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Thread: Open Roads: New Italian Cinema At Lincoln Center 2023

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    THE HUMMINGBIRD/IL COLIBRÌ (Francesca Archibugi 2022)

    FRANCESCA ARCHIBUGI: THE HUMMINGBIRD/IL COLIBRÌ (2022)

    OPENING NIGHT FILM


    BÉATRICE BEJO, PIERFRANCESCO FAVINO IN THE HUMMINGBIRD

    A swirling tale of unfulfillment

    The opening-night screening of the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series for 2023 in New York is Francesca Archibugi’s latest feature The Hummingbird/Il colibrì. It is a film adapted from Sandro Veronesi’s Strega Prize-winning novel, described in the festival blurb as "an at once epic and intimate chronicle of love and familial ups and downs that spans six decades and three generations," and it features Pierfrancesco Favino, Bérenice Bejo, Laura Morante, Nanni Moretti, and others, notably the Polish-born Kasia Smutniak as Marina Molitor, a fiery, in fact crazy, Balkan former airline hostess who is the wife of Marco Carrera, the protagonist played by Favino.

    This is a film that is fascinating but ultimately disappointing. A Spanish critic is quoted as saying it's "easy to follow." That was more a boast than a statement. It jumps back and forward in time over a half century in the lives of Marco, the crazy Balkan wife, and Marco's longtime platonic love from next door Luisa Lattes, played as an adult by Bejo. Nanni Moretti appears early on presenting himself to Marco, a doctor, as Carradori, Marco's wife's psychiatrist, to tell him he is "in great danger." We don't find out why. He has come to question Marco about his long time love affair, or love for, Luisa Lattes. We don't find out why he does that either. But this introduces the movie's main thread. The film also depicts Marco's relationship with his daughter Adele and his granddaughter Mirajin. Later in life he explores a hitherto unexpected talent for gambling in high-stakes poker games. Carradori will continue to reappear as he and Marco are provided with gray hair and wrinkles to designate later times in their lives. Acres of aging makeup and prosthetic wrinkles have been distributed among cast members for the later-stage scenes.

    Sandro Veronesi's source novel won the coveted Strega literary prize, which more than explains why Archibrugi''s film came into existence. Literary prizes loom large in Italy as in France, and this is like the Booker Prize in England, only more so, in addition to which Veronesi has won two of them. I looked up two reviews of the novel. The Guardian one says it is everything wonderful that fiction can be. The Kirkus review is far more skeptical, saying it is "an intriguing but ultimately disappointing experiment in fictional biography." The Kirkus review also reveals that in the book "We find out that Marco fell in love with Luisa when she was 13 and he was 20," and glosses over this troubling detail; it is eliminated in the film.

    The novel uses multiple formats to tell its time-shifting story, third-person narrative, letters, dialogue, and other fragments. The film simply makes rapid shifts: you may experience whiplash. It's helped that someone has been found who looks very much like Favino as a young man. It's not so hard to recognize Marco and Luisa at different ages, just hard to see where the story is going.

    What about the title? A peculiar detail is that Marco as a boy is small for his age. His father insists, over the objections of his mother (Laura Morante) on his being sent for growth hormone shots, which have a dramatic effect. Because of his small size he's called "the hummingbird." But later, Marina, in a moment when not smashing things and shouting, snidely says Marco is like a hummingbird because he spends all his effort to stay in one place. She finds him stagnated.

    Not a flaw of this film, which is in constant motion. But in the end not much that matters to us really happens. This winds up being a glossy but unrewarding watch, which Italian reviews have noted is another elaborate portrait of the Italian upper bourgeoisie. Marco's family is wealthy; so is that of their neighbors to whom Luisa Lattes belongs. When all else failed I enjoyed looking at the handsome, spacious rooms and the large abstract paintings in the mature Marco's house, which are very nice.

    Pierfrancesco Favino is the new Italian cinematic everyman, notably seen as Tommaso Buscetta, the Sicilian mobster turned state's witness, in Bellocchio's 2019 The Traitor, and the expatriate who returns to Naples after forty years in Mario Martone's 2022 Nostalgia, where his performances define the kind of solid, restrained soulfulness that he also displays here. He is not suave and handsome like earlier Italian leading men but there is something deeply comforting and watchable about him. One Italian critic says he "cannibalizes" The Hummingbird. Perhaps so. But this dominance helps keep the film from being completely scattered. Nonetheless apart the Balkan wife's explosions and Bejo's soulful objections to her longtime platonic lover Marco's excessive restraint - he says this keeps them from hurting anybody but she asks "What about us?" - there is a paucity of emotional depth and a damning failure to get to the bottom of any of the personalities. This is a danger of storytelling that is constantly shifting about. Complicated storytelling may impress, especially with a lot of good actors and beautiful mise-en-scène, but it is rarely storytelling that ultimately satisfies.

    The Hummingbird/Il colibrì, 126 mins., debuted at Toronto Sept. 2022, also opening at Rome Oct. 2022, released theatrically in Italy Oct. 14, 2022. Screened for this review as part of the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema June 1-8, 2023 series at Lincoln Center (with Cinnecittà) where it was also the opening night film.
    Thursday, June 1 at 7:00pm (Q&A with Francesca Archibugi)
    Wednesday, June 7 at 6:00pm
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-29-2023 at 11:55 AM.

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    DELTA (Michele Vannucci 2022)

    MICHELE VANNUCCI: DELTA (2022)


    LUIGI LO CASCIO, ALESSANDRO BORGHI IN DELTA

    Local conflicts end in a one-on-one duel

    Locarno, home of the wild and offbeat, was the kickoff spot for this rough Italian noir-western set in the Po Valley of two men who clash. Delta is an earnest semi-documentary actioner, but at times it's messy and silly. Adults giggle, grab, and fall over each other at play. But there is committed acting here and dp Matteo Vieille does a lot to make it real. Maybe the genre and earnest contemporary elements don't clash, though to spin them out fully it's true, as suggested by reviewer Maria Braga, this could work better as a miniseries.

    The region as seen here is gray, wet, and an eco-disaster. Big companies have been dumping waste. Big dead fish turn up. Poachers sneak in by night, use electric shock to kill fish. Old photos are all that remains to show a time of locals who legally and properly made a living fishing here and the area was not in turmoil.

    A bear of a man called Elia (Alessandro Borghi), always an outsider, now lives with Romanians who poach fish illegally using electric shock. The opening scene is tight on Elia, his broad back wrapped in a striking decorated coat with a picture woven on the back, very alone, rowing in a boat in the tangled briar-infested wetland while a helicopter hovers menacingly overhead looking for poachers like him. He isn't caught, and shock kills dozens of fish: a drone shot looks down on Elia in his boat surrounded by floating dead fish.

    Osso (Luigi Lo Cascio, who has an interesting haggard boy look now) is an ardent local environmentalist and great stickler for hands-off, restrained enforcement of regulations. But things turn personal for him when it develops that his ex-girlfriend Anna (Emilia Scarpati Fanetti) is now connected to none other than Elia. But Osso is also in conflict with locals (and perhaps the carabinieri) who warn him his concern with the chemical waste is out of date, the bigger problem now is the foreigners. (Are they Romanians?) indeed, in this physically and emotionally violent melodrama, they defend their forest-wetland lair as their private domain, violently.

