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Thread: Open Roads: New Italian Cinema at Lincoln Center 2021

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    BAD TALES/FAVOLACE (Damiano & Fabio D’Innocenzo 2020)

    DAMIANO & FABIO D'INNOCENZO: BAD TALES/FAVOLACE (2020)


    BRUNO PRESIDES AT HOME IN BAD TALES

    Another accomplished, original, and more disturbing film from the D'Innocenzo twins

    This is the sophomore effort of the brothers who made 2018's attention-getting debut Boys Cry (New Italian Cinema, San Francisco). Likewise focused on unsavory residents of suburban Rome, this shows the same ability to be riveting but seems darker, narratively more complex - and somehow less Italian, with some admitted American influence even in the spread out houses. Boys Cry was snappy if somewhat superficial. Its narrative of two young men who become low level mafia functionaries by accident and get into deep shit had the elegance and cohesion of a cautionary tale. Not so this time. No question the D'Innocenzo twins, who spent their youth painting, taking photographs, and writing poems on Rome's outskirts, have a natural flair for moviemaking and an outlook that stands out in Italy's bland current cinematic scene. Favolacce won the screenplay award at Berlin.

    The Italian title suggests fantasies or inventions, tales either nasty or badly told. A frame voiceover passage describes finding a chlld's diary with blank pages and suggests this film is an invention to fill them. Here the focus remains on two young males but shifts from twenty-ish to two boys in their early teens, both of whom have sort-of girlfriends. References to sex are so explicit I thought of Larry Clark, though this is worlds away from Clark's genuine, if questionable, love of boys and fascination with sex acts, which we don't actually see here.

    A contrast between the boys is effortlessly achieved by their looks and affect. One boy, Dennis (Tommaso Di Cola) is handsome, with classic Mediterranean looks and wavy dark locks. An easygoing, pleasant boy despite his troubled dad, Dennis is depicted as getting perfect grades in school (we're in summertime now), though when he and his sister recite their report cards (she has one subject, comportment, a notch below perfect), their nasty dad is chillingly unsupportive. This dad is evil, and we will see a lot of him.

    The contrasting boy is tall, skinny Geremia (Justin Korovkin), a pallid sad sack who's adored by his father, Amelio (Gabriel Montesi) though the relation is complicated because the dad is impecunious and the boy is so silent and withdrawn. A strange interlude comes when Susanna brings Viola to get together with Geremia when he has measles, hoping he will infect her and get measles out of the way for her, while Amelio hopes this will get Geremia laid.

    But there is far worse than this abroad, and danger, through a twisted science teacher who likes to inform the kids on ways to cause mayhem. Two homemade bombs result, found on two boys' bedroom desks. When told he's fired, the prof is allowed to give a final lecture in which he recommends malathion as a widely available, singularly lethal poison.

    The powerful Elio Germano plays Bruno, married to Dalila (Barbara Chichiarelli). Bruno is an explosively unhappy man unable to accept the emotional closeness of his two smart children, Dennis and Alessia (Giulietta Rebeggiani) and is so ticked off when his neighbors enjoy the portable swimming pool he buys, he slashes it and claims it was gypsies.

    Less well-off neighbors of Bruno are Pietro (Max Malatesta) and Susanna (Cristina Pellegrino), angered when they must remove their daughter Viola (Giulia Melillo) from Bruno's pool because she has head lice.

    My favorite scene is the one in which Dennis and his girlfriend try to have their first sex out in the sunshine one day, with great politeness, he stripping down to his immaculate jockey shorts, she turning sweetly toward him, and then he, equally gracefully, aborts. It's such a relief, and a rare amusing moment. But Dennis may be more preoccupied with the louche, vulgar young pregnant woman, Vilma (Ileana D’Ambra who comes on to him early on and keeps reappearing, like an overripe peach rotting in the sweltering heat.

    The movement, however, is toward disaster, not sentimental education.

