Archive for the ‘Italian Cinema’ Category

Cinema Made in Italy 3 – 7 March 2022

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY is back in a live edition to kick off the Spring with the latest crop of Italian releases. The 12th edition takes place at Cine Lumiere, in London’s South Kensington, and is supported by Istituto Luce Cinecitta and the Italian Cultural Institute.

 

THREE FLOORS (Tre piani) | Director: Nanni Moretti

Nanni Moretti pictures everyday life in a Rome apartment in his latest domestic drama in which he also stars alongside an stunning cast of Adriano Giannini, Margherita Buy, Riccardo Scamarcio and Alba Rohrwacher. Enjoyable if rather conventional this is solid entertainment, the pithy plot turning on a series of events that will have a far reaching impact on all concerned: the women are the peacemakers; the men the troublemakers. Beautifully written and well performed Three Floors had its world premiere at last year’s Cannes film festival and is released in UK cinemas on 18 March

CALIFORNIE | Directors: Alessandro Cassigoli, Casey Kauffman

The five-year journey of a young woman from Morocco who tries to find her place in the sun after moving to a village near Naples: her dreams, her disappointments and her loneliness.

FREAKS OUT – Director: Gabriele Mainetti

Franz Rogowski is the reason to see this needlessly violent drama that follows the lives of three circus performers in 1940s Rome.

FUTURA | Directors: Pietro Marcello, Francesco Munzi, Alice Rohrwacher

A portmanteau travelogue that travels the length and breadth of Italy focusing on teenagers’ hopes and dreams for the future.

THE PEACOCK’S PARADISE (IL PARADISO DEL PAVONE) | Director: Laura Bispuri

After her impressive debut Sworn Virgin  and follow-up Daughter of Mine Laura Bispuri’s latest feature is an underpowered domestic drama that drifts around aimlessly despite its impressive cast led by Veteran star Dominique Sanda who plays a mother celebrating her birthday with daughter Caterina (Maya Sansa) and daughter in law Adelina (Alba Rohrwacher who won Best Actress for her central role in Sworn Virgin.

AMERICA LATINA | Director: Damiano D’Innocenzo, Fabio D’Innocenzo

Stylishly empty psychodrama that starts with promise but rapidly goes downhill from the much feted D’Innocenzo brothers who brought us Berlinale winner Bad Tales and wrote the multi-garlanded Dogman it sees a happy and successful man brought down by his own paranoia.

A CHIARA | Director: Jonas Carpignano

The Guerrasio family and their friends gather to celebrate Claudio and Carmela’s oldest daughter’s 18th birthday. There is a healthy rivalry between the birthday girl and her 16-year-old sister Chiara, as they compete on the dancefloor. It is a happy occasion, and the close-knit family is in top form. However, everything changes the next day when Claudio disappears. Chiara starts to investigate; as she gets closer to the truth, she is forced to decide what kind of future she wants for herself.

THE TALE OF KING CRAB (RE GRANCHIO | Directors: Alessio Rigo de Righi, Matteo Zoppis

Italy, nowadays. Some elderly hunters reminisce about the tale of Luciano together.
Late 19th century, Luciano lives as a wandering drunkard in the Tuscan countryside. His lifestyle and constant opposition to the despotic local prince have turned him into an outcast for the community. In an ultimate vengeful move to protect (from the lord) the woman he loves, Luciano commits the unforgivable. Now an unfortunate criminal, he is exiled to Tierra del Fuego.
There, with the help of ruthless gold diggers, he seeks a mythical treasure, paving his way towards redemption. Yet, little but greed and madness can grow on these barren lands.

WELCOME VENICE | Director: Andrea Segre

Two brothers are in conflict over the way the Venetian lagoon has been transformed, and the identity of the city and its residents has drastically changed.

COMEDIANS | Director: Gabriele Salvatores
Theatrical adaptation: a group of aspiring comedians at a Manchester evening school reunite for their last rehearsal before performing for an agent from London.

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY | 3 -7 March 2022

 

Senso (1954) DVD/blu-ray

Dir: Luchino Visconti | Cast: Farley Grainger, Marcella Mariani, Alida Valli, Massimo Girotti, Heinz Moog, Rina Morelli | Italy, Drama 123′

Visconti’s first film in colour and his first with a patrician 19th Century backdrop, Senso is a squalid tale of base animal passion with an epic grandeur that raises it to the pantheon of Great Screen Romances by courtesy of Visconti having robed his sixth feature in the trappings of the momentous historical backdrop of the Risorgimento of 1866, Venetian locations, plush interiors, immaculate costumes and Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony (which wasn’t actually composed until fifteen years later).

The plot actually has marked similarities to Joseph Losey’s The Sleeping Tiger, made concurrently in drab monochrome in postwar austerity Britain; in which refined Alexis Smith (married to decent but dull Alexander Knox) completely loses her head over delinquent Dirk Bogarde. Ten years earlier, Visconti himself made a much more unadorned treatment of greed and destructive passion with Ossessione (1942) an adaptation of James M. Cain’s sweaty tale of blue-collar adultery and murder, The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Maria Callas had been Visconti’s first choice for the part of Countess Livia Serpieri – a society wife who becomes infatuated with good-looking creep Lieutenant Franz Mahler (played in a gleaming white uniform by an obviously dubbed Farley Granger), but she had too many theatre commitments to take time out for the shoot which eventually took nine months to complete, and Ingrid Bergman was too wrapped up working with her husband Roberto Rossellini, so the role eventually went to Alida Valli. Still stunning, but already perceptibly older than during her late forties Hollywood sojourn, in the arms of Lt. Mahler Valli discovers an erotic fulfilment entirely new to her; but to Franz she’s just another notch on his bedpost, and someone to sponge off.

Marcella Mariani (who died in a plane crash aged 19, just six weeks after Senso‘s premiere) is rather sweet and vulnerable as the young prostitute Clara who is spitefully exploited by Franz to further rub Livia’s nose in his rejection of her. Rina Morelli has an eye-catching cameo flitting about Livia’s villa in Aldeno as her maid, who seems to be actively enjoying the thrill of her mistress’s affair. But the most blackly comic element in the film is the way that as momentous historical events escalate around them, she and her idealistic cousin Roberto Ussoni (played by Massimo Girotti) are shown to be completely oblivious to what is making the other tick.

Under the impression that Franz is waiting for her at an address to which she has been followed by her stuffy husband (Heinz Moog) she melodramatically declares, with her back to the door, that YES SHE HAS A LOVER!!!, only to discover the place occupied by Roberto and his revolutionaries eagerly making plans; as oblivious of the turmoil raging inside Livia as she is by now indifferent to their cause. She commits treason by sheltering Franz from the Italians, and then gets even deeper into corruption by helping him to avoid combat by giving money meant for The Cause to him. One of a number of loose ends in the plot is that we never find out what happens when it’s discovered that 200,000 florins have gone missing from the fund intended to finance The Revolution, has been filched by yours truly.

As her grip on sanity loosens, Livia’s wardrobe (the work of Marcel Escoffier & Piero Tosi) becomes more and more buttoned down and severe, the black dress she wears in her final scenes making her resemble some ferocious bird of prey. The distinguished Italian cameraman G.R. Aldo was killed in a car crash during filming (this was also his first colour production); and the opening scene in Venice’s Fenice Theatre is the work of his successor Robert Krasker, who himself walked out on the production after falling out with Visconti, leaving the film to be completed by Giuseppe Rotunno. Whoever shot the amazing close-ups of Valli – her eyes wildly darting from side to side as she becomes more and more unhinged – merits particular kudos. During the final confrontation in the hotel you’re expecting her to produce a gun and shoot Franz; but she achieves the same end by more deliciously vindictive means, and he ends up in front of a firing squad assembled at remarkably short notice while she careens into the night to a very uncertain fate.

Having ended with a bang, the final credits still have one more surprise to serve up when the first two names we see after Visconti’s turn out to be those of the future directors (on this occasion humble assistants), Francesco Rosi and Franco Zeffirelli.

Senso was shot in English, and there are a couple of excerpts on YouTube from the truncated 94 minute English-language version, ‘The Wanton Countess’ which enable you to hear Granger in his own voice speaking dialogue written by no less than Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles (thus confirming suspicions that we are witnessing a Venetian variation on A Streetcar Named Desire).

By the 1970s Visconti could finally make a film truer to his own inclinations in Death in Venice (1971), with Dirk Bogarde – once the object of infatuation himself in The Sleeping Tiger, but now the one smitten – in a production again dressed up to the nines, handsomely set in period, again using beautiful Venetian locations and this time almost entirely dispensing with dialogue in favour of Mahler, his favourite composer; whose name he had co-opted for the young officer in Senso (who had been called Remigio Ruz in Camillo Boito’s original novella). Richard Chatten.

NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD on AMAZON + CRITERION COLLECTION

The Son’s Room (2001) La Stanza del Figlio | MUBI

Dir: Nanni Moretti | Drama, Italy 89′

Nanni Moretti’s portrait of tragedy is an emotionally intelligent and cumulatively moving drama that won him the Palme d’Or in 2001. Naturalistic, unsentimental yet eventually quite shattering the film unpicks the slow and surprising way the sudden death of a close relative can completely change the way we see each other and the person we lost.

In the first half-hour or so this family is living life as normal in the pleasant coastal town of Ancona. The Sermontis are a happily married professional couple: Moretti plays the psychiatrist father Giovanni, Laura Morante is Paola his wife. Their teenagers Irene (Trinca) and Andrea (Sanfelice) are going through the usual teenage ups and downs at school. But when Andrea dies suddenly in a diving accident, his parents and sister find themselves so lost in sadness, anger and confusion their world is blown apart. But then the bombshell – there is another person involved in the equation: a girlfriend they never even knew existed. Nothing surprising – yet this stranger is pivotal in a drama so strangely gripping and psychologically profound, it forces each member of the family to re-examine life up to the event and going forward. Some films make a big impact but are instantly forgettable, this moving story will stay with you for a long time. MT

NOW ON MUBI | BLU-RAY, DVD & DIGITAL

 

Martin Eden (2019)

Dir Pietro Marcello | Italy, Drama 129′

Based on the 1909 novel by Jack London, Pietro Marcello crafts a sweepingly timeless romantic epic that follows the fortunes of a sailor (Luca Marinelli) in his captivating quest to become a writer.

Martin Eden is a hero in the classic Southern Italian style: his passionate raw charisma hides a vulnerable but trusting heart.
Marcello’s film is set in a nameless Italian port city where it blends a variety of temporal cues while remaining timeless, a restless momentum driving the narrative forward, and keeping the audience absorbed for nearly three hours.

As Eden, Luca Marinelli has an energetic physicality that pulsates with his desire to overcome the odds of his skimpy education. We first meet him as a jobbing sailer, his imagination fired into action by a chance encounter with the sophisticated Elena (a fragile Jessica Cressy) and he becomes infatuated, for a while. But Martin’s intense preoccupation with bettering himself work-wise – and socially too –  soon becomes an obsession, alienating those who have helped him, As the saying goes: ‘you can take a boy out of Southern Italy but you can’t take Southern Italy out of a boy” and his humble start in life tugs at his conscience.

Marcello’s decision to shoot on Super 16mm gives the film an atmospheric retro quality that compliments the timeless romance of this aspirational story. The use of archival footage both illuminates and intensifies this haunting flight of human passion. The desire to seek a better life against all odds is both timely and universal. MT

New Wave Films is finally set to release Pietro Marcello’s ‘MARTIN EDEN‘ in UK cinemas on 9th July.

 

Giornate degli Autori | Venice Days 2020

Venice Days is back from 2 – 12 September this year. Live on the Lido at the famous Villa Degli Autori 
DAYS OF COURAGE is the sentiment expressing this year’s celebration. Ten new films from all over the world will compete for the main prize of the 17th edition running from 2 -12 until September. The closing film will be Saint-Narcisse presented by Canadian maverick Bruce LaBruce. The focus of this year’s Cinema of Inclusivity is Italy’s own Liliana Cavani who was nominated for the Golden Lion back in 1968 with her film Galileo. Here is a selection of this year’s competing films.
MAMA – set in rural China during the final decade of 20th century this first feature from Li Dongmei is a mature and sober drama.
200 METRES – the wall between Palestine and Israel is the focus of Ameen Nayfeh’s drama that stars leading Arab star. Ali Suliman.
 
KITOBOY – So many remarkable stories are coming out of Ukraine and this debut from Philipp Yuryev is the latest, set in a whaling community.
SPACCAPIETRE – in the Southern Italian region of Puglia a family tragedy with human repercussions gradually plays out in the De Serio brothers’ drama.
 
HONEY CIGAR  Algeria is the setting for this sensuous debut drama from Kamir Aïnouz, the sister of the well-known Brazilian filmmaker Karim Aïnouz).
RESIDUE Merawi Geriman’s moving first film echoes the recent racial tensions Stateside.
 
MY TENDER MATADOR – following his extraordinary performance in Theo Court’s White on White (Venice 2019) Alfredo Castro lends his talents to Rodrigo Sepúlveda’s queer love story set during the time of Pinochet in Santiago de Chile.
VENICE DAYS | GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI 2-12 SEPTEMBER 2020

Cronaca di un Amore | Story of a Love Affair (1950) ****

Dir: Michelangelo Antonioni | Cast: Lucia Bose, Massimo Girotti, Ferdinando Sarmi, Gino Rossi | Italy, Drama 98′

Antonioni’s impeccably stylish social critique unfolds crisply in black and white, in and around his hometown of Ferrara known for its beauty and cultural importance. Set amongst the wealthy industrialists of Italy’s Po Valley powerhouse whose main concern other than business and their elegant cars and fashions is, of course, love. And for the women especially. But  Cronaca di Amore gradually emerges not just as a sombre story of marital infidelity and discontent but also a tightly-plotted noirish expose of the life and times of a seemingly innocent young bride.

Cronaca di Un Amore was Antonioni’s first feature but his graceful sense of framing and mise en scene were already evident – in one of the early scenes is an aerial view of four gleaming sports cars sets the tone for this menage a trois amongst the upper classes and the star lead was his then girlfriend 19 year old Miss Italy Lucia Bose.

She plays Paola the self-focused and voraciously acquisitive new wife of a rich but workaholic Milanese fabric manufacturer. Her truculent attitude to his amorous overtures along with photos of her past cause him to hire a private investigator to track her movements in an around Ferrara and Milan. As always in Italy the”Bella Figura” is of the utmost importance to both sexes and Antonioni reflects this in his choice of costume designer in the shape of cutting edge couturier Ferdinando Sarmi who headlines the titles not only for his costumes but also as Paola’s cheated husband, Enrico.

But Paola wants the only thing money can’t buy, namely love. And although the two never really look happy together, she soon confesses her undying love for the good-looking but impoverished ex Guido (Girotti) who she wheels in to fill the emotional void in her life, although Guido is already spoken for. Tortured by their feelings for one another, and plotting Enrico’s demise, the two embark on a doomed but very well-turned out love affair, primped by Giovanni Fusco’s plangent score, and chiaroscuro camerawork by Enzo Serafin. MT

Story of a Love Affair is on Blu-ray for the first time ever and digital on demand 27 July from CultFilms

 

 

 

Litigante (2019) **** Curzon | Edinborough Film Festival 2020

Dir.: Franco Lolli; Cast: Carolina Sanin, Leticia Gomez, Antonio Martinez, Vladimir Duran, Alejandra Sarria; France/Columbia 2019, 95 min.

South America is delivering some really good films at the moment and Colombian filmmaker Franco Lolli (Gente de Bien) continues the trend with LITIGANTE. Aiming successfully for psychological hyper-realism it centres on an upper-middle class family where mother and daughter, both top-lawyers, argue each other, quite literally, to death.

Middle-aged Silvia (Sanin) is having a hard time: as chief lawyer for the public works department in Columbia’s capital Bogota, her boss has implicated her in a scandal. On the local radio she holds her own against the host Abel (Duran), and then bumps into him later at a party where he apologises. The two end up in bed, but other conflicts threaten to overwhelm Silvia: her controlling mother Letitia (Gomez) is dying of lung cancer, but is still very much in fighting mood as far as her daughter is concerned, even from her deathbed. When Letitia complains about her relationship with Abel: “he took you down in front of the entire population of Bogota in that interview”, exasperated Silvia exclaims: “You never want me to have a life that’s independent from yours”.

Then Silvia’s pre-school son Antonio (Martinez) has a tantrum, destroying toys and endangering other children. Apparently the other kids are bullying him about not having a father. And this is all because his mother refused to admit that his biological father, a high-ranking judge, actually sired her son. Silvia doesn’t even get on with the family’s housekeeper  ‘Majo’ and so her budding relationship with Able collapses even before getting off the ground.

Lolli manages the turmoil with great aplomb, creating a scenario where high octane emotional output is the norm. We watch Silvia and Letitia competing for the role of victim, trying to make each feel guilty in a classic family dynamic. Their sparring is the raison d’être of their lives – in a perverse way, they enjoy it. 

Litigante is not only much more honest than Cuaron’s Roma, it also has a stronger dramatic impact and a more convincing cast, led by the indomitable Carolina Sanin, who seemingly conquers all. DoP Pablo Romero Garcia uses handheld close-ups of the warring factions and his panoramic shots of Bogota evoke the chaos of a family in crisis.

LITIGANTE IN NOW STREAMING ON CURZON WORLD | 10 JULY 2020

The Specialists (1969) *** Blu-ray

Dir: Sergio Corbucci | Cast: Johnny Hallyday, Gastone Moschin, Francoise Fabian | Western 104′

Casting is crucially important to the success of a film – even in the Italian Western where it was often lumbered with poor English dubbing, making it harder to discern how credible a character was intended to be (or incredible given the stylisation of the genre).

Even with the original language and decent English subtitles the lead is vital. Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef were relaxed and laconic masters, of the less said and barely suggested school, who perfectly pitched their cunning minimalism to light the fuse for a violent gun raid or duel. Actors like Terence Hill and Franco Nero continued this tradition of self-confident strangers and equestrian loners. 

Johnny Hallyday (a famous French pop singer) is the star of Sergio Corbucci’s film The Specialists, but despite his lithe physique and good looks delivers a wooden performance – any charisma is in his athletics not his line delivery which hardly departs from its single register. He simply can’t act well. During the early development of the film Lee Van Cleef was hired but eventually fell out with the director. So the producer brought in Hallyday and a near-fatal flaw was planted.

Johnny Hallyday plays Hud who rides into the town of Blackstone, where his brother has been wrongly accused of robbing the bank. Without a proper court hearing he is then hanged. Hud is determined to avenge his brother’s death. One of the town’s most respected citizens has actually robbed the bank. So Hud is compelled to shoot his way through the corruption of Blackstone, stave off Mexican bandits, desiring their own share of the stolen money and then finally repel the furious dignitaries and townsfolk.

The Specialists is a revenge Western. On its first release Tony Rayns (in the MFB) described it as ‘dourly going through the motions of the Continental revenge western’ and for a large proportion of the film I wouldn’t disagree. The Specialists contains its stereotyped villains (a one armed Mexican bandit over-acted by Mario Aldorf); Sheba (Sylvie Fennec) the passive orphaned woman who pines for Hud; a world-weary sheriff (Gastone Moschin) and a cheated community acting as a vociferous chorus.

Now all this is agreeably entertaining if over-familiar material. We have to wait for the last act for some pleasing, if irrelevant, originality. Corbucci throws in an anachronism in the shape of three young male hippies who chose to anarchically misbehave. This politicisation of The Specialists has the hippies (looking like ragged leftovers from Godard’s 1968 Weekend) forcing the townspeople to crawl naked along the main street. Once capitalism’s naked self is revealed Corbucci has Hud, who has discovered the bank’s money, burn the banknotes and throw the part-ashy remains to the eager crowd below his balcony on the saloon. This humiliation is engendered by the hippie’s own humiliation, at the beginning of the film, when the nasty Mexicans force them to bathe in pig excrement. When they are rescued a respectable, middle class citizen cries out his thanks to The Mighty Hud (it’s hard to resist not calling Hallyday ‘Mud’ at this moment.) “I’m against drugs and hippies. I wanted to denounce them in The Specialists. I’m really against their attitude, and I hate Easy Rider.

If The Specialists had developed Corbucci’s intended critique then we might have had a relevant sour rather than obvious dour film. Sadly the film’s critical gestures don’t make for a coherent political western. The action scenes are effectively staged, there’s some beautiful landscape photography and a tuneful score. That said, I sat through The Specialists not really caring about the outcome of its slick revenge story. Lee Van Cleef might have convinced me if he’d been re-hired and also re-written the script. Yet we are left with a wounded Johnny Hallyday limping away on his horse, abandoning a beautiful woman and riding off into an over-filtered sunset. 

