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Thread: SFFS New Italian Cinema Nov. 19-23, 2014

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    SFFS New Italian Cinema Nov. 19-23, 2014


    General Film Forum thread for NIC 2014.

    Links to reviews:

    Controra: House of Shadows (Rossella De Venuto 2013)
    Human Capital/Il capitale umano (Carlo Virzi 2013)
    Human Voice/Voce umana (Edoardo Ponti 2014)
    I Can Quit Whenever I Want/Smetto quando voglio (Sydney Sibilia 2014)
    In the Snow (Stefano Incerti 2013)
    Long Live Freedom/Viva la libertÓ (Roberto And˛ 2013)
    Medicine Seller, The/Il venditore di medicine (Antonio Morabito 2013)
    Misunderstood/Incompresa (Asia Argento 2014)
    Nightshift Belongs to the Stars, The/Il turno di notte lo fanno le stelle (Edoardo Ponti 2012)
    Per Ulisse (Giovanni Cioni 2013)


    San Francisco Film Society November 19-23, 2014. I have seen and reviewed three already, and will review some more. Filmleaf Festival Coverage begins HERE. [/size]

    This year's New Italian Cinema offers several distinct elements in the competition section, including the first-ever animated feature, an Italian production entirely in Arabic and a suspense-oriented film in the giallo tradition, among other extremely impressive first or second features. Opening Night features a very special evening with Edoardo Ponti alongside Asia Argento's welcome return to the director's chair, and the festival closes with another of Paolo Virzý's expert delineations of class inequity.

    The SFFS series blurbs are given below.

    November 19 - 23, 2014 at the Vogue Theatre, San Francisco


    An evening with Edoardi Ponti:
    This special evening with Edoardo Ponti will feature two of his short films:
    The Nightshift Belongs to the Stars/Il turno di notte lo fanno le stelle (Edoardo Ponti 2012) [REVIEWED]
    November 19, 2014, 6:30 p.m.
    Human Voice/Voce umana (Edoardo Ponti), with an iconic performance by Sofia Loren [REVIEWED]
    November 19, 2014, 6:30 p.m.

    Misunderstood/Incompresa (Asia Argento 2014) [REVIEWED--NYFF]
    The multi-talented Asia Argento returns to the director’s chair for this very personal look at a young girl who suffers at the hands of her self-centered and neglectful parents. Aria is a sensitive 9-year old, the daughter of an imperious pianist (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and an ambitious actor (Italian TV idol Gabriel Garko). When her constantly warring parents eventually separate, wide-eyed Aria must fend for herself with only her school friend Angelica and a neighborhood stray cat she names Dac to help assuage the deprivations of her home life. Argento is clearly working with autobiographical material here, but rather than wallowing in Aria’s sadness, she finds moments of humor and terror to leaven her protagonist’s story. Giulia Salerno is astounding in the lead role, showing Aria’s resourcefulness and resolution in the midst of chaos and mistreatment. With a style and sensibility all its own, Misunderstood is a compelling and richly imagined portrait of familial dysfunction.
    November 19, 2014, 8:30 p.m.

    Long Live Freedom/Viva la LibertÓ (Roberto And˛ 2014) [REVIEWED-LINCOLN CENTER JUNE 2014]
    Enrico Olivera (Toni Servillo) is a politician on the verge of a breakdown; heckled before a panel session, he disappears. His long-suffering assistant Andrea (Valerio Mastandrea) finds out from Enrico’s wife that there is a twin brother, Giovanni, whose existence has been kept secret as he’s been in an institution for some time. Andrea’s brainstorm to have Giovanni pose as Enrico takes a shocking turn when the “crazy” stand-in turns out to have some very sane ideas that are wildly embraced by the populace. Viva la LibertÓ offers a bold political satire in the vein of Being There spearheaded by the masterful Servillo, who creates two distinct characters with perfectly calibrated shadings of speech and appearance. Also features the wonderful Valeria Bruni Tedeschi (also in Human Capital) as a former flame of the twins.
    November 20, 2014, 6:30 p.m.

    Controra: House of Shadows (Rossella De Venuto 2013) [REVIEWED]
    Besides neorealism and the spaghetti Western, Italy is also famous for the giallo, a genre of literature and film focusing on crime and mystery, and Controra fits firmly and memorably within its framework. Megan is a slightly uptight Irish painter who travels to Italy with her husband Leo to settle the will of his uncle Domenico, a priest who is being recommended for canonization. Settling in Domenico’s grand palazzo, Megan starts having frightening midday dreams and seeing mysterious apparitions. These experiences lead her to investigate the background of the family and the village, discovering some tragic history and arousing the anger of her husband and brother. Relying on more classical methods of instilling fear rather than gouts of gore, Rossella de Venuto has crafted a shadowy and startling supernatural thriller where the dead really do get a chance to have their say. (In English and Italian with subtitles)
    November 20, 2014, 8:45 p.m.