    While the Variety critic thought of Todd Solondz, Peter Bradshaw was reminded by events and the very hot weather of Ulrich Seidl’s Dog Days, which his original review described as a "fly-on-the-wall depiction of a horrible personal hell." Italian movies have often been upbeat, funny, or restrained, though the dark side has been around since postwar neorealism, and evil took center stage with Matteo Garrone's work, especially Gomorrah.
    Garrone has pursued darkness since his 2002 The Embalmer. He's been a one-man nightmare factory. But now he has company.

    "A far-out, black-as-coal vision of life in Rome’s suburbs," wrote Deborah Young in her Hollywood Reporter review following the film's warm reception at the Berlinale, saying the brothers "reach another level of maturity" here and noting they collaborated on the writing of Garrone's Dogman (no surprise this alliance). Bradshaw is enthusiastic, calling Bad Tales a "breakthrough," "visceral," and "superbly shot." (Again as in their first film the brothers make striking use of long-distance, or extreme-middle distance shots, with some extreme closeups seemingly to make adults look repulsive.) The Variety critic was plainly very turned off, calling the film "grim," "superficially stylish," and "grotesque." I would not be so condemnatory, but despite all the accolades for this film, I'm not sure the D'Innocenzos have yet found their way, or located a dark side of Roman suburbia that is authentically Italian.

    Bad Tales/Favolacce, 98 mins., debuted at the February 2020 Berlinale, winning best screenplay award; it was showered with awards and nominations at the Italian Davide di Donatello awards, and showed at at least 18 international festivals, mostly in 2020, some in 2021, receiving numerous nominations and awards. Reviewed online for this review as part of the LiLincoln Center Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series, May 28-June 6, 2021.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-04-2021 at 11:26 PM.

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    HIDDEN AWAY/VOLEVO NASCONDERMI (Giogio Diritti 2020)

    GIORGIO DIRITTI: HIDDEN AWAY/VOLEVO NASCONDERMI (2010)


    ELIO GERMANO IN HIDDEN AWAY


    Life of Italy's most famous "Naive" artist


    It's said that Elio Germano tackles every role with gusto. This one, which won him the Silver Bear at the Berlinale for his pains, he grabs by the cojones and throws against the wall. It's the story of a tormented, differently enabled soul expelled to his native Po Valley as a child from Switzerland, just when the Fascists were taking it over. Antonio Ligabue had spells in an insane asylum, was mocked, suffered and was tormented, but became a celebrated Naive artist whose paintings of wild animals, especially big cats, came to be prized during his own lifetime so his handlers could provide him with a red motorcycle, a gramophone and all the tubes he needed of the best quality German oil paints. Shot in wide aspect ratio with wide angle lenses in quiet renaissance settings with Thirties trappings and delicate colors for the urban and natural landscape backgrounds, this is, framing the torment and violence of its human subject, a tranquil and beautiful film. But in anglophone circles at least, its audience may be limited.

    By good fortune we have a thirteen-and-a-half-minute YouTube video in which Santa Sangre filmmaker Roberto Leoni talks with enthusiasm (in Italian with subtitles) about LIgabue and this film. His personal background makes this an especially charming and interesting testimony, and, strangely, the paintings by Ligabue shown here are more beautiful and complex than most of the ones we glimpse in the film, as well, helping one understand why this film was thought worth doing. (He also mentions an earlier film about Ligabue.)

    It is evident that Germano's performance is, alarming though it is, a fine piece of mimicry, from the records we have, and he looks just like the man. However, there are difficulties in experiencing Ligabue, understanding him, and enduring two hours of him. His "conversations" with other people are staccato and primitive. His motions are jerky, abrupt, and alarming. Even if this is true to life it still feels over the top. Jay Weissberg's Variety review states the matter clearly enough. This film is a "mélange of impressionistic episodes and straightforward biopic recreations" and its composition makes Hidden Away "more a record of a performance than a satisfying cinema experience."

