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

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

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


    BRUNO PRESIDES AT HOME IN BAD TALES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    HIDDEN AWAY/VOLEVO NASCONDERMI (Giogio Diritti 2020)

    GIORGIO DIRITTI: HIDDEN AWAY/VOLEVO NASCONDERMI (2010)


    ELIO GERMANO IN HIDDEN AWAY


    Life of Italy's most famous "Naive" artist


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

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

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

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

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

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

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    SIRLEY/MALEDETTA PRIMAVERA (Elisa Amoroso 2020)

    SIRLEY/MALEDETTA PRIMAVERA (Elisa Amoroso 2020)


    MICAELA RAMAZZOTTI, FEWDERICO IELAPI IN MALEDETTA PRIMAVERA

    A turbulent and insecure girlhood seen in pretty pastel colors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    THE PREDATORS/I PREDATORI (Pietro Castellitto 2020)

    PIETRO CASTELLITTO: THE PREDATORS/PREDATORI (2020)



    The dark comic dance of two symbolically contrasting families

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    THE TIES/LACCI (Daniele Luchetti 2020)

    DANIELE LUCHETTI: THE TIES/LACCI (2020)


    ALBA ROHRWACHER, LUIGI LO CASCIO IN LACCI

    It's not easy to suffer in a nice way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    THE MAFIA IS NO LONGER WHAT IT USED TO BE (Franco Maresco 2019)

    FRANCO MARESCO: THE MAFIA IS NO LONGER WHAT IT USED TO BE/LA MAFIA NON È PIÙ QUELLA DI UNA VOLTA (2019)



    A rather one-note satire of Italy's persistent loyalty to the mafia


    The latest from political satirist Franco Maresco (Belluscone: A Sicilian Story, 2014) takes as its point of departure the 25th anniversary of the assassination of anti-Mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino during the Capaci and Via D’Amelio bombings. The filmmaker covers the streets of Palermo to poll residents on the two martyred magistrates, finding no sympathy for what they did or willingness to condemn Cosa Nostra.

    Maresco's investigation quickly morphs into a satirical examination of Sicilian omertà - silent loyalty, popular complacency and stonewalling re the Cosa Nostra’s enduring power over the national psyche. Maresco may ridicule many of his on-screen subjects, yet The Mafia Is No Longer… is less of a prank than a persistant complaint.

    Indeed while the film may be arch and satirical, it is so in a monotonous and repetitious manner. It's a joke that wears out very quickly and stays hovering there in our faces not finding much new to add. Maresco is showing the stupidity of his interviewees, but in doing so risks making his own film feel dim-witted.

    There are some exceptions. One is the vigorous presence of 83-year-old photographer, Letitzia Battaglia, a spirited person with the wildly red-dyed hair to match. It is interesting to glimpse her fascinating career. While discussing with her about the shallow institutionalization of anti-mafia stances in Italian politics, Maresco again encounters Ciccio Mira, the shady Mafia-apologist concert organizer who was the focusof his 2014 satirical documentary Belluscone. Now apparently an altered man, Mira seems to be trying to redeem himself with a "Neomelodic" concert in Palermo in tribute of Falcone and Borsellino. However, his words still betray some nostalgia for the "good old Mafia that used to be. . ." Another hint that mafia loyalty never truly dies.

    These points of interest are not enough to sustain an hour and forty-nine minutes of screen time. As veteran European film critic Boyd Van Hoeij puts it in his Hollywood Reporter review of this film, "like a lot of sequels, it’s repetitive and hollow as it tries to recapture what worked in the original while being forced to tell a new story so it doesn’t completely play like reheated leftovers."

    Awarding the Festival's Jury Prize toThe Mafia Is No Longer What It Used to Be at Venice 2019 seems like an insider gesture that signals my inability to understand fully the resonances for locals of the issues treated here and the nuances of Maresco's satirical style. That is even signaled by the subtle ambiguity of the film title, La mafia non è più quella di una volta, with its strange vague nostalgia, a phrase that points to the Italian's persistent tergiversation around this subject, but feels enigmatic.