    Per Ulisse ( Giovanni Cioni 2013) [REVIEWED]
    In a working class suburb of Florence, several marginalized members of Italian society gather at a drop-in center called Project Ponterosso. Besides poverty, these struggling people have experienced addiction, prison and homelessness. With a moving frankness, they sing, play guitar, speak about their lives and troubles and, above all, evince a profound humanity. Director Giovanni Cioni has crafted a poetic and moving documentary in the neorealist tradition of his forbears.
    November 21, 2014, 4:30 p.m.

    Up to the World (Alessandro Lunardelli 2013)
    This wide-ranging, ingratiating debut feature focuses on two brothers whose large age difference has kept them from knowing one another better. A road trip to Barcelona for a championship soccer match begins the bonding process, though a chance meeting in a bar sends 18-year-old Davide off to Chilean Patagonia with his more responsible older sibling Loris angrily chasing after him. Debuting director Alessandro Lunardelli tackles several interesting topics throughout the film—sexuality, the depredations of the Pinochet regime and the ways in which adult responsibility conflicts with self-discovery—within a constantly shifting and visually stunning international landscape. Filippo Scicchitano (who made his debut in Easy, NIC 2011) and Luca Marinelli (memorable as the mentally unstable young man in The Great Beauty, NIC 2013) have a wonderful charm and ease together and as their relationship deepens, the film’s more profound charms become apparent.
    November 21, 2014, 6:30 p.m.

    Blame Freud/Tutta colpa di Freud (Paolo Genovese 2014)
    Bright and inviting, Paolo Genovese’s romantic comedy—a box-office smash in Italy—concerns a middle-aged therapist named Francesco who is concerned about the romantic welfare of his three adult daughters. Eldest Sara is considering heterosexuality after a bad break-up with her girlfriend, middle child Marta has fallen for a deaf mute, while his youngest Emma is seeing a much older man. The relationships between Francesco and his children are admiring and loving but, as a parent and especially as an analyst, he cannot resist advising and meddling in each of their affairs. When a potential love interest enters his life, however, he’s unable to take his own advice. With a passel of winning performances, Blame Freud offers a delightfully seriocomic examination of romantic foibles and the perils of parental counsel.
    November 21, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

    The Art of Happiness/L'arte della felicitÓ (Alessandro Rak 2013)
    A beautifully realized film focusing on the ruminations and personal history of a melancholic Naples cab driver, The Art of Happiness represents the first animated feature to be shown in NIC's history. The form is perfect for the story as 43-year-old Sergio drives through pounding rain and garbage-strewn streets while listening to a philosophical radio DJ whose thoughts prompt memories and reminiscences from Sergio’s own life. Formerly a talented pianist, the film interweaves Sergio’s history with that of his brother and former musical partner Alfredo and includes various conversations he has with his passengers over the course of an evening. Dark matters of grief and environmental degradation are contrasted with issues of creative renewal and romantic possibility with a rich and diverse visual palette to match the thematic scope. Through the murky scrim of constant rain and Sergio’s own discontent, the film endeavors to illuminate a way forward for its complex and conflicted hero.
    Animated feature.
    November 22, 2014, 1:30 p.m.

    Remember Me/Ricorditi di me (Rolando Ravello 2014)
    In this charming romantic comedy, Roberto is a kleptomaniac while Beatrice is narcoleptic and prone to amnesiac fugues—a match made in heaven. They meet outside the office of the therapist they both share, but Beatrice is initially unresponsive to Roberto’s advances. When he notices some of her OCD-type behavior and makes a chivalric leap to help her with it, she begins to warm to him. With its fable-like air, Remember Me has all of the elements that make for a good rom-com—chemistry between the lead actors, a smart assemblage of supporting characters and a script that finds a novel manner to tell the archetypal boy-meets-girl story. Like Beatrice’s fondness for lemon and coffee gelato, Rolando Ravello’s second feature offers an assemblage of different thematic flavors that has a surprising and rich appeal to the palate.
    November 22, 2014, 4:00 p.m.