    The alternately opaque or child-simple behavior of the protagonist is unvarying and we don't see transitional moments of development very much. We don't, for example, see him adjusting to life in Italy after living in a German-speaking Swiss world. We don't see how he comes to be such a prolific painter. We see that there are articles about him and his fame grows even as insensitive locals go on making fun of him and we see that he has champions and kindly caretakers. But somehow as [Weissberg implies this is a formally awkward picture, almost as if a personality as primitive as Ligabue was at the helm. I have observed of the two previous Giorgio Diritti films I've seen, The Man Who Will Come/L'uomo che verra (SFIFF 2010) and There Will Come a Day/Un giorno devi andare (2013 San Francisco NIC), "he makes much use of documentary material and a meandering non-structure." Narrative coherence and drive aren't quite his thing. Diritti is a sui generis director who experiments, and found a thespian acrobat in Elio Germano for the role of Antonio Ligabue. But watching Hidden Away is an exercise in patience.

    This film reminded me of another feature film about a troubled, ultimately insane, visionary artist, Martin Provost's multiple César-winning 2008 Séraphone, with an excellent Yolande Moreau as the flower painter now known as Séraphine de Senlis. But at the I compared this unfavorably to Bruno Nuytten's more dramatically exciting 1988 Camille Claudel. It's hard to beat a movie with Gérrard Depardieu as Auguste Rodin and Isabelle Adjani as Camille Claudel.

    Hidden Aeway/Nolevo nascondermi, 120 mins., debuted Feb. 2020 at the Berlinale (winning Germani the best actor award; other festivals including Milano, Brescia, Moscow, Thessaloniki. Screened online for this review as part of FLC's 2021 all virtual Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-29-2021 at 09:42 PM.

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    SIRLEY/MALEDETTA PRIMAVERA (Elisa Amoroso 2020)

    SIRLEY/MALEDETTA PRIMAVERA (Elisa Amoroso 2020)


    MICAELA RAMAZZOTTI, FEWDERICO IELAPI IN MALEDETTA PRIMAVERA

    A turbulent and insecure girlhood seen in pretty pastel colors

    "Maledetta Primavera" is the title of an Italian love song sung in unison by all on a drive (in a smart French car) from the "periferia" of Rome to the sea. Everything is pastel-bright and pretty here in this girl's coming of age story loosely based on the life of writer-director Elisa Amorso, formerly a maker of documentaries.

    The film is a pleasant, visually pleasing, but slightly sluggish watch that suffers a bit from the blandness of much contemporary Italian cinema, but the reality nonetheless isn't quite so sweet for the teen protagonist Nina (Emma Fasana), blonde, asthmatic, perhaps attracted to girls. Her new pal Sirley (Manon Bresch, with deliciously kinky hair) a light chocolate girl from Cayenne, French Guyana, at least seems inclined that way; or maybe it's just a teen crush of two outcasts. Nina at first fights with, then quickly befriends Sirley (typically, an outlier herself) on first arriving at the nuns' school that she and her little brother are sent after their parents are forced to move to a flat way outside Rome.

    The cause of the sudden move is doubtless economic insecurity resulting from the shifty dealings of papà Enzo (Giampaolo Morelli, with full-on Neopolitan accent, actor himself recently become a director), who is constantly buying and selling and trading stuff, not aways in legitimate ways, and apparently gambles by night. Over Enzo's lifestyle Nina's mamma Laura (Micaela Ramazzotti) is constantly complaining. And so on. Some of the more dire aspects of her parents' life Nina finds out toward the end of the film.

    Amoroso found it natiural to shift from documentary to feature filmmaking for this "very personal and intimate film" based on her then recently published, evidently autobiographical, novel Sirley, she says in an interview. But will we remember these events as represented here as clearly as the director no doubt does? (For herself, she says, the biggest challenge was to maintain a certain detachment.)

    Sirley makes the stronger impression, at least at first; Nina's sensitivities and greater seriousness gradually emerge. The girl from Guyana is the colorful, feisty one, though they fight like cats and dogs on first meeting at school. Sirley smokes in the classroom, then hides her cigarette pack in Nina's book bag. She breaks a plaster madonna, then hides it too in Elisa's bag: it's a busy first day. Sirley speaks only French, simply refusing, according to her white stepmother, to speak Italian. Luckily for their intimacy, Nina luckily speaks French too and they live nearby. Sirley will get over this restriction when she gets an Italian boyfriend, leaving Nina temporarily bereft, a loss she assuages by playing her saxophone in the field Sirley has first led her to.