    All these geopolitical and sociological conflicts fade into the background when the second half of the film turns into a desperate one-on-one struggle between Elia, fleeing carabinieri and people, and Osso, who tracks him down to avenge a terrible wrong done to him. It's off and on, sometimes over the top, but magnificent use is made of the rich foggy, soggy settings of river, wetland, and bramble. Vanucci deserves credit for his vivid use of the Po setting.

    Delta, 105 mins., a Grøenlandia production that premiered at Locarno Aug. 7, 2022, also showing at half a dozen other festivals. It has done poorly at the Italian box office since its March 23, 2023 release, says Quinlan. Screened for this review as part of the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema June 1-8, 2023 series at Lincoln Center (with Cinnecittà)
    Sunday, June 4 at 2:30pm (Q&A with Michele Vannucci)
    Tuesday, June 6 at 3:00pm
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-05-2023 at 08:15 AM.

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    Chiara (Susanna Nicchiarelli 2022)

    SUSANNA NICCHIARELLI: CHIARA (2020


    MARGHARITA MAZZUCCO IN CHIARA

    A female counterpoint of Francis of Assisi

    This modern take on an early thirteenth-century Italian saint, a contemporary and associate of Francis of Assisi, features the star of My Brilliant Friend, Margherita Mazzucco. It's free about facts, also off-putting, or, if it's to your taste, enlivening, with its use of staring into the camera fourth-wall-breaking moments and interpolated musical numbers, which are like livened-up Gregorian chants with a pop flavor; also moments when the screen goes black (why are current filmmakers so fond of dark screens?) Despite the attention-getting effects, it has charm and it tells a good story, especially of Chiara's relationship with Saint Francis, his triumph over illness and his wonderful prayer.

    This takes place around Assisi, using the real sites, and Chiara leaves her family to serve a hippieish, sweet and toweringly cute Saint Francis, played by Andrea Carpenzano, who five years ago was one of the budding mafiosi assassins in the D'Innocenzo brothers' Boys Cry and is quite striking here. This is at first a setback for Chiara, because Francis paternalistically sends her and her girlfriend to a convent where they are put to work as scullery maids - not what she had in mind at all. She breaks away from that, and fights off a sadistic uncle and has her own group of poorly dressed, bare-headed followers. Chiara starts performing miracles, in which she often surprises herself, and gathers sisters who include the motherly Cristiana (Carlotta Natoli),and the middle-aged Balvina (Paola Tiziana Cruciani), who has health issues. She asks for Vatican recognition of her order on a par with Francis' and Papal emissary Cardinal Ugolino (Luigi Lo Cascio) is sent to check up.

    Ugolino says no woman can set an example for anything and women can't travel or take a vow of poverty. Lo Cascio adds a note of colorful medieval glitz, and turns into the new pope, Gregory IX, returning dressed in a tent-like robe of bright blue for spring and riding a white horse and with attendants in bright yellow. Nichiarelli delights in such theater as well as oddball moments, like breaks to discuss cooking apropos of a miracle involving a jar of olive oil or Francis, who we learn loved to eat, enjoying a local delicacy on a trip to the holy land. The director keeps the nuns very austere, but still surprises audience expectations frequently. The emphasis is on how determined and resilient Chiara is. This is a striking, original and touching film about sainthood and Franciscan style sweetness. Even if it can't quite match the revolutionary moment of Rossellini's radical Saint Francis or Pasolini's austere Gospel, from when Italian cinema was the cutting edge, Chiara seeks to capture some of their freshness and add its own distinctive touches.

    Chiara, 106 mins., debuted at the Biennale Sept. 9,2022, also playing at Busan, Rio, and Vienna. Screened for this review as part of the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema June 1-8, 2023 series at Lincoln Center (with Cinnecittà).
    Friday, June 2 at 3:00pm (Q&A with actor Margherita Mazzucco)
    Wednesday, June 7 at 9:00pm
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-29-2023 at 12:12 PM.

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    NOSTALGIA (Mario Martone 2022)

    MARIO MARTONE: NOSTALGIA (2022)


    PIERFRANCESCO FAVINO IN NOSTALGIA

    You can't go home again

    Ermanno Rea’s last novel, published posthumously in 2016, has been brought to life on film here in a feature starring Pierfrancesco Favino, who played Tommaso Buscetta in Marco Bellocchio's 2019 Mafia "pentito" epic Il Traditore or The Traitor. This is smaller stuff in comparison, but still a haunting portrait of the filmmaker's native Naples with a blunt, shocking end, and an opportunity for Favino to be charismatic and mysterious as a man who returns to his home town, which he left at age fifteen, after forty years. This is almost like a fable, or an illustration of Thomas Wolfe's title, You Can't Go Home Again. A few of the details are a little hollow, but the whole thing is still resonant.

    We first see Felice Lasco (Favino) arriving on an Egyptian plane where he is addressed in Arabic by the flight attendant, coming back to Naples for the first time after forty years abroad, to find his little, agèd mamma (the tiny but tremendous Aurora Quattrocchi), almost blind, to have a late-life reunion. There is an unforgettable scene where he carries her into a tomblike room and tenderly bathes her.

    Strangely, since he has a beautiful Egyptian wife (Sofia Essaïdi) in Cairo (but no children), Felice turns out later to be planning to move back to the place he left as a teenager. Wealthy now, he immediately buys a nice apartment for his mum to replace the tiny flat a relative has moved her to, selling the nice one on an upper floor he grew up in.

    This isn't the only questionable stuff that's been going on. Well, it's Naples, and not only that, but his native Sanità district, where the Catacombs are, near Capodimonte, is dominated or terrorized by what was Felice's best pal, Oreste Spasiano (Tommaso Ragno), now a crime boss known as O malommo ("The Bad Man"). As youths they carried out petty crimes together, and a murder is why young Felice left never to return. A few flashbacks in Super8 format bring back those early days and the young Feli' and Ore' (Emanuele Palumbo and Artem) in the smaller format, sunnier and brighter but with one horrible trauma.

    He connects now with a priest known as Don Luigi (Francesco Di Leva), based on a real person (don Antonio Loffredo) who's like a social worker helping protect youth from crime and danger and involved with a youth orchestra and also a boxing gym. When Felice reveals his connection to Oreste aka O malommo, everyone tells him to go back to where he came from, including Raffaele (Nello Mascia), an older man who knew him whom he doesn't remember. Nonetheless against warnings, after the abrupt death of his mother, he is drawn back to his old friend, whose empire seems in decline and perhaps his health. Handsome but seedy O malommo, with his long white hair and beard, seems like an animal who is more dangerous because he is wounded.

    This is tasty material, and not much has to happen because the situation becomes so constantly ominous and the city, nicely brought to life here by dp Paolo Carnera, is the other main character, beautiful, cozy (rather like Cairo but with more ornate, baroque architectural decoration), friendly, and full of menace. It's not implausible even though he's rich and happy and fluent in Arabic that a man might feel his native Napoli calling, still it's a little hard under these special circumstances to understand how Felice, who's had an apartment vandalized and a motorbike burnt to a crisp, would be so foolish, or for that matter why his pretty Cairene wife Arlette would be so into joining him to live in Naples now.

    It's a dark and pretty story, a little like one by Paul Bowles. A fine return to contemporary drama for Mario Martone and another feather in the cap of the estimable and sympathetic Pierfrancesco Favino, playing the returning traveler of legend, a mystery man who's been gone so long he's forgotten the Italian word for sponge (spugno) and seems to have converted to Islam. Not perfect certainly, but great stuff nonetheless, this atmospheric film is two hours yet it feels as compact as it is tense, and there is not much fat on its bones. A good advertisement for the novels of Ermanno Rea. Recommended.

