does full justice. The men we meet are civilized and dedicated, responsible raisers of cattle who, we learn early on, make a point of knowing the names of all the cattle and knowing the names of their mothers and grandmothers, and can recognize them by the contours of their horns, or their stride. Ever see that talked about in a Western?

    The young ones still hanker after it. The special, closed world. When the older ones say "Si ruba cogli occhi," you steal with the eyes, they refer to the fact that the old timers would never answer questions, you just had to observe them. An old timer provides background, how the region was developed under fascism, how most of the butteri then came from the Veneto region. This is an exclusive, macho world, whose toughness and pride are reinforced by making it hard to enter. An old timer scoffs at the idea of accepting a woman, because he thinks the work of today's butteri has become too physically demanding.

    Not only are the horses and the cattle and the land beautiful, but the men have a style that would make Ralph Lauren green with envy, a seasoned, unpretentious but inimitable elegance. They wear brimmed hats, but not the cowboy kind. They wear boots and leather chaps and vests, that look like a million dollars, or thousands of dollars of goods from Filson, the pricy Seattle outdoor and work outfitters.

    "The passion you have for this work is also a passion for these animals," says a buttero, and they speak of the satisfaction they take in training a horse, while another says his greatest love has turned out to be for the cattle. The men are uncomplicated, perhaps, but they are articulate in expressing the significance of their interaction with animals as the essential joy of their profession.

    Bencini divides the film into seasons, and also uses aerial drone shots for a new look at herding, both diagrammatic and beautiful. As time goes on, we also learn that the work of the buttero done at this farm is harder than ever, because they do more of the tasks of the farm, and don't just ride around on their horses all day as they did in the old days. The work requires absolute love and determination. Like being a classical musician, it requires that you start at it very young and that you have a natural gift for it combined with a passion that never lets up. And in this case, the salary isn't much. So when they put out a call for applicants, it's not 120 who turn up but 12, and of those only a couple are real possibilities. Through the course of the film, which was shot over a period of several years, we see only three full-fledged butteri and two younger aspirants, one of whom withdraws from the work after two years.

    This way of working with the animals, horses and cattle, out in nature, is what in principle everybody wants: it's natural, organic, slow food, all the good stuff. But in the distance faintly we hear the rumbling of machines, and the most experienced buttero of the farm who is the most authoritative narrator, and has the longest memory, can also anticipate the time in his children's lives that this way of life will fade away. With that Bencini's image itself of butteri on their horses managing the cattle, it too fades away. A fitting ending for a tough-minded but romantic film.

    The Last Italian Cowboys/Gli ultimi butteri, 95 mins., was released 18 Jun., 2018, distributed by Istituto Luce Cinecittà and Berta Film. Screened for this review as part of the New Italian Cinema series in San Francisco, where it shows Sat. 1 Dec. 2018 at 3:45 p.m.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-25-2018 at 10:53 PM.

  5. #5
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    Sleuth du terroir

    Somewhere along the way I lost track of the various narrative threads of Antonio Padovan’s Italian provincial thriller/mystery. But with this kind of mystery, what counts is the atmosphere, and the main characters, aand these are all pretty good. The winemaker of noble birth whose demise begins the action, Count Desiderio Ancillotto (Rade Serbedzija), has a rough elegance that is irresistible. We know he is right, and cool, whatever he is saying or thinking, and we know his anger is justified. He disappears early on, but his spirit presides over the action that follows.

    The count's death seems obviously self-inflicted. We see him sit on a tombstone and quaff a bottle of his own prosecco and wash down a bottle full of pills. But soon there are a couple of murders. Authorities tell us the Italian white wine called prosecco can be spumante (sparkling), frizzante (semi-sparkling), or tranquillo (still, or literally "quiet"). For the Count it winds up being very tranquillo indeed.

    Stucky, the fledgling inspector on the case, as played by the very large (in height and girth) and currently very busy Italian actor Giuseppe Battiston, is the kind of guy you want to follow around. He is a giant teddy bear of a man, and his physicality inspires confidence, while his uncertainty as a detective awakens our sympathies. He is Persian-Italian, and watever that means, it's part of the layered complexity of a story that's meant to tease and perplex us.

    The other star of the film is the rolling hills of Valdobbiadene, in the Veneto, a region, like so many in Italy, so photogenic it makes you wonder why you stopped going over every fall.

    The Last Prosecco has evil polluters, political manipulation, a crazy man in a graveyard scraping off rust and talking to the dead. He may know someting. There are three women, the count's mistress (Silvia D’Amico, who will be demoted to prostitute in Hotel Gagarin), his long-absent daughter (Liz Solari), who's been living in South America, and his bossy housekeeper (Giselle Burinato). When the housekeeper orders Stucky to get out, and he doesn't, and stays to talk to the daughter, we realize he has some authority, after all. This is an environmental drama whose resonance is considerably enhanced by the beauty of the local location where the popular prosecco, sometimes a substitute for champagne and also used in the Bellini and spritz cocktails, is made. This is Padovan's first feature after a series of prize-winning shorts. He was schooled in film in New York, and made a short documentary about the tidal wave and earthquake in Japan. He returned to his native Italy to make this film in 2016.