    The most memorable early incidents seem to involve not so much Nina, but the others with her. She shows Sirley her parents' bedroom and Sirley tries on her mother's dress from the closet without permission and is banished. Papà trades a Leica set for a probably stolen gold Rolex for that Laura is uncomfortable about accepting. The parents squabble loudly but briefly on every encounter. What dad does is diverting but makes little sense. He constantly gets different cars, today a big Mercedes with an internal phone (this is the eighties, and Sirley flirts with Nina by dancing the Lambada). Enzo trades the dining table for a billiard table. Some of the unstable atmosphere is reminiscent of the spy writer John Le Carré's descriptions of growing up with a con man father: excitement deceptions, constant change, insecurity.

    Little brother Lorenzo (Federico Ielapi, Garrone's Pinocchio) a character not to be discounted, gets attention in the story too; no one is neglected. The siblings' relation is loving. They hug, go to the same school, and sleep side by side. Lorenzo is often at Nina's side. He gets a badly cut knee on an outing with the two girls when they look away.

    Everything remains suspended here. Laura, the mother, arrives at a crisis that makes her want to take a decisive step and be more than ever discontented with her marriage, but nothing is resolved. Nina doesn't want to be chosen "Madonna" as Sirley does but improvises a speech to the Madonna that impresses the priest. Nina and Sirley approach each other and withdraw, or are forcibly separated by Sirley's stepmother when they finally start getting physical with each other - after Sirley's separation and flirtation with a boy. Nothing decisive happens, despite constant emotional outbursts.

    Throughout, the cinematography makes the girls, and Sirley especially, glamorous and sexual in a pastel, Hallmark card kind of way that tamps down the emotional impact that is already rather tame. The director makes pretty images out of her past like a ceremony honoring the Virgin Mary with lots of beautiful shots of interiors, the seaside, car trips (delighting in vintage cars), a religious procession on a country road, girls getting undressed and making out contre jour, featuring their contrasting coloring and hair. And not to compliment just the visuals, the principals perform admirably. Emma Fasana especially impresses at delivering long speeches clearly ad energetically. But I was not moved. I longed for some of the emotional oomph of André Téchiné's great recent film about two boys coming to terms with their sexuality and their attraction to each other, Being 17, which has some plot parallels. If only Amoroso had had Céline Sciamma as writing collaborator, as Téchiné did. This material could have been brought together so much better.

    Sirley/Maledetta primavera, 94 mins., debuted Oct. 23, 2020 at Rome, and showed Feb. 13, 2021 at Greek Film Archive. Screened online for this review as part of the FLC Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series (May 28-Jun. 6, 2021).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-31-2021 at 08:28 AM.

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    THE PREDATORS/I PREDATORI (Pietro Castellitto 2020)

    PIETRO CASTELLITTO: THE PREDATORS/PREDATORI (2020)



    The dark comic dance of two symbolically contrasting families

    This riotous, profane film was written and directed by Pietro Castellitto, who is in his late twenties. He is the son of the prolific Italian actor Sergio Castellitto, and already seems a kind of golden boy. He has starred in three films directed by his father and played in three others including Gabriele Mainetti's much anticipated Freaks Out (still in post-production), He is scheduled to play the lead in a Netflix series about the former Roma soccer team captain Francesco Totti. But here, he takes on the top creative role as writer-director besides playing one of the main parts.

    Obviously cast as social commentary as well as being a riot of ironic dark humor, The Predators/I predatori is essentially a series of comic skits with a tricky linking narrative, which has won him a a best screenplay award like the one the D'Innocenzo twins got. Both scripts seem to have won their awards for a clever linking structure, in Pietro's case in the Horizons section at Venice, in the D'Innocenzos' in the Berlinale. Maybe, for all its craziness, Pietro's screenplay makes more sense than the D'Innocenzos' as a report on Italian society - though its even more pitch black and mocking incidents are more overtly caricatural than those of Favolacce.