    Nostalgia, 117 mins., debuted at Cannes in Competition May 2022, eight other festival showrings listed on IMDb. Breaking Glass Films has US distribution rights: in theaters from Jan. 20, 2023, VOD and on digital Feb. 21. Metacritic rating: 76%.
    Also included in Open Roads: New Italian Cinema at Lincoln Center (June 1-18, 2023).
    Saturday, June 3 at 5:30pm (Q&A with actor Tomasso Ragno)

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    DRY/SICCITÀ (Paolo Virzì 2022)

    PAOLO VIRZÌ: DRY/SICCITÀ (2022)


    SILVIO ORLANDO (CENTER) IN DRY/SICCITÀ

    Virzì's most choral film

    Almost at the center of this symphonic "comedy" - if you can make a comedy about Rome running out of water - is Loris (Valerio Mastandrea), gray hair in a bun behind his head, sweaty, nervous, stressed, chauffeuring a dingy limo talking to passengers - who aren't really there. A long time ago, 2007 to be exact, I reviewed a movie starring Mastandrea, much younger of course, who was a would-be musician called Stefano. I described another character, the brother, as one who "survives on manic energy and a variety of antidepressants" and is "clearly at the end of his tether in more ways than one." How little things have changed. The brothers are members of an industrial family on the skids because their big fruit packing company is rudderless and in debt. The business "is showing huge losses," I wrote. "Everything is in hock, and the workers are owed three months' pay."

    That is the sort of situation going on here, even though it's more ecological than economic. Though Rome is running out of water - which we don't really see so much; there still seems to be plenty, just not as much - the problem is aggravated by the corruption and confusion of the local bureaucrats and politicians, who are covering up and dodging the issue. I described the 2007 film as mostly made up of "mildly manic and often amusing set pieces that move us around among its multiple locations with a steady rhythm." Check. That film was Gianni Zanasi's Don't Think About It/Non pensarci. Mastandrea's job is more sedentary this time (he's 51 now, was 36 then). The "mildly manic" scenes involve other actors. Mastrandrea though, imploding in his car, is great. He expresses the disorder, the madness of the Rome of this film perhaps better than anybody else.

    Virzì's problem in this film is partly that it really is a disaster film, and he doesn't know how or hasn't the means of lacks the ingenuity to convey something so expensive as the capitol of Italy running out of water. (It's actually running out all over the country, even more expensive to depict.) It's not a good sign that The Hummingbird director Francesca Archibugi wrote the screenplay here: The Hummingbird is a film quite blithe about being too complicated to follow. There's uncertainty in the conception here. It's a three-year drought. Is that so bad? Well, really, how bad is it? Bad enough so the Tiber river has dried up as CGI overhead shots of it show us. There is focus also on a possible epidemic appearing at the Policlinico. There's a fancy thermal baths owned by a Trump-like corrupt family whose mouthpiece declares to a displeased and skeptical public that the considerable amount of water it uses is obtained "privately," brought in in tanks daily. (It's not true.)

    So the focus shifts to disease and to corruption and deception, not just the water supply as such. As Jonathan Romney says in his Screen Daily review, the audience is left "gasping" by all the "narrative plate-spinning." But as he also says, the whole thing will probably make more sense to the local audience, for whom many of the cast members are well-known faces. Another one is Tomasso Ragno, who plays out of work actor turned social media personality Alfredo, who polishes his online image while his wife Mila (Elena Lietti) works in a supermarket and plans to hook up on the side with a lover. Alfredo’s ex-wife Sara (Claudia Pandolfi) has something more serious to deal with: confronting the new disease. Wisdom about the relation of poverty to waterlessness is provided by young African asylum seeker Sembene (Malich Cissé). In contrast an initially sensible and knowledgable professor of hydrology (Diego Ribon) is dazzled and becomes corrupted in a single day by the fame the new crisis has brought him.

    The scenes with Valerio Mastandrea in the car still remain the ones we can dig our teeth into. His scenes are matched in soulfulness, though, with those involving the popular actor Silvio Orlando as Alfredo, an aging accidentally released prisoner, now wandering around and exploring his past. Meanwhile there is a glitzy movie star featuring Monica Belluci playing a version of herself, and a cameo by Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho. Romney points out there is a lighter touch here than in Crash or 21 Grams (Yes, there is that.)

    This material is still way too complicated and disjointed when introduced. But it begins to flow together and make more sense toward the last of the over two hour runtime. As various critics note, the choral effect and flow resemble Virzì's Human Capital, though the comparison is misleading because the latter is so neatly held together and provided with a satisfying outcome by a kind of murder mystery. Romney generously concludes that Dry is overall "an intelligent, ambitious modern melodrama with a bracingly cynical streak." I can still only wanly recommend it, but there are good scenes.

    Dry/Siccità, 124 mins., debuted at Venice Sept.8, 2022, showing at a hanfful of other small European festivals and releasing in Italian theaters Sept. 29, 2022. Screened for this review as part of Open Roads: New Italian Cinema (June 1-8, 2023).
    Friday, June 2 at 6:00pm (Q&A with actor Tomasso Ragno)
    Thursday, June 8 at 3:00pm
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-29-2024 at 03:01 PM.

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    PRINCESS (Roberto De Paolis, 2022)

    ROBERTO DE PAOLIS: PRINCESS (2022)


    GLORY KEVIN IN PRINCESS

    Force of nature

    The followup to De Paolis' warm-hearted young love story Pure Hearts (Open Roads 2018) this film about a robust Nigerian prostitute in a pink wig has been called "contemporary fairy-tale cinéma vérité" in an Italian review.

    Kevin Glory, who plays "Princess," is a force of nature, whose confidence and vivacity spread throughout a film about prostitution in the fringes of Italian cities, about immigrants living in the country, and about Italian relations with local-based foreigners.

    Princess works on the road alongside a forest in Ostia, on the outskirts of Rome, living in an illegal encampment of cabins (everything is illegal about their existence) with other Nigerian streetwalkers in the forest. Her in-your-face joie-de-vivre and somewhat fantastic appearance may explain the word "fairy-tale" in the review. De Paolis spent time getting to know Nigerian prostitutes and some of them appear as themselves in the film, and this is basically more real than some Italians may want to believe. But the confusion of elements is a problem in a film whose protagonist takes over whatever story the filmmaker may have wanted to tell. Nonetheless, it confirms the intensity and originality of De Paolis in an era of Italian filmmakers who often seem to avoid making waves. Princess is a distinctive effort.

    Lee Marshall in his Screen Daily review said "the opening slot of Venice’s parallel Horizons sidebar feels like a consolation prize for a film that would not have looked out of place in Competition." Screened for this review as part of Open Roads: New Italian Cinema (June 1-8, 2023) sponsored by Film at Lincoln Center and Cinecittà.

    Princess, 111 mins., debuted as the opening film of the Orizzonti section at Venice Aug. 31, 2022.
    Friday, June 2 at 8:30pm (Q&A with Roberto De Paolis)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-02-2023 at 12:16 PM.

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    9MARGINS/MARGINI (Niccolò Falsetti 2022)

    NICCOLÒ FALSETTI: MARGINS/MARGINI


    SLINFATTI, CREATINI AND TURBANTI IN MARGINI

    Wailing in the sticks

    This is the tale of three young guys in long ago 2008 (Emanuele Linfatti, Edoardo; Matteo Creatini, Iacopo; and Francesco Turbanti, Michele) in a "street punk" band who live in the provincial Italian town of Grossetto. They are definitively on the margins, and what they want to achieve is frustratingly out of reach. Don't we all experience this situation sometimes? Turbanti and Falsetti did actually start a punk band in Grossetto, PEGS, which still exists. They're basically here having fun with their own experience, ramping up the isolation and the boredom.