Did they forget that Hallyday is a singer? Why didn’t the producer insist on a scene where Hallyday strums his guitar and sings a bitter ballad? It all feels like a cynical case of the Mighty Hud unsung, when it could have been a focussed anti-hippy or agitprop version of a Johnny Guitar drifter. ALAN PRICE©2020

NOW OUT ON THE EUREKA LABEL

My Mother | Mia Madre **** | Mubi

Director: Nanni Moretti | Cast: Margherita Buy, John Turturro, Giulia Lazzarini, Nanni Moretti, Beatrice Mancini, Stefano Abbati, Enrico Ianniello | 106min  Italian/US  Drama

Nanni Moretti returns to his autobiographical style of The Son’s Room, for this family drama Mia Madre. This is not just a bittersweet tale of an old woman gradually slipping off her mortal coil surrounded by her son (Moretti) and daughter (Buy) in a Rome hospital. Wry humour and confrontation are injected into a story which explores the relationship between a director who is making a film while her mother is dying in hospital. Margherita Buy plays the director and John Turturro, her leading man.

Although Mia Madre lacks the gut-wrenching emotion of his Palme D’Or winner, The Son’s Room, this is another beautifully-evoked family story that brings subtly-nuanced intimacy, maturity and humour to the everlasting theme of grief and loss.  Nanni draws from his own life story and the piece is very close to home: Moretti lost his own mother while filming Habemus Papam. Essentially a four-hander, Buy is brilliantly cast here as an anxious, highly sensitive and driven professional who finds herself dealing with a teenage daughter while also moving out of her boyfriend’s flat. But the more she tries to be objective the more her filmmaking and her personal life collide. Moretti is understated as her brother Giovanni, in a laid back role that sees him languishing in the quiet resignation of his mother’s final hours. Margherita Buy is gentle yet gloriously neurotic as she describes her film about industrial conditions as “full of energy and hope” to her sceptical mother Ada (the veteran stage actress Giulia Lazzarini) who, despite the physical fragility of age, has clearly still retained her marbles and incisiveness of days as a teacher, in a full and well-rounded life that’s drawing to a satisfactory close. By contrast Margherita’s life is full of uncertainty, doubt, trauma that feels very real today.

John Turturro plays her lead actor in her film – an American ‘star’ Barry Huggins, who lightens the constant hospital visits and high octane emotion with his scatty take as a factory owner tasked with mass redundancies, while also struggling with his own demons as an actor. Full of insight and restraint, Mia Madre provides surprisingly enjoyable, grown-up entertainment. MT

NOW ON MUBI

I Am Love (2009) **** BFi Player

Dir: Luca Guadagnino | Italian, Drama, 120′

Tilda Swinton is the graceful and luminous presence who lights up this sexually ambitious  drama about a woman whose sterile existence comes to life when she falls in love.

She plays an ice cool aristocratic-looking Russian who assumes a dignified role as the doyenne in the wealthy moneyed household of her Italian husband Tancredi Recchi. Their austere 1930s mansion is surrounded by formal gardens and staffed by a legion of white-aproned maids and black-coated butlers. But she is about as satisfied as Silvana Magnani in Pasolini’s Theorem, or Lucia Bose in Antonioni’s Cronaca di Un Amore, although a good deal more wealthy.

The rich and powerful Recchi dynasty is well-established, like a tight-lipped Northern Italian version of the Corleone’s without the Mafia connection – or at least there is no allusion to that here. And Emma is tasked with organising a birthday dinner for her father in law (Gabriele Ferzetti) who informs them all during the afternoon that follows the expansive banquet that he has decided to hand over the reigns of the family business to Emma’s husband and her younger son Edo (Flavio Parenti).

There is plenty to enjoy here even if the ensuing love story or business wranglings fail to ignite your imagination. And fortunately Emma’s lover (Antonio Biscaglia) is a more sensible choice than Mangani’s dalliance with The Visitor in the shape of Terence Stamp in Theorem. There have been many Spring/Autumn affairs in the history of film and this one is delicately handled by Swinton who appears to share her sentimental feelings with her son Edo, although the Lesbian liaison of her art student daughter (a perfectly cast Alba Rohrwacher) seems a bit contrived and less convincing. When love blossoms for Emma the dour Milanese winter scenes are abandoned for a sun-filled sojourn on Liguria’s coastline, at least for a while and everything glows in Yorick La Saux’s sumptuous visuals which won him awards for Best Cinematography two years later. Antonella Cannorozzi does her stuff exquisitely in the costume department, although the Oscar went to Colleen Atwood for Alice in Wonderland (2010). The only bum note is the inappropriate score.

But dark clouds gather on this brief-lived idll and ugliness is soon exposed behind the facade of elegance and respectability. Just goes to show what glisters isn’t always gold. MT

The Nights of Cabiria (1957) **** Blu-ray Home Ent

Dir: Federico Fellini | Drama, Italy 113′

Although Fellini’s The Nights of Cabiria won him an Oscar for Best Foreign film in 1957, and his wife Giulietta Masina Best Actress at Cannes as the typical “tart with a heart”, the film then drifted into the long grass, Gwen Verdon later taking up her role a decade in Neil Simon’s Broadway classic which was filmed by Bob Fosse, starring Shirley MacLaine in Sweet Charity (1969). 

 

Nights of Cabiria was caught in the cusp between Italy’s neo-realist period, which came to a close with Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia (1954), and the later more lushly surreal Fellini features such as La Dolce Vita, as Italy moved out of post war austerity and towards prosperous golden era of the 1960s. That said, Cabiria shares certain elements of Dolce Vita in its Via Veneto settings and the high Baroque style of the church ceremonies that contrast with the flirty night clubs scenes.

Masina is perfect as the poignantly chirpy fallen angel about town in the eternal city, looking for love in all the wrong places. An eternal optimist she is at home on the streets and in the nightclubs, a disillusioned romantic dusting herself down after each failed love affair, Francois Perier’s Oscar offering hope that once again disappoints. Pier Paolo Pasolini made contributions to Fellini’s script which was based on another story from Tullio Pinelli.  MT

OUT ON BLU-RAY for the first time and on DVD and DIGITAL | 6 April 2020 ALONG WITH THE WHITE SHEIK | COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL

Cinema Made in Italy 2020 | 4 – 9 March 2020

The focus is on women in this decade long celebration of Italian cinema that takes place from 4 – 9 March at Cine Lumiere in London. A rich and eclectic mix of the most recent films come under the spotlight including Liliana Cavani’s cult classic thriller The Night Porter (1974) starring Charlotte Rampling and Dirk Bogarde.

The six day event opens on 4 March with Ginevra Elkann’s playful comedy If Only (2019) that won critical acclaim at last year’s Locarno Film Festival.  Also to look forward to is Guido Lombardi’s road movie Volare that sees a young boy reconnected with his father returning from prison and Igor Tuveri’s stylish crime drama 5 is the Perfect Number starring Tony Servillo as a hitman in 1970s Naples. 

IF ONLY (Magari) | Director: Ginevra Elkann | Cast: Riccardo Scamarcio, Alba Rohrwacher, Milo Roussel, Ettore Giustiniani, Oro De Commarque, Céline Sallette, Benjamin Baroche, Brett Gelman, Luigi Catani | 100 mins

Alma, Jean and Sebastiano are three tight-knit siblings who live with their mother in Paris. One day they are packed off to Italy to spend the rest of the school holiday with their unconventional and completely broke father, Carlo(Riccardo Scamarcio), who they haven’t seen for two years. Instead of taking them on the skiing trip they had been promised, Carlo whisks them off to a rundown coastal cottage. They are joined by his bohemian co-writer and lover Benedetta (Alba Rohrwacher), and what ensues is a shambolic Christmas package to remember, complete with a first crush, acts of teenage rebellion, but also tender moments of reconciliation.  This semi-autobiographical film by accomplished producer and first-time feature director Ginevra Elkann received critical acclaim when it opened the Piazza Grande section at last year’s Locarno International Film Festival.

Ginevra Elkann studied film directing at the London Film School. She began her film career as assistant director on Bernardo Bertolucci’s Besieged and was also a video assistant on Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. She is an accomplished producer and distributor (respectively, at Italian companies Asmara Films and Good Films). Her production credits include Abdellatif Kechiche’s Mektoub, My Love (Canto uno), Noaz Deshe’s White Shadow and Babak Jalali’s Frontier Blues. Since 2006 she has been President of the ‘Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli’ art gallery in Turin.

FLESH OUT (Il corpo della sposa) | Dir: Michela Occhipinti | Cast: Verida Beitta Ahmed Deiche, Amal Saad Bouh Oumar, Aminetou Souleimane, Sidi Mohamed Chinghaly | 95 mins

Living in Mauritania, working in a beauty salon and addicted to social media, Verida (Verida Beitta Ahmed Deiche) is a modern girl. However, before getting married in three months’ time she needs to undergo ‘gavage’, or force-feeding, so that she gains a substantial amount of weight to become voluptuous, and thus an ideal model of beauty and wealth. This means that her mother will ensure that she eats and drinks as much as ten times a day. As the weeks of this trial go by and the impending wedding approaches, Verida starts to question her life and her country’s traditions. Michela Occhipinti’s emotionally rich film is a sympathetic portrait of a woman awakening to misogynistic conditioning disguised as cultural convention.  The film screened in the Panorama section at last year’s Berlinale.

Born in 1968, Michela Occhipinti spent her childhood in Rome, Hong Kong, Geneva and Morocco. In 2003 she spent a year in Argentina and made her first documentary film Give Us Back the Constitution (¡Viva la Pepa!), about the country’s social situation. From 2005 – 2007 she worked with the Italian channel RAI 2 to direct several reports on immigration issues. Her other documentary films include Sei Uno Nero, about the prevention of HIV and malaria in Malawi, and the feature-length documentary Lettere dal deserto (Elogio della lentezza), which was shown at over 80 festivals around the world.

SIMPLE WOMEN | Dir:Chiara Malta | Cast: Jasmine Trinca, Elina Löwensohn, Francesco Acquaroli, Anna Malvica, Mirella Mazzeranghi, Betti Pedrazzi, Paolo Graziosi, Thomas Bradley, Michael Rodgers, Cosmina Olariu, Ozana Oancea, Roberta Zanardo, Gea Dell’Orto, Elisa Liberatori |  85 mins

Since childhood, the Italian film director Federica (Jasmine Trinca) has been passionate about cinema. One film in particular has always played an important role: Hal Hartley’s Simple Men, starring the Romanian actress Elina Löwensohn. A chance encounter with her icon offers Federica the opportunity to make a film about her life. However, the real Elina Löwensohn is very different to the one in Federica’s imagination, and soon the true characters of both the actor and the director start to be revealed.

Paris-based director Chiara Malta has written and directed numerous short films in which she mixes various forms of narration, including documentary and animation. Her feature-length documentary Armando and Politics opened the 2008 Turin Film Festival. Simple Women is her debut feature-length fiction film and had its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, where it opened the Discovery section.

THE NIGHT PORTER (Il portiere di notte)  Dir: Liliana Cavani | Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Charlotte Rampling, Philippe Leroy | 118 mins

Set in Vienna in 1957, a secret Nazi organisation meets periodically and ‘eliminates’ dangerous witnesses to their cruel actions during WW II. Max (Dirk Bogarde), a former SS officer, is a night porter in an elegant hotel. When Lucia (Charlotte Rampling) enters the lobby with her husband, she recognises the man who was both her torturer and protector when she was a concentration camp inmate. They eventually find a way to be alone together and replay their concentration camp scenes, thus revisiting a sadomasochistic relationship and exploring a reversal of roles. Operatic and bold, Liliana Cavani’s 1974 provocative psychological thriller deftly examines the lasting social and psychological effects of the Nazi regime.

Liliana Cavani was born in Carpi in 1933. After graduating in literature and philology at Bologna University she studied documentary filmmaking at Rome’s renowned ‘Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia’.  She is a director and screenwriter who belongs to a generation of Italian filmmakers from Emilia-Romagna who came into prominence in the 1970s, and included Bernardo Bertolucci, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Marco Bellocchio.  In 1965 her documentary Philippe Pétain: Processo a Vichy won the Golden Lion for Best TV Documentary Film at the Venice International Film Festival. In addition to feature films and documentaries, she has also directed operas.

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY | 4 -9 MARCH 2020 | CINE LUMIERE, LONDON SW7

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fellini’s Casanova (1976) | Fellini Centenary 2020

Dir.: Federico Fellini  | Wri: Bernardino Zapponi | Cast: Donald Sutherland, Tina Aumont, Cicely Browne, Carmen Scapitta, Diane Kourys | Italy/USA 1976, 155 min.

The last years of Casanova’s life are a permanent odyssey through Europe indulging in a variety of amorous but mostly tired adventures. Fellini’s production echoes this emotional ennui. But the film was also an exercise in misery that started with a long search for the leading man: Alberto Sordi, Michael Caine, Jack Nicholson and Gian Maria Volonté were all in line to play the raddled seducer before Donald Sutherland finally got the part. More than one producer gave up and had be replaced. The shoot was suspended between December 1975 and March 1976; on top of everything, some of the  reels were stolen and the scenes had to re-shot.

Sutherland’s Casanova is an old man, a shadow of himself. His role as the Count Von Waldstein’s librarian occupies his days but at night he is hellbent on enforcing his virility at the Venice carnival before he is imprisoned by the inquisition and accused of ‘black magic’. After his flight from the infamous ‘Piombi’ (lead chambers) he travels to Paris, but his stay is short-lived: he finds out that the hostess Marchesa d’Urfe (Browne) is only interested in gaining the secret of eternal life from him. An affair with the young Henrietta (Tina Aumont) causes him to fall into a deep, suicidal depression when the young woman suddenly leaves. After many more affairs, Casanova feels his existence become an ordeal, and ends up dancing with an automated puppet as he is reduced to an object of ridicule by the  servants.

In an interview Fellini is quoted of saying:  “I wanted to realise the total film. I wanted to change the celluloid of film into a painting. If you look at a painting, the effect is total, there are no interruptions. But if you watch a film, the effect is different. In a painting, everything is included, you only have to discover it. But film is just not as complete: The audience does not look at the film, the film allows the audience to look at it, and so the audience becomes the slave to the rhythm of the film, it dictates the tempo. It would be ideal to create a film which has only one sequence. A film in one, great, permanent and varied movement. With Casanova, I would have liked to get closer to this ideal, with Satyricon I nearly reached my goal.” AS

SCREENING AS PART OF THE FELLINI CENTENARY | BFI LONDON 2020

Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom | Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (1975) *** 

Dir.: Pier Paolo Pasolini; Cast: Tatiana Mogilansky, Susanna Radaelli, Giuliana Orlandi, Liana Acquaviva, Paolo Boacelli, Giorgio Cataldi, Umbert Paolo Quintavalle, Aldo Valletti, Caterina Boratto, Elsa De Giorgi, Helene Surgere, Sonia Saviange; Italy 1975, 117min.

Banned, censored and reviled the world over since its release, Salò was Pasolini’s final and most controversial masterpiece. The content and imagery is extreme, retaining the power to shock, repel and distress. But it remains a cinematic milestone: culturally significant, politically vital and visually stunning.

Originally intended as the first part of a trilogy about death, it was actually Pier Paolo Pasolini’s swansong: it was premiered at the Paris Film Festival on 23rd November 1975, three weeks after his murder. Based on the novel The 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade, it takes place in Northern Italian Fascist Republic of Salò (1943-1945), controlled by Mussolini with the support of Nazi Germany. It tells the story of the Libertines, who kidnap 18 teenagers and subject them to four months of violence, murder, sadism and sexual and psychological torture. Told in four segments ((Ante Inferno, Circle of Manias, Circle of Shit, Circle of Blood), all based on Dante’s The Divine Comedy. There are also quotes of Friedrich Nietzsche (On the Generality of Morality), the poem The Cantos by Ezra Pound and A la Recherche de Temps Perdu by Proust. Shot brilliantly by DoP Tonino Delli Colli and with a score by Ennio Morricone, the drama has moments of brilliance.

The public officials The Duke (Bonacelli), The Bishop (Cataldi), The Magistrate (Quintavalle) and the President (Valletti) decide to marry each other’s daughters: all four are raped and killed in the end. The victims are told “we will govern your life”. Heterosexual intercourse will be punished by mutilation and “the slightest religious act committed by anyone will be punished by death.” Most of the action takes place in a villa, including the coprophagic wedding banquet. Like a Greek chorus, four middle-aged prostitutes are commenting on the on-going bloodshed. The four men dictate everything, their slogans are actual fascist quotes or ones by de Sade. Death is the central topic, Pasolini claims that real and imagined death is connected, and that political and pornographic dehumanisation are the same kind of phantasy. Filmed with radical artificiality, on purpose Saló is very uncomfortable to watch. The Cubist art on the walls, the camp outfits, the sheer absurdity of certain scenes – especially the drag wedding – all make it impossible to reason with anything. The fascists laugh, but it is certainly not funny when they declare: “You cannot reason your way to an understanding of us or a prediction of what we will do next”.

The overriding impression of is of dread. The violent scenes are brief, but the torture that unfolding in the imagination is even more unbearable. The essence of torture is not violence or physical pain, but in the de-humanisation that takes place beforehand. Comparisons with Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter and Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing are clear.

Roland Barthes felt that Pasolini failed on both accounts with Salò: describing fascism and combining it with de Sade. “A flop of figuration (both of Sade and of the fascist system). That is why I wonder, if, at the end of a long concatenation of errors, Pasolini’s Salò is not, all things considered, a proper Sadean object: absolutely irredeemable: no one, indeed, so it seems, can redeem it.” 

Surprisingly, most of crew and cast claimed to have enjoyed the shoot, despite the bruises and cuts they suffered. During the filming at the Villa Gonzaga-Zani in Villempunta, the Salò team where not far away from Bertolucci’s 1900 shoot, which provided the ideal opportunity for these directors to bury the hatchet on their long-standing disagreement that had started when Pasolini criticised Last Tango in Paris. AS

On 30 September 2019 the BFI will release Salò on Blu-ray utilising a High Definition master new to the UK. Special features for this release include a new commentary by Kat Ellinger.

 

           

Magari | If Only (2019) Locarno Film Festival 2019

Dir: Ginevra Eklann with Alba Rohrwacher, Riccardo Scamarcio, Brett Gelman | Italy, France  ·  2019  ·  100′                                

Kids are the victims of Ginevra Eklann’s sentimental saga of divorce and disarray. Opening this year’s LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL, this breezy upbeat drama sees three siblings  desperately hoping their parents will get back together again – ‘if only’.

The family’s tensions finally come to a head during Christmas when their disorganised dad Carlo (Scamarcio) whisks them off for holidays that will end in sadness and sexual awakening. But before they go Alma (Oro De Commarque), Jean (Giustiniani) and Sebastiano (Roussel) arrive in Rome with their Russian Orthodox mother Charlotte and her new boyfriend. Carlo is one of those dads who is great fun but not one for detail. He is more interested in his latest script and in his co-writer Benedetta (Alba Rohrwacher) than taking care of his children. And while they’re on holiday – at the seaside rather than the usual family trip to the mountains – his only preoccupation is work.

The story is seen from the kids’ point of view. How they cope with being part of a broken marriage. And they soon catch on to the holiday romance under their noses. Seba is keenly aware of the sexual vibe going on between Carlo and Benedetta, but he’s also burdened with being the eldest, while the other two feel homesick for their mother but find their father fun and exciting – it’s a well known dynamic.

Carlo and Benedetta seem well-matched. She is flirty and fun, but a bad influence on the kids with her pot-smoking and stealing from the local market. Seba clearly fancies her but also disapproves – a heady mix that will see them having a bit of a sub-fling on a cheeky Sunday trip to church – while Carlo is busy writing. It’s a shame Eklann relies on the cliched dramatic trick of having Carlo’s dog disappear in a gimmick that we know will end in tragedy. Why do so many indie filmmakers do this?

Scamarcio and Rohrwacher are effortlessly the stars of this well-crafted family affair which is both light-hearted, sentimental and firmly tethered to reality. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 AUGUST 2019

Romeo and Juliet (1968) **** Tribute to Franco Zeffirelli

Director: Franco Zeffirelli  Screenplay: Franco Brusati, Masolino D’Amico | Cast: Olivia Hussey, Leonard Whiting, John McEnery, Milo O’Shea, Pat Heywood, Robert Stephens, Michael York, Bruce Robinson

138min  | Romantic Drama | Italy

Franco Zeffirelli’s ROMEO AND JULIET captures the innocent rapture of teenage love when hormones spill over to create an intoxicating cocktail of lust and longing. Full of life and perfectly cast, newcomers Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey were absolutely exquisite as the star-struck pair, evoking a sweetly innocent sexuality that has never been seen again in cinema history. Their beautifully spoken prose and mesmerising chemistry completes this idealistic yet achingly romantic depiction of tragic love between Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, who came from different warring families.