    The Mafia Is No Longer What It Used to Be/La Mafia non è più quella di una volta , 109 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2019, winning the jury prize there. It showed also at Amsterdam and the From Rome to Paris Festival. Screened online for this review as part of the FLC Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series (May 28-Jun. 6, 2021).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-01-2021 at 09:35 PM.

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    PADRENOSTRO (Claudio Noce 2020)

    CLAUDIO NOCE: PADRENOSTRO (2020)


    PIERFRANCESCO FAVINO, MATTIA GARACI IN PADRENOSTRO

    A fresh p.o.v. for a handsomely shot film about Years of Lead terror that sadly loses its way

    Built loosely out of a real-life assassination attempt against the director's own father. A deputy police commissioner in Rome, he was attacked in 1976 by Nuclei Armati Proletari, the radical left "Armed Proletarian Cells." It was the "Anni di piombo" (Years of Lead) period in Italy of constant violence from extremists that culminated in Aldo Moro's kidnapping and assassination. This film is different in approaching everything from the p.o.v. of a child. Valerio (Mattia Garaci), the ten-year-old son, is however an invented objective correlative, since the young Noce himself was only two or so when the attack actually happened. The idealization is indicated by choosing a young actor for the son who looks like a blond angel, delicate, aloof, yet spirited, almost too perfect to be real. The fun of watching Garaci is for those occasional signs of realness. The adored, aloof "Padrenostro," the at-risk top cop, is played by the ugly-beautiful Pierfrancesco Favino, in Italians' minds right now from playing the lead of the 2018 Il traditore (The Traitor), a high profile film director by Marco Bellocchio about a key piece of Mafia history.

    The early sequences, following a modern-day one with an adult Valerio (Paki Meduri) that shows he's still scared, but makes little sense, focus on the attack by the leftist terrorists on the father, which the young son witnesses, though the adults think he hasn't and go to lengths to hide the facts when dad returns from hospital after having the holes plugged up. But the boy remains terrified. Weissberg thinks, and he may be right, that the best executed scene is the one where Valerio takes chalk and animatedly draws outlines to show his new friend, 14-year-old Christian (Francesco Geghi) where the attack on his father was and where the body of the killed terrorist lay. It is a wholly absorbing scene.

    At some times I actually liked the way the film took a break, seeking to show Valerio's dreaminess, and also shooting the empty rooms of the big Rome family apartment when they have just driven away for their break/vacation in Calabria, the rooms thereby seeming both peaceful and ominous.

    It's rare when children are central in a film contrasted with adults. One thinks of Rene Clément's Forbidden games and another classic, Carol Reed's The Fallen Idol. Noce nails the remote but vivid adult, the sensitive children. He doesn't tell a powerful enough tale. That's because he has no tale to tell here. He is only gesturing at a period and events that are lifelong traumas in his own life. He has indicated doing so imaginatively was in itself therapeutic for him. But film art and therapy are different, though Noce's effort is obviously sincere and there is art here, in the work of the actors and the golden and fluid cinematography of Michele D’Attanasio. This is a beautiful film. And it has its fine moments between the two boys. When they seem real. When one realizes that the writers, Noce and his cowriter Enrico Audenino, are confused about how they're using Christian, one loses one's confidence in the scenes between them.

    A Venice Guardian review by Ian Brook is partly favorable: he calls it a "beautiful mess." As usual Jay Weissberg has a precise and measured description and evaluation in Variety See the cold analysis of Olivier Bachelard in Abus du Ciné which shows how inconsistent the treatment of Christian is. This shaky handling of the boys' relationship is sad, because Garaci as Vale is as able as he is attractive, Ghegi as Christian is real and sympathetic, and the scenes between them are charming. But they begin to feel tentative when it starts to seem Noce can't make up his mind about the existence of the older boy - imaginary or not. There is a whole final segment in Calabria when he and his cowriter Enrico Audenino appear to be making it up from one scene to the next.