    Their dream is to do something big and their effort to stage a concert featuring a known US band in their hometown, frustrated at every turn, is funny, a little heartbreaking and ultimately heartening. It starts when they get their big chance to open for the band "The Defense" in Bologna and then the whole concert is cancelled. On a whim, they get up their courage and call The Defense and invite them to play in Grossetto. They say yes.

    This is when their real trouble begins. The Defense want airfare from Russia to Italy. They have a shopping list of equipment to be supplied for their gig that a local entrepreneur says will cost them 4,000 euros to rent. Then one of the three, who plays classical cello, gets a replacement gig he can't say no to - to play under the baton of Daniel Barenboim - and the rehearsal is scheduled the day of the Grossetto punk concert.

    "Miche" in his late twenties is the most passionate and the oldster of the trio, who has a long-suffering wife, Margherita (Silvia D’Amico) and school-age daughter. "Iac" and "Edo" still live at home and get their laundry done for them. They are all in a way grownup children, but above all they are losing themselves in the violent noise of late blooming Italian punk music - and the struggle to get it heard locally - to escape the boredom and very un-Italian ugliness of this town in the Maremma (once swampland) that no tourist ever visits, or Italian either. Its abandoned weed-infested little traffic circle, a visible road to nowhere, is its signature image.

    And this is of course a tale of male bonding and togetherness. When Iac is presumably out of the planned big gig - for which they have found neither the venue nor the equipment - he still participates in the desperate but enthusiastic efforts to pull things together. The hilarious climax in that is when they trash a hated disco, the Eden, whilst stealing a mixer they need, because they want to make it look like a burglary, and they get really carried away, smashing everything, setting off the sound system, and spraying each other with a fire extinguisher. It is, in a way, the punk concert of your dreams.

    This debut film premiered in in Venice’s Critics' Week and there got favorable nods from Alex Ritman in Hollywood Reporter and Lee Marshell in Screen Daily. Marshall called Margins "a debut that may crowd-surf on good reviews and word-of-mouth well beyond its home market." It has something extra, more affectionate than mocking, more about the young male bonding than the music, but in every moment affectionate and true. The cinematography by Alessandro Veridiani is splendid and the closing credits are briliant and make you want to sing along. A tribute to the passion and togetherness of youth.

    Margins/Margini, 93 mins., debuted Sept. 2, 2022 at Venice Critics' Week (Quinlan review of Margins by Raffaele Reale.) It was released in Italy Sept.8. and later shown in several other festivals. Screened for this review in Open Roads: New Italian Cinema (Jun. 1-8, 2023) at Lincoln Center in collaboration with Cinecittà.
    Sunday, June 4 at 12:00pm (Q&A with Niccolò Falsetti)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-22-2024 at 09:54 PM.

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    FIREWORKS/STRANIZZA D'AMURI (Giuseppe Fiorello, 2023)

    GIUSEPPE FIORELLO: FIREWORKS/STRANIZZA D'AMURI (2023)


    GABRIELE PIZZURRO AND SAMUELE SEGRETO IN FIREWORKS/STRANIZZA D'AMURI

    A gay love story, an infamous hate crime, a lasting political impact

    Italian TV star Giuseppe ("Beppe") Fiorello has staged an impressive directorial debut with Fireworks/Stranizza d'amuri, a gay coming-of-age romance based on real events. It takes place in an ultra-conservative Sicily of the 1980's and ends with the hate crime that gave birth to Arcigay, Italy’s first and largest LGBTQ rights group. Simply opened in Italy March 23, 2023, with no festival showings, it has received no outside reviews, but apparent acclaim in Italy. An Italian review in Quinlan by Massimiliano Schiavoni points out where the film is accurate and where it isn't - a place to start. A Variety preview lays out details of the film's creation.

    Fireworks arouses strong mixed feelings. The coming of age love story is sweet and touching; the general homophobia and resulting atrocity trigger feelings of horror and repulsion. Is one touched, disturbed, uplifted, angered, galvanized? It all may seem too much to deal with at once: the innocent purity of young love, the vile machismo overflowing into hate-crime murder. And to heighten the mood even further the film moves the events from 1980, when they occurred, to the summer of 1982, when Italy was exulting over its world Cup soccer win - and also includes some spectacular up-close-and-noisy fireworks sequences.

    Schiavoni says Italy has forgotten this event because it wrongly thinks it has moved on and thus it was essential to retell the story as this film does: Italy is an externally beautiful country, he writes, but has't achieved a matching beauty on the inside.
    Fiorello recalls the tragic affair of the young homosexual couple Giorgio Giammona and Antonio Galatola, later remembered as Giorgio and Toni, who were shot dead in Giarre in 1980, according to the grim pattern of a murder with a clearly homophobic matrix. Having discarded the initial hypothesis of a murder/suicide triggered by the desperation of the two boys, the crime went unpunished, since the only serious suspect (and horror was added to horror) was Toni's nephew, barely 13 years old, who was not prosecutable for his age and who in any case recanted his version of events several times.
    There are other complications, but the cloudy events, the fake suicide and lack of prosecution for any crime protected by traditional Sicilian omertà, are clarified in the strong reaction: in Palermo within a month the first Arcigay homosexual activist group was formed, and this was to be the foremost gay activist organization in he country. Also a lesbian group reportedly was formed.

    "The crime in Giarre" - shooting the two boys in the head while hand in hand - led to the novel Stranizza by Valerio la Martire, to which this film owes a debt. But the actual Sicilian dialect title "Stranizza d'amuri" (Miracle of Love) refers to a famous song by Franco Battiato, a Giarre local, but composed in 1979 and referring to WWII but adolelscent love. It's a very famous song, and Battiato's only one in his native Sicilian dialect. The reference indicates Fiorello's desire to make his film a universal portrait of adolescence and adolescent love that "penetrates the bones" of its youthful first-timers.

    Fiorello paints with a very broad brush in this film. Many adult characters are more seen than developed. It uses intense closeups, the swarthy, bearded faces of the adult men, the smooth, fresh faces of the two boys who are at the center of the story - so very, very different from François Ozon's recent, also tragic, but not quite serious, Summer of 85., which comes to mind because both teen gay romances feature romantic motorbike scenes.

    Samuele Segreto is Gianni, the older, 17-year-old boy, already called mockingly "Giannuccia" and marked as a "faggot" for past behavior which may have caused him to spend time in a reformatory. He has a mean stepfather (and is probably illegitimate) and a frightened mother and his status in the tiny town is uneasy. Segreto is short, dark, and pretty with a bright and ready smile. He has some of the looks of the young Belmondo.

    But smile or not, Gianni's circumstances are uneasy, so when by chance while delivering a motorbike he literally runs into Nino (Gabriele Pizzurro), Nino's unscathed reputation and relatively serene home life becomes a bridge to escape for Gianni - for a time - as well as to love. Nino assists his father, whose livelihood comes from staging fireworks displays for local fairs - an opportunity for the film to provide us with gorgeous and noisy screen-filling displays, which, if you give yourself to the style, seem not intrusive but integral: they express this world's explosive emotionality, as the rabbit-shooting scenes featuring Nino's semi-comic little bro Totò (Simone Raffaele Cordiano), express its inherent violence. Pizzurro is tall and thin with light skin and big fluffy hair. Nino loves to go off and strip down to his underpants and swim in the local river. Eventually he gets Gianni to join him.