And although D’Amico and Brusati’s screenplay dumbs things down in the classic speeches, each character is superbly cast: Milo O’Shea as the kindly indulgent yet dignified Friar Laurence; John McEnergy’s fiesty Mercutio, and Pat Heywood’s jovial Nurse all make their memorable mark and are still fresh and familiar nearly 50 years later, in this sparkling restoration. Zeffirelli makes good use of the original settings of the play in the medieval ‘struscio’ of Perugia, Viterbo, Siena and the Palazzo Borghese in Rome, and where Pasqualino De Santis’ stunning set pieces luxuriate in an around the rolling countryside of Gubbio (Umbria) and rural Siena (Tuscany), winning him an Oscar for cinematography. Danilo Donati won another for his richly beautiful costumes, and also a Bafta.

Nino Rota’s romantic score “What is Youth” will also flood back to the memories of those who first saw it in the late ’60s or ’70s. He made his name in The Leopard and would go on to write music for The Godfather, Part I and II. The script plays up the relationship between friends Mercutio and Romeo. And Robert Stephens is suave and wise as the Prince of Verona. Romeo and Juliet’s bedroom scenes are quite raunchy in a sensual way – Hussey was almost 16 and Whiting 17 – but they show their tenderness when they break down in tears in the touching final scenes and win Golden Globes for Most Promising Newcomers. MT

A BRAND NEW 4K RESTORATION is now available |  PART OF THE SHAKESPEARE LIVES SEASON: CELEBRATING THE WORKS OF THE BARD over 400 YEARS AFTER HIS DEATH.

 

 

Hannah (2017) * * *

Dir: Andrea Pallaoro | Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Andre Wilms, Jean-Michel Balthazar, Luca Avallone | Drama | Italy | 95′

Charlotte Rampling gives an extraordinary performance in this intimate portrait of a woman coming to terms with her loss of identity after her husband (Andre Wilms) is sent to imprison for a crime that has caused the breakdown of her family.

Andrea Pallaoro’s sophomore feature keeps us wondering what has happened to cause such emotional devastation all round. Hannah battles to face an uncertain future late in life and at a time where she feels unable to bounce back with the positivity of youth, and has lost her former place in society. Soul-searching her way forward from a past that is ambiguous and unresolved. The status quo has been devastated, and we are intrigued to discover the image portrayed in the photographs she is seen destroying. Her marriage is clearly over, and her son will no longer speak to her due to circumstances beyond her control and after events she had noting to do with and she has also lost her connection with her grandson Charlie (Savinin), is told not to speak to her in a devastating scene where she brings him a homemade cake for his birthday party. Unable to cope she later dissolves in floods of tears. Later her swimming club membership is revoked without explanation. And she is left humiliated. She clearly knows the reason why.

Rampling carries the film through each slow-burning scene. Wandering aimlessly through streets in Brussels and along a beach in Knocke she is a picture of broken life. And we feel for her. Shattered by  anguish and pitiful in her loneliness, Rampling makes the film both compelling and quietly affecting. In an effort to keep going and survive what has gone before, Hannah joins a set-help group practising the Alexander Technique, and keeps house for a woman whose own son appears to be blind. Despite this work, Hannah seems to be highly intelligent and full of graceful manners suggesting she has somehow come down in the world, from a for a well-to-do household. Her son is well-spoken and her own behaviour suggests good breeding.

Clearly Pallaoro had something in mind along the lines of Chantal Ackerman’s Jeanne Dielman.  Hannah’s emotional fragmentation leads to her (symbolic) meeting with a beached whale on the beach at Knokke Heist – showing a helplessness on Pallaoro’s part, which cannot be overcome by the Chayse Irvin’s stylishly cold and forbidding visuals. They show a wintry landscape, forlornly mirroring Hannah’s state of mind. MT

Andrea Pallaoro was born in Trento, Italy. He received his BA from Hampshire College before going on to study film directing at the California Institute of the Arts. His credits as director include the short Wunderkrammer (08) and the feature Medeas(13). Hannah (17) is his latest film.

NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE VENUES | premiered at VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2017

The Passenger (Professione: reporter) (1975) **** Antonioni Retrospective

Dir.: Michelangelo Antonioni; Cast: Jack Nicholson, Maria Schneider, Jenny Runacre, Ian Hendry; Italy/France/Spain 1975, 126 min. 

In nearly all of Antonioni’s features the leading protagonists go missing: Aldo in El Grido jumps from the tower to his death, Anna in L’Aventura simply disappears on an island, having simply evaporated into thin air. And then there is his long time muse, Monica Vitti, who loses her identity during Deserto Rosso and L’Eclisse. In Professione: reporter, journalist David Locke has already lost his self identity before the film starts; assuming the guise of dead man only underlines his inner emptiness. Antonioni’s third and final feature in English, after Blow Up and Zabriskie Point, is dominated by the images, the camera circles around a man between two deaths.

David Locke (Nicholson) the titular character, lands in a desert outpost in Chad, trying to interview rebels, the heat makes him indolent. With his wife and adopted son behind in London, along with his TV producer, Locke has hit rock-bottom. He can’t even believe in his profession anymore: having sold out to market forces. Finding the corpse of colleague, who has died of a heart attack in his derelict hotel room, Locke only needs one glance at the dead man’s face to realise he could easily pass as Robertson – not that he’s particularly interested in impersonate him more than anyone else. In Roberton’s blue shirt, we watch Locke swap their passport  photos – as the fan on the ceiling bears witness. 

Finding a plane ticket to Munich in Robertson’s belongings, David flies to Germany, after a short incognito visit to London. In Munich he picks up a weapons catalogue from an airport locker, and is met by two men who give him an envelope containing a substantial amount of money. David has replaced Robertson as a gun-runner, serving a revolutionary African group. A further meeting in Spain is agreed by the the trio. Meanwhile, in London, Locke’s wife Rachel (Runacre) and his producer Martin Knight (Hendry) try to contact Robertson, to enquire about David’s state of mind when he died. In an editing room, Rachel watches clips from her husband’s old documentaries, including one featuring a brutal shooting. In Barcelona, Locke manages to avoid his wife, the police, and the two African clients. He meets a nameless architecture student (Maria Schneider), and they go round Gaudi buildings together. They set off for a meeting with the Africans in Algeciras, an oil port in southern Spain. Their relationship is in the here and now, but Locke, sensing the danger of having to evade the trio , shakes her off, promising a meeting in Tangiers. But when he arrives in the Algeciras hotel, she is waiting for him in the room. “What do want with me?”, he asks her exasperated, before the last act of the drama, underplayed, as undramatically  as possible – just like the rest of the feature. 

Locke hardly says a word in this monosyllabic film: conversations are fragmented, the last part play out like a silent film. The only reality is nature, as the protagonists’ significance shrinks away. The last seven minutes belong completely to Luciano Tovoli’s masterful camera: it pans through the grilled window of Locke’s room, and out into the piazza in front of the hotel; looking around, before returning to the room before everyone else: as in Cronaca di un amore the eliptical movement symbolises death. It is like watching the whole feature again. AS

Michelangelo Antonioni Retrospective | BFI | January 2019

https://youtu.be/him17sDL2wE

 

Dogman (2018) ****

Dir: Matteo Garrone | Ugo Chiti | Adamo Dionisi, Francesco Acquaroli, Edoardo Pesce, Laura Pizzirani | Drama | 120′ | Italy

The second Italian hero of Cannes Film Festival appears in Matteo Garrone’s terrific revenge thriller that returns to the filmmaker’s own stamping ground of Caserta with a richly thematic and compulsive exploration of male rivalry and belonging in a downtrodden criminal-infested football-playing community scratching a living.

Life has always been tough in this neck of the woods, infested by gangland influences: it is a terrain that Garrone knows and describes well in his 2008 feature Gomorrah. A brutal brotherhood controls this bleak beachside wilderness where everyone relies on each other to survive.

At the heart of DOGMAN is a tour de force turn from actor turned director Marcello Fonte who plays an endearing and diminutive dog grooming supremo who although popular and kind, has formed a toxic twosome with local hoodlum and sociopath Simone, a thorn in his side who is dragging him constantly into trouble. Marcello’s wife has cleared off and he has a young daughter Sofia (Alida Baldari Calabria) to look after –  and dog-grooming hardly makes ends meet, so to keep Simone sweet he supplies him with cocaine and courtesies, though secretly he wishes him dead.

Marcello possesses the same innate goodness as Lazzaro in Rohrwacher’s drama that played earlier in the competition line -up. And he’s gifted and patient with the dogs brought into his shop, and in one scene he actually goes out of his way to rescue a chihuahua who has been nearly frozen to death in a botched robbery. In short, Garrone uses similar ‘good and evil’ theme as Scorsese in his New York street thrillers where one good person is perpetually trying to redeem the others, against the odds and often at his own expense. Marcello is keen on his friends and is popular and wants to keep it that way, but Simone is a liability and one day will lead him to tragedy.

This is a gritty and violent film and often unbearably so, but there are moments of heart-rending tenderness – between his Marcello and his dependants – where tears will certainly well up. Fonte won Best Award at Cannes for his skilful portrayal that switches subtly from sad loner to desperado.

Garrone sets the desolate scene resonantly with his brilliant lighting and inventive camerawork, this time working with DoP Nicolai Bruel, who paints this part of Italy with an almost gothic desperation highlighted by Michele Braga’s mournful musical score. MT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE | BEST ACTOR AWARD MARCELLO FONTE | CANNES 2018

https://youtu.be/LI2JE_xjAaY

Padre (2016) **

Dir.: Giada Colagande; Cast: Giada Colagande, Willem defoe, Franco Battiato, Miarina Abramovic; Italy/USA 2016, 93 min.

Director/co-writer/star Giada Colagande (Open My Heart) does away with a tangible narrative in this thoughtfully languorous and stunningly captured meditation on death and bereavement, divided into seven chapters with seemingly symbolic headlines suck as “Free from illusion, new motives develop for every act and thought”. Colagrande relies on an associative structure where storytelling is replaced by episodes from the family history, but all she achieves is enigma, which beguiles initially but not for the film’s entire running time. 

In a seaside suburb of Rome, Giulia Fontana (Colagrande) is mourning the sudden death of her father Giulio (Battiato), a well known artist. Skyping with her mother (Abramovic) is one form of release, but Giulia is also comforted by a circle of close friends and amongst them is James (Dafoe) who is staging a mixed-media theatre production in which Giulia has a part. These sequences help to enliven the drama’s narrative torpor adding much-needed texture to what is otherwise rather bland.

After dark, delicately realised visions of her father haunt the house they once shared in happier times, and she tries to keep him alive by reading letters and meditation exercises until the film’s intriguing denouement leaves her at peace. Giulio’s penchant for Asian mysticism and doctrines relating to the soul’s afterlife resonate powerfully in this ancient setting. Giulia is also drawn to a mysterious local art studio where she frequently rummages around in treasures and antiquities eventually uncovering its inner sanctum in the final scenes.  

DoP Tomasso Borgstrom always finds new angles to show off the atavistic beauty of Rome in a contemplative visual treatise that gets lost in a fog of words and graceful poses from her long-haired Persian cat Cosmo. MT

PADRE WILL BE RELEASED IN 2019

Capri-Revolution (2018) ** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Mario Martone; Cast: Marianna Fontana, Reinout Scholten van Aschat, Antonio Folletto, Maximilian Dirr; Italy/France 2018, 121 min.

Mario Martione does his homeland a disservice with a turgid and distinctly un-revolutionary Golden Lion hopeful. Set on the island of Capri in the run up to the First World War this is a didactic drama which even manages to make a nudist colony look bland and boring. But worse is the misogyny with which he treats his main-protagonist.

In 1914 twenty year-old Lucia (Fontana) enjoys a bucolic island existence looking after the family’s herds of goats, but when her father dies, her grumpy older brother decides to marry her off to a rich widower, thinking first and foremost about the financial benefits for the family. Soon both brothers are off to war, and Lucia joins a nudist colony, despite warnings from the locals that they are  “devils”. There she falls under the spell of painter and commune leader Seybu (van Aschat), a composite of the German painter Karl Diefenbach who led a commune on Capri between 1900 and 1913 and his compatriot, the artist Joseph Beuys, who had not even been born in 1914.

Seybu teaches Lucia to read and soon she is multi-lingual. But the local doctor Carlo (Folletto) hopes to win Lucia’s affections, the two men fiercely stating their points in the duel between science and art. This becomes very boring with sentences like ”There is only matter and spirit, there is no duality”. Furthermore, Herbert (Dirr), a psychotherapist, tries to interfere with the all the women in order to make them more compliant towards the male egos. Lucia soon has enough and wants “to go back to dancing in the woods”.

DoP Michele D’Attanasio tries his best to conjure up a sapphic image of beauty and nature, but this is a drama much too verbose to allow our imagination to wander – dialogue getting in the way.  Martone insists that everything is debated in a principled discussion, creating the climate of a business seminar. There is no lust – in spite of the naked bodies – and art is just another subject to be discussed to the death. Fontana tries her very best, but the males around her dominate. This is a sprawlingly endless mosh-mash, Martone even managing to botch the ending. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

 

 

      

Venice Film Festival 2018 | La Biennale

Alberto Barbera has announced a stunning line-up of highly anticipated new features and documentaries in celebration of this year’s 71st edition of Venice Film Festival which takes place on the Lido from 28 August until 8 September 2018. 30% of this year’s films are made by women which sounds more positive. Obviously the festival can only programme films offered for screening.

The festival kicks off on the 28th with a remastered 1920 version of THE GOLEM – HOW HE CAME TO BE (ab0ve) complete with musical accompaniment. This year’s festival opening film is Damien Chazelle’s biopic of Neil Armstrong FIRST MAN. There are 21 features and documentaries in the main competition which boasts the latest films from Olivier Assayas (a publishing drama DOUBLE LIVES stars Juliette Binoche), Jacques Audiard (THE SISTERS BROTHERS), Joel and Ethan Coen’s 6-part Western THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS, Brady Corbet’smusical drama VOX LUX; Alfonso Cuaron with ROMA; Luca Guadagnino’s SUSPIRIA sees Tilda Swinton playing 3 parts; Mike Leigh (PETERLOO), Yorgos Lanthimos with an 18th drama entitled THE FAVOURITE; Carlos Reygadas joins from his usual Cannes slot; and Julian Schnabel will present AT ETERNITY’S GATE a drama attempting to get inside the head of Vincent Van Gogh. Not to mention Laszlo Nemes’ Budapest WW1 drama NAPSZÁLLTA, a much awaited second feature and follow up to his Oscar winning Son of Saul.

The out of competition selection is equally exciting and thematically rich. There is Bradley Cooper’s directing debut A STAR IS BORN (left), Charles Manson-themed CHARLIE SAYS from Mary Herron; Amos Gitai’s A TRAMWAY IN JERUSALEM, and Zhang Yimou’s YING (SHADOW). And those whose enjoyed S Craig Zahler’s dynamite Brawl in Cell Block 99 will be pleased to hear that his DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE adds Mel Gibson to the previous cast of Jennifer Carpenter and Vince Vaughn. There will be an historic epic set in the time of the French Revolution: UN PEUPLE ET SON ROI features Gaspart Ulliel and Denis Lavant (who also stars in Rick Alverson’s Golden Lion hopeful THE MOUNTAIN) , and Amir Naderi’s MAGIC LANTERN which has the wonderful English talents of Jacqueline Bisset. And talking of England, Mike Leigh’s much gloated over historical epic PETERLOO finally makes it to the competition line-up

Documentary-wise there’s plenty to enjoy: Amos Gitai’s brief but timely A LETTER TO A FRIEND IN GAZA; Francesco Patierno’s CAMORRA which explores the infamous Italian organisation; Frederick Wiseman this time plunders Monrovia, Indiana for his source material; multi-award winning Russian documentarian Viktor Kossalkovsky will present his latest water-themed work AQUARELA; Ukrainian Sergei Loznitsa’s film for this year’s festival is PROCESS (he’s the Ukrainian answer to Michael Winterbottom in terms of his prodigious output) this time focusing on the myriad lies surrounding Stalinism.

Out of Competition there are also blasts from the past including a hitherto unseen drama directed and co-written by Orson Welles and his pal Oja Kodar, starring Peter Bogdanovich and John Huston; and Bosnian director Emir Kusturica is back after his rocky time On The Milky Road with EL PEPE, UNA VIDA SUPREMA. 

And Malaysian auteur Tsai Ming-liang also makes a welcome return to Venice with his drama YOUR FACE. A multi-award winning talent on the Lido, his 2013 Stray Dogs won the Special Grand Jury Prize and Vive l’Amour roared away with the Golden Lion in 1994 (jointly with Milcho Manchevski’s Pred dozhdot).

Venice has a been a pioneer of 3D and VR since the screening of GRAVITY which opened the festival in 2013 amid much mal-functioning of 3D glasses at the press screening, and this year’s VR features include an excerpt from David Whelan’s 1943: BERLIN BLITZ which will be released ithis Autumn. This VR showcase experience is an accurate retelling of the events which happened inside a Lancaster bomber during one of the most well documented missions of World War II using original cockpit audio recorded 75 years ago. The endeavour is expected to be released on the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Oculus Go, Google Daydream, Samsung Gear VR and Windows Mixed Reality platforms. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 28 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER 2018 

 

 

 

The Guest (2018) ***

Dir.: Duccio Chiarini; Cast: Daniele Parisi, Sylvia d’Amico, Mivia Marigliano, Sergio Peirattini, Daniele Natali, Thony, Anna Bellato; Italy 2018, 93 min.

Duccio Chiarini’s portrait of Italian middle-class malaise is familiar all over Western Europe. Thirtysomethings show a depressing lack of commitment – particularly the men. What starts as a romcom rapidly dives into melancholy meditation on modern life.

We meet wannabe write and occasional substitute teacher Guido (Parisi), naked between the legs of his girl friend Chiara (d’Amico). Clearly copulation has taken place, and Guido is looking for the burst condom. After finding it, Guido votes they should go for a baby, rather than the ‘morning after’ pill – knowing full well that Chiara is opposed to the idea: ”I have to have done something with my life before having a child”. And it’s true, neither of them has a good job, despite Chiara’s two MAs, her stint as a tour guide, and Guido’s book on Calvino, which is still waiting for publication. Nothing seems to work in their relationship either: the car is broken down, but there’s no money to repair it. And Guido’s mother (Marigliano) is still buying his underwear, as Chiara points out, although he’s pushing forty. Chiara is considering a decent offer in Canada but is unsure how to broach the topic.  And this is the beginning of the end of their relationship, because Guido suspects that Chiara is seeing another man.

The focus then changes to Guido, who becomes the hero: sofa-surfing with his parents and various friends, and stalking Chiara in the meantime. His mates aren’t faring any better. Dario (Natali) has fallen in love with another woman and is about to leave girl friend Roberta (Thony), a cardiologist. “We met via Tinder”, is Dario’s lame excuse, telling Guido to have a look at Chiara’s emails. Pietro and the pregnant Lucia (Bellato), are more negative than happy about their baby, and Lucia is competing with Guido for a literary grant. This is modern life, according to Guido’s mother: “You throw away, we mend”.

Guido and his generation see relationships and careers as transient. Self-obsessed, the men in particular, fail to grow up or even learn from their mistakes. Chiarini is an insightful observer, and DoP Baris Ozbicer’s camera finds always new angles for the emotional distress of the protagonists. Overall, the feature is more entertaining than philosophical, the director too well-meaning to produce anything with sharp edges. AS

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2018

 

 

Menocchio 2018 *** Locarno International Film Festival 2018

Dir: Alberto Fasulo | Drama | Italy | 103′

Alberto Fasulo’s lavishly mounted imagined drama, having its premiere here at Locarno Film Festival, examines the ethical and moral issues surrounding the purported heresy of Domenico Scandella (1532–1599), also known as Menocchio, a miller from Montereale, Italy, who in the 16th century was tried by the Inquisition for his unorthodox religious views, and burnt at the stake.

Fasulo won the top prize at Rome 2013 with Tir. This, his fourth film is a costumed period piece that plays out from the POV of the inquisition’s interrogator as he encourages Scandella’s friends and associates to denounce the honest miller. Fasulo invites us into a God-fearing world where the close-knit community are dominated by the Catholic Church and potently in thrall to their religious convictions.

This exquisitely-crafted arthouse has the look and gravitas of the films of Italian masters such as Olmi or even the Taviani brothers. Each frame is elegantly composed telling the simple chronological storyline. Much of action takes place in the cloistered candlelit confinement of the ancient prison where Menocchio, his draw expression captured in the flickering candlelight, is interrogated about his views and beliefs that question the virgin birth. And Menocchio repeatedly sticks to his principles refusing to ask for forgiveness or change his mind, knowing full well that fatal punishment awaits him. These scenes contrast with the fresh and summery outdoors of the Friuli region were his associates are put to the test, some of the speaking in the region’s dialect.

Performed by a cast of mostly non-professional actors Menocchio is a quality drama that while shedding light on a little-known episode in history really needed the charismatic charge of a well-known actor to raise its worthwhile subject matter. MT.