    I was amused once I'd decoded its Bosnian text, with this vivid example of personal reviewing, on Letterboxd (in toto): "Well, this man was BORN to play an Italian mobster who was shot by a machine gun in a blue shirt and white pants with a light song. And he also looks like my grandfather." Who knows? Maybe he has experience that gives him access to aspects of this film I do not.

    Padrenostro, 121 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2020; , playing also at Busan Sept. 2020, at Greek Film Archive Feb. 2021, Mubi Apr. 2021, online May 2 at Rome's Festival del Cinema Italiano. It won the Pellicola d'oro best camera and electrical award and the best actor award for Pierfrancesco Favino at Venice and the David di Donatello for best cinematography 2021; plus 8 nominations. Screened online for this review as part of the FLC Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series (May 28-Jun. 6, 2021). Theatrical release pending in France.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-04-2021 at 12:42 AM.

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    PUNTA SACRA (Francesca Mazzoleni 2020)

    FRANCESCA MAZZOLENI: PUNTA SACRA (2020)


    IMAGE FROM PUNTA SACRA

    View of makeshift Ostia community is emotionally engaging, lacks certain details

    Francssca Mazzoleni's sensitive, patient documentary is a glimpse of the lives and hearing of the random thoughts of a community living off the grid in self-constructed, illegal housing in Ostia, dangerously near the Tiber coastline. The film has a distinctive look, and provides drone overviews of the place as well as closeups of many women and girls and some men chatting, arguing, and spouting ideas. Still how they live remains somewhat a mystery, and why we should find them interesting also, except as a rare sample of Italian off-the-grid living.

    The place dubbed by inhabitants Punta Sacra ("Holy Point"), near the Idroscalo di Ostia, the hydroplane base where Pier Paolo Pasolini's body was found after his murder and where the final scene of Fellini's was set, where the Tiber flows into the sea south of Rome, is the residence of some five hundred families, it is reported, who live with memories or the awareness that in 2010 authorities came in force and bulldozed a large number of the makeshift houses. How makeshift they are, what their construction and design are, isn't really clearly shown by Mazzoleni, who is more interested in the interaction of the women and the dreams and analyses of a few men than anything else.

    They talk about their lives, about the fragility of their lifestyle, about Pasolini about thir widely varying politics (they range from leftist to pro-fascist). A particularly interesting one of the underrepresented male population is a rapper and dope smoker with a Chilean father, Yuri Ramos Hidalgo aka Chiky Realeza who, like many a pothead, has big dreams but not the means of executing them. And yet he seems to most vigorous spokesman of the place. Since some speak of never leaving over years, one wonders how they provide for themselves. (Working at Burger King is mentioned.) We see celebrations, including birthdays and Christmas. They have their own broadcast station, Radio Idrosqualo." But basic services are said to be lacking, though details about that are also somewhat lacking.

    The blurb calls the film a "lyrical documentary" and a "multifaceted portrait." It's division into sections highlighting land, sea, times of year, helps highlight the multifaceted" side, but nonetheless the "lyrical" aspect seems to outweigh the factual. Perhaps the filmmaker's having "embedded" with the community undercut an objectivity that might have flowered had she become more invisible - people are obviously performing for the camera here - and been able to follow people going about their daily lives in more complex and mundane ways. Nonetheless Mazzoleni deserves our gratitude for making us aware of this unusual community.

    Punta Sacra, 96 mins., debuted at Nyon (Switzerland) Visions du réel Apr. 2020. It showed at Krakow (virtual) May 2020, Reykjavik and Amsterdam Nov. 2020, and at Berlin Mar. 2021. The film won the Nyon best feature and and received two nominations at Krakow and the David di Donatello awards. It was screened at home online for this review as part of the FLC Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series (May 28-Jun. 6, 2021).
    Last Chance to Rent June 5, 12:00 PM ET. Expires this Saturday 9:00 AM.
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    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-04-2021 at 06:39 PM.