    Fiorello cunningly manipulates the World Cup not only to create climactic tension but to show Gianni and Nino's social exclusion because of their sexuality: when everybody is celebrating Italy's victory, at the ultimate moment of national brotherhood, they aren't watching but instead use the attraction of everyone's attention to go off by themselves once more. They have been forced to separate when too often they have been seen kissing. And while there is nothing like the spit-lubed butt-fucking of Brokeback Mountain, it's made pretty clear that the kissing has led to making love

    I have to admit after seeing the film, and very close to the screen at the Walter Reade Theater where the visual and auditory impact was tremendous - that, though the film is a bit overlong and moves too slowly in its early reels - somehow Fiorello manages to make us feel above all else the pure adolescent feeling of the boys and the beauty of their love, despite the grim finale. It's an impactful film and one that ought to be seen outside local territories and specialized Italian cinema festivals. One wonders why it had no festival screenings to launch it for a broader audience - whether it was submitted only to Italian festivals, and rejected out of lingering unease.

    Fireworks/Stranizza d'amuri, 172 mins., released theatrically in Italy with no festival exposure March 23, 2023. Screened for this review as part of the June 1-8, 2023 Film at Lincoln Center-Cinecittà series Open Roads: New Italian Cinema.
    Thursday, June 1 at 3:30pm (Q&A with Giuseppe Fiorello, Gabriele Pizurro, Samuele Segreto)
    Tuesday, June 6 at 6:00pm
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-02-2023 at 07:27 AM.

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    MY SUMMER WITH THE SHARK/DENTI DA SQUALO (Davide Gentile 2023)

    DAVIDE GENTILE: MY SUMMER WITH THE SHARK/DENTI DA SQUALO (2023)


    TIZIANO MENICHELLI (RIGHT) CONFRONTS "TECHNO" IN MY SUMMER WITH THE SHARK/DENTI DI SQUALO

    Adventurous summer

    My Summer with the Shark/Dentida squalo, the new film premiered at Lincoln Center, conveys a sense of play, adventure, and courage that is infectious. It isn't always clear what may be happening to young Walter (Tiziano Manichelli), the feisty, small-for-his age 13-year-old all this is about. But his ballsy confidence and his surprising skillset (skateboarding, shark wrangling, dancing, standing up to anybody) are always in evidence. Something may have gone a bit astray in the ten-year-old screenplay and its later revisions. But first-time director Davide Gentile did something right, because the spirit of play and adventure is there.

    Walter discovers a secret world for himself in the summer while his mother (Virginia Raffaele) is working in an outdoor restaurant somewhere around Rome-Ostia. Her husband, Walter's father (Claudio Santamaria) has recently died at only forty in an accident in an air purifier saving someone, or so we hear: no one particularly likes telling the truth in this movie. Rita's refers to Antonio only by talking to Walter about getting rid of his stuff. Dealing with grief and helping Walter do so aren't things Rita is particularly up for. For Walter, Antonio is still very much present, in the film's magic realist moments when he appears to provide crucial life lessons and advice.

    Riding his bike on the coast near Rome Walter comes across a magnificent, seemingly abandoned estate with a tower and a large leaf-infested swimming pool. Walter strips down and jumps in. He's an excellent swimmer. The big shark that appears and starts swimming toward Walter is the first menace Walter narrowly escapes. But soon comes another one, Carlo, aka Elo aka Giancarlo, an aggressive, bigger boy who says he's the "custodian" of the property. But then appears a bigger, bearded adult who calls himself "Il Corsaro," the Pirate (Edoardo Pesce ofDogman), who later appears to have had some connection with Walter's father.

    Walter becomes more a partner than a sidekick to Carlo, and he stands up effectively to The Corsair. Carlo brings Walter to Techno, recommending his sills to this mysterious miscreant who's always playing a little squeaky video game. Techno gives Walter an errand to run and he successfully completes it, his smallness and seeming insignificance providing camouflage. What is he carrying? Anyway, piles of money accrue. Rita's anger when she discovers them lead to the revelation that the boy's dead father was also involved in illegality she wants her son to avoid. That seems unlikely. But where Walter is involved, feats of boyish sprezzatura happen and fun is always to be had.

    My Summer with the Shark/Denti da squalo, 104mins. Announced world premiere at Open Road: New Italian Cinema from FLC and Cinecittà Jun. 3, 2023.
    Saturday, June 3 at 8:30pm (Q&A with Davide Gentile)


    EDOARDO PESCE, TIZIANO MENICHELLI IN MY SUMMER WITH THE SHARK/DENTI DI SQUALO
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-05-2023 at 07:39 AM.

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    LIKE TURTLES/COME LE TARTARUGHE (Monica Dugo 2022)

    MONICA DUGO: LIKE TURTLES/COME LE TARTARUGHE (2022)


    MONICA DUGO, RIGHT, IN LIKE TURTLES/COME LE TARTARUGHE

    Hiding a while when things get tough

    Like Turtles/Come le tartarughe, the experienced actress Monica Dugo's directorial and writing debut feature, concerns a well off bourgeois housewife's extreme reaction when her husband leaves her, and their two children, and the Filipina housekeeper, and their palatial apartment in the center of Rome, to take a break, or find himself. Tina (Dugo) takes up residence in her husband's space in the family's equally spacious custom-built family armadio, their wardrobe, which he has made available by removing his clothing. She remains in touch, with the door often open, but not quite involved normally in everyday family life. She promises to come out when her husband returns.

    The style of this film has been called "elegant," and it precedes with thorough smoothness and confidence. It may seem unduly whimsical and fanciful to deal with withdrawal and depression in this way. However, frivolity and fantasy are features of some of Italy's greatest contemporary artists - of Fellini, for instance, and Italo Calvino, whose Barone rampante describes a 19th-cenury nobleman who climbs up and lives the rest of his life in a tree.

    "I've dealt with hikikomori cases before," says Dr. Fabrizia Storzo, the psychotherapist, whom Lisa (director/lead acdtor Monica Dugo)'s grumpy tennis-playing teenage daughter Sveva (a forceful Romana Maggiore Vergano) brings to the apartment to See her after she's moved into his space in the giant family armadio(wardrobe) after her wishy-washy husband Daniele (Angelo Libri) removes his clothes and walks out. He does so, he explains to Sveva (he is still somehow in the area, and in touch) to find himself, to take a break, and not because of displeasure with Lisa but just because he's "depressed." Other characters include Sveva's poorly treated boyfriend Luca (Francesco Gheghi), rumpled-haired little brother Paolo (Edoardo Boschetti) and the Filipina housekeeper, who quits; an unseen mother-in-law who tends to call with her complaints at dinnertime. Daniele is apparently a coroner, a surgeon, as he tells seven-year-old Paolo, whose patients are in no danger of dying under the knife. For some reason he is already frequently away, and he may have lost interest in Lisa for some Time.

    Lisa is pale and petulant but seems more cheerful once ensconced in the wardrobe. Her main function has been to maintain the smooth functioning of the family. She can only exert her power by disrupting it. When Dr. Storzo takes off her shoes and gets into the wardrobe to consult, Lisa launches into an angry and quite inappropriate lecture on how psychotherapy is a hoax and therapists mere money-grubbing quacks. She says they "authorize the selfishness and narcissism" of the "rich bourgeoisie" who "hide behind depression." But she expresses (to Paola) the truism "Hating is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die." Her mother visits her, and offers wisdom too. Her husband probably is with another, older woman from work, with greasy hair and pockmarked face, spied by Sveva.