    The Medicine Seller/Il venditore di medicine (Anntonio Morabito 2013) [REVIEWED]
    A scathing indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, Antonio Morabito’s powerful drama depicts a stressed-out salesman using increasingly scurrilous means to sell his company’s product. At the start, Bruno (Claudio Santamaria) is the Zafer corporation’s golden boy, wheedling doctors and administrators to select his firm’s treatments through various perks and his own charms. When he’s told to push a controversial new medicine, he meets with resistance and is given an ultimatum—get a notoriously difficult hospital administrator to prescribe the drug or lose his job. Compounding the problem is his girlfriend’s desire to have a child and his own increasing substance abuse. The Medicine Seller fearlessly indicts the whole pharmaceutical chain from the companies pushing the pills to the medical establishment’s capitulation toward an increasingly narcotized society to suffering consumers who are ill-informed and often ill-advised about the potentially harmful drugs they are being prescribed.
    November 22, 2014, 6:30 p.m.

    I Can Quit Whenever I Want (Sydney Sibilia 2014) [REVIEWED - LINCOLN CENER JUNE 2014]
    Pietro (Edoardo Leo, also in Remember Me) is a brilliant chemistry professor hoping for a tenure contract. Pressured by his girlfriend who longs for greater financial stability, he lies and says he got the job. Increasingly desperate for money to back up his fib, he has a brilliant inspiration after a student he tutors takes him to a nightclub and buys him a drink laced with the latest smart drug. Rounding up several friends in similar circumstances, he concocts a plan to take advantage of legislative loopholes and manufacture a very special (and, for the moment, legal) product that will make them millions. Sydney Sibilia’s raucously entertaining film offers a comedic version of Breaking Bad with a hapless band of chemistry geeks discovering a great way to make money. Just like Walter White, however, they discover that their new endeavor leads to some unsavory business relationships and puts their own moral behavior into question.
    November 22, 2014, 9:15 p.m.

    In the Snow/Neve (Stefano Incerti 2013) [REVIEWED]
    On a wintry road trip, two people with mysterious backgrounds join forces. Donato is a prison nurse on a driving holiday; stopping off for a roadside snooze, he gives a ride to a provocatively dressed woman named Norah. She’s on the run from a man sending threatening text messages while Donato has secrets of his own involving a decades-old robbery. Director Stefano Incerti (Gorbaciof, NIC 2013) keeps the audience guessing at to the motivations of each of the protagonists as the film progresses; are the characters falling for one another or are they seeking some kind of material gain out of the situation? Set within a wintry landscape that implies a quiet menace of its own, In the Snow offers a consistently intriguing study of lives at a crossroads.
    November 23, 2014, 1:00 p.m.

    Border (Alessio Cremonini 2013)
    Topical and suspenseful, this debut feature details the plight of two sisters attempting to escape Syria by car. For Fatima and Aya, religious beliefs necessitate the wearing of a face-covering niqab which their driver insists will attract unwanted attention as they head for the Turkish border. Tensions are furthered when they pick up a mysterious male stranger headed in the same direction. When the car has to be abandoned in a wooded area populated by Syrian soldiers, rebel fighters and unaffiliated armed marauders, the siblings are forced into a fraught environment where they are under constant threat and no one can be trusted. Lifting the story from true events and working within a language and culture not his own, Alessio Cremonini has crafted a compelling story about lives utterly upended by civil war. “In a war, everyone kills everyone,” a rebel fighter tells one of the sisters, and Border, in its unflinching manner, demonstrates the tragic fact of his statement.
    (In Arabic with English subtitles)
    November 23, 2014, 3:00 p.m.

    Human Capital/Il capitale umano (Paolo Virzý 2013)
    Paolo Virzý has long been an expert chronicler of familial and social dynamics in films ranging from Caterina in the Big City (2005) to 2010’s First Beautiful Thing. In his latest expert drama, he adapts Stephen Amidon’s Connecticut-set novel and moves the setting to a well-to-do enclave near Milan. Structured in three parts, the story involves the wealthy Bernaschi family whose son Massimiliano is suspected of forcing a bicyclist off the road. With the mystery of just who is culpable for this accident at its center, the story branches off into several expertly told strands that explore class and its privileges. Filled with memorable supporting performances, including Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Luigi Lo Cascio, Valeria Golino and Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Human Capital chillingly shows how the quest for financial status and social standing can lead people to a very low valuation of human life. Official Italian entry for Best Foreign Language Film consideration at 87th Academy Awards. Jan. 16-22, 2015 theatrical release in Bay Area.
    November 23, 2014, 6:00 p.m.
    November 23, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

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    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-18-2015 at 11:37 PM.