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    UNA PROMESSA (Gianluca, Massimiliano De Serio 2020)

    GIANLUCA, MASSIMILIANO DE SERIO : UNA PROMESSA (2020)


    SALVATORE ESPOSITO, SAMUELE CARRINO IN UNA PROMESSA

    Neoealism gone astray

    This new film by the De Serio brothers is a strange hybrid, whose unrelated elements seriously undermine its social-political theme - a neorealist film of worker's struggle at the bottom of the economic scale that turns into a revenge horror movie with fantasy twists. It's indigestible and as time goes on nearly unwatchable.

    Documentary filmmakers with serious social concerns, they have produced here ostensibly an indictment of the despicable institution of the caporalato. This is a system of agricultural slavery that particularly exploits extracomunitari, refugee-immigrants from outside the European Union (Africa, the Middle East).(The film reportedly uses real excomunitari as extras and is highly realistic in depicting what their life is like. But the De Serio turn the action in non-realistic directions from the first, adding elements of melodrama, pathos, surrealism, and magic realism. The result is puzzling and disturbing, ultimately hard to take seriously, and even hard to watch.

    The directors show their quirky style from frame one with the child's POV "upside down kiss" exchanged by his mother and father before his mother goes off to work. The POV is that of Antò (Samuele Carrino), the couple's angelic-faced little boy. We learn later Antò's mother, Angela (Antonella Carone) works at the brutal, illegal caporalato his father Giuseppe (Salvatore Esposito) in desperation goes to work in when, soon into the action, Angela drops dead at work in the hot agricultural fields, apparently of a heart attack from stress and exhaustion. (The screenplay is partly based on a news story of the 2015 death of Paola Clemente, a farm worker in the Apulian countryside.)

    Antò's perspective remains essential to the film. He lives partly in a fairytale world. Even when things become horrible, a certain strain of humor and sweetness remains in the constant warm and loving relation of father and son. The "promise" is another fairytale element: Giuseppe promises Antò that his mother is not dead forever, but will come back one day, and the boy holds onto this belief.

    Since father and son stay close together in the ordeal of a desperate search to survive in challenging, realistically depicted circumstances, Una Promessa ("A Promise"), aka Spaccatore ("Stonebreaker") has been described as a modern day Bicycle Thief. That's a complete misunderstanding. This isn't anything like Rossellini's neorealist classic. It isn't realistic at all. Both little Samuele Carrino and big, chubby Salvatore Esposito (the latter famous for playing Genny Savastano, the ugly villain in Garrone's 2008 Gomorrah), are actors using their own actor-y voices, nothing like the illiterate from-the-streets non-actors whose voices were dubbed for Ladri di bicilette. Here Esposito maintains a lovable, cuddly, silent endurance, that only at the end explodes into rage and revenge - a transformation that has been compared to Marcello Fonte in Dogman as "a blind rage directly proportional to the abuse he has suffered."

    Giuseppe has been unable to work at his brutal job as a stonebreaker at a quarry since a flying rock blinded him in one eye at work. Antò puts drops in his dad's eye every day which he thinks a magic fluid; he thinks the accident has given him superpowers. After Angela's sudden death Giuseppe must become the breadwinner. He now winds up in the net of his wife's tormentors when goes to work at the caporalato, and takes Antò with him. Yes, that's how he takes care of his little boy, by having him work at his side in the fields. They can't live in their cheap apartment anymore, so they come to live in one of the farms' filthy plastic tent shacks.
    (
    The farm turns out to be owned by a sadistic pervert (Vito Signorile) who has a collection of antique pots (Antò's dream is to become an archeologist), is a man of "taste" who enjoys the hunt for wild boar, and who uses sex as an instrument of domination and self-amusement. Workers who die in the field, a regular occurrence, are put into plastic sacks and thrown into a ditch and forgotten. The master's will is carried out by Mimmo (Giuseppe Lo Console), a tall, shaven-headed, brutal enforcer, as in traditional depictions of slaver plantations in America. Now an important new character appears, Rosa (Licia Lanera), worker on the farm, who turns out to have been a friend of Angela's and to have been at her side when she died. A dark scene is witnessed where the master forced Rosa to slit the body of a hanging slain boar and then torments her with a hose. Later, Giuseppe, driving a tractor, intervenes to save Rosa from further torments, and from then on he is doomed.