    Glenn Kenny commented favorably on Like Turtles from Venice on RogerEbert.com saying that its commercial prospects are helped by it's being "Ferrante-adjacent," since its story relates to Elena's Days of Abandonment though less "raw and violent."

    The device of the wardrobe - which can be removed after it has performed its function and Lisa has reemerged facing the new situation - is a neat one around which the screenplay neatly revolves. However the film winds up being rather fangless, as if it itself has withdrawn from the uneasy topics it caresses. (Perhaps that's what "elegant" means.) Dugo has delivered very watchable film. The images of dp Gianni Mammolotti gently remind us always that this is indeed happening in the centro storico of Rome.

    Monica Dugo's directorial debut was made possible through the Venice Biennale College Cinema initiative. (A full cast list is not provided so some characters may be linked with the wrong actors.)

    Like Turtles/Come le tartarughe B, 80 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2, 2022, also playing at Rio in Oct. Screened for this review as part of the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema June 1-8, 2023 series at Lincoln Center (with Cinnecittà).
    Sunday, June 4 at 5:30pm (Q&A with Monica Dugo)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-03-2023 at 02:25 PM.

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    ROBERTO ANDÒ: STRANGENESS/LA STRANEZZA (2022)


    TONI SERVILLO (LEFT) WITH SALVO FICARRA AND VALENTINO PICONE IN STRANGENESS/LA STRANEZZA

    The audience is the play

    The great Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936), after a long absence, revisits his native Sicily in 1920 for the burial of his wet nurse and the 80th birthday of his mentor novelist-playwright Giovanni Verga while experiencing a creative block and encounters an ambitious company of amateur actors who inspire his most famous work in this gentle fantasy from Roberto Andò.

    It is the rather arch conceit of Andò and cowriters Ugo Chiti and Massimo Gaudioso that the thespian troupe's leaders are a moonlighting duo of gravediggers, Onofrio and Bastiano (comedy duo Salvo Ficarra and Valentino Picone), whose double role makes them links from burial to local theater, while the visiting author does his best to hide his illustrious identity while spying on the lively theatrical efforts. The duo wind up being an inspired choice, and the many scenes of the thespians on stage and off provide an energy that contrasts with the stillness of Servillo as the spiritually dry playwright observing them.

    Upon arriving in the city of Agrigento, spying on the spirited amateur thespians, the playwright is captivated by a sui generis Sicilian world of oddball local personalities, ghostly visions, haunting memories and melancholy apparitions that eventually combine to inspire him to write Six Characters in Search of an Author (Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore), the play that made him internationally famous.

    After a slow start, other than some colorful scenes involving Ficarra and Picone and the acting troupe, things heat up with a full-dress play with Pirandello, outed now, by invitation in a box watching. Non-Sicilian and non-Italian watchers will lose out because there is plenty of dialect and word play.

    The film also alludes to the madness of Pirandello's wife and his own inner psychological sufferings, to which he referred by the term "la stranezza" (the strangeness); these also play into the creative ferment and rebirth the change of scene arouses. Servillo remains, as always, impeccably elegant and buttoned-down: with his pointed white beard he looks a lot like the historical Piirandello, lacking only a certain twinkle and sharpness. It's not easy to be a genius, or to play one.

    Strangeness has been well received in Italy, and Andò has stressed in interviews that this is a story in which the audience is of primary importance, as it is clearly in the amateur theater events that we observe. It is that active engagement with the audience and with the amateur thespians' lively improvisational methods that inspire Pirandello's masterpiece, whose tumultuous first performance is recreated here as the intense, thought-provoking climax.

    The film is dedicated to the memory great contemporary Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia (1921-1989), whom Andò has acknowledged as a personal influence.

    I have previously reviewed three other Roberto Andò films, Secret Journey(2006) and Long Live Freedom (2013) and The Confessions (2016; the latter two also with Servillo), at Open Roads 20o7 and 2014, respectively, and Mill Vally.) This is more entertaining and colorful of the lot.

    Strangeness/Stranezza, 104 mins., debuted at Rome Oct. 20, 2022, opening theatrically in Italy Oct. 27. It also has showed in a number of other festivals and Italian-film series. It was screened for this review as part of the June 1-8, 2023 iteration of the joint Cinecittà-Film at Lincoln Center series Open Roads: New Italian Cinema. Showing:
    Sunday, June 4 at 8:00pm
    Thursday, June 8 at 12:30pm
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-05-2023 at 03:41 PM.

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    LORD OF THE ANTS/IL SIGNORE DELLE FORMICHE (Gianni Amelio 2022)

    GIANNI AMELIO: LORD OF THE ANTS/IL SIGNORE DELLE FORMICHE (2022)



    LUIGI LO CASCIO AND LEONARDO MALTESE IN LORD OF THE ANTS

    Lives destroyed by homophobia in Sixties Italy

    This complex and interesting though clearly flawed film recreates an important but largely forgotten court case of Italy in the 1960's that delineates the country's uneasy relationship with homosexuality. It features the prolific Luigi Lo Cascio as the accused Aldo Braibanti, an intellectual who at the end of the 1960s was convicted of the crime of "plagio" or grooming of Ettore Tagliaferri, a young man who frequented the Tower, Braibanti's cultural center. As Ettore, there is a stunning performance by newcomer Leonardo Maltese. Counterpoint is provided by an easygoing performance as Unità reporter Ennio Scribani, who covers the case, by Elio Germano.

    Lo Cascio, Montese and Germano are compelling and this is a moving, disturbing film. However, as I have learned from Italian sources, notably Raffaele Meale in Quinlan, there are inexplicable alterations and things left out in Gianni Amelio's telling of events. Amelio's freedom with the context of the case - the communist paper's coverage and the support of Braibanti by prominent artists and intellectuals - is hard to understand and creates reservations about the film. So does its style and mood, which is languid and feels rooted in the very backwardness of earlier decades. This film is not quite up to the level of great Amelio work like Così ridevano, Lamerica, and Le chiavi di casa.

    But the essential point is clear. Modern Italy, right in the time of worldwide civil rights revolts, was still mired in the fascist aftereffects (Mussolini did not even allow the word "homosexual" to be used because he would not admit there were such people in Italy) and the oppressive "morality" of the Catholic church. Indeed the concept of mentally subjugating another person, designated by the "plagio" law only evoked then and never again, was not just a backward idea but a positively medieval, as well as fascist one, and this was the summer of 1968.

    The irate bourgeois mother and the more conservative older brother feel like familiar figures from Italian cinema of decades past. Lord of the Ants sometimes gets mired in its old fashioned, clunky beats. Even though we see young demonstrators on the street supporting Braibanti, the conventionality of Lord of the Ants seems little to acknowledge them, to take too seriously the archaic, repressive viewpoints expressed in the trial.

    On the other hand, Braibanti is a complex and remarkable figure here, a playwright, poet but perhaps in his heart of hearts a scientist, specifically a myrmecologist, or ant expert, whose Tower was a community of young people gathered around him and drawn in by his energy and almost renaissance multiple accomplishments. He inspires them. But he also does seem to manipulate them and want to gather a cult around himself. He yells at his young charges. He isn't a pleasant or likable man at all. But Ettore isn't a minor and he both loves and is inspired by Braibanti. We see a love here, a sexual one, between a young and a middle-aged man: and this is a bold element for any Italian film however conventional the rest of it is.