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    CONTRORA: HOUSE OF SHADOWS (Rossella De Venuto 2014)



    Italian family skeletons unearthed by an Irish wife

    Controra: House of Shadows is an Italian-Irish coproduction in which an Irish wife turns up a host of family skeletons in her Italian husband's imposing ancestral family closets. It's a visually splendid film. Unfortunately it may end by offering more to look at than think about, more images than resolved action.

    Controra is also a genre film. A reviewer has called it "a stylish return to the Italian giallo" -- a word that In the Italian book world simply means detective story, but in movies refers to lurid thrillers, the bloody horror-movie kind Dario Argento is famous for. If it's "giallo," Rossella De Venuto's new movie, sparing with the gore, might best be called "giallo lite." The filmmakers have alternately described it as "a paranormal thriller" or "a supernatural thriller." Let's just say things do go bump, but in the day, not the night.

    Contora's story setup immediately calls to mind Luchino Visconti's dark, lush cult classic Sandra/Vaghe stelle dell'orsa (1965; watch the entire film here). In both films, an aristocratic Italian expatriate returns to southern Italy (Puglia, in this case) with a foreign spouse to a grand, dusty family house full of ghosts. This time we don't have Claudia Cardinale, though the foreign spouse Megan (Irish actress Fiona Glascott) has pretty alabaster breasts which, in the style of today's cinema, she bares right away, for a brief sex scene with her husband, Leo (Pietro Ragusa). (The erotic excitement dies down after that.) Aside from the distinguished precedent, given the setup, we can assume the return of Leo after many years away will lead to the unearthing of some dark family secrets. But the opening conceit is that here it's during the "controra," or hottest time of the day, when only mad dogs and Englishmen (or in this case, Irish women) go out, that evil spirits appear in the shadows. Megan is the one who starts seeing them.

    In Sandra/Vaghe stelle dell'orsa there were suspicions of relatives who delivered the heroine's Jewish father up to the Nazis, and little doubt about the intensity of her semi-incestuous youthful relationship with her brother (Jean Sorel). Leo doesn't seem to have been involved in anything; his character is rather wasted and through much of the film we don't even know where he is or what he's doing. But his uncle, Monsignor Domennico (Salvatore Lazzaro), who raised him and his siblings, is being considered for canonization, for his miraculous healings -- and a brother, Nicola (Federico Castelluccio, who played an Italian hit man in "The Sopranos"), is a priest now. A Father Van Galen, putatively German (Italian born Ray Lovelock), has come to investigate Monsignor Domenico's claim to sainthood. Sainthood? We would do right to be suspicious and the filmmakers seem rather dubious about Catholic morals. Meanwhile Megan languishes in the huge room she wanted to sleep in, suffering from scary visions and beginning to become suspicious about events in Leo's family when he and his siblings were very young.

    Megan is an artist and she draws pictures of all the visions she has, which will provide a story of the house's secrets. Despite being tormented by visions, she somehow rallies and turns into a surprisingly energetic amateur detective, so that the film becomes a "giallo" in both the book and the movie senses, with some revelations, we are hardly surprised to learn, of terrible events in the past. But the ending is rushed, delivering the many events Megan unearths in a clattering jumble during the movie's final moments. Atmospheric music is effectively used throughout, and the vast, shadowy images and delicate yellow-tinted colors never cease to be a pleasure to the eye, even if the revelations seem a little boilerplate for this kind of film, and somewhat superficially sketched in, with help from the Irish artist protagonist. Dialogue is more in English than Italian, and there are reportedly some problems with the all-Italian dubbed version for local consumption. In the screener, some German dialogue was subtitled only in Italian. This is, needless to say, not the work of art Visconti's film was, nor can even this handsome cinematography rival Armando Nannuzzi's exceptionally lush black and white images for the 1965 film. But for fans of arty low-keyed horror movies this might be worth a watch.

    Controra: House of Shadows (the Italian title is simply Controra), 85 mins., debuted at Galway Film Fleadh 10 July 2013, and opened in Italy 6 June 2014; Fantastic Film Festival, Neufchatel, Switzerland, 7 July. Screened for this review as part of SFFS New Italian Cinema series.

    Showing in NIC at Vogue Theater, San Francisco, November 20, 2014, 8:45 p.m.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-13-2014 at 09:31 PM.