IN COMPETITION | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

 

Sicilian Ghost Story (2017) ****

Dirs/scr Fabio Grassadonia, Antonio Piazza| Italy/France/Switzerland, 2017. 122′

Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza made their names with Mafia thriller Salvo at Cannes several years ago, and returned in 2017 with another Sicilian-set slow-burner that adds teenage romance and Gothic fantasy to their signature Mafiosi mix to create this modern day Romeo & Juliet styled fantasy drama.

This is a stunningly crafted, magical fairytale enriched and heightened by the visual wizardry of Luca Bigazzi (The Great Beauty) but despite its touching storyline and convincing performances SICILIAN GHOST STORY is slightly overlong in telling the truth-based tale of teenager Giuseppe Di Matteo (Gaetano Fernandez) who was kidnapped in 1993 in order prevent his Mafia supergrass father, Santino, from spilling the beans. His ordeal is seen through the eyes of little Luna (Julia Jedlikowska), who holds a constant candle for her schoolfriend so bright, that the two form a psychic connection throughout his captivity, as he clings to her letter as his guiding light to salvation.

With its echoes of Grimm’s Fairytales (the enchanted wood) and Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (through the girl’s red duffel coat) the directors pay homage to best examples of fantasy meets reality. The film also recognises the fact that children escape into a world of fantasy when reality becomes too traumatic for them to cope.

Bigazzi intensifies the drama with his masterful techniques enhancing the vibrancy of Sicily’s landscapes and interiors with heady and luscious hues. At atmospheric soundtrack harnesses the ambient sounds of the forest to amazing effect. And newcomers Julia Jedlikowska and Gaetano Fernandez bring extraordinary intensity to their roles as Luna and Giuseppe in this thematically well-managed and haunting slice of Sicilian recent history. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 3 AUGUST 2018

A Ciambra (2017)

Dir.: Jonas Carpignano; Cast: Pio Amato, Koudous Seihon, Iolanda Amato, Damiano Amato, Rocco Amato; Italy/USA/France/Sweden 2017, 118 min.

Jonas Carpignano’s casts non professionals in this companion piece and follow-up to his debut Mediterranea, a lively all singing all dancing immigration drama that revolves around a family of Romas who live in an enclave of Gioia Tauro in Calabria, .

Voluble teenager Pio (Pio Amato) is the youngest in the family of jailbirds, idolising his brother Cosimo (Damiano Amato) who has already served time, as has his father Rocco (Rocco Amato), he mixes easily in the multi-cultural milieu of fellow Romas, local Italians and African refugees, and the rest of their clan are under house arrest. Mother Iolanda (Iolanda Amato) keeps the family together, and Pio is a afraid of her – but not enough to stop his various criminal activities. Pio’s only confidant is Ayiva from Burkino Faso, who lives in the African section of the town and is played by the only professional actor, Kudos Seihon. Pio’s loyalities are put to the test when he discovers his clan is planning a robbery at Ayiva’s “warehouse”; but he’s proud to be a Roma and keeps his mouth shut, respecting his brother’s words: “when you are in prison, you are respected, even by the Italians, but nobody respects the Africans”.  Carpignano keeps his distance from his characters, never judging them and allowing their macho, misogyny full rein. That said, the clan live in abject poverty, crime clearly doesn’t pay for these canny immigrants. This approach works up to a point. Realism is fine, but it has to encompass more than one dimension. There are shades of The Dardenne Brothers in Tim Curtin’s handheld camerawork which follows each scenes through to the end, although the brothers take their narrative rigour from showing society as a whole, not indulging in the cul-de-sac actions of one section of the community.  Overall, A Ciambra pulls out all the stops aesthetically, allowing the audience to enjoy the ride rather indulgently, and with a dangerous lack of reflection. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 18 JUNE 2018

 

La Signora senza Camelie (1953) **** Dual Format release

Dir: Michelangelo Antonioni | Drama | Italy

From the opening credits of La Signora Senza Camelie we’re in very recognisable Antonioni territory. First, a close overhead shot of a young woman pacing up and down the street at night: she’s hesitant, anxious and uncomfortably placed against an architecture that appears to disturb her. On the soundtrack we hear a melancholic title theme composed by Giovanni Fusco (Who later worked with Antonioni on L’avventura, L’eclisse and Il Deserto Rosso). Then the woman enters a cinema to catch the final moments of her latest film. As she watches herself, singing in a nightclub, Signora’s filmic intersection of life and art undemonstratively signals what will be the cause of the woman’s continuing stress – the capricious and uncaring Italian film industry of the 1950s.

Clara Manni (Lucia Bose) is a beautiful-looking shop assistant now transformed into a film starlet. After Clara’s first successful film, the movie executives propose a project entitled “Woman Without a Destiny.” Attempts are made to make the film more erotic and provoke the censor. Producer Gianni Franchi (Andrea Checchi) persuades Clara to marry him and commence with the new production. The film does well but Gianni objects to the sexual exploitation of his wife. Upset by the studio’s control of her talent and image, Clara walks out of the marriage and requests a part in a more artistic film. A version of the Joan of Arc story is completed, but is badly received. Clara is shaken by the ordeal and continues to strive for serious roles.

Hollywood would have treated this storyline with either black satire (Sunset Boulevard) or sophisticated critique (The Bad and the Beautiful). But not Antonioni. In interviews he’s said that it was not the workings of film production that interested him but the personality, or soul, of an actress, praised then denigrated by forces that prevent her self-realisation.

Lucia Bose was also the leading actress in Antonioni’s first film, Cronica di un Amore. This masterly debut feature contained outstanding acting from Bosse and the supporting cast. La Signora Senza Camelie is a cooler and less intense affair. Yet both films are companion pieces in so far as they eloquently convey the despairing looks of Bose –prefiguring the haunting look of later Antonioni women such as Jeanne Moreau and of course the incomparable Monica Vitti. It’s a look not of victimisation but of outward betrayal; a vulnerable face revealed to the world: but subtly concealing both a determination and strength to be respected for your inner worth. Men also struggle in Antonioni’s films but it is the women who appear more resilient in situations and relationships that threaten moral vacuity and loneliness. 

Bose’s performance is superb at capturing such intense disappointment. But is she not too middle class and sophisticated to project the fate of a humble shop-girl? Both Gina Lolibrigita and Sophia Loren where choices for the parts: sadly Antonioni couldn’t get either actress. Yet ‘miscast’ or not, Bose brings much nuanced depth of feeling to her character. 

Without Bose, Antonioni’s camerawork and the photography of Enzo Serafin the story of La Signora Senza Camelie might have collapsed into melodrama or worse, soap opera. Antonioni may not have wanted Lucia Bose, but he ably guides her to deliver a radiant performance, making the final ten minutes of the film touching and transcendent.  

In one scene Clara is shown reading Pirandello. And it’s from Pirandello that Antonioni begins to comment on the complex realities of identity. Antonioni’s seamlessly ‘light’ and graceful direction integrates the disenchantment of the business of living with the industry of film production and its commercial imperative to manufacture dreams and illusions.  

Already within a conventional narrative Antonioni is an auteur bringing both rigour and spontaneity to an overworked plot. A short story by Cesare Pavese is better realised in his next brilliant feature Le Amiche and once we reach L’avventura Antonioni’s  technical control is completely assured, here plot evaporates and abstraction triumphs. 

Admirers of Antonioni have to see La Signora Senza Camelie. For it remains a fascinating springboard for the ideas of Antonioni’s great films of the 1960’s, which have a modernity that hasn’t dated, remaining just as urgent and pressing as we make difficult ethical decisions in our new century. Those Italian writers, artists, socialites, intellectuals, businessmen and poor Anna (Still gone missing on the island in L’avventura) really matter. There’s never definitive closure in Antonioni’s world but continual exploration. Alan Price ©2018   

NOW AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA

Dogman ***** (2018) | Cannes Film Festival | Best Actor Award

Dir: Matteo Garrone | Ugo Chiti | Adamo Dionisi, Francesco Acquaroli, Edoardo Pesce, Laura Pizzirani | Drama | 120′ | Italy

The second Italian hero of Cannes Film Festival appears in Matteo Garrone’s terrific revenge thriller that returns to the filmmaker’s own stamping ground of Caserta with a richly thematic and compulsive exploration of male rivalry and belonging in a downtrodden criminal-infested football-playing community scratching a living.

Life has always been tough in this neck of the woods, infested by gangland influences: it is a terrain that Garrone knows and describes well in his 2008 feature Gomorrah. A brutal brotherhood controls this bleak beachside wilderness where everyone relies on each other to survive.

At the heart of DOGMAN is a tour de force turn from actor turned director Marcello Fonte who plays an endearing and diminutive dog grooming supremo who although popular and kind, has formed a toxic twosome with local hoodlum and sociopath Simone, a thorn in his side who is dragging him constantly into trouble. Marcello’s wife has cleared off and he has a young daughter Sofia (Alida Baldari Calabria) to look after –  and dog-grooming hardly makes ends meet, so to keep Simone sweet he supplies him with cocaine and courtesies, though secretly he wishes him dead.

Marcello possesses the same innate goodness as Lazzaro in Rohrwacher’s drama that played earlier in the competition line -up. And he’s gifted and patient with the dogs brought into his shop, and in one scene he actually goes out of his way to rescue a chihuahua who has been nearly frozen to death in a botched robbery. In short, Garrone uses similar ‘good and evil’ theme as Scorsese in his New York street thrillers where one good person is perpetually trying to redeem the others, against the odds and often at his own expense. Marcello is keen on his friends and is popular and wants to keep it that way, but Simone is a liability and one day will lead him to tragedy.

This is a gritty and violent film and often unbearably so, but there are moments of heart-rending tenderness – between his Marcello and his dependants – where tears will certainly well up. Fonte won Best Award at Cannes for his skilful portrayal that switches subtly from sad loner to desperado.

Garrone sets the desolate scene resonantly with his brilliant lighting and inventive camerawork, this time working with DoP Nicolai Bruel, who paints this part of Italy with an almost gothic desperation highlighted by Michele Braga’s mournful musical score. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL  2018| BEST ACTOR AWARD MARCELLO FONTE

Lazzaro Felice | As Happy as Lazzaro 2018 | Best Script Cannes 2018

Writer/Dir: Alice Rohrwacher | Cast: Alba Rohrwacher, Adriano Tardiolo, Agnese Graziani, Luca Chikovani, Sergi Lopez | Italy | Drama 125′

Al Rohrwacher brings tenderness and curiosity to her delicately compelling fables set amongst rural communities in her homeland of Italy. Her latest Lazzaro Felice won Best Script at Cannes this year, her previous a languid pastoral The Wonders (2014) followed a family of beekeepers in 1970s Tuscany. In her debut Corpo Celeste (2011)  a young girl challenges religious morality in the southern town of Reggio Calabria.

Happy as Lazzaro is time-bending tale that uses poetic realism to enliven the rather depressing theme of corruption and crime in contemporary Italy. Again Rohrwacher uses Super 16mm to establish a retro aesthetic of sepia and muted senape and to re-create a nostalgic feeling for the past and times gone by in the dilapidated village of Inviolata where a traditional family of sharecroppers still serve the Marchesa Alfonsina de Luna. Although sharecropping has been illegal since the 1980s, their loyalty to their corrupt mistress is born out of habit, and because it suits them to maintain the status quo: It’s what they’ve always done. This recalls a past (and possibly a present in some areas) where a feudal system of sorts still exists, and Italy’s now decadent royal family (Vittoria Emanuele) are still acknowledged, paid homage to and addressed by their titles. So the villagers go about their leisurely business lacking the imagination or motivation to move on, and respecting the powers that be in this remote, sun-baked backwater that seems stuck in the past. And Lazzaro is the man with a heart of gold who is simply too good for this world, let along for this job. As saintly soul, Lazzaro is left the duties no one else wants to do, such as picking giant guarding the chicken coop from wolves. The Marchesa’s fecklessly lazy young son Tancredi, decides to play a trick on mother, for not giving him his inheritance early, and he sees that Lazzaro’s gentle nature and naive nature will make him perfect for a plan to defraud her. Lazzaro is naturally in thrall to the boy, out of deference, to his status. Tancredi then fakes his own kidnapping, hiding out in the undergrowth around the village expecting his mother to cough up the million lire ransom he has demanded. Naturally things don’t go according to plan and Lazzaro falls through a time-warp – in a tonal shift that Rohrwacher pulls of with aplomb – ending up in another world, set against a corrupt urban sprawl where he wanders dreamlike (and there is a certainly a surreal quality to these sequences) amongst unscrupulous characters as a nightmarish future unfolds around him. Lazzaro at this point takes on the semblance of a Christ-like figure – and it’s a performance of great subtlety and placidness that has to be seen to be believed. This transformation to saint, or even ghost seems to represent the soul of the Italian nation overcome by decadence and the perils of modernity. It also raises the everlasting conundrum: how long can a person continue to be good when continually challenged by evil. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 9 – 21 MAY 2018

Cannes Classics 2018

 

This year’s Cannes Classic sidebar has one or two priceless gems glittering in its antique crown. Apart from well-known legends: Ozu’s Tokyo Story, Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Wilder’s Apartment, Varda’s One Sings, The Other Doesn’t and Bondarchuks’ War and Peace, there are some worthwhile lesser known features not be missed.

To start with, there is Henry Decoin’s Beating Heart from 1940, a fitting tribute to leading star Danielle Darrieux, who died last year aged 100. The couple were married while filming this screwball comedy, which was remade in Hollywood in 1946. Darrieux plays Arlette, a young girl running away from a reform school, only to join a school for pick-pockets, run by a Fagin-like character. He instructs her to steal an ambassador’s watch, but Arlette falls in love with him. Like in most of Decoin’s well-structured films, the tempo plays a big role. Decoin was often overlooked as a director, largely because of his rather uneven output, but his post-war noir masterpieces like La Chatte (1958) are really stunning. 

Jacques Rivette is famous for his playful features such as Céline and Juliette go Boating, but his one and only excursion into mainstream, La Religieuse (1966), based on a Diderot novel, is full of anarchic fun. Suzanne Simonin (Anna Karina), is incarcerated in a cloister against her will, and soon falls foul of not one, but three Mother-Superiors: they treat her sadistically, tenderly, or as an object for plain lesbian lust – but Suzanne stays pure. This anti-clerical romp was very popular at the box office, and served as a liberating force for Karina who finally got a divorce from JL Godard after having acted in their final collaboration, Made in USA, in the same year.

Hyenas (1992), directed by Senegalese filmmaker Djibri Diop Mambety (1945-1998), is a re-telling of the Durrenmatt play ‘Der Besuch der alten Dame’ (Visit of an old Lady). Set in an impoverished African village, the old lady in question is very rich – but she has not forgotten how her lover (now the Mayor) had treated her when she was pregnant with his child. She asks the townsfolk a simple question: do they want to participate in her wealth and punish the guilty man, or would they prefer clean hands and poverty. Colourful and very passionate, this adaption of a Swiss play works very well in its African setting.

Diamonds of the Night. Adapted from a short story by Arnošt Lustig, Diamonds in the Night follows two boys (Ladislav Jánsky and Antonín Kumbera) on the run through the forest after escaping a train taking between concentration camps. Showing in the Cannes Classics sidebar, it tributes the Czech New Wave director Jan Nemec whose concept of “pure film”, urged audiences to relate their own experience to the ephemeral fractured narrative he masterfully puts together in this cinematic wartime escape drama..

Youssef Chahine (1926-2008), Egypt’s most famous director, was very critical of radical elements of the Muslim faith. Destiny (1997)  is set in the 12th century in the Spanish province of Andalusia, then ruled by Muslims. The Caliph appoints the liberal philosopher Averros as a high court judge. But his wise and humane judgement become the butt of criticism by a group of radical Muslims, who want to banish the Caliph, using Averros as a means to and end. After a long inner struggle, the Caliph sends the philosopher into exile, but the radicals lose out: Averros’ rule of law has gained popularity all over the province. Chahine, as always, directs with great sensibility, and a brilliant use of colour. 

Finally, there is La Hora de los Hornos (The hour of the Furnace) from Fernando Solanas, a documentary which could only be shown in his homeland of Argentina in 1973, five years after its premiere in 1968. Exploring a central theme of worldwide insurrection, from student unrest in the USA to Czech resistance against the Soviet invasion, Solanas paints a picture of an utopian liberation. Even Argentina, which never really had the slightest hope of a proper democracy – never mind a revolution – is shown as ripe for revolution on behalf of the working masses. Running for over four hours, La Hora is a document of hope, well-structured, passionate and idealistic – but unfortunately overtaken by a grim reality. Still, it is a worthwhile, monumental effort.  AS

THE FULL CLASSICS LINE-UP                 

Beating Heart (Battement de cœur) by Henri Decoin (1939, 1h37, France)
2K Restoration presented by Gaumont in association with the CNC. Image works carried out by Eclair, sound restored by L.E. Diapason in partnership with Eclair.

Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves  by Vittorio De Sica (1948, 1h29, Italy)
Presented by Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna, Stefano Libassi’s Compass Film and Istituto Luce-Cinecittà. Restored by Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna and Stefano Libassi’s Compass Film, in collaboration with Arthur Cohn, Euro Immobilfin and Artédis, and with the support of Istituto Luce-Cinecittà. Restoration carried out at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory.

Enamorada by Emilio Fernández (1946, 1h39, Mexico)
Presented by The Film Foundation. Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive and The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project in collaboration with Fundacion Televisa AC and Filmoteca de la UNAM. Restoration funded by the Material World Charitable Foundation. The film will be introduced by Martin Scorsese.

Tôkyô monogatari (Tokyo Story / Voyage à Tokyo) by Yasujiro Ozu (1953, 2h15, Japan)
Presented by Shochiku. Digital restoration by Shochiku Co., Ltd., in cooperation with The Japan Foundation. For the 4K restoration, the duplicated 35mm negative was provided by Shochiku, managed by Shochiku MediaWorX Inc. and conducted by IMAGICA Corp. French distribution in theaters: Carlotta Films.

Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock (1958, 2h08, United States of America)
Presented by Park Circus. 4K digital restoration from the VistaVision negative done by Universal Studios. The film will be screened at the Cinéma de la Plage (Movies on the Beach).

The Apartment by Billy Wilder (1960, 2h05, United States of America)
Presented by Park Circus with the co-operation of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. 4K digital restoration from the original camera negative. Digital restoration completed by Cineteca di Bologna, Colour Grading by Sheri Eissenburg at Roundabout in Los Angeles. Supervised on behalf of Park Circus by Grover Crisp.

Démanty noci (Diamonds of the Night) by Jan Němec (1964, 1h08, Czech Republic)
Presented by the National Film Archive, Prague. The restoration was done by the Universal Production Partners studio in Prague, under the supervision of the National Film Archive, Prague.

Voyna i mir. Film I. Andrei Bolkonsky (War and Peace. Film I. Andrei Bolkonsky) 

by Sergey Bondarchuk (1965, 2h27, Russia)
Presented by Mosfilm Cinema Concern. Digital frame-by-frame restoration of image and sound from 2K scan. Producer of the restoration: Karen Shakhnazarov.

La Religieuse (The Nun)

by Jacques Rivette (1965, 2h15, France)
Presented by Studiocanal. 4K restoration from the original camera negative. Sound restauration from the sound negative (only matching element). Works carried out by L’immagine Ritrovata laboratory under the supervision of Studiocanal and Ms. Véronique Manniez-Rivette with the help of the CNC, the Cinémathèque française and the Fonds culturel franco-américain.

Četri balti krekli (Four White Shirts) 

by Rolands Kalnins (1967, 1h20, Latvia)
Presented by National Film Centre of Latvia. 4K Scan and 3K Digital Restoration from the original 35mm image internegative and print positive materials mastered in 2K. Restoration financed by the National Film Centre of Latvia, the restoration made by Locomotive Productions (Latvia). Director Rolands Kalnins in attendance.

La Hora de los hornos (The Hour of the Furnaces) 

by Fernando Solanas (1968, 1h25, Argentina)
Presented by CINAIN – Cinemateca y Archivo de la Imagen Nacional. 4K Restoration from the original negatives, thanks to Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales (INCAA), in Buenos Aires. With the supervision of director Fernando “Pino” Solanas. French Distribution: Blaq Out. Fernando Solanas in attendance.

Specialists / Gli specialisti)

by Sergio Corbucci (1969, 1h45, France, Italy, Germany)
Presented by TF1 Studio. Full version previously unseen restored in 4K from the original Technicolor-Techniscope image negative and French and Italian magnetic tapes by TF1 Studio. Digital work carried out by L’Image Retrouvée laboratory, Paris / Bologne. French theater distribution: Carlotta Films. The film will be screened at the Cinéma de la Plage (Movies on the Beach).

João a faca e o rio (João and the Knife)

by George Sluizer (1971, 1h30, the Netherlands)
Presented by EYE Filmmuseum, Stoneraft Film in association with Haghefilm Digital. A full 4K restoration of the original 35mm Techniscope camera negative shot by Jan de Bont. By bypassing the originally required analogue blow up to Cinemascope, this digital restoration presents a direct-from-negative colour richness and image sharpness never seen before.