    The events that play out lead to the destruction of both men. Ettore's mother imprisons him in a program to "cure" him of his homosexuality that includes a horrible series of electroshock treatments. Ettore becomes a ghost of his former self. And yet he never loses his love and admiration for Braibanti and still says is the most important person in his life and now knows that his family are now his enemies. Aldo and Ettore have one final rather distant but friendly meeting.

    As played by Elio Germano, Ennio Scribani, the correspondent for the Rome communist paper Unità assigned to the "plagio" court case that leads Braibanti to be sentenced to nine years imprisonment (though it is reduced) has a double function in the film. He is an easygoing, good humored, perpetually hat-wearing and tieless fellow un-hampered by Catholicism or conservative morality. Thus he provides a balance to the overwrought views of everybody else. (This somewhat simplistic depiction contrasts with Germano's complex and vulnerable portrayal of Giacomo Leopardi in the 2014 Mario Martone biopic also shown in this year's Open Roads Italian film series.) Scribani's presence also enables Amelio to get in a dig at the communist newspaper, whose editor the film represents as a creep without liberal ideas who, somewhat late in the game, expresses regret at having assigned Scribani to the trial and encourages him to resign from the paper, which he does. But while in the film Scribani isn't allowed to use the word "homosexual" or even "communist" in his articles, which are sometimes trashed or replaced by the obnoxious editor, the Quinlin article points out this isn't true.

    Despite its flaws Lord of the Ants is still an impressive depiction of this important case. The screenplay keeps the complexity of the issues, especially the fact that Braibanti, though wrongly accused, is a hard man to like and also the fact that young Ettore is rather confused. The film is shines in the performances of Lo Cascio as the forceful but unappealing Braibanti and Germano as the smiling, independent-minded journalist Scribani. The revelation is Leonardo Maltese who as Ettore Tagliaferri, the young gay man destroyed by his own family, is like an open wound, an immensely appealing actor we are likely to see again.

    Lord of the Ants/Il signore delle formiche, 134 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 6, 2022 and opened in Italy Sept. 8. It also showed at Busan, Rio, Chicago, and five other international festivals. Screened for this review as part of the June 1-8, 2023 Film at Lincoln Center-Cinecittà series Open Roads: New Italian Cinema.
    Monday, June 5 at 6:00pm
    Wednesday, June 7 at 3:00pm
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-06-2023 at 11:55 AM.

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    LEOPARDI/LEOPARDI: IL GIOVANE FAVOLOSO (Mario Martone2014)

    MARIO MARTONE: LEOPARDI/LEOPARDI: IL GIOVANE FAVOLOSO (2014)


    ELIO GERMANO IN LEOPARDI

    Giacomo Leopardi's life of suffering and creation

    This gorgeous, full-dress historical film recreates the troubled and remarkable life of the greatest Italian poet of the nineteenth century as well as one of Italy's greatest philologists, essayists, and philosophers, Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), eldest son of a count in Recanati, in le Marche. Leopardi was presented in the 2023 Italian series at Lincoln Center as part of a tribute to the director Mario Martone. Central to the film's success is the sympathetic performance of Elio Germano as Leopardi. It's an engaging story; but as happens with biopics of great men, there's a struggle to maintain balance between the achievements and the personal drama, and the personal drama decisively wins out.

    This is because Leopardi suffered from extraordinary physical problems that progressively bent him over and made his short life wracked with pain. It is a remarkable and demanding physical performance by Germano, who is seen as Leopardi struggling more and more to walk and becoming bent over. The great poet and thinker is never forgotten by the film, but the viewer, especially the one not trained in Italian literature, comes away with a memory dominated by the broken body more than the wonderful verses and brilliant mind.

    The childhood (when Giacomo is played by Filippo Chierici) is happy. We see him running and playing with his brother Carlo Orazio and sister Paolina. His brilliance is clear and he's put to work studying with priests but learns mostly, irregularly, plunging into the magnificent library assembled by his father, the grand and conservative Count Monaldo Leopoardi (Massimo Popolizio). We see displays of his knowledge, sight-reading Homer in Greek, and from Hebrew. We also may realize this isn't a balanced education but one steeped in language and philology. But he also reads philosophy, and refers to Nietzsche. And then we hear some of his poetry, which of course sounds poetic if experienced through movie subtitles, but for a true appreciation of which one must understand Italian.

    The Italian subtitle "Il giovane favoloso," despite the richness of the mise-en-scène, is more wish than reality, because it is impossible to experience the full fabulousness of a life of such remarkable achievement. And while Giacomo angrily tells judges who deny him a prize who complain of his pessimism that it has nothing to do with his constant, increasing physical ill health, and we hear from him that he has dozens of projects, too many to complete, we see more of his love of Fanny (Anna Mouglalis), who is inevitably more interested in his best friend Ranieri (Michele Riondino), and this turns into a bromance when Ranieri leaves with Leopardi and takes care of him, which takes over the film's last half and is its most memorable and moving focus.

    It is a physical feat for Germano, then in his mid-thirties, to look both older and later prematurely aging, and to go through all the contortions of Leopardi's disease of the neck and spine. It is speculated that he had either Pott's disease or ankylosing spondylitis, both deformations of the spine.

    The childhood (when Giacomo is played by Filippo Chierici) is happy. We see him running and playing with Carlo Orazio and sister Paolina. His brilliance is clear and he's put to work studying with priests but learns mostly, irregularly, plunging into the magnificent library assembled by his father, the grand and conservative Count Monaldo Leopoardi(Massimo Popolizio) We see displays of his knowledge, sight-reading Homer in Greek, and from Hebrew. We also may realize this isn't a balanced education but one steeped in language and philology; but he also read philosophy, and refers to Nietzsche. And then we hear some of his poetry, which of course sounds poetic if experienced through movie subtitles, but for a true appreciation of which one must understand Italian.

    An important early event is the visit from older admirer the classicist Pietro Giordani (Valerio Valasco) - a first recognition of his growing fame and reputation and a challenge to the power of his domineering father. But other memorable scenes indicate that during his lifetime Leopardi was misunderstood or undervalued and it was likely in years following his short life that his extraordinary achievement and importance as a poet became recognized.

    The Italian subtitle "Il giovane favoloso," despite the richness of the mise-en-scène, is more wish than reality, because it is impossible to experience the full fabulousness of a life of such remarkable achievement. And while Giacomo angrily tells judges who deny him a prize who complain of his pessimism that it has nothing to do with his constant, increasing physical ill health, we hear from him that he has dozens of projects, too many to complete, we see more of his love of Fanny (Anna Mouglalis), who is inevitably more interested in his best friend Ranieri (Michele Riondino), and this turns into a bromance when Ranieri leaves with Leopardi and takes care of him.

    Of course the problem with a writer biopic is that the audience can't spend much time watching the man at a desk with pen writing though that be the most important time in the man's short life. What we would prefer to see is Leopardi in front of a big window looking at the full moon and spouting verses he makes up about it. (This is one of the most beautiful images of a movie full of them.)