    We move from the Dardenne-style stalking of the first part (the Dardennes hinted at by the second film title of "A Promise") to the hyper-realism of pulp scenes in the master's house, to the surrealism of a headlong race at the end where Antò runs away after the murderous scene of revenge he and his father have participated in together, when he is joined by his dead other.

    This combination here, the sudden morphing from gentle, touching miserablism to sudden operatic slasher revenge, is simply outrageous. Nonetheless the De Serio brothers know their documentary métier well and film the brutal exploitation of the farm laborers and the sun-drenched Apulian countryside beautifully, and all the action, including night scenes on the farm in Caravaggioesque chiaroscuro, has a compulsive, jaw-dropping watchability. It's just not artistically or sociologically convincing.

    Action is effectively highlighted, the luridness chilled a bit, by the distorted guitars of Gatto Ciliegia against Il Grande Freddo.

    Una Promessa , 104 mins, debuted at Venice 2020 as the only Italian film in the Days section, also Kustendorf. Released in Italy and in France. AlloCiné press rating 2.5 (50%). It was screened at home online for this review as part of the FLC Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series (May 28-Jun. 6, 2021).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-06-2021 at 10:23 AM.

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    ASSANDIRA (Salvatore Mereu 2020)

    SALVATORE MEREU: ASSANDIRA (2020)


    ANNA KÖNIG, GAVINO LEDDA IN ASSANDIRA

    A bonfire of the agri-vanities becomes a police procedural

    It is a premise of this film and the novel by Giulio Angioni on which it is based, set on a farm in Sardinia, that agriturism destroys and cheapens country life and traditions, not, as many think, revitalizing rural communities and saving their patrimony. What could be more illustrative of this perceived negative effect than the warping of a small family's inner structure and finally the destruction of a whole Sardinian sheep farming site - and agriturism hq - by fire causing the death of an only son and the loss of a newborn baby? There's no time to balk at this theme or this action since the fire a fait accompli when the movie begins. We are immediately enveloped in an atmosphere of doom, tragedy, and suspicion and it was only after the film's 126 minutes were over that I had time to think.

    In its way this is an impressive film. The protagonist, the elderly, rugged shepherd Constantino, is played by Gavino Ledda, a Sardinian cultural icon whose mere presence lends gravitas to the proceedings. He is a Sardinian, son of a shepherd like his character, and his life was as austere and remarkable as anything pointed to here. Indeed we know about it from his famous autobiography, Padre Padrone ("My Father My Master), source of the also famous Taviani brothers 1977 film whose screenplay Ledda collaborated on. Slim and gnarly with a full head of dark wavy hair at 80, he is an intense, world-weary, disapproving presence in nearly every scene both as narrator/commentator and participant in the flashbacks that fill most of the film's run-time.

    In his enthusiastic Variety review, Jay Weissberg calls this film Salvatore Mereu's "riskiest yet." It is risky and laden with significance, unfolding, as Weissberg says, in successive layers. This is a film out to make an intense impression. But it is marred by both lacunae and repetitiousness. Even its construction undermines its effort to be meaningful. There are signs that the book had just too much to develop even in a two-hour film. The division into chapters - "the pool," "the son," "the photograph," "the fire inside," etc. - can't make up for limited space.