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    A meaningful climb

    The Nightshift Belongs to the Stars is one of two well-received collaborations by Edoardo Ponti on 25-minute short films with the famous Italian writer Erri De Luca, the other being an adaptation by De Luca of Jean Cocteau's La voix humaine (The Human Voice), starring Sofia Loren. Nightshift is De Luca's own original screenplay. Details are elided, but Sonia (a more mature and solid Natassja Kinski) and Matteo (Enrico Lo Verso, who starred in two of Gianni Amelio's best films, Stolen Children and Lamerica) are experienced mountain climbers who've met in therapy after open heart surgery, and agreed to get together six months later to do a climb in the Dolomites, in Trentino. It's not going to be easy. She has had a new valve installed and he has had a transplant. A young woman's heart runs his body, and he talks to it as if if were the young woman it used to belong to (this idea of an alien being possessing a heart transplant patient is also exploited in Claire Denis's fascinating The Intruder/L'Intrus). The climb is also emotionally tricky and perhaps emotionally important. Matteo's situation remains mysterious, but Sonia remains distant from her partner, Mark (Julian Sands), who surprises her and Matteo by climbing to the top by an easy mountain path, and greets them when they get there. He is understandably jealous. And the climb may be important to Matteo and Sonia in more ways than one.

    The film is full of the physicality of the climb, but still seems almost more about the unseen than the seen: Matteo's young female companion, who seems to to hover beside him; Sonia's troubles with Mark, which this climb may assuage. Erri De Luca, who has done some acting in movies lately and is also himself reportedly a passionate mountain climber, and has a suitably wiry and weathered look, makes a vivid impression in a small role here as a climber friend of Matteo's who hangs out with him before the climb. The climb itself is shot impressively, with closeup and distant shots using a helicopter, and the two actors acquit themselves convincingly despite never having climbed.

    Edoardo Ponti is the son of the great Italian producer Carlo Ponti and his wife Sofia Loren, which may help explain how in he has been able to attract heavy hitters for the casts of his films. The cast of his 2002 feature debut Between Strangers Hollywood Reporter's Deborah Young called "dazzling, if underused," but Young described the film, which also starred Sofia Loren, as having "all the dramatic credibility of a TV movie." More modest is the cast of his lightweight 2011 comedy Coming and Going, which starred Ponti's wife Sasha Alexander; but it seems itself to have done its coming and going without much notice. Maybe shorts are Ponti's true forte. Both Nightshift and Human Voice are impressive, and Nightshift moves unhurriedly, in so doing easily taking on the weight of a feature film, while avoiding tidy resolutions. Kurt Brokow, writing for the online media review http://="http://independent-magazine...he Independent in May 2013, said that Nightshift was easily the best and most memorable of the 60 Tribeca short films of that year, all of which he had watched. In fact it was chosen as Trobeca's 2013 Best Narrative Short. It has also been shortlisted for the Oscar in this category.

    The Nightshift Belongs to the Stars/Il turno di notte lo fanno le stelle, 23 mins., debuted in Italy November 2012. It showed at Newport Beach and Tribeca in early 20-13. Screened as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New Italian Cinema series, Nov. 19-23, 2014. It shows November 19, 2014, 6:30 p.m. as part of an event , "An evening with Edoardi Ponti."

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-13-2014 at 09:30 PM.

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    HUMAN VOICE (Edoardo Ponti 2014)



    Iconic aria of a woman scorned enacted by an iconic actress

    No Jean Cocteau work has inspired so much imitation as his play, La Voix humaine, a monologue of a woman talking on the telephone to her lover (never heard), who is leaving her to marry another woman. There is Francis Poulenc's opera, Gian Carlo Menotti's opera buffa The Telephone, and Roberto Rossellini's film version in the omnibus L'Amore, starring Anna Magnani. The original monodrama has been done by a string of actresses. It was written for Madame Berthe Bovy in 1930. Simone Signoret did it. YouTube's endless riches also include a filmed Italian version of the Cocteau play starring Anna Proclemer. It was also performed by Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullman; Julia Migenes can be seen in a DVD recording of Poulenc's opera conducted by Georges Prŕtre. Well, Edoardo Ponti's version can certainly compete with these, since it stars his mother, the great Italian actress Sofia Loren. Loren is unbelievably sentimental and touching in Ponti's abbreviated Italian version adapted by Erri De Luca, the more so since she is playing a fifty-year-old woman, when she herself is seventy-nine, which adds immeasurably to the sense of bravery and pathos as one contemplates her ravaged beauty and listens to her speaking in Neapolitan dialect (Erri De Luca was born in Naples).