    Leopardi was robbed of the great love a romanic poet was due, but his life is nonetheless a quintessential nineteenth-century artist's story, running from aristocratic origins to an impoverished early sickly death (he may even have had tuberculosis). And in place of love he had the passionate friendship of his great friend Ranieri. Early on he dreamed of escape - which his father did not want him to do - but eventually broke away with Ranieri and became "the toast of Florence." Later he and Ranieri move to Naples. There is a sequence suggesting (as Wikipedia does) that Leopardi's closeness to Fanny's younger brother reflected he may have been gay. The "more than twenty-five sentimental female friendships" Leopardi had in his lifetime (also indicated in Wikipedia), Martone doesn't describe in this vivid and impressionistic portrait.

    More memorable sequences than any of the ones sitting at desks dipping quill pens into glass inkwells are those of a cholera epidemic in Naples when Leopardi dodges two men carrying a dead body along a cobblestone street, tall, thin, black-garbed figures coming to collect the dead from houses, and later, when Ranieri has arranged for the still-virgin Leopardi to visit a brothel and this becomes a hellish escape through fire-lit subterranean passages when he is mocked as "toady" and forced to run away. Martone pulls out all the stops in all these scenes: they are marvelously realized, though they are objective correlatives, one knows, for other things that can only be experienced in reading a book, for this is a man whose greatness is best experienced on the page, not the screen. But it is still good to have this film, even if it is a little overblown, to bring to life a great poet many have read, or to inspire others to read him for the first time.

    Leopardi/Leopardi: il giovane favoloso,143 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 1, 2014. It was screened for this review at the June 1-8, 2023 Cinecittà-Film at Lincoln Center series Open Roads: New Italian Cinema.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-06-2023 at 05:26 PM.

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    TROUBLING LOVE/L'AMORE MOLESTO (Mario Martone 1995)

    MARIO MARTONE: TROUBLING LOVE/L'AMORE MOLESTO (1995)


    ANNA BONAIUTO IN L'AMORE MOLESTO

    TRAILER

    In gorgeous search of lost somethings

    This is a film of great beauty from the most admired writer of contemporary Italy, Elena Ferrante, her first novel, which series-featured auteur Mario Martone presents in a fresh mix of brilliant Eastman Technicolor and period sepia that, though 28 years old, looks newly minted. And that red dress! On the body of Delia (popular and simpatica Anna Bonaiuto), the protagonist/daughter/detective/analyst of the story, it fits so perfectly, once she dons it, she remains long unwilling to take it off. One can almost love this movie without understanding it. But as one who has never been able to tune in to the feminine, meridionale southern Italian saga-melodrama world of this internationally celebrated writer, despite savoring the feel of multicolored noirish magic given off by L'amore molesto, and appreciating the leanness of its 104 minutes, I found it baffling and inexplicable. (As a longtime student of Italian, I have also never learned to love the swallowed truncations of Neapolitan or Sicilian dialects - another possible obstacle - just as I've never quite warmed to the twang of Québecois French.)

    Delia lives alone now in Bologna and makes a living as a comic strip artist. Getting a rather strange call from her mother Amalia (Angela Luce) in high spirits, she returns to her native Naples for Amalia's birthday, to find her parent has washed up on the shore dead. (Naples will be a key character: the long-lens-emphasized crowd scenes of the city and its varied public transportation almost burst off the screen.) The coroner declares nothing amiss (what about the homicide detectives?), but Delia unsurprisingly finds the circumstances peculiar, and lingers to explore recent relationships but also delve into not so much her mother's death as her life, and above all moments of her own, Delia's, childhood, and flowing through it all "another man," tall, with wavy gray hair, in a handsome linen suit, "very elegant," someone says - the man, or perhaps the suit? - who appears and reappears, as does his boisterous son Antonio (Peppe Lanzetta).

    This "elegant" man, Nicola Polliedro (Giovanni Viglietti) but known as Caserta, is still around, and teases Delia like a sleazy but well-dressed phantom. A miscreant, thief, and freeloader even into the present day, Caserta represents Italian male charm at its most durable and dubious. He is old and wrinkly, but he is tall and well dressed, has good hair, thinks well of himself - and is nimble on his feet. Delia chases him up and down an old building in vain: why? This is a sequence that might work better on the page than on the screen: when we see it, it becomes harder to see this as actually happening.

    In the case of Delia's actual encounter with Caserta's rude and inelegant but equally full-of-himself son Antonio (Peppe Lanzetta), who runs a clothing store now, what's so hard is not to believe it's happening but to understand how Delia puts up with his behavior, following him to a sauna (well yes, he was a childhood friend) where he molests her and yet she goes right on sitting with him and talking to him. This encounter is troubling, while a visit to the artist father (Italo Celoro) is too brief and disappointing, a footnote.

    What troubles me more globally is the way the film - presumably Ferrante in the novel - weaves elements in and out, present and past, without in doing so quite answering the viewer's basic questions, assuming that, as for the Ferrante devotee may be true, we all simply hang on Delia's musings and don't care. It is plain that what happened between Caserta and Amalia recently and how Amalia died don't matter to her but are merely hors d'oeuvres leading us to the main dish of what happened to Delia and what she did at the age of seven.

    A recent anglophone DVD rating person, myreviewercom, who gives the film rather short shrift (she should have seen it on the magnificent screen with the exquisite sound of FLC's Walter Reade Theater as I did), points out Delia's three symbolic costumes: the severe pants suit she travels from Bologna wearing; the aforementioned red dress, "supposedly chosen for her birthday by her mother", to plunge into the sensuous world of Naples and her and her mother's memories; and her mother's old two piece dress suit she finally puts on, signaling the moment when Delia either "decides she's had enough" and "will never find out what has happened" or concludes that "the hinted at secrets" are "too painful" to unearth. She also decides in penance for childhood wrongdoing symbolically to become her mother.) The reviewer, like me, was left uncertain over what it all means. This seems partly a case where reverent film adapters have tried to cram too much of their source novel into a movie runtime and wound up resultingly making a confusing film.

    The difference is that I'm not puzzled about why this film was in Competition at Cannes and won multiple top Italian awards for the year: L'amore molesto shows the gifted, fluent Mario Martone at the top of his cinematic powers. It is a magnificent film to look at. In a way it is better than the other two of his films, also fine, shown at this year's Open Roads FLC series. The new film Nostalgia, also from a novel, also about a return to Naples, makes more sense and is more satisfying, but it is relatively drab, all focus on the storytelling, satisfying, certainly, but without the orgasmic sound and image of L'amore molesto. Martone's 2024 Leopardi: il giovane favoloso is gorgeous and fluent and rich in mise-en-scène too. But it has the limitations of the conventional biopic, the rush to tell a story, and lacks the mystery and poetry of the other two.

    Delving into past experiences and family secrets has never been more beautiful or well suggested or integrated with a rich urban environment as in L'amore molesto. But the crime-detection intro is misleading and, as the DVD reviewer suggests, it's all, in this adapted version of Ferrante's novel at least, a bit of a tease. The mystery isn't solved. Nor is the madeleine traced to the primal memory. This turns out to be a beautiful ride to somewhere not fully specified.

    Troubling Love/L'amore molesto, 104 mins., debuted at Cannes May 23, 1995 after an April release in Italy. It showed at some other festivals and released internationally. At home it captured three David Di Donatello Awards in 1995 — Best Actress for Bonaiuto, Best Director for Martone, and Best Supporting Actress for Angela Luce as Delia’s mother. [The title has also been translated as "Nasty Love." Let's admit we just can't capture "amore molesto" in English.] Screened for this review at the Walter Reade Theater Jun. 6, 2023 at 9:00 pm as part of the Cinecittà-Film at Lincoln Center Jun. 1-18, 2023 series Open Roads: New American Cinema.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-17-2023 at 11:21 PM.

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