Blow for Blow

by Marin Karmitz (1972, 1h30, France)
Presented by MK2. Restoration carried out by Eclair from the original negative in 2K with the help of the CNC and supervised by director Marin Karmitz. The film will be re-released in French movie theaters on May 16th, 2018. Marin Karmitz in attendance.

L’une chante, l’autre pas (One Sings the Other Doesn’t)

by Agnès Varda (1977, 2h, France)
Presented by Ciné Tamaris.
The film will be screened at the Cinéma de la Plage (Movies on the Beach) with Agnès Varda in attendance.
2k digital restoration from the original negative and restoration, color grading under the supervision of Agnès Varda and Charlie Van Damme. With the support of the CNC, of the fondation Raja, Danièle Marcovici  & IM production Isabel Marant, with the support of Women in Motion / KERING. International Sales MK2 films. Distribution in theaters: Ciné Tamaris (the film will be released in France on July, 4th, 2018).

Grease

by Randal Kleiser (1978, 1h50, United States of America)
Presented by Park Circus and Paramount Pictures. 4K digital restoration from the original camera negative. The film will be screened at the Cinéma de la Plage (Movies on the Beach) with John Travolta in attendance.

Fad,jal

by Safi Faye (1979, 1h52, Senegal, France)
Presented by the CNC and Safi Faye. Digital restoration carried out from the 2K scan of the 16mm negatives. Restoration made by the CNC laboratory. Safi Faye in attendance.

Five and the Skin (Cinq et la peau)

by Pierre Rissient (1981, 1h35, France, Philippines)
Presented by TF1 Studio. 4K restoration from the original camera negative and the French magnetic tape by TF1 Studio with the support of the CNC and the collaboration of director Pierre Rissient. French distribution in theaters: Carlotta Films. Pierre Rissient in attendance.

A Ilha dos Amores (The Island of Love)

by Paulo Rocha (1982, 2h49, Portugal, Japan)
Presented by Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema. 4K wet gate scan of two 35mm image and sound interpositives struck in a Japanese film lab in 1996. Digital grading was made by La Cinemaquina (Lisbon, Portugal) using a 35mm distribution print from 1982 as a reference. Digital restoration of the image was made by IrmaLucia Efeitos Especiais (Lisbon, Portugal).

Out of Rosenheim (Bagdad Café)

by Percy Adlon (1987, 1h44, Germany)
Presented by Studiocanal. 4k Scan and restoration. Work led by Alpha Omega Digital in Munich and carried out under the continuous supervision of director Percy Adlon. Original negative, kept in Los Angeles in excellent condition, processed in Munich for scanning and image by image restoration. The film will be screened at the Cinéma de la Plage (Movies on the Beach) with Percy Adlon in attendance.

Le Grand Bleu (The Big Blue)

by Luc Besson (1988, 2h18, France, United States of America, Italy)
Presented by Gaumont. A 2K restauration. Image work carried out by Eclair, sound restored by L.E Diapason in partnership with Eclair. A screening organized to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the screening of the film opening the Festival de Cannes in 1988. The film will be screened at the Cinéma de la Plage (Movies on the Beach).

Driving Miss Daisy

by Bruce Beresford (1989, 1h40, United States of America)
Presented by Pathé. 4K restoration made from 35mm original image and sound negatives. Restoration carried out by Pathé L’image Retrouvée laboratory (Paris/Bologne) with the collaboration of director Bruce Beresford.

Cyrano de Bergerac

by Jean-Paul Rappeneau (1990, 2h15, France)
Presented by Lagardère Studios Distribution. Scan from the original negative and 4K restoration carried out by L’Image Retrouvée for Lagardère Studios Distribution with the support of the CNC, the Cinémathèque française, the Fonds Culturel Franco-Américain, Arte France–Unité Cinéma, Pathé et Mr. Francis Kurkdjian. French distribution in theaters: Carlotta Films (in progress). Jean-Paul Rappeneau in attendance.

Hyenas

by Djibril Diop Mambety (1992, 1h50, Senegal, France, Switzerland)
Lamb

by Paulin Soumanou Vieyra (1963, 18 min, Senegal) Presented by La Cinémathèque de l’Institut français, Orange and PSV Films. Digital restoration made from 2K scan of the 35mm negatives. Restoration carried out by Eclair.

El Massir (Destiny) 

by Youssef Chahine (1997, 2h15, Egypt, France)
A preview of the full retrospective which will take place at the Cinémathèque française in October 2018, the film will be presented by Orange Studio and MISR International films with the support of the CNC, fostered by the Cinémathèque française. 4K restauration at Éclair Ymagis laboratory by Orange Studio, MISR International Films and the Cinémathèque française with the support of the CNC. The film will be screened at the Cinéma de la Plage (Movies on the Beach).

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 71st EDITION | 8 -19 MAY 2018

Cannes Film Festival 2018 | On the Croisette – off the cuff update

Festival bigwig Thierry Frémaux warned us to expect shocks and surprises from this year’s festival line-up, distilled down from over 1900 features to an intriguing list of 18 – and there will be a few more additions before May 8th. The main question is “where are the stars?” or better still “Where is Isabelle Huppert” doyenne of the Croisette – up to now. The answer seems to be that they are on the jury – presided by Cate Blanchett, who is joined by Lea Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Denis Villeneuve, Robert Guédiguian, Ava Duvernay, Khadja Nin, Chang Chen and Andrey Zvyagintsev.

Last year’s 70th Anniversary bumper issue seems to have swept in a more eclectic and sleek selection of features in the competition line-up vying for the coveted Palme D’Or. There are new films from veterans Jean-Luc Godard (The Image Book), Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman) and Oscar winner Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War), and some very long films – 9 exceed two hours. Three female filmmakers make the main competition in the shape of Caramel director Nadine Labaki with Capernaum, Alice Rohrwacher with Lazzaro Felice and Eve Husson presenting Girls of the Sun. Kazakh filmmaker Sergei Dvortsevoy rose to indie fame at Cannes Un Certain Regard 2008 with his touching title Tulpan, and he is back now in the main competition line-up with a hot contender in the shape of AYKA or My Little One. 

Scanning through the selection for British fare – the Ron Howard “directed” (Thierry’s words not mine) Solo, A Star Wars Story stars Thandie Newton, Paul Bethany and Emilia Clarke but no sign of Mike Leigh’s Peterloo. And although Matteo Garrone’s Dogman is there and is a hot contender for this year’s Palme, the much-awaited Jacques Audiard latest The Sisters Brothers, and Joanna Hogg’s hopeful The Souvenir Parts I and II are nowhere to be seen- but Lars von Trier is still very much ‘de trop’ on the Riviera, or so it would seem. Thierry is still thinking about this one. And on reflection he has now added The House That Jack Built – out of competition.

Apart from Godard, there are two other French titles: Stéphane Brizé will present At War, and Christophe Honoré’s Sorry Angel – in competition, and these features will open shortly afterwards in the local cinemas – to keep the Cannois happy. The Un Certain Regard sidebar has 6 feature debuts in a line-up of 15. And the special screening section offers Wang Bing’s Dead Souls with its 8 hour running time  allowing for a quick petit-dej on the Croisette before the following days’ viewing starts!

It Follows director David Robert Mitchell will be in Cannes with his eagerly anticipated follow-up Under the Silver Lake. And Chinese auteur Jia Zhangke  brings another Palme d’Or hopeful in the shape of Ash is Purest White, starring his wife and long-term collaborator Tao Zhao.  First time director A B Shawky presents the only debut feature in the competition strand Yomeddine – a leper road movie from Egypt – and it’s a comedy!. Iranians Jafar Panahi (Three Faces) and Asghar Farhadi (Everybody Knows) also make the list – with Farhadi’s film starring Penelope Cruz and husband Javier Bardem and opening the festival this year.

So out with the old guard – Naomi Kawase included – and in with the new – is Thierry’s message this year. Let’s hope it’s a good one. And stay tuned for more additions and coverage from the sidebars Un Certain Regard, ACID, Semaine de la Critique and Directors’ Fornight. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 8 -22 MAY 2018

COMPETITION LINE-Up

EVERY BODY KNOWS – Asghar Farhadi

AT WAR - Stéphane Brizé 

DOGMAN – Matteo Garrone

LE LIVRE D’IMAGE – Jean-Luc Godard

NETEMO SAMETEMO (ASAKO I & II) (ASAKO I & II) – Ryusuke Hamaguchi

SORRY ANGEL – Christophe Honore

GIRLS OF THE SUN – Eva Husson

ASH IS PUREST WHITE – Zia Zhangke

SHOPLIFTERS – Kor-eda Hirokazu

CAPERNAUM – Nadine Labaki

BUH-NING (BURNING) – Lee Chang-Dong

BLACKKKLANSMAN – Spike Lee

UNDER THE SILVER LAKE – David Robert Mitchell

THREE FACES – Jafar Panahi

ZIMNA WOJNA/Cold War – Pawel Pawlikowski

LAZZARO FELICE – Alice Rohrwacher

LETO – Kirill Serebrennikov

YOMEDDINE – A B Shawky

KNIFE + HEART – Yann Gonzalez

AYKA –  Sergey Dvortsevoy, director of Tulpan, winner of the Prize Un Certain Regard in 2008.

These two films by Yann Gonzalez and Sergey Dvortsevoy are both directors’ second feature. It will be their first time in Competition.

AHLAT AGACI (THE WILD PEAR TREE) – Nuri Bilge Ceylan, winner of the Palme d’or 2014 for Winter Sleep.

The Competition 2018 will be composed of 21 films.

SHADOW – Zhang Yimou (out of competition)

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT – Lars von Trier (out of competition)

_______________________________________________

 71st CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 8-20 MAY 2018

 

 

The Leisure Seeker (2017) ***


Dir: PAOLO VIRZÌ | Drama Italy / 112’ |cast: Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland

Paolo Virzi’s drama is based on the novel by Michael Zadoorian and stars Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland in a timely tale about an elderly couple looking for one last hurrah on a bittersweet final road trip that gives full throttle to Dylan Thomas’ redolent words: “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Those on their last legs will heartily appreciate the sentiment  embodied and expressed here with feeling by Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren, who share a palpable onscreen chemistry as the amiable pair embarking on their odyssey with the full knowledge that this is likely to be their last together, and is fraught with ups and downs, and memories both good and bad.

The English-language debut of Italian director Paolo Virzì (Like Crazy), The Leisure Seeker sees Ella (Mirren) dying of cancer and John (Sutherland) stumbling on the foothills of Alzheimer’s disease. Neither is remotely interested in quietly fading away in a nursing home or hospice, at least not until they are forced to. So they hit the road in their vintage car on a trip from Boston to Florida with John behind the wheel. This is a tribute to a life lived to the fullest by people who have are cognisant of their plight; it is never maudling or downbeat but admits the inevitable with grace and good humour. The film also offers up an eventful travelogue of this part of America, brimming with insight into how the world has changed as they pass through the cities that have shaped and punctuated their time together. Keats put it rather well when he said: “Live life to the lees” – it’s a quote that acknowledges a life lived pleasurably and with gusto, and this is the feeling that permeates this entertaining tribute, offering a little taster of what’s come for all of us, and a timely reminder to make the most of it while we can. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE |

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2017 | IN COMPETITION

 

Rainbow (2017)

Dir.: Paolo Taviani; Cast: Luca Marinelli, Valentina Belle, Lorenzo Richelmy, Anna Ferruzzo; Italy/France 2017, 84 min.

In Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s elegant historical drama, a doomed love-triangle, gets caught up in the tumultuous upheaval of the Second World War and the partisan resistance in Italy. Written by the brothers and based on the 1963 novel by Beppe Fenoglio, Paolo Taviani’s direction is a nostalgic outing  celebrating  the pre-WWII past, but with little to say about the fighting between partisans and Black-Shirts.

Milton (Marinelli) is fighting with the partisans in the winter of 1944/5, when he stumbles upon a villa in the remote countryside once the scene of his love affair for the beautiful Flavia (Belle). They were both students at the time, and loved to play old records. But Milton was jealous of fellow-student Giorgio (Richelmy), who also lusted after the young woman. Entering the villa, Milton meets the housekeeper (Ferruzzo), who remembers him from the olden days. She praises him, but has little to say about Giorgio, who, often visited Flavia after Milton left the scene, making it clear that, “nothing bad happened”.  In the middle of the civil war, Milton tries in vain to thrash things out with fellow partisan Giorgio, who been taken prisoner by the Fascists.

DoP Simone Zampagni creates lovely images of the stylish interiors and rough mountain landscapes, but Taviani never comes to grips with the story: it is really like two films in one, with the director and his co-writing brother distinctly preferring the glorious setting of the past to the mudslinging fighting and intrigues played out at the HQs of both Fascist and partisans. But worse, everything said about war, friendship and jealousy is just trite and banal. Rainbow dies a slow, beautiful death, losing itself in the permanent fog of this beautiful but visionless piece of nostalgia. AS

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY | 7-11 MARCH 2018 | LONDON UK

Cinema Made in Italy Festival 7 -11 March 2018

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY returns to London’s Ciné Lumière, showcasing the latest releases from Italy complete with film-maker Q&A sessions. This year’s line-up includes eight new Italian films and a 1977 classic title A SPECIAL DAY (Una Giornata Particolare), directed by the late maestro Ettore Scola and starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni.

SCREENING PROGRAMME – CINEMA MADE IN ITALY 2018

RAINBOW – (UNA QUESTIONE PRIVATA)  6.30 pm  | 7 March           

Intro and Q&A with Paolo Taviani (director)

AMORI CHE NON SANNO STARE AL MONDO | 6.15 pm | 8 March

Intro and Q&A with Francesca Comencini (director)

HANNAH | 6.30 pm  | 9 March 

Intro and Q&A with Andrea Pallaoro (director)

LOVE AND BULLETS | 8.40 pm  | 9 March 

Intro and Q&A with Antonio and Marco Manetti (directors)

THE INTRUDER | 6.30 pm  | 10 March               

FORTUNATA | 8.40 pm | 10 March 

 

Intro and Q&A with Jasmine Trinca (actress)

A SPECIAL DAY | 2.00 pm | 11 March 

CINDERELLA THE CAT | 4.00 pm | 11 March         

Intro and Q&A with Alessandro Rak (director)

UNA FAMIGLIA | 6.30 pm  | 11 March 

Intro and Q&A with Sebastiano Riso (director)

VENUE AND BOX OFFICE INFORMATION

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY | LONDON 7-11 MARCH 2018 

 

 

 

Figlia Mia (2018) **** | Berlinale 2018

Dir: Laura Bispuri | Francesca Manieri | Cast: Valeria Golino, Alba Rohrwacher, Udo Kier, Sara Casu | Drama | Italy

A new crop of talented directors have breathed life into contemporary Italian cinema, with fascinating stories capturing the country’s vibrant history and regions. Paolo Sorentino’s The Great Beauty and The Consequences of Love are set in Rome and Ticino; Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by your Name/A Bigger Splash champion Emilia Romagna and Pantellaria, and Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders takes place in Tuscany, but and all luxuriate in their stunning scenery and unique sense of place. Laura Bispuri follows her debut Sworn Virgin – a story of a woman who travels from Albania to modern day Milan, with this gut-wrenching motherhood ménage à trois, marking her out as a distinctive cinematic voice with her stories of women coping in challenging circumstances.

FIGLIA MIA is set in summertime Sardinia, amongst a simple fishing community in an ancient coastal setting. This is about a little girl called Vittoria who suddenly senses that a woman she gets to know during her school holidays (Angelica, Alba Rohrwacher in a career best) is actually her real mother – rather than Tina (a captivating Valeria Golino) the loving woman she’s grown up with. Angelica is irresponsible but charismatic: one of those women who lives and loves for the moment – mostly out of control, and incapable of looking after her dogs and horses, let alone another human being. At first, like in a love affair, Vittoria falls for Angelica’s sense of fun, but is always glad to return to the calm security Tina provides. And as Vittoria becomes more obsessed with Angelica, Tina, feels jealous and threatened.

Bispuri’s narrative unfurls in an unhurried fashion while the women instinctive play their parts – this is a deeply affecting tale that will resonate with anyone who’s been affected by the issues at stake. Themes of identity, belonging and loss all macerate in the heady heat of this sweltering Mediterranean island, where a tightly-knit community are thrown together for better and for worst. The only character who holds the power is Angelica, and she couldn’t give a damn. While Tina’s desperate fear of losing her child, her feminine identity, and also of being humiliated, are powerfully expressed in Golino’s visceral tour de force. Sardinia corruscates in Vladan Radovic’s  stunning cinematography, its potent emotion and windswept beauty recalling the Taviani Brothers’ Padre Padrone another memorable Italian inter-generational tale of the ties that bind and threaten to divide. MT

BERLINALE 15-25 FEBRUARY 2018

https://vimeo.com/255511153

 

The Absence of Love | Antonioni Retrospective 2019

Humans are intruders in the film world of Michelangelo Antonioni: they destroy the harmony of nature and society. Only when they act in solidarity with their fellow man do they have a chance to become part of something meaningful.

GENTE DEL PO (1943-47), shot not far from where Visconti was filming Ossessione, this is a short documentary, but in spite of its neo-realistic moorings, it is at the same time a personal statement: an effort to comprehend the world via the moving image. Not the other way round. Antonioni’s realism does not attempt to show anything natural, humane, dramatic, and particularly not anything like an idea, a thesis. Just memory forms the model for his art. Memory as images like photos, paintings, writing – they form the basis of his later work – an adventure, where the audience peels off the many layers, like off an onion: a painting, more than once painted over.

On the face of it Antonioni’s debut feature, Chronaca Du Un Amore (1950) is a film noir, like Visconti’s first opus Ossessione. The dominant feelings that would run through all his films are already in place – emotional neglect, alienation, existential angst and loneliness. Set in the director’s birthplace of Ferrara the drama follows ex-lovers Paola and Guido and their desire to do away with Paola’s rich husband Enrico Fontana. This is no crime of passion, because Paola and Guido are unable to make it as a couple  – but what they can do is profit from Fontana’s death. Life in the city is a reflection of the conspirators state of mind. Their neuroses is felt in the chaotic streets and the frenetic buzz of the cafes. The surreal urban jungle is a one of the main themes of Antonioni’s opus. And he observes his main protagonists when they area lone and in the dramatic scenes, creating an elliptical structure with these two dynamics points: action and echo. As Wenders said: “The strength of American Cinema is a forward focus, European cinema paints ellipses”.

I VINTI (1952) is set in three different countries (Italy, France and the UK), exploring the lives of three young criminals who steal not out of material necessity, but just for fun. But their crimes are and the involvement of the Police is just a backdrop to Antonioni’s main focus: his protagonists’ daily lives. As the crimes recede more and more into the background, the investigations peter out – shades of L’ Avventura and Blow Up.

In LE AMICHE (1955) Antonioni finds the structure for his features, seemingly overpopulated with couples and friends – who are all busy, but play a secondary role to their environment, in this case Turin. Clelia has come to open a designer shop and soon meets up with four other young women, all much wealthier than she is. Their changing couplings with men end tragically. Set between Clelia’s arrival in Turin and her leaving for Rome, LE AMICHE is a kaleidoscope of human frailty, in which the audience is waiting for something to happen, some sort of boy meets girl story, but when something really happens, it takes second place to the main thrust of the narrative and we become as disorientated as the characters themselves. Antonioni does not tell a story with a beginning and an end, he informs us, that the world can exist without stories. Because there is so much more to see in the city of Turin, as there will be in Rome: Clelia is only the messenger, sent out by Antonioni to be a traveller, not a story teller. She is his archetypal heroine.

Aldo, the central protagonist in IL GRIDO (1956/7) is the most untypical of all Antonioni heroes: he has been expelled from paradise, after his wife has left him. Refusing to really let himself go he sticks to his environment, travelling with his daughter in the Po Valley. Leaving his home town and looking back over a life dominated by the factory chimney, it is his past history which has forced him to leave. He becomes more and more marginalised: an outsider. And even when living near the river in a derelict hut, he becomes a victim of the environment – the same landscape, seasons and time he spent there. El Grido ends tragically, because Aldo (unlike most other Antonioni heroes) insists on keeping to his past: he does not want to cross the bridges which are metaphorically there to be crossed. And Aldo’s titular outcry becomes a good-bye, even though he is back home. Il Grido is also Antonioni’s return to neo-realism, another contradiction, because he was never really part of it.