    Here, she jokes that her man, whom she calls "cheri," just like in the Cocteau original, sometimes can't follow her dialect. One would like to see and hear all the notable versions of the play and compare them. I have seen only Loren and Magnani and heard Signoret and Bovy. They are enough to show what a powerful vehicle this work is and how each great actress brings her all to it and gives it a different shape according to her personality.

    In the original Cocteau play with Berthe Bovy, she is stretched out in a white nightgown "like an assassinated woman." The whole thing is opened up and re-conceived here, even though De Luca's abbreviated text stays close to the basic elements of the play. Here, though, Sofia Loren is upright, fully clothed. Her cook is in the kitchen preparing eggplant alla parmigiana for two. Is her mistress expecting to be reunited with her man? The man is briefly glimpsed in a series of fleeting flashbacks of happy moments out walking on a boardwalk and in a market, she in various wigs. He is played by Enrico Lo Verso (of Gianni Amelio's Stolen Children and Lamerica), in a grey beard and hat, but is never heard and barely seen. Lo Verso has a bigger role in Ponti's previous short film, The Nightshift Belongs to the Stars/Il turno di notte lo fanno le stelle.

    The essence of the piece, in any of its versions, embodied wonderfully by Sofia Loren, is that the lady speaking to the lover who has abandoned her is trying, not so much to convince him to come back, but to pretend to herself that he is still with her, a pretense that, in the end, she cannot really sustain. It is a situation that of course risks descending into bathos, but great actresses like Magnani and Loren are too powerful for that to happen, though there is the danger, from time to time, that she seems to be talking to herself, since the concept requires the lover never to be heard; or at least this is the effect of Erri De Luca's shortened version, the effect perhaps augmented by Loren's age. More significance is added by Loren's having said that it was her watching Magnani do "The Human Voice" in Rossellini's short film when she was fourteen that made her want to become an actress.

    As further evidence of the depth of this not-so-little film, the cinematography, which has a classic look, is the work of the excellent Mexican-born Rodrigo Prieto, who first became known for working with I˝ßrritu, but also lensed Brokeback Mountain and The Wolf of Wall Street.

    Human Voice/Voce umana, 25 mins., debuted at Tribeca April 2014, and had a grand play at Cannes, where Sofia Loren returned to her old scenes of glory, spreading her wings on the red carpet, and snuggling up in a bank of cameramen in a red pants suit, still looking pretty fabulous. It had a DVD debut 28 May 2014 in Italy and there was a Davide di Donatello award for her. Screened as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New Italian Cinema series, Nov. 19-23, 2014. It shows November 19, 2014, 6:30 p.m. as part of an event , "An evening with Edoardi Ponti."

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-13-2014 at 09:30 PM.

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    PER ULISSE (Giovanni Cioni 2013)


    Personal sagas in a center for marginalized people in Florence

    In Giovanni Cioni's poetic documentary he films the inhabitants (or daily visitors) of Progetto Ponterosso, a "socialization center" for marginal people in a working class district of Florence. He has said he was asked to do interviews and made this film. He doesn't seek to depict the institution or how it functions but chooses to focus on individuals, mostly one by one. From what they say, they have had addiction problems, or psychiatric problems, or criminal records, or all of the above, as well as a lack of financial means. Cioni deserves credit for working with minimal means and getting close to these people, unified through a poetic framework that alludes to the myth of the Odyssey, as if each of them were on his or her personal journey homeward through hostile lands and past dangerous temptations. The technique is minimal, sound a bit noisy sometimes, camera operated by the filmmaker who also poses questions. For the most part it works, because there is clearly commitment and humanity here, and the individuals, though sometimes terribly sad (and there are no real success stories), are vivid and real. On the other hand the film is light on the facts and information. It leaves us with a feeling of sadness and hopelessness, because it gives us the unmediated point of view of Ponterosso's population.

    They have many stories to tell, and nothing much in common other than this place, missing teeth, and a smoking habit, fruits of poverty and nothing much to do. One man seems to be with his young daughter, but most of these people seem isolated from society and their families. A muscular young man describes his compulsive gambling and the humiliations he submitted to to raise the money. Several describe struggling with psychiatric problems. A woman, normal, portly, middle-class in appearance, describes going mad simply from the sound of a dry leaf crackling under foot as she walked one day along the Arno. It's been ten years since that moment and finally she's struggling to come back. A well dressed fellow has quarrels with authorities, and describes the label of CHT, Compulsive Health Treatment, meaning being overmedicated. A onetime political activist evidently is much damaged from such treatment too, and now is much less "clear" than he was a decade ago.