    Setting the story in a mystery-police procedural framework helps contain the material and lend suspense, though the mystery feels unresolved and the outcome is obviously flat. Action starts with Constantino in a heavy rain. It's drenching the ruined farm buildings that were destroyed the day before. A big white mare that has played a symbolic role earlier wanders onsite and symbolically dies. All we know is that everything was destroyed. Constantino's son Mario (Marco Zucca) has died. Mario's pregnant German wife Greta (Anna König) is in the hospital, her condition and the baby's unknown. We will see a lot of them, especially of Greta.

    Constantino's voiceover dominates, delivered in a low voice, almost whispered sometimes in commentary on scenes and on dialogue while they're going on, as flashbacks reveal events that led up to this tragedy. It began when Mario and Greta come for their annual summer visit but turn it into long stay in which they arrange to rehab a farm building and turn it into an agriturism spot - despite Constantino's strenuous resistance.

    As events unfold al lot of objecting and arguing goes on and then suddenly without much transition the agriturismo is a done deal, called Assandira, a local word that's never explained, just as it's never explained why Greta takes so many polaroids when they first arrive and then gives out polaroid cameras to the tourist guests and encourages generous use of them.

    Greta is big and busty, babbling in her own makeshift Italian (not Sardinian; she doens't know that, as Constantino doensn't know the English that will be the lingua franca of the tourists). Weissberg is telling when he says König as Greta "remains vibrantly real rather than a caricature of the German in Italy." Caricature is left to the gaggles of tourist-guests, though Greta isn't subtle. She is grinning and loud and has boobs out or nearly-out much of the time, but she is so much in control of her scenes that we accept her. She leaves little room for Mario, a wiry, bearded, argumentative man who yet lacks authority. He emigrated to Berlin and became a waiter. Now he is back at home, posing as a shepherd's son. They put on costumes. It becomes fake. We get it. This is a cloying, hyper-touristic place now. Constantino still has to put the livestock out to pasture. Events like milking, or mating two horses, become shows for the paying guests. These guests don't seem to share in the work, even merely for show.

    But details are lacking, like how this all got set up, and who the other employees are. There are several photogenic young local men now on the scene, some making trouble for both Mario and Constantino, but one suspects the novel explains better who they are.

    After scenes around the building of a swimming pool, regarded by Constantino as a wholly inappropriate object in a place where bathing is normally so austere, leads to concern about Greta getting pregnant. This is where dynamics of the trio, Constantino-Greta-Mario, get complicated. And then there is the strange, licentious fête conducted in a barn, a Visconti moment, which the old man accidentally walks in on. With this scene, agriturismo morphs inexplicably from crude and crass to pornographic. And then, I suppose, we are ready for a great bonfire. And then the investigation to determine the nature of it and the cause can become the main focus at last. Perhaps one is a little exhausted by then. Gavino Ledda sees very, very tired, but he remains a charismatic sufferer and in his own way a distinguished and memorable figure. At the end, though the nimble camera of young dp Sandro Chessa has carried us through many a mobile action, what remains in the mind is a white mare stumbling to her death and the sad, tired face of Gavino Ledda.

    Assandira, 126 mins., debuted at Venice Sept 62020, opening theatrically in Italy Sept. 9; showed at Haifa, Greek Film Archive, Venice-to-Moscow, Luxembourg City, and Rheims Polar. It was screened at home online for this review as part of the FLC Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series (May 28-Jun. 6, 2021).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-05-2021 at 11:34 PM.