L’AVVENTURA (1960) has four main protagonists, three of are human, but are dwarfed by the third – Liscia Bianca, a rocky island in the Mediterranean See. A group of wealthy Italians visit the island but when they want to lead they discover that one of their Anna is missing. Her boyfriend Sandro starts to look around , but soon becomes more interested in Claudia, Anna’s best friend. When they all leave, without having found Anna, Claudia and Sandro are ready to start a new life together. Antonioni is often compared with Brecht. In common with the German playwright, the characters he refuses to dramatise the narrative. Brecht’s actors do not identify with their roles and the audience is not drawn into the play, but left outside to observe. The same goes for Antonioni. Antonioni’s skill is that he first introduces time scale and environment, before developing the narrative, via the actions and words of the protagonists. The island’s waves provide the feature’s ambient score. The fragility of the emotions comes out in the way the protagonists talk –  but mostly they are at cross-purposes. The overall impression is not that of a modern film with sound, but of a very sad silent movie. At Cannes in 1960, the feature was mercilessly jeered at the premiere, but won the Grand Prix nevertheless – a rare case of the jury being ahead of the public.

In LA NOTTE (1960) allows us to share a day in the company of the writer Giovanni and his wife Lydia. When their friend dies in a hospital, they realise that their own love for each other has also been dead for quite a while. Antonioni uses his characters like figures on a chess board. They are real, but at the same time cyphers. He does not tell their story, but follows their movements from one place to an another. There is no interconnection between them and their environment. They have lost all feeling for themselves, others and the outside world. Their world is cold and threatening. Antonioni offers no irony or pity. He is the surgeon at the operating table, and his view is that of the camera: mostly skewed over-head shots. It is impossible to love La Notte. Whilst Antonioni was the first director of the modern era, he is also its most vicious critic.

When L’ECLISSE (1962) starts in the morning, it feels somehow like a continuation of La Notte. Before Vittoria (Vitti) ends her relationship with Francisco, she arranges a new Stilleben behind an empty picture frame. Next stop is Piero (Delon), a stockbroker. Vittoria is like Wenders’ Alice in the City: a child in a world of grown-ups, repelled by their emotional coldness. Piero, very much a child of this world, is all glib superficiality, his friend’s remark “long live the façade” sums it all up. The lengthy panorama shots show very little empathy with the eternal city, the more silent ones seem to convey a ghost town populated by worker ants, dwarfed by huge buildings. The music only sets in after the half way point of the film. The couple’s last rendezvous is symbolic for everything Antonioni ever wanted to show us: none of the two shows up, we watch the space where they were supposed to meet for several minutes. L’Eclisse will lead without much transition to Deserto Rosso, where Monica Vitti is Guiliana, wandering the streets, getting lost in a fog on a very unlovable planet.

DESERTO ROSSO (1963/4)

Guiliana: “I dreamt, I was laying in my bed, and the bed was moving. And when I looked, I saw that I was sinking in quicksand”. Guiliana’s world is threatening, everything is out of scale, the buildings in a nearby industrial estate are unbelievably tall. The machines in the factories, the steel island in the sea, and the silhouettes of the people around her are all closing in. We travel with her from this industrial quarter of Ravenna to Ferrara. She is never still, and by the end she is in front of a factory gate. In Deserto Rosso objects become blurred, they seem to be alive, making their way independently. The camera never leaves Guiliana during her nightmare, and we experience the world through Guiliana’s eyes: “It is, as if I had tears in my eyes”. 

In her son’s bedroom she sees his toy robot, the eyes alight. She switches it off – but this is the only action she is allowed to master successfully. There is always fog between her and everybody else, even her lover Corrado is “on the other side”.  Roland Barthes called Antonioni “the artist of the body, the opposite of others, who are the priests of art”. For once, Antonioni is at one with the body of his protagonist: Guiliana’s body is not like the many others, she will never get lost.

BLOW UP (1966)

A film to be seen only see once – and never again, in case you suffer the same fate as Thomas’ photos: Blow Up. Antonioni to Moravia: “All my films before this are works of intuition, this one is a work of the head.” Everything is calculated, the incidents are planned, the story is driven by an elaborate design. The drama, which is anything but, is a drama, perfectly executed. Herbie Hancock, the Yardbirds, the beat clubs, the marihuana parties, Big Ben and the sports car with radiophone, the Arabs and the nuns, the beatniks on the streets: everything is like swinging London in the Sixties: a head idea. Blow Up is Antonioni’s most successful feature at the box office – but not one of his best.

ZABRISKIE POINT (1969/70)

Given Cart Blanche by MGM, Antonioni produced a feature in praise of American Cinema. Zabriskie Point sees the birth of American Cinema from Death Valley. Antonioni has to repeat this dream for himself. But he had to invent his own Mount Rushmore, his Monument Valley, to make a film about the country in his own image. A car and a plane meet in the desert. The woman driver and the pilot recognise each other immediately. The copulation scene in the sand is a metaphor for the simultaneousness of the act, when longing and fulfilment, greed and satisfaction are superimposed. Then the unbelievable total destruction: the end of civilisation; Antonioni synchronises both events, a miracle of topography and choreography. This is Antonioni’s dream: the birth of a poem.

The TV feature MISTERO Di OBERWLAD (1979) and  IDENTIFICAZIONE DI UNA DONNA (1982) added nothing to Antonioni’s masterful oeuvre. After a massive stroke in 1985, left him without speech and partly paralysed there was BEYOND THE CLOUDS (1995), a collaboration with Wim Wenders, and Antonioni’s segment of EROS (2004). AS

ANTONIONI RETRO: THE ABSENCE OF LOVE | BFI JANUARY 2019 

 

 

Locarno International Film Festival 2018

For the 71st Locarno Festival the British-Swiss design studio Jannuzzi Smith has created an abstract series of patterns to represent our symbol – the leopard. Drops of black ink spread on yellow paper, each forming one of the accidental compositions that will be used on posters, covers and animations for Locarno71.

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 1-11 AUGUST 2018

Orchestra Rehearsal (1979) | Bluray release

Dir.: Federico Fellini; Cast: Baldwin Baas, Elisabeth Labi; Italy/West Germany | 70′.

Fellini’s little known TV vignette is a rather anarchic undertaking which suffers from its episodic form offering moments of brilliance, but even longer stretches of opaqueness.

Seen as Fellini’s only contemporary effort – his other films always reaching out to the past – Orchestra still has some hallmarks of his classics, with the film crew always present, this time we can hear Fellini as the director of a documentary crew filming the rehearsal. Everything gets off to bad start after members of the union squabble about musicians’ payment, and when the conductor (Baas) arrives, things get even worse. He is an arrogant German (perhaps a caricature of Herbert von Karajan), and behaves like a dictator, alienating everyone before he is  ‘sidestepped’ by demolition workers who arrive and tear the place apart. The harpist (Labi) is the victim of falling walls, and after the mayhem stops, the musicians, like frightened children, suddenly obey the conductor.
This was sadly the last music every composed by Nino Rota – a Fellini regular. DoP Giuseppe Rotunno (The Leopard), also collaborated on Fellini classics such as Roma, and he excels here in the limited space allotted to him. But overall the director seems oddly tired and not at home in this contemporary setting. AS

ON BLURAY | 12 FEBRUARY 2018 | COURTESY OF ARROW ACADEMY

Property is No Longer a Theft (1973)***** Bluray release

Dir: Elio Petri | Writer: Ugo Pirri | Cast: Ugo Tognazzi, Flavio Bucci, Daria Nicolodi | Italy | Comedy Drama 126′

Property is No Longer a Theft is the final part of a trilogy by Elio Petri which comprises Investigations of A Citizen Above Suspicion (1970) and Lulu the Tool (1971) aka as Le Classe Operaia va in Paradiso. Bergman allowed himself a “faith” trilogy and Antonioni an “alienation” trilogy, so Petri, as a politicised filmmaker, delivers a “neurosis” trilogy. The inherent sickness of acquiring property, money and power is viewed from a darkly comic perspective: a corrupt Italian capitalism where the thieves, both legal and criminal, thrive and fall.

Total (Flavio Bucci) is a young bank clerk striving for a more meaningful existence beyond the daily grind of dealing with rich businessmen and their money. To get his own back on one of his clients – a wealthy but slightly dubious butcher (Ugo Tognazzi) – Total steals the meat man’s car, amongst other possessions, and kidnaps his young girlfriend Anita (Daria Nicolodi). Total’s motives are a crazed sense of social justice – punishing the rich butcher who he sees as representative of a corrupt class. Yet capitalism has rules that Total cannot break and he pays a severe price for his anarchic intervention.

Few films present us with a philosophy of theft. The emotionally-charged arguments in The Godfather 2 or spiritual tension in Pickpocket have a theoretical and philosophic power. Coppola depicts stealing as a natural activity. Bresson, as a means to find spiritual grace. Yet Petri presents us with a bitter and ironic escapade in ‘praise’ of a thieving world whose logic and highly normalised rules we cannot ignore.

A Brechtian/Godardian distancing effect interrupts his story, with monologues by his characters functioning as unreliable narratives. We criticise and examine their relationship with money and one another. These talks to the camera are filmed in a faintly sinister manner: leering, sweating people anxious to justify their actions whilst the sub-text is often a cry of pain. They’re vulnerable, very human and sometimes deeply sad. Without its comedy Property is No Longer a Theft might have been a tedious political diatribe against capitalism. Yet a brilliant and biting script makes for a compelling, even grotesque, experience as every mad attempt to justify the logic of stealing and owning is hilariously exposed.

Despite his humble role as the local butcher, Ugo Tognazzi’s character is an ill-educated, coarse and ego-driven man living a ‘nouveau riche’ lifestyle. He sexually abuses his girlfriend (Nicolodi’s Anita), who is partly complicit with his treatment and is strongly aware of how she functions in his and other men’s lives. In contrast, bank employee Total often appears deranged and deluded in his pursuit of justice.

Albertone (Mario Scaccia) is a burglar/professional actor employed by Total to rob the butcher. They’re caught by the police. Albertone dies during the interrogation. At his public funeral, a speech is delivered praising the criminal class over the legal class of thieves. Hyperbole is piled up in praise of Albertone, resulting in richly absurd comedy. The phrase “honour among thieves” has never been so superbly ridiculed in the cinema.

Property is No Longer a Theft is both very funny and very serious. It’s a bitter, radical and complex film about monetary contagion. Total suffers from itching, odd tics; always wearing gloves so as not to be physically contaminated by the touch of money. (There’s a great scene where he asks the bank manager for a rise. When refused he takes a banknote and burns it in front of his boss.)

“…in the struggle, legal or illegal to obtain what we don’t have, may fall such with shameful illnesses; they become plagued, inside and outside.”

Total’s opening speech sets the tone for the rest of the film. The characters’ almost farcical antics are captured by Petri’s acute eye for detail as Total purses his intension to be a “Marxist Mandrake”. The break-ins and bungled robberies are excitingly filmed. Fiercely exact editing and camerawork gives the film an exhilarating rhythm (accompanied by an off-centre and spiky score form Ennio Morricone)

Like Francesco Rosi, Petri is an almost forgotten director who urgently needs to be re-evaluated. Property hits all the capitalist bulls’ eyes and is a minor masterpiece, along with his feature debut L’Assassino (1961). More Petri please | ALAN PRICE© 2018

NOW OUT ON BLURAY FROM ARROW | 20 MARCH 2018

The Battle of Algiers | La Battaglia di Algeri (1966) Restored dual edition

Dir.: Gillo Pontecorvo | Cast: Yacef Saadi, Brahim Hadjadj, Jean Martin | Algeria/Italy | Historical drama | 121 min.

Gillo Pontecorvo (1919-2006) only directed five feature films during his active years as a filmmaker between 1957 and 1979, but shot more than feature documentaries. Having won the Golden Lion in Venice in 1966 for The Battle of Algiers, he returned to the Mostra as its director between 1992 and 1996, giving him a unique position in film history.

The Battle of Algiers is a milestone for two main reasons: firstly, Pontecorvo created a blueprint of terrorism, torture, guerrilla fighting and racial profiling which was still used by the Pentagon in 2003, at the beginning of the Iraq war. Secondly, Pontecorvo used his skills as a documentary filmmaker, mixing the observational style of the classic documentary with a newsreel like spontaneity. When the film was premiered in the USA, the disclaimer made clear that no newsreel segments had been included. The shock was so great, that The Battle of Algiers could not be shown in France for five years, and the British censors followed suit, after only one screening at the LFF in December 1966. Even after the delay, there where huge demonstrations in front of the cinemas who dared to show it. Meanwhile, the government in Algiers (and some film critics), protested that the French army, particularly their leader, Colonel Mathieu, were shown with too much sympathy.

The Battle of Algiers opens at the end in 1957: an Algerian resistance fighter discloses during torture the hiding place of his leader Ali La Pointe (Hadjadj) and three of his staff. La Pointe, who is holed up in a hiding place behind a wall, is being told by a voice- over “You’re the last one. It’s all over”. A huge regiment of French soldiers (symbolic for the whole army) is ready for the kill. A close-up of La Pointe’s desperate face fades and we are back in 1954.

Ali La Pointe is not at all a charismatic leader: he is an illiterate petty-criminal, who is radicalised in jail, after watching a resistance fighter die under the guillotine. Out of prison, he seems to like the violence which the FLN (Front de Liberation Nationale) insurgents are employing more and more against the French occupying army. He is very much an alien, comparable with the protagonists in Rome, Open City, whose neo-realism Pontecorvo used to perfection. And Djafar (Saadi), another leader of the movement, reminds us very much of the father in De Sicas’ The Bicycle Thieves. Compared with them, Colonel Mathieu (Martin) is a dashing figure, a true intellectual leader. Violence escalates, the battle sequences are shown in organised segments – the most famous starts with the clock showing 11.20, scored with Ennio Morricone’s percussive music. Three female guerrilla fighters put on Western clothes, preparing to attack three different locations with their bombs. A montage with the three women and the faces of the victims who will be blown up soon, remind us of early Eisenstein.

Pontecorvo and DoP Marcello Gatti (The Four Days of Naples) always create the impression that the scenes were spontaneously shot: the camera reacts to events, never going for the best exposé, but letting characters slip in and out of frames. The images vibrate with constant gunfire and bombs reminiscent of early days of the hand-held camera. The audience is right in the thick of the action. After over fifty years, the powerful images of Battle of Algiers are still ahead of the contemporary documentary-aesthetic. AS

AVAILABLE COURTESY OF CULT FILMS 5 FEBRUARY 2018

 

Three Brothers | Tre Fratelli (1981) | Bluray release

Dir: Francesco Rosi | Drama | Italy | 113′

Films centred round the death of a parent can be an effective, if dramatically obvious, springboard for an exploration of family feeling. Grief, regret and resentment could potentially explode. Nothing of any melodramatic flavour occurs in Francesco Rosi’s Three Brothers. Here the mother’s funeral takes place near the end of the film, acting as an epilogue to its principal story of the coming together of the brothers.

Raffaele (Philippe Noiret) is a judge, living in Rome, presiding over a terrorist case for which he risks assassination. Nicola (Michele Placido) is a militant factory worker in Turin, whose marriage has failed. Rocco (Vittorio Mezzogiorno) works as a teacher in a correctional institute for boys based in Naples. The North and the South. And three brothers of different generations – aged in their fifties, forties and thirties – leaving the city to return to their countryside birthplace in the region of Puglia.

Early on we quickly realise that Rosi is schematically setting up the story to portray a divided nation under the shadow of the political events at the beginning of the 1980s. That Three Brothers represents a microcosm of Italian society and one of several planes in which Rosi explores culture and character, proving to be a rich seam for a critical humanist enquiry. His threads are angry terrorist threats and actions, industrial action leading to violence, religion presenting a false utopia and marital breakdown and stress. The chaotic tension for the brothers being aligned too, yet not placated, by the old father’s reflections (a magisterial performance from Charles Vanel) and Nicola’s young daughter’s innocence. All the characters live in their separate worlds. Yet Rosi wants them to connect not only through love but with a greater awareness of the problems and contradictions of a disturbed society.

Rosi fully admits to his didactic tone as follows:“Most people in Italy live in despondency and confusion, and in dealing with current situations one must do so with clarity, and risk seeming schoolmasterish.” This approach works well in the café sequence where Raffaele is questioned by the local villagers, watching the TV news about a terrorist incident, over what should be done. The spontaneous and concerned debate is brilliantly executed. It doesn’t work so well in Rocco’s dream sequence where he leads his boys to burn the objects of their poverty and create a false utopia (Deliberatively naïve though the scene may be it’s still artistically mismanaged.)

Rossi’s previous films Salvatore Giuliano (1963) or The Mattei Affair (1973) are overtly more political and angry works. Three Brothers is measured and lyrical. There are fantasy expressions of violence (A chilling assassination of the magistrate on a bus) but it is Rosi’s attempt to reconcile differences, examine conscience and mediate on death that gives Three Brothers its power. Critic Pauline Kael described it as“A wonderful film that moves on waves of feeling”. For once I agree with Kael. The quiet emotional resonance is realised by superb performances all round, the luminous photography of Pasqualino de Santis and the integrity of Rosi’s direction.

If not quite a masterpiece (Rocco remains an unexplored character – his answers to problems is flawed by an under-written script and the director’s occasional lurch into clumsy symbolism) the film contains so many unforgettably poetic moments. The framing of the three brothers, grieving for their mother, just before dawn in the house and courtyard, is a scene played out by as if they were a trio performing elegiac chamber music This almost forgotten film was nominated for an Academy Award. And has never before been available in a video format in the UK. It’s one of Rosi’s finest films. Alan Price©2017 ****

NOW AVAILABLE COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS & VIDEO

7 Neo-Realist masterpieces

The Italian Neo-Realist movement kicked off just after the Second World War and brought together a group of Italian filmmakers who focused their ideas on stories set amongst the poor and the working class reflecting the austerity of the era and government cut-backs. Frequently using non-professional actors or children, or professionals playing strongly against their normal character types, the films were set in a background populated by local people brought in for the films.

NEO-REALISM rejected the strict guidelines that had been imposed during the war years by Benito Mussolini’s ‘White Telephone’ films that toed the party line and, instead, explored themes of economic hardship, oppression and social injustice in everyday life, particularly amongst the working classes. These had been brought about by the devastation of the war years and changes in the nation’s psyche after the war which caused fractures in film industry financing and actual physical damage to some film studios and equipment.  Not deterred by this a group of filmmakers got together and decided to use this difficulty to create an entirely new style: Neo-Realism was born.

1860The main protagonists of the Italian school auteur-wise were Vittorio De Sica with Bicycle Thieves (1948); Alessandro Biasetti with the photo-realist 1860,(1934); Giuseppe De Santis with Riso Amaro/Bitter Rice (1949); Luchino Visconti, who made the first film in the genre: Ossessione (1943) followed by Roberto Rossellini’s: Rome Open City, which won the Grand Prix at Cannes just after the War. Manoel de Oliviera (Aniki Bobo/1942) Jean Renoir (Toni/1935) had also embraced the style, and traditional elaborate studio sets gave way to shoots in the countryside and in the open streets.

ITALIAN NEO-REALISM rapidly declined in the early 1950s when the economic situation improved. Viaggio in Italia (1954) was widely regarded as the culminating masterpiece and the film that inspired the French New Wave and, in to a certain extent THE POLISH FILM SCHOOL and Indian filmmakers. By then, most Italians were also ready for the optimism offered by American cinema. The vision of existing poverty and despair, presented by the neorealist films, were seen as a dampener on a nation anxious to embrace the mood of optimism, prosperity and change and no longer wanted their dirty laundry washed in public, so to speak.

cropped-The_Gospel_According_to_Matthew_6-e1361801472550.jpgThe individual became the main focal point in the Italian cinema that followed in the 1960s. Antonioni’s Red Desert and Blow-Up take neo-realist themes and develop them in the search for knowledge brought on by Italy’s post-war economic and political climate. Giovanni Columbu’s Su Re (2012) and Pasolini’s Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo (1964) and Padre Padrone embody the characteristics of neorealism even though they were made much later and therefore cannot be classified as belonging to the genre.

Some filmmakers such as Vittoria de Sica and Luchino Visconti drifted away from pure neorealism into allegorical fantasy with films such as Il Miracolo di Milano (1951). One of the more tragic and moving is Umberto D (left), a story of elderly post war povertyOther features that embraced the genre are Jean Renoir’s Toni (1935), La Nave Bianca, Roberto Rossellini, (1941) Aniki-Bobo, Manoel de Oliviera (1942); People of the Po Valley, Michelangelo Antonioni (1947) Bitter Rice, Giuseppe de Santis(1949); Stromboli (Roberto Rossellini, 1950); Bellissima (Luchino Visconti, 1951); and Rome 11.00, Giuseppe De Santis (1952). MT

NOW AVAILABLE THROUGH CRITERON, EUREKA Masters of Cinema and AMAZON.CO.UK.