    The Last Prosecco/Finché c'è prosecco c'è speranza ("As long as there is prosecco there is hope"), 101 mins., debuted in Italy in Oct. 2017. Screened for this review as part of the New Italian Cinema series in San Francisco, where it plays at the Vogue Theater Sat., 1 Dec. at 6:00 p.m.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-03-2018 at 05:32 PM.

  6. #6
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    HOTEL GAGARIN (Simone Spada 2017)



    An Armenian dream factory

    Hotel Gagarin, an ensemble piece, is a movie road movie. It concerns the ostensible making of a film that requires a group of (mostly) Italians to go to Armenia, in the southern Caucasus, in wintertime. But it's a scam, filmed as a good-humored, slightly bawdy joke, that turns serious, and risks a delicate sentimentality.

    The tale begins with a disreputable producer called Franco Paradiso (Tommaso Ragno), who assembles a group of suckers for a movie he never intends to have made, simply to raise European grant money and abscond with it. Whether all this makes sense is secondary. Simone Spada, the director of Hotel Gagarin, is mainly concerned to lead us pleasurably from one scene to the next and fill each of them with a colorful character and a dream.

    After Paradiso, the next individual we meet, a jovial giant of a man, is a naive professor of history and cinema appreciation, Niccola (the ample-bodied Giuseppe Battiston, who recently played the quizzical detective in The Last Prosecco). We see him lecturing a class of arrogant know-nothings, whose interest in and respect for cinema is nonexistent, when he suddenly receives a blunt call from Paradiso saying he's going to produce his scenario and that work on it starts tomorrow, and he'd better show up. Well, this has long been Nicola's dream. What has he got to lose?

    To lead his fake "crew," Paradiso calls an Italianized Russian "events planner," Valeria (Czech-born Barbora Bobulova, who has a raft of good Italian films to her credit). No stranger to Paradiso's crooked dealings, she is on on the scam. She will be his ally and get a substantial cut for leading the scam in Armedia, or at least he allows her to believe this. He finds a real photographer called Sergio (the handsome Luca Argentero), who's on the run from the Mob for a bad debt and will accept any excuse to disappear for a while. Off the streets of Rome he grabs a prostitute, Patrizia (Silvia D’Amico), who he promises will play the lead. He picks up Elio (Claudio Amendola), an electrician with no movie experience, and a handful of others.

    The naive Niccola is too excited at the prospect of having his scenario made into a film to question the credentials of any of these dubious characters, though the smallness of the crew does worry him. There is also a drunken local "guide" called Aram (Hovhannes Azoyan), a goofy mime, like Harpo Marx, and a few others. They all wind up at a tall, wide old hotel on a barren hill, the Gagarin, named after the Cosmonaut, Yuri, and placed the middle of a snowy vastness, a setting Wes Anderson might have liked.

    This promises to go very badly for the poor dupes out in the chilly Caucasus - especially when it turns out there is a war going on: the Azerbaijani army has been firing on the Nagorno-Karabakh. And you know how it is when they get at each other. The visiting "filmmakers" are forced to remain in Hotel Gagarin: moving around outside, for the moment, would be too dangerous. Phone contact with the outside is also cut off.

    And then the villagers from nearby come to them, hearing word that great Italian cinematographers are on hand, and wanting to have their own fantasies put on film. These include a white-bearded geezer (Ara Sargsyan) who always wanted to be Yuri Gagarin. The motley crew obliges, participating in games and pantomime, eventually faking filmmaking in a way that, at least for Nicola, who becomes the director, is satisfying to the imagination for him too. When eventually an emergency unit comes from the Italian embassy with a plane to rescue them, the satisfaction is bittersweet. For a while we, the viewers, participate in their fantasy, though its realization depends on a lot of our good will and a lot of Simone Spada's montages. Not everyone goes back, not Patrizia, who likes it better here, and goes off on a horse with Aram. Elio, whose role as electrician is much grander here than it was back home, may not be inclined to leave either. Maybe the De Sica and Zavattini of Miracolo a Milano would have understood this scatterbrained, genial fantasy. The whimsical end credits are choice. The scenario was coscripted by Spada and Lorenzo Rossi Espagnet.

    Hotel Gagarin, 93 mins, released in Italy 24 May 2018. It was screened for this review as part of the 2018 San Francisco New Italian Cinema series, where it is scheduled to show at the Vogue Theater Sat., 1 Dec. 2018 at 8:15 p.m.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-28-2018 at 01:42 AM.


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