    Another man describes working for contractors in another town for months, and returning to find the business shut down, the organizers off to jail for multiple crimes, and himself ruined and separated from his family; but he has had psychiatric issues too. He wants to see his 17-year-old daughter. An older man appears from time to time, singing Neapolitan-style ballads with a personal plangency, as if they were his own stories. There are glimpses of gatherings to sing and dance, but only glimpses. A woman, sadly it appears without a lot of her teeth and unable to speak clearly, pretties herself up for a young man she has a crush on. She seems to proposition him, and he is noncommittal. Finally, some of the inmates appear down by the beach bathing, bringing the recurrent shots of waves and inter-title questions of questions to Ulysses face-to-face with the people we've been listening to.

    Per Ulisse (For Ulysses), 90 mins., debuted with in the Visions du RÚel Film Festival, Switzerland, 24 April 2013. Zeugma Films. Screened as part of the San Francisco Film Society's 2014 New Italian Cinema Series, November 19-23, 2014. Showing November 21, 2014, 4:30 p.m. at the Vogue Theater, San Francisco.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-14-2014 at 03:36 AM.

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    THE MEDICINE SELLER (Antonio Morabito 2013)



    A tense corporate thriller about one man enmeshed in the corruption of Italy's Big Pharma.

    The Medicine Seller shows Italian filmmaker Antoinio Morabito to be a talent to watch. He has made a nail-bitingly tense film full of the nervous energy and anxiety of its titular protagonist, who started out as a veterinary surgeon and somehow got tempted into the world of drug sales by the lure of competition and fast money which, as the film begins, is beginning to be a dangerous trap.

    Bruno (Claudio Santamaria) is a hotshot drug salesman for a big company called "Zafer Pharma" that's tightening the screws on its staff. He sells drugs and bribes doctors into foisting them on their patients. He also uises drugs, and he purveys drugs. He lives a fast life but there is less and less time for enjoyment. Every minute on screen is uneasy and tense. Even a gym workout seems to have to be snatched furtively in a secret corner.

    The Medicine Seller is an excellent, exciting feature on the contemporary theme of how pharmacology companies manipulate doctors and patients for high financial gain. It was also a bold one to produce and distribute in mob-mentality Italy: most of the hospitals where the filmmakers were to shoot withdrew permission at the last minute.

    TV news coverage in multiple languages bookending the film shows the situation of drug's hard sell today is a topic widely discussed across countries. However, the film's excited reception shows drugs' hard sell isn't yet as open a topic in Italy as the US, though just as prevalent. The public was shocked at Morabito's plain depiction in the film of corrupt doctors. The low level ones who guarantee drug company agents ("medicine sellars") a certain distribution level per month of various drugs in return for promised bribes and payoffs are referred to as "queens" by the drug company's "Regional Head" ("Capo Area"), Giorgia (Isabella Ferrari). She considers the "queens" to be easy marks, and woe betide the salesmen who can't keep their "queens" in line maintaining their quotas. The medical big shots who can deliver real bonanzas to the company she refers to as "sharks." Gio accuses Bruno of not making his quota, and forces him to pressure a "shark," celebrated bigshot oncologist Malinverni (Marco Travaglio) who is a huge, but dangerous and difficult catch. Finding Malinverni's pressure point pushes Bruno to his moral and physical limits and the film to its climax. Claudio Santamaria played Paolo in The Last Kiss, the overburdened friend with the sick father and the girlfriend who has dumped him, unwilling to take on the family church supply business. He takes on Bruno's many-faceted burdens with an unfolding subtlety that impresses, and sustains the film from start to finish.

    Morabito is dealing in his feature with hot and current issues that haven't had as strong a feature treatment in the US, but there have been American films. Documentaries include Sasha Knezev's recent but barely seen American Addict. Knezev shows how drugs are flooding American homes and how not only does Big Pharma use doctors as product vendors, but in effect is taking advantage of how the "War on Drugs" has caused illegal drugs to be replaced by the prescription kind. There is also an educational film called Big Bucks, Big Pharma: Marketing Illness and Selling Drugs (2006). The theme of ruthless competition among salesmen from rival drug companies provides background for Edward Zwick's entertaining but superficial 2010 rom-com Love and Other Drugs. Zwick's cliched rom-com hero played by Jake Gyllenhaal is a hotshot pharmaceutical huckster like Bruno in The Medicine Seller. But Morabito's film is closer to Zwick's source, Jamie Reidy's Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman, which isn't a rom-com. For the corporate ruthlessness, compare Jason Rietman's Up in the Air. A movie about drug availability (another theme in Morabito's film) is Dallas Buyers Club.