 

 

Love and Bullets (2017) | Pingyao Film Festival | Year Zero 2017

Dirs: The Manetti Bros | Cast: Claudia Gerini, Carlo Buccirosso, Serena Rossi, Giampaolo Morelli, Luciana De Falco, Mario Rivelli | Musical Romance | 133′ | Italy

Naples meets Brooklyn in this Versace-themed Mafia-musical melodrama. LOVE AND BULLETS is as subtle as a oyster poisoning but considerably more fun. What you get is high octane entertainment that never takes itself too seriously in delivering a raucous laugh out loud tale of deception that frequently breaks into warbling vibrato including a few bum notes – and not just on the music front. The jamboree outstays its welcome with camerawork that is often questionable, but there is much to enjoy — despite a few detours and dialectical complexities – that are not easy to follow, even for Italian audiences. Due to the raucous sound effects, this is one film where you can munch popcorn to your heart’s content and not disturb a fly.

We kick of in a Baroque cathedral where Donna Maria (Claudia Gerini) is mourning the death of her fish-farm magnate husband and crime boss, Don Vincenzo (Carlo Buccirosso), who suddenly comes alive in the privacy of his ornate coffin, giving forth in fruity bass tones and casting doubt over his identity to one and all.

Flipping back a few days it emerges that Maria and Vincenzo have faked his death. His two sidekicks, Rosario (actor-singer Raiz) and the more charismatic Ciro (Giampaolo Morelli), are advised to take over the reins by Donna Maria and ensure that no one finds out that Vincenzo didn’t die in a mussel tank shot by his rivals – cue the first joke: “Americans don’t know mussels from missiles”. This the tenor of the comedy.

But hospital nurse Fatima (Ciro’s first love) sees Vincenzo in hospital on the operating table, and matters are complicated when Ciro’s finds he still holds a candle for her – and she for him – making bumping her off a big problem, especially when they smooch to ‘their song’ Flashdance – (remastered by Giorgio Moroder who contributed to the foot-stamping score along with Pivio and De Scalzi); so feelings flood back but give Ciro a difficult choice: should he go for money or love?

Some of the jokes have a distinctly racist undertone, and swearing is the order of the day in the less light-hearted second half making us less forgiving of the bouts of narrative torpor. That said, this is a gutsy and well-performed musical with Gerini pulling all the stops out in a terrific turn. Morelli is the star turn on the male front and let’s hope we get to see more of his stylish chops in future. Buccirosso makes a good job of the difficult role of Vincenzo who has to be vulnerable and macho at the same time, and the film looks gorgeously lurid in its retro aesthetic thanks to DoP Francesca Amitrano, production designer Noemi Marchica and costume designer Daniela Salernitano.MT

PINGYAO FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 4 NOVEMBER 2017

The Voice of the Moon | La Voce della Luna (1990) | Bluray release

Dir.: Federico Fellini; Cast: Roberto Benigni; Paollo Villagio, Nadia Ottaviani, Marisa Tomasi; Italy/France 1990, 120 min.

Fellini’s last feature, shot three years before his death, was not one of his most memorable. Harking back to La Strada, where the innocent and naïve both have voices of wisdom, The Voice of the Moon, is a freewheeling affair, and not in a good way. Based on a novel by Ermanno Cavazzoni, who also cooperated with Fellini on the script, has some humour in its episodic settings but overall the impact is one of confusion and chaos.

Ivo Salvini (Benigni) has just been released from a mental institution, and is pleased to join ex-prefect Gonella (Villagio) on his meanderings in the Emilia-Romagna countryside. Gonella has been sacked because of his paranoia, and it soon becomes clear that he is a danger to anyone he meets – apart from Ivo – who has fallen madly in love with Aldina (Ottaviani), who rejects him. In a raucous scene she is crowned “Miss Flower 1989”; and finally, the Moon is captured and dragged out of the sky by some brothers, making everybody happy. At the end a madman shouts: “What am I doing here? Why was I put here in the first place?” To which Salvini answers: “If we all quietened down a little, maybe we’d understand something. What a shame that the career of one of Italy’s greatest director’s should end with this self-parody, with little to recommend it. AS

NOW OUT ON BLURAY

Call me by your Name (2017)

Dir: Luca Guadagnino | Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlberg, Timothee Chalamet | 133′

Directed by Luca Guadagnino and based on André Aciman’s 2007 novel of the same name, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME has similar stylishly languorous credentials to its forerunner, I Am Love, as it ravishingly unfurls.

In 1980s Cremona, where the summers are blindingly hot and torpid during the August holidays, one English family make their yearly vacation. Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) is the musically gifted and sexually naive teenage son of Jewish parents, an eminent Classics professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his wife, who are accustomed to a philanthropic gesture of inviting another Jewish student to stay at their villa to help with research. This year’s intern is Armie Hammer’s rather too sexy and urbane Oliver, who looks more like one of the Greek statues Elio is wont to study, than a budding historian. Elio is smitten in discrete ecstasy as he descends into emotional meltdown. Guadagnino conjures up the heady world of la Dolce Vita that mingles with the sexual undertow and uneasiness of Body Heat and the elegance of a James Ivory classic (he co-wrote the script). And it all looks stunning.

Elio and Oliver grow closer as the Ferragosto shutdown approaches, swimming, sunbathing and sampling the locale ‘by night’; Elio gawping at Hammer’s pecs – as we do too. In return, Hammer treats him with thinly-veiled disdain, coming and going at will and flirting outrageously while rocking a massive Star of David on his tanned and tousled chest. While he is every so slightly brash, the Perlmans are discretion itself, as Elio’s father gracefully points out. Elio doesn’t know where to put himself as his burgeoning sensuality is challenged by his ‘bon chic bon genre’ credentials, he teeters like a Tom cat on a hot tin roof, wanting to howl at the moon, bewitched and bewildered.

When he meets Esther Garell’s girl next door, he is flummoxed by her gamine charm and distracted by his burning desire for someone who is clearly not available, fluffing his own chance at enjoably losing his own virginity in the process. His father misjudges the sexual ambiance -or does he?- coming up with one of the best son/father soliloquies of recent years where he outlines emotional intelligence for his son’s benefit. This is something every teenager should hear.  CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is a thoroughly enjoyable, slow-burning romantic drama which should be savoured more than once. It has so much more to offer than its awkward title belies, and merits its generous running time. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 27 OCTOBER 2017  | BERLINALE REVIEW 2017

7 Days | Sette Giorni (2016)

Dir/Writer: Rolando Colla | Cast: Bruno Todeschini, Alessia Barela, Marc Barbe, Linda Olsansky, Gianfelice Imparato | Drama |

A family wedding in Sicily unites two middle-aged Bohemians who arrive in a sleepy backwater to prepare for the festivities. This ravishingly langorous and deeply affecting Mediterranean arthouse escapade serves both as a love story and a celebration of Sicily and its people.

The Swiss director is best known for his rites of passage scamper Summer Games (2011) which did the rounds on the festival circuit recently. 7 DAYS explores a slow comfortable prelude to baggage-laden doomed love for its tousled twosome, played by Swiss Italian Bruno Todeschini/Delicacy) and Alessia Barela (Summer Games) who make for a convincing onscreen couple with their relaxed and deliciously sensual chemistry tempered by years of romantic disillusionment rather than the high-octane excitement of young lust.

Todeschini plays Ivan, a slightly dog-eared botanist who is instantly drawn to Alessia Barela’s Leventine looks as fashion seamstress Chiara, who is already committed with daughter of 17. Ivan’s brother Richard (Marc Barbe) is getting married and he has arrived early to organise the wedding festivities to Chiara’s best friend Francesca (Linda Olsansky). At first the ramshackle accommodation looks awful but gradually the two work together with the well-meaning locals and in things fall into to place – or not – their passion is fuelled by the pressure of preparing for the big day in the sweltering days and balmy nights in this wild seascape. We get to enjoy some local flora, fauna, history and traditional Sicilian culture, while the couple’s on/off romance sizzles often erupting in angry spats as they both get cold feet, despite the rising mercury. It’s an authentic rendering of late love where maturity and self-dependence are the enemies of the trust and laid back light-heartedness required for love to thrive, let alone develop into something workable and worthwhile and Crolla’s script offers some surprises along the way.

DoPs Lorenz Merz and Gabriel Lobos pull all out the stops in the magnificent locations making the best of the natural wilderness both above the waves and underwater, echoing the emotional rollercoaster of a sunny, often stormy, tale of late love. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 15 SEPTEMBER 2017

 

Venice Film Festival 2017 | Awards

COPYCATS AND THE LACK OF ANYTHING RADICAL

nico-1988Yesterday the 74. Mostra de Arte Cinematografica in Venice came to an end with a prize giving that symbolised the whole festival in many ways. The Golden Lion for best film went to Guillermo del Toro for his utterly empty second-hand spectacle THE SHAPE OF WATER. Anything really radical was mostly ignored not only by the juries, but in the programme in nearly all the sections. At least the Orizzonti Award was won by Susanna Nicchiarelli’s NICO, 1988, a stunning biopic of the final years of the renowned model and musician Christa Pfaffen, played by a feisty Trine Dyrholm.

Del Toro’s very thin narrative of a mute woman falling in love with an amphibious creature, used by the CIA in the Cold War of the 1950s, is a total rip-off: it uses the main protagonists of Rachel Ingall’s 1986 novel MRS. CALIBAN, the creature itself is a replica of the titular CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (Jack Arnold, 1954), and the story is a compilation of countless cold war spy movies of the Eisenhower era, when the Red menace was infiltrating the USA. Whilst no money was spared for design and images, del Toro’s feature might not have won without the help of Annette Bening, Hollywood actress and – first female – jury president. And talking of Jack Arnold (1912-1992), his INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957) was re-made by Alexander Payne in DOWNSIZING (Competition). The Hollywood veteran had also a hand in one of the Wonder Woman TV-series of 1977.

_0000_insult_01The rest of the awards were given to worthy contenders such as Samuel Maoz for his critical view of war torn Israel in the shape of FOXTROT  (Grand Jury Prize), or simply politically correct features like SWEET COUNTRY by Warwick Thornton (Jury Prize) and Xavier Legrand with his JUSQU’A LA GARDE/CUSTODY (Best Director). Really dark portraits of the USA, like Paul Schrader’s FIRST REFORMED, were ignored, or got a minor nod for best screenplay like the brilliant THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI. Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri (THE INSULT) was equally treated, his main actor Kamel El Basha got the award for Best Actor, but the provocative feature about Palestinians living in Lebanon, went unrewarded.

zamaThe only feature worth the Venice journey was hidden in the Out of Competition section: Lucretia Martel’s ZAMA. Her story of a Spanish officer on duty in South America, who yearns for a return to his homeland but is repeatedly thwarted, is an intense study of a man losing his mind, identity and finally part of his body. This arthouse treasure is both utterly frightening and glorious to look at: Martel takes her time introducing the protagonists, before plunging head first into the demise of her hero. Why Zama was not part of the competition, is one of the many questions many asked of Venice director Alberto Barbera, but got a dusty answer in return.

l-utopie-des-images-de-la-revolution-russeOften one had to go to the Retrospective Classics, to find solace: Claude Chabrol’s rarely shown L’OEIL DU MALIN (with a very young Stephane Audran) was a discovery, Ozu’s THE FLAVOUR OF GREEN TEA OVER RICE was towering, and Emmanuel Hamon’s L’UTOPIE DES IMAGES showed the destruction of Soviet cinema at the hands of Stalinist bureaucrats. The Lion’s share of these nineteen features and nine documentaries in the Retrospective Section offered more infinitely more satisfaction than stoically working your way through the anodyne contemporary offerings.

wormwoodIronically, the only other film that stands out besides ZAMA is Errol Morris six-part Netflix series WORMWOOD, a docu-drama about the murder of an US scientist by the CIA, who participated in the biological warfare of his nation in the Korean war, and wanted to blow the whistle. A number of quality films did feature in the Awards: Sara Forestier’s debut M (Giornate degli Autori) where a stuttering girl and her illiterate boyfriend help each other to overcome their difficulties; and Alireza Khatami’s OBLIVION VERSES (ORIZZONTI), a poetic feature about death and perception. But that is not enough to compensate for all the mediocre or downright awful features littering this 74th edition of the Mostra, the standout here being Darren Aronofsky’s MOTHER! another pale imitation – this time aping Rosemary’s Baby. We will hope for better things. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 30 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER 2017

LEONE D’ORO – THE SHAPE OF WATER

LEONE D’ARGENTO – FOXTROT

BEST SCREENPLAY – THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

BEST ACTRESS – Charlotte Rampling, HANNAH

BEST ACTOR – Karmel El Basha, MEKTOUB, MY LOVE: CANTO UNO

BEST DIRECTOR – Xavier Legrand, CUSTODY

JURY PRIZE – SWEET COUNTRY

BEST EMERGING ACTOR – Charlie Plummer, LEAN ON PETE

Don’t Torture a Duckling | Non si sevizia un Paperino (1972) | Bluray release

don__t_torture_a_duckling_by_beyondhorrordesign-d5ilkaqDir: Lucio Fulci | Cast: Florinda Bolkan, Barbara Bouchet, Tomas Milian | Italy | Horror | 102′

Widely recognised as the rightful competitor to the better known Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci’s films rightly earned him the sinister sobriquet ‘Godfather of Gore’. One of the most frightening giallo thrillers ever – more for its casual cruelty and psychological aspects than its overt horror tropes – DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING takes place in a remote Sicilian village where a series of shocking murders point the finger at feared witch Maciara, played by the incredible Brazilian actress, Florinda Bolkan. As the locals clamour for revenge, a city journalist Andrea (Tomas Milian) and his pouty accomplice Patricia (Barbara Bouchet) attempt to shed light on the chilling carnage, but their own lives are soon in danger as the Devil comes to town. MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS AND VIDEO | 11 SEPTEMBER 2017

 

Venice Film Festival 2017 |

The 74th Venice Film Festival unveils a dazzling array of Hollywood talent enriched by strong arthouse titles in this year’s line-up. Programming supremo Alberto Barbera claimed he was 97% pleased with his selection of films for the longest running (1932) and most classy of the global festivals, that takes place on the Lido from 30 August to 9 September 2017. The festival has recently been upping its game with a newly launched Film Market providing the launchpad for some promising award-season titles and Oscar potentials. All the films are world premiers and seasoned directors compete with debut filmmakers for the coveted Golden Lion, judged by Annette Benning’s jury including Rebecca Hall.

The festival often with a Alexanders Payne’s fantasy comedy, DOWNSIZING that follows Matt Damon’s shrinking man, Damon also also appears in George Clooney’s ’50s set urban thriller SUBURBICON starring Julianne Moore and Josh Brolin. Darren Aronofsky’s psycho horror MOTHER! with the World’s highest earning actress Jennifer Lawrence is the third Hollywood heavyweight in the programme.

jpegThe Competition line-up features more eclectic fare with three documentaries: refugee crisis-themed HUMAN FLOW -left – from Chinese maverick Ai Wei Wei’s and Frederick Wiseman’s EX LIBRIS an in-depth exploration of the New York Public Library and William Friedkin THE DEVIL AND THE FATHER AMORTH that explores the real story of an exorcism. Indie-wise MAKTOUB, MY LOVE is Abdellatif Kechiche’s follow up to Palme D’Or winner Blue is the Warmest Colour and Berlinale Golden Bear winner Andrew Haigh (45 Years) presents Steve Buscemi starrer LEAN ON PETE  adapted from Willy Vlautin’s book about a boy and an also ran race horse. In the Asian corner is also Hirokazu Koreeda’s mystery drama THE THIRD MURDER, Vivian Qu’s ANGELS WEAR WHITE  main pic – and festival closer OUTRAGE CODA a drama about the Japanese Yakuza from director Takeshi Kitano.

images-w1400Mexico’s Guillermo del Toro brings his Coldwar horror pic THE SHAPE OF WATER, which stars English actress Sally Hawkins and Argentinian auteuse Lucrecia Mantel will be there with ZAMA (left – out of comp) her much-antipated biopic drama based on Don Diego de Zama, a legendary Spanish officer who settles in the Argentine during the 17th century; while LOVING PABLO is a biopic of Pablo Escobar starring Javier Bardem as the drug gangster.

Italian films features largely in the selection but often with a sterling British cast: from Paolo Virzi’s THE LEISURE SEEKER, with Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland whose character is suffering Alzheimers. Andrea Pallaora’s HANNAH with Charlotte Rampling and Sebastiano Riso’s UNA FAMIGLIAWestern-Wise there is Australian director Warwick Thornton’s SWEET COUNTRY, starring Sam Neill and a ‘very bizarre’ musical thriller about love and the Camorra entitle AMMORE E MALAVITA from the Manetti Brothers.

1255370_The-Whale

Martin McDonagh’s THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI promises the same dark humour as his breakout hit and best film In Bruges,Other British titles include Stephen Frears’ VICTORIA AND ABDUL with Judi Dench; Deborah Haywood’s Derbyshire-set indie debut PINCUSHION that opens the ORIZZONTI section and MY GENERATION David Batty’s documentary about the Swinging Sixties scripted by Porridge writer Dick Clement and narrated by Michael Caine.

1264467_Lean-On-PeteVenice will become the first major festival to introduce a competition strand dedicated to virtual reality with over 20 films judged by a separate jury which this year is headed by John Landis who presents a 3D version of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and a documentary about its making.

INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION 74

AI WEIWEI – HUMAN FLOW

Germany, Usa, 140’

DARREN ARONOFSKY – MOTHER!
Usa, 120’
Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, Ed Harris

GEORGE CLOONEY – SUBURBICON
Usa, 104’
Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Noah Jupe, Oscar Isaac 

GUILLERMO DEL TORO – THE SHAPE OF WATER
Usa, 119’
Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer

ZIAD DOUEIRI – THE INSULT
France/Lebanon, 110’
Adel Karam, Kamel El Basha, Camille Salameh, Rita Hayek

ROBERT GUÉDIGUIAN – LA VILLA
France, 107’
Ariane Ascaride, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Gérard Meylan, Jacques Boudet, Anaïs Demoustier, Robinson Stévenin

ANDREW HAIGH – LEAN ON PETE
UK, 121’
Charlie Plummer, Steve Buscemi, Chloë Sevigny

ABDELLATIF KECHICHE – MEKTOUB, MY LOVE: CANTO UNO
France Italy, 180’
Shain Boumedine, Ophélie Baufle, Salim Kechiouche, Lou Luttiau, Alexia Chardard, Hafsia Herzi 

KOREEDA HIROKAZU – THE THIRD MURDER
Japan, 124’
Fukuyama Masaharu, Yakusho Koji, Hirose Suzu 

XAVIER LEGRAND – JUSQU’À LA GARDE

France, 90’
Denis Ménochet, Léa Drucker, Thomas Gioria, Mathilde Auneveux, Saadia Bentaïeb

MANETTI BROS. – AMMORE E MALAVITA
Italy, 133’
Giampaolo Morelli, Serena Rossi, Claudia Gerini, Carlo Buccirosso 

SAMUEL MAOZ – FOXTROT
Israel, Germany Fr/Swiss 113’
Lior Ashkenazi, Sarah Adler, Yonatan Shiray 

MARTIN MCDONAGH – THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
UK, 110’
Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage 

ANDREA PALLAORO – HANNAH
Italy/Belgium/France, 95’
Charlotte Rampling, André Wilms 

ALEXANDER PAYNE – DOWNSIZING
Usa, 140’
Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig 

VIVIAN QU – JIA NIAN HUA (ANGELS WEAR WHITE)
China, France, 107’
Wen Qi, Zhou Meijun, Shi Ke, Geng Le, Liu Weiwei, Peng Jing

SEBASTIANO RISO – UNA FAMIGLIA
Italy 105’
Micaela Ramazzotti, Patrick Bruel

 PAUL SCHRADER – FIRST REFORMED
Usa, 108’
Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric Kyles

WARWICK THORNTON – SWEET COUNTRY
Australia, 112’
Sam Neill, Bryan Brown, Hamilton Morris, Thomas M. Wright

PAOLO VIRZÌ – THE LEISURE SEEKER
Italy, 112’
Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland

FREDERICK WISEMAN – EX LIBRIS, THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY 

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 30 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER 2017 

Ventotene Film Festival 2017

THE VENTOTENE FILM FESTIVAL this year celebrates its 23 years anniversary bringing international film screenings, stars and filmmakers to the breathtaking Pontine island in the Tyrrhenian Sea (between Rome and Naples) where the idea of a united Europe first sprang to light with the Ventotene Manifesto.

Opening on 24 July, the 10 day programme is curated by Loredana Commonara and focuses on the spirit of a united Europe with its themes of democracy and racial integration that underpin its WIND OF EUROPE award.

This year’s award goes to actress Margherita Buy, actor/director Sergio Castellitto, and Romanian screenwriter, producer and director Cristian Mungiu, who will present their respective films ME, MYSELF AND HER; this year’s Cannes Un Certain Regard nominated LUCKY, and last year’s Cannes Best Director winner GRADUATION tied with Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper.   