    Vulgarity reins here, the giddy, expletive-intense dialogue expressive of American influences (not to be discounted ever in today's Italian culture). A man has "Who gives a fuck" (kittesencula) tattooed in large block letters on his arm. Every other sentence has "cazzo" in it. There is mafioso criminality, gun dealing, and a murder carried out by a young boy who's been getting rifle training.

    In an off-putting, self-consciously stylish opening, we hear highway sounds, without seeing the highway, as a series of landscape shots appear. These later will be settings of major scenes of the film; in retrospect, if you remember them, they will make sense. Likewise the alternative sequences of two contrasting Roman families will no longer be off-the-wall when the incident linking the two families takes place. The families are an obvious contrast. The Pavone are intellectual and bourgeois and live in Rome, the oafish Vismara fascist and working class and dwell on the capital's periphery. As they are drawn together by coincidence at the end they will come to seem not so different after all. The link appears and the plot's mosaic puzzle becomes clearer when an old woman, matriarch Ines Vismara (Marzia Ubaldi) of the Vismara with luridly died hair, whom we've seen being conned out of 1,000 euros at the outset for a wrist watch by a mysterious man (Vinicio Marchioni) , is put in the hospital by a driver from the Pavone. Later her relative cancels his revenge plans when he learns it's a Pavone surgeon, Pierpaolo Pavone, who has saved the old lady in the operating room. At the film's end the mysterious man appears again, about to con, more thoroughly, one of the Pavone women.

    The action otherwise often seems to hinge on an outré project to exhume the remains of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, to find by analysis of them why he went crazy and experienced other events, based on the theory that his remaining a lifelong virgin was a key factor. Director Castellitto plays a nutty intern, the tall, skinny, dressed up Federico, a Pavone from a pampered background who sets out to sabotage the Nietzsche project and harms himself in the process, thanks to the quantity of explosives he has bought from Claudio Vismara.

    Another series of scenes involve the female Pavone film director who begins to become increasingly unhinged following a mishap in the staging of an army deserter's hanging when the actor's harness stops working.

    The Vismara and Pavone are depicted as societies unto themselves and both seen collectively having feasts. At the Pavone's the celebration ends with a young woman performing a "song" she has composed that is an expletive-intense rap that makes fun of everyone present and ends with her walking out - giving them all the finger.

    Federico Pavone is a strange, argumentative 25-year-old philo student obsessed with Nietzsche and abused by his professor. His father Pierpaolo (Massimo Popolizio) is a doctor with a mistress Gaia (Anita Caprioli) married to colleague and friend Bruno (Dario Cassini). Federico's mother Ludovica (Manuela Mandracchia) a well known film director shooting a historical film that has ruh into trouble. Her motto comes from Mike Tyson: "Everybody has a plan till they get punched in the face."

    More overt loudness and vulgarity reign when the Vismara are on screen and their world is dominated by fascist songs and symbols. The Vismara have a big outdoor feast at a long table. Claudio (Giorgio Montanini, a standup comic and Carlo (Claudio Camilli) Vismara run a firearms store and also deal drugs and cooperate with the mafia. Uncle Flavio (Antonio Gerardi) keeps them in check. Their wives Their wives (Giulia Petrini, Liliana Fiorelli) fantasize about moving to luxurious Rome center flats.

    And they can be funny. A Vismara husband wants to have sex with his wife and she doesn't. When she says "I have a headache" he answers: "I wont' touch your head." This and the hospitalized old lady's string of fluent replies to family members' questions from her hospital bed are the two things that most made me laugh. The rest, though inventive and energetic, tries too hard to be clever but its scrambled mixture of incidents fails to truly engage - though admittedly, some also said that of Pulp Fiction when it came out - and they were so wrong. I still wonder if the helter-skelter arrangement of details about these two hitherto unrelated families is really justified by the transparent linking plot devices of a car accident and several other incidents. But given the wealth of talent on display here it doesn't matter, since followers of contemporary Italian cinema will want to see this movie anyway to see the direction it is going.