    Those two other features have a personal side to sweeten the pill of their exposes of corrupt practices. And The Medicine Seller also depicts Bruno's romantic relations with his partner, Anna (Evita Ciri). The one bright spot in Bruno's life is his sexual romps with Anna, till she gives up taking The Pill -- a decision he secretly can't accept, not feeling ready financially or otherwise to deal with a family. The Medicine Seller is more serious than Love and Other Drugs, more intense than Up in the Air, and as pressing in its message as any documentary indictment of Big Pharma. Of all these films, Morabito's goes into the most detail about bribes, extortion, theft, and the human destruction in the wake of them that results. Morabito achieves intense forward momentum as Bruno gets more and more into a moral, physical, and occupational bind.

    Cowritten by Morabito with Michele Pellegrini and Amedeo Pagani, with cold, effective visuals (and often discomfiting camera angles) by Duccio Cimatti.

    The Medicine Seller/Il venditore di medicine, 105 mins, debuted at the Rome Film Festival out of competition 10 November 2013. Jay Weissberg wrote an admiring review for Variety at Rome. Italian theatrical release 30 April 2014; good reviews. Screened for the present review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New Italian Cinema series (Nov. 19-23, 2014), where it is showing at the Vogue Theater November 22, 2014, 6:30 p.m.

    At the end of the San Francisco series this film was given the City of Florence Award for best film of the festival, which was well deserved.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-24-2014 at 07:48 PM.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    IN THE SNOW (Stefano Incerti 2013)


    Snowy Italian noir, after Kaurismńki

    This by the experienced Stefano Incerti (his eighth film) qualifies as a noir -- one set in the white-out of a wintry landscpe full of the titular form of precipitation -- but also a road movie that's an odd-couple two-hander that may make you think of Georges Simenon (who after all called one of his romans durs Dirty Snow). But Incerti has said he was inspired by Kaurismńki, and that works too. The mood as well as the air is chilly, and the atmosphere is all. Donato (Roberto De Francesco, who looks like a milder, more downtrodden Harvey Keitel with glasses) picks up Norah (Esther Elisha) half unwillingly, in his green station wagon on a snowy country road when she's dumped by a gangsterish man in a luxury car, who thereafter sends her threatening text messages and apparently is following her. The provocatively dressed Norah is very dark and very pretty. Donato repeatedly tries to dump her, but she comes back to the car. Eventually they settle into traveling together. They don't actually go that far, but the going is rough because the weather is heavy and the towns aren't much.

    Eventually Donato's whole mission is revealed to Norah sixty-five minutes in. A robbery, not Donato's, a lot of money, a hiding place. What's going to happen? It may not matter much, as Incerti and his cowriter Patrick Fogli tell the story. Eventually Norah, who continues with Donato, learns all about Donato's family and job and what he's up to. We don't know how it will end. This is a little soft as noir goes, though that's also the point: it's Italian noir. And also European noir.

    Incerti is most admired for his 2010 Gorbaciof, which starred the brilliant Toni Servillo. De Francesco and Elisha (in her first principal film role) aren't on that level, but they're very good. Unfortunately, despite the effective economy of Incerti's method and the odd chemistry between the two travelers, there is too little happening at times in the first half, and not quite enough happening in the second half to make up for that. Incerti's aim is to keep the audience guessing about the backgrounds and motives of the couple, but there may not be quite enough in the physical action or the revelations about them to justify the wait. Still, In the Snow is atmospheric and the two principals distinctive. The excellent cinematography of Pasquale Mari(who also lensed Gorbaciof) has many nice moments. Some American pop music doesn't help that much, if you're American, but the music isn't really obtrusive and Incerti works in an original way, yet within noir traditions.

    In the Snow/Neve, 90 mins., debuted at Courmayeur Noir Filn Festival (Italy) December 2013; also played at Bari and Trento festivals April 2014. Its Italian theatrical release begins 11 December 2014. It is included out of competition in the N.I.C. program and was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New Italian Cinema series (19-23 Nov.), showing at the Vogue Theater 23 November 2014, 1:00 p.m.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-14-2014 at 03:29 AM.


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