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    FOR LUCIO (Pietro Marcello 2021)

    PIETRO MARCELLO: FOR LUCIO/PER LUCIO (2021)


    LUCIO DALLA IN FOR LUCIO

    Hairy-beautiful: portrait of late Italian 'cantautore' Lucio Dalla

    Following Lost and Beautiful (2015) and Martin Eden (2019), Pietro Marcello returns to documentary with a warm little reminiscence by his longtime manager, Umberto (Tobia) Righi, and a lifelong friend, Stefano Bonaga, of late Bolognese cantautore (singer-songwriter) Lucio Dalla, who died in 2012 at 68. The film will introduce anglophone viewers to a cultural figure they won't know, but it is of most interest to Italians and it's also limited by only providing information that comes in on-camera interviews with Righi and a long lunch between Righi and Bonaga. There are few other voices heard, despite a TV clip of a round table featuring politicians and journalists deferring to Dalla, showing his status by then as a national figure.

    Dalla's song 1986 "Caruso" has been covered by numerous international artists and led to his singing a duo version with Luciano Pavarotti. His fame seems to have grown through the nineties

    Dalla is hard to pigeonhole, but seems halfway between Bob Dylan and a French auteur-compositeur-interprète like Jacques Brel or Serge Gainsbourg, but maybe less central to the culture, though still loved. Marcello has a penchant for interjecting historical footage, processed to a uniform look, into his films, and here such footage, evoking the look of people and cities of the period of his rise and flowering, alternates with interviews and performance films of Lucio Dalla himself.

    Dalls began as a cherubic child "genius" star performer. He mastered several musical instruments, including the clarinet and piano, and he had a penchant for jazz. As he grew up, turning to song writing with less complex but musically-informed melodies, he was a quietly striking figure, a stocky little guy with a short beard, often in beret, often with open shirt displaying a hirsute torso. His hairiness led to the nickname [I]ragno[, spider./I] He was not handsome, maybe even "ugly," but he had a distinctive look. He represents the same group of singers valued for their content and not their prettiness - like Dylan, like Serge Gainsbourg. He is known for his collaboration in the early seventies with Bolognese poet-intellectual Roberto Roversi, whom the two interviewees describe as an enigmatic loner. For a period of years Dalla issued three albums on which he sang songs written to poems by Roversi. It was a prestigious collaboration, even if some of the work was not popular. Some of the songs also were. Dalla had issued his first recording in 1964.

    A high point, probably the high point, of the film focuses on Dalla's gong "Mille Miglia." This celebrates a high point of the event that dominated the Italian car racing scene and captured the international imagination from 1927 to 1957. We see Dalla singing the song, while Marcello uses historic footage to bring to life this colorful event that shows Italy at its most handsome, sexy, and elegant and illustrates what pop stars racing drivers were over several decades. The vibrancy of moments like this make up for the fact that a lot of Marcello's film is just talking heads. We get a glimpse of the way Dalla's songs were rich in commentary on Italian politics and society and expressive of the decades of his greatest popularity. But a more ambitious film, or perusal of books and articles, would be required to grasp the full value of the man and his time. But if it was not rigorous this was pleasant and (for the rich use of clips) artistic, and a nice relaxing way to end FLC's Open Roads Italian series, which has contained some somewhat demanding watches.

    "Mille Miglia" comes from Dalla's 1976 album Automobili ("Automobiles"). The opening track is a long dig at FIAT owner Gianni Agnelli delivering bland answers when accused of selling a part of the company to Libya and thereby losing Italian jobs. A clear sign of how of his time and engagé Dalla was.

    But not totally an agent for change: the Wikipedia articlementions that he was outed as gay after his funeral and he kept a low profile all his life, though for many years living with a male partner, Marco Alemanno, who was with him when he died of a heart attack the morning after a concert in Montreux, Switzerland. Not mentioned in Marcello's film. The article says Dalla's funeral in his native Bologna was attended by approximately 50,000 people.

    For Lucio/Per Lucio, 79 mins., debuted on the internet in Italy Mar. 1, 2021. Also shown at CPH DOX (Denmark) Apr. 21, 2021 and scheduled for the Berlinale for Jun. 18, 2021. It was screened at home online for this review as part of the FLC Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series (May 28-Jun. 6, 2021).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-06-2021 at 08:01 PM.

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