    The Predators/I predatori 119 mins., debuted at Venice Oct. 2020 in the Orizzonti section (best screenplay award), playing also at Rome, Busan, and Thessaloniki. Best new director award at the David di Donatello awards; other nominations. Screened online for this review as part of the FLC Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series (May 28-Jun. 6, 2021).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-01-2021 at 03:36 PM.

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    THE TIES/LACCI (Daniele Luchetti 2020)

    DANIELE LUCHETTI: THE TIES/LACCI (2020)


    ALBA ROHRWACHER, LUIGI LO CASCIO IN LACCI

    It's not easy to suffer in a nice way

    Since his first film, My Brother Is an Only Child (2007), Daniele Luchetti has been doing conflictual family sagas. So here we are again, with the thirty-year troublous times of Aldo (initially Luigi Lo Cascio, later Silvio Orlando) and Vanda (Alba Rohrwacher, later Laura Morante), a couple with two children. Vanda expels Aldo in the "years of lead" time of the early eighties in Naples when in the opening sequence he reveals he has slept with another woman. This sends him to live with that woman, Lidia (Linda Caridi), in Rome, where his well liked literary radio program is produced. He returns to the once cozy family scene for visits, but doesn't do it responsibly, as a family court session reveals.

    A Venice Variety review observes that it's in the little, specific details that the film excels and in its efforts at generalizations that it falls down. Such a detail is signaled by Lacci, the title, which means "shoelaces," not the more general "ties" resorted to buy the translater. Aldo and his son meet years later, hardly knowing each other, and find they tie their shoes in the same peculiar way the son obviously learned from dad early on - an unexpected, lone, link.

    This has drawn more attention than any of Luchetti's recent films, due in part to a cast with names like Lo Cascio, Rohrbacher, Morante and Giovanna Mezzogiorno, but the Variety critic observes that its a "minor-key affair, closer to the "warm, soapy storytelling" of his aforementioned debut than the "stentorian social realism" of his 2010 Our Life/La nostra vita (reviewed by me in Nov., 2011). But this is more epic than Variety may acknowledge, an epic of m maximum marital discomfort, ambivalence, and unhappiness, the story of a divorce that never happens.de

    Though dealing with purely domestic issues, the film unreels in a somewhat complicated manner, not linearly, not chronologically. It jumps to when Aldo and Vanda are old, the kids nearly middle aged, when they seem reunited, and there is a destructive event in the house and Aldo has 2-second flashbacks to his earlier life. It's not clear what's been going on. Another sequence, back to earlier times, has Aldo with his parents. He has brought the kids; he doesn't want to have them be with Lidia, for various reasons. In the discussion he asserts that if Vanda has "gone too far," as his mother says, it's he who has handled things badly, and he makes the telling statement, "It's not easy to suffer in a nice way" ("non è facile soffrire in modo simpatico"). That about sums things up. He's unsympathetic, but she's annoying.

    Much focus is on the early times, a little on the late times. The gap is filled by certain fetish moments. There is a special trick box from Bulgaria that hides some revealing things. There is the twice-revealed secret of the name of the family cat, Labes. There is a long final surprise sequence between the adult Anna (Mezzogiorno0 and adult Sandro (Adriano Giannini), both actors splendid, the ending very implausible, one would think, but a splendid way of breaking the tedium of all the grim bickering we've been saddled with throughout the movie.

    Luchetti is working from a novel by Domenico Starnone, in collaboration on the screenplay with Starnone and Francesco Piccolo.

    Lacci/The Ties, 100 mins.,debuted at Zurich and Venice, showing also in Raindance, Stockholm, Kolkata, Hong Kong and others. Screened online for this review as part of the FLC Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series (May 28-Jun. 6, 2021).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-01-2021 at 08:51 PM.

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