Other highlights of the festival include  Pedro Almodovar’s JULIETA, Antonio Piazza and Fabio Grassadonia’s SICILIAN GHOST STORY and Jasmine Trinca, who won Best Actress for her role in LUCKY will receive the Julia Major Award, which is awarded to women who stand out in art and literature. MT

VENTOTENE FILM FESTIVAL | 24 JULY – 2 AUGUST 2017 

 

Water and Sugar: Carlo Di Palma, the Colours of Life (2016)

Dir.: Fariborz Kamkari; Documentary with Carlo Di Palma, Woody Allen, Vittoria De Sica, Wim Wenders, Ken Loach; Italy 2017, 90 min.

Director of Photography Carlo Di Palma (1925-2004) was one of the most influential DoPs of the second half of the 20th century, and instrumental in the careers of Michelangelo Antonioni and Woody Allen. His story is told in this compelling documentary from Fariborz Kamkari and Adriana Chiesi-Di Palma, who married the photographer in the mid-1980s, and conducts the interviews with Woody Allen and Ken Loach about their time with Carlo, making the tribute feel all the more intimate and personal.

Di Palma spent his early days in Rome where his mother, a flower-seller, popped him on the tram when it rained, and the drivers would give him water and sugar to cheer him up. Opposite his primary school was a film studio where his brother worked as a focus operator and Carlo joined him, as a teenager, working on Visconti’s first feature Ossessione. His job was to get the film stock from an allied soldier – a certain Sven Nykist, and later he joined the crew on Rossellini’s Rome, Open City as the most junior of all the camera assistants”.

Apart from the talking heads: Allen, Loach, Bertolucci et al, WATER AND SUGAR is enriched with excerpts from Di Palma’s many films, starting with De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, where he worked as a camera operator and assistant, until he was finally promoted to DoP in Lauta Mancia in 1957, directed by Fabio de Agostini. His first success was It happened in ’43, a WWII drama, directed by Florestano Vancini. In 1964, he shot the first of three films for Michelangelo Antonioni: Red Desert with Monica Vitti; Blow Up (1966); Identification of a Woman (1982) would follow. The two first two features were very much known for their stunning colour photography. “Black and white is a transformation of reality. But in colour the reality became too realistic, so we, like painters, have to cut the colours, to try and let them not dominate the technique”. But it was for Di Carlo’s personal touch that he was unique and special. Ken Loach tells how Di Palma and his contemporary DoPs all started with monochrome, so using colour was very exciting, “and this excitement could be felt in the images”. When shooting Blow Up in the summer of 1965, the grass turned yellow and had to be repainted green every day. Di Palma remembers:“Everybody in England looked at us as if we were mad”. But for Wim Wenders, Blow Up was a seminal experience: “Blow Up showed me how important colours were, because he showed them in an innovative way. He dealt with the essence of taking a picture”.

Between 1973 and 1976 Carlo Di Palma directed three feature films: one of them, Theresa the Thief, starring Monica Vitti, run into difficulties because Di Palma and Vitti’s relationship was coming to an end. In 1981 Di Palma would photograph Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man for Bernardo Bertolucci. Interviewed about their relationship, Bertolucci amusingly recalls: “Vittorio Storaro is my wife, Carlo Di Palma is my lover. The only time I did not work with Storaro, was when I worked with Di Palma. So this work is like the memory of falling in love”.

When Woody Allen was shooting his first film Take the Money and Run, he had just seen Blow Up and desperately wanted Di Palma to shoot it, but he wasn’t available. Nearly ten years later, in 1986, Allen and Di Palma finally got together in a collaboration marked by its easy friendship and camaraderie – they lived their whole lives together: “We worked and then had lunch; worked more and then had dinner”. Their first film together was Hannah and her Sisters in a collaboration that would last until 1997 (Reconstructing Harry). Allen was exuberant after their cooperation: “Carlo lived up to all our expectations.” Di Palma was also happy in New York: “it is a city where I can live like in Rome. But Los Angeles and New York are totally different. I could never work in Hollywood. You only use a storyboard as a tool there – the only creativity in Hollywood happens on the drawing board”.

Di Palma “loved warm colours, like the paintings in Italy”. He went to the Sistine Chapel as a boy, and later filmed the restoration of the place. But he was foremost a poet who filmed like a painter, yet always subjugating himself to the director and the script, “because some directors shoot their own film, not the one which is scripted. But it will be always the same film, perhaps even extraordinary, but the photography will always be the same”. Nobody could ever say this about Carlo Di Palma’s work: this documentary is a remarkable portrait not only of his monumental output but also his genuine warmness as a human being that made all who worked with him even better. AS

NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 21 JULY 2017

Ludwig (1971/2) | Dual Format release

LUDWIG_3D_PACK_bellyband_V1_transp_vTdkHuKDir.: Luchino Visconti | Cast: Helmut Berger, Romy Schneider, Trevor Howard, Silvana Mangano, Helmut Griem, John Moulder-Brown, Sonia Petrovna, Gerd Froebe | Italy/France/W. Germany 1971/2, 235 min.

Luchino Visconti finished Death in Venice in 1970 and had actually planned a film adaptation of Marcel Proust’s A La Recherche du Temps Perdus – a long-planned project he would never realise in the end. LUDWIG, based on the live and death of the Bavarian King Ludwig, turned out to be also a mammoth undertaking. The shooting took nearly a year, from July 1971 to June of 1972, and Visconti would suffer a major stroke a month into filming which saw him hospitalised in the same Zurich hospital where Thomas Mann died, on whose novella of the same name Visconti’s Death in Venice was based.

LUDWIG is like a slow waltz of self-destruction: crowned at 18, Ludwig II of Bavaria (Helmut Berger) is narcissistic and a repressed homosexual. His great love is Elizabeth of Austria (Schneider), the married Empress, who is unattainable. The two meet in Bad Ischl and Possenhofen, where they use the night to escape from court rituals. For Elizabeth Ludwig is just another escape, but he is attracted to her because she is his mirror image – she is the love of his life. Ludwig is not interested in fulfilling his duties as regent, he sees himself as a patron of arts, particularly music. When war breaks out, Ludwig, having fought against it, leaves his generals to themselves. But his brother Otto (Moulder-Brown), who is fighting at the front, is traumatised and Ludwig is only too happy, to see the end of the military conflict, even though Bavaria is on the loosing side. Otto is another person Ludwig cares for: Ludwig – again – sees himself in the hyper-sensitive young man. When Elizabeth asks him to marry their cousin princess Sophie (Petrovna), he only agrees, because the court chaplain Hoffmann (Froebe) has come to suspect him of homosexual activities. The courtiers even pay an ‘actress’ to sleep with Ludwig, but he rejects her and throws her, laughing hysterically, into a swimming pool.

The film’s main narrative centres around the king’s relationship with Richard Wagner (Howard), who is fleeing from his creditors from all over Europe. Wagner lives with Cosima von Bülow (Mangano), Franz Liszt’s daughter, who is still married to the conductor Hans von Bülow, who does not want to lose his well paid job as Wagner’s ‘house’ conductor, and pretends even to Ludwig, that he knows nothing about the relationship between his wife and the composer. Ludwig is not only paying Wagner’s enormous debts, but also builds him a music-theatre in Bayreuth. Together with the building work for the outrageous castles in Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee, Ludwig’s extravagant lifestyle – he also gave fortunes to a actors and other artists – ruined the kingdom. The ministers, who had been quiet happy to rule without much supervision, suddenly decided to commit the King to a psychiatric institution. Just Major Duerkheim (Griem) stays loyal to the king, who has by now given in to his homosexuality and sleeps with his servants and workers, whom he picks up in local hostelries. The long goodbye to life is near, when Ludwig refuses to see Elizabeth, who is touring his castles, laughing uncontrollably at the kitsch design.

Visconti was well known for his work as an opera director at the Scala and other major opera houses. LUDWIG, very much like Senso before, is structured like a tragic 19th century opera where the hero slides slowly into madness and death. DoP Armando Nannuzzi, who worked with Visconti for The Damned, uses sumptuous colours and panoramic shots to illuminate a world of decay, in which Ludwig is sinking. By the end of his life, LUDWIG was a lounge lizard who liked to live at night, Nannuzzi’s colour scheme gets darker and darker: red, at the beginning so glittering, becomes a near black. Berger is brilliant and a great ensemble helps Visconti to realize this ‘Totentanz’. AS

NOW AVAILABLE on ARROW FILMS | LUDWIG | Dual Format DVD + Blu-ray on 27 March 2017

 

7 Minutes (2016) | Cinema Made in Italy

Dir: Michele Placido | Writer: Stefano Massini| Michele Placido | 88min | Drama | Italian

Veteran Italian director Michele Placido’s grainy slice of social realism is a timely and engrossing character drama that succeeds despite its low budget credentials and grainy feel. Based on real events, 7 MINUTES is told in intimate close-up from the POV of its female characters who all work in a textile factory in the outskirts of Rome.

Very much along the lines of the Dardennes Brothers’ Two Days, One Night (2014) this is a much more intense and angry affair but its feisty authenticity conveys the feeling of betrayal and bitterness that the women feel when they are given two hours to decide the fate of 300 of their colleagues facing redundancy in an increasingly hostile and stressful urban environment where they are all struggling to make ends meet.

Impassioned performances by Clémence Poésy and Karen Di Porto (in debut) the standouts. Anne Consigny plays the factory boss with sensitive grace in this intelligent and believable story based on a play by Stefano Massini . MT

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY | 1-5 MARCH 2017

 

Pericle Il Nero (2016) | Cinema Made in Italy 1-5 March 2017

Director: Stefano Mordini

Cast: Riccardo Scamarcio, Marina Fois, Valentina Acca

104min | Thriller | Italy

Stefano Mordini’s noirish thriller has Riccardo Scamarcio as a hard-bitten hitman on the run from the Camorra in Belgium. Based on the ’90s novel by Giuseppe Ferrandino and adapted for the screen by Francesca Marciano this is the one of the best crime dramas showing in the Un Certain Regard strand at Cannes this year.

It probes the seething underworld of the ultra-violent Belgian branch of the Camorra where a low-life from the coalface of the organisation comes up against his boss and is forced to leave his Brussels home and flee to Calais to avoid death.

And nobody seethes like Bari-born Riccardo Scamarcio in a role that suits his brooding sensuality and superb acting chops – he switches from seedy serial killer to suave seducer in the flick of a bag of coins – his preferred method of coshing his victims. Narrated in a voice-over by Pericle (Scamarcio), who is under the control of Don Luigi Pizza (Gigio Morra) a small-time gangster who transferred his operation from Naples to Brussels in the aim of taking over pizzerias for as little as he can, Mordini’s film feels alienating and melancholy. Any resistance from the pizzeria owners leads to a bash over the head from Pericle. But when Don Luigi falls out with a local priest, Pericle – sent is punish him – finds he has a witness in the shape of a female camorra boss, Signorinella, and in order to cover up his attack on the priest he has to kill her.

In Scamarcio’s hands Pericle is a likeable rogue who is adept at avoiding danger and skilled at getting on with strangers. Homeless and friendless when he gets to Calais he charms a sales assistant (Marina Fois) into offering him bed and board in a slightly meaningless subplot. But soon it’s time to move on and meet his destiny as the tension builds for the cold-blooded finale. MT

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY 1-5 MARCH 2017

The Confessions | Le Confessioni (2016) | Cinema Made in Italy 1-5 March 2017

Dir: Roberto Ando | Cast: Toni Servillo, Daniel Auteuil, Pierfrancesco Favino, Moritz Bleibtreu, Connie Nielsen, Mari-Josee Croze, Lambert Wilson, Richard Sammel, Johan Heldenbergh, Togo Igawa | 103min | Thriller | Italy

Toni Servillo and Daniel Auteuil star in Roberto Ando’s slick and timely political thriller that follows the exploits of a savvy monk who attempts to outmanoeuvre the European delegates at a fictional G8 summit.

Sadly lacking the delicious dark humour of Ando’s breakthrough Viva la Liberta that screened during last year’s festival, this is an intelligent and self-assured affair occasionally spiced with irony and graced with a starry international arthouse cast including Connie Nielsen, Lambert Wilson and Moritz Bleibtreu.

Invited to the IMF summit by one of the other delegates – from countries that represent 50% of the World’s wealth – Roberto Salus, a monk and writer, adds a touch of calm integrity but also a twist of tension to the top secret Monetary Fund get together in his chaste alabaster garb and sincere gaze that contrasts amusingly with the less than trustworthy-looking official attendees (particularly Bleibtrau’s Mark Klein) gathered together in the secluded spendour of a luxury German resort. Two other ousiders are also there to monitor the talks: a musician, and Connie Nielsen’s glamorous author of children’s books, complete the trio.

Auteuil plays the strung out, suicidal master of ceremonies, Daniel Roche, who has summoned the Monk to hear his confession before he pops his clogs, to the annoyance and suspicion of the assembled crew and  who wonder what was said by Roche to Salus in his final hour, and whether he alluded to their secret scheme to bankrupt the world’s poorer economies. His tête à têtes with the monk unfold in flashback adding a frisson of insight as the political narrative progresses.

Although there are overtones that something greater and more powerful may be at work here, Ando and co-scripter Angelo Pasquini fail to develop this supernatrual strand to the film’s slight detriment making the political story less resonant than it could have been. That said, LE CONFESSIONI remains an intriguing and enjoyable watch, largely due to the strength of its performances – particularly from Toni Servillo – Maurizio Calvesi’s arresting cinematography and Nicola Piovani’s atmospheric and stately occasional score. MT

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY 1-5 MARCH 2017

 

Cinema Made in Italy Festival | 1-5 March 2017

Cinema Made in Italy returns to London’s Ciné Lumière from 1 – 5 March 2017. This seventh edition of the festival brings a brand new array of exciting and inspiring films to the South Kensington cinema. Screenings are followed by Q&A sessions with the film-makers, offering audiences the opportunity to get involved in lively discussions.

This year’s line-up comprises nine new feature films, plus the recently restored version of Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 masterpiece THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS (La Battaglia di Algeri), distributed in the UK byCultFilms: www.cultfilms.co.uk. It will be the very first time this restored version is shown on the big screen in the UK.

Opening night film 7 MINUTES (7 Minuti) was selected for the 29th Tokyo International Film Festival Competition, and was in the official selection at the 2016 Rome International Film Festival. The Biennale College Cinema gem EARS (Orecchie) screened at the 2016 Venice International Film Festival, as did Michele Vannucci’s I WAS A DREAMER (Il più grande sogno), Pippo Delbono’s VANGELO, and Irene Dionisio’s PAWN STREETS (Le Ultime Cose).

PERICLES THE BLACK (Pericle il Nero), starring Italy’s much-loved Riccardo Scamarcio, was in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section at last year’s Cannes International Film Festival. Roberto Andò’s THE CONFESSIONS (Le Confessioni), starring Toni Servillo, Daniel Auteuil and Connie Nielsen, has screened at a multitude of festivals around the world, and was awarded the Ecumenical Jury Prize at the 2016 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY 1-5 MARCH AT VARIOUS VENUES | LONDON

The Young Pope (2016) | Bluray release

Writer|Dir: Paolo Sorrentino, DoP: Luca Bigazzi | Cast: Jude Law (Pope Pius XIII Lenny Belardo), Diane Keaton (Sister Mary);, Silvio Orlando (Cardinal Angelo Voiello); Chloe Sevigny (Ether); Cecile de France (Sofia), Javier Camarra (The Rt Rev Monsignor Bernardo Gutierrez); Scott Shepherd (Cardinal Andrew Dussolier).

The most gorgeous bauble on the Christmas tree this year is THE YOUNG POPE. Oscar-winner Paolo Sorrentino’s most triumphant  imagining so far sees Jude Law as Pope Pius XIII, born Lenny Belardo in a children’s home and brought up by Diane Keaton’s Sister Mary, an American nun an private secretary is also responsible for the religious education of the Pope, along with his childhood friend Cardinal Andrew Dussolier (Scott Shepherd).

Starting as a hard-line pontiff, but gradually morphing into a more sympathetic and liberal, Lenny Belardo is somewhat of an ingenue in all areas of life but he is quick to learn and Law endows him with an innate sense of ‘street cred’ which eventually sees him appearing on the Papal balcony like an ecumenical superstar spouting the kind of silvered soundbites that his believers really want to hear: “We have forgotten to masturbate; we have forgotten to be happy”. This is a Pope who is buffed and beautifully accoutred, drinks cherry coke for breakfast and has a fag (of the cigarette kind) in moments of severe stress. Paolo Sorrentino’s creation is fun and flirty, but also pithy and highly-satirical, served up on a plushly padded velvet cushion of hushed and lush tones, thanks to the drowsy staccato legato electronic score by award winning composer Lele Marchitelli and sumptuously photographed by ace DoP Luca Bigazzi (The Great Beauty). Cleverly scripted for US the market, its wit and intelligence will leave you breathless and dazzle even the most exacting audience: dumbed down it ain’t.

After banishing a cardinal who openly admits he is gay (due to Catholic inconsistencies) Pius emerges as a deeply human leader who grapples with his own parental issues, his own feelings about sex and God.  He grows close to Cardinal Gutierrez (the wonderfully cast Javier Camara) and closer to Dussolier who both offer their advice and support on homosexuality. As while Sister Mary is despatched on a mission to help children in Africa, Pius heads off on the road to Venice to retrace his own roots and his parents.

Since premiering at Venice Film Festival, the series has gone directly onto HBO courtesy of Sony Studios, but is here to enjoy on Bluray, as a seamless continuum, or in 12 hour-long episodes . THE YOUNG POPE is an inspired re-imagining of the papacy has the same tongue in cheek charm as Nanni Moretti’s  Habemus Papam and is laced with furtively dark undertones that is beguiling to the final denouement, There is an awe and majesty to its assured and intriguingly subversive narrative. Full of exquisite vignettes delivered by Diane Keaton as Sister Mary; Cecile de France as the scarlet- lipped tousled haired marketing maven and a tour de force by Silvio Orlando as Cardinal Voiello. MT

THE YOUNG POPE | UK DVD, BLURAY AND DIGITAL RELEASE 26 DECEMBER 2016

 

 

 

 

Me, Myself and Her (2016) | Io e Lei | DVD | VOD

Dir: Maria Sole Tognazzi | Writers: Ivan Cotroneo | Cast: Margherita Buy, Sabrina Ferilli, Fausto Maria Sciarappa, Domenico Diele | Drama | 102min | Italy

Me Myself and Her is an upbeat and sophisticated romantic comedy that provides a thoughtful addition to the growing mainstream collection of lesbian-themed dramas, although the ending is sadly rather predictable. With shades of Portrait of a Serial Monogamist (2015) and La Belle Saison (2016) it is award-winning Roman director Maria Sole Tognazzi’s second collaboration with Margherita Buy who is just the right person to play the rather sensitive Federica, a woman in her fifties who finds herself living with her friend, who is also a lover Marina (Sabrina Ferilli) after a long marriage to a man. The idea is based on a book by Ivan Cotroneo who also wrote the script for I Am Love (2009) and Loose Cannons (2010).

Early on in the film Federica states: “I am not a lesbian” and this pivotal statement leads to the crucial premise of the film – that sexual orientation can be a moveable feast, not a cast iron condition. At different times of our lives, the sexuality we originally identify with may be called into question as attraction and compatibility often surprisingly become more a feasible state of affairs, whatever the sex of the person we’re attracted to. Margherita Buy and Sabrina Ferilli (The Great Beauty) are believable as a couple of straight-acting and accomplished women who feel comfortable living together, and loving together also works for them in their middle age.

While Federica’s sexuality is morphing into a different sphere, Marina is on also entering a different phase of her life on a career level: a well-known actress, she is now running a restaurant that gives all its daily uneaten food to charity. The difference between them however is where the problems arise. Marina is the more assertive one of the couple and is happily open about their arrangement, even to the Press, and that’s something that makes Federica uneasy as she doesn’t really identify as a ‘lesbian’. And meeting up with an old boyfriend Marco (Fausto Maria Sciarappa), Federica finds herself in bed with him and starts to reappraise her physical feelings for a man. But the affair moves too quickly, as she finds herself trapped between two dominant characters – Marina on one side, and Marco on the other. And both want to take over her life. And Federica is not sure whether she loves Marina or prefers Marco, although these two sexual perspectives are not really examined in depth in Tognazzi’s rather freewheeling, carefree narrative. Marina is also grappling with a personal dilemma of her own: should she take a part she’s been offered in a film that may take her away from Rome, or continue with her successful eaterie.

Despite the rather unoriginal ending, this is a drama that feels really convincing from a relationship point of view. Tognazzi’s two characters are not driven together by toxic dysfunctionality, but by their comfortable attraction and compatibility with one another, which at the end makes for a more satisfactory midlife union that sexual fireworks and slanging matches. MT

MY, MYSELF AND HER IS AVAILABLE ON DVD | VOD FROM WOLF VIDEO FROM 6 DECEMBER 2016 |

Una Giornata Particolare (1977) | A Special Day

6966Dir.: Ettore Scola; Cast: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, John Vernon; Italy/France 1977, 110 min.

Ettore Scola (1931-2016) usually showed the tragic side of life in Italy in a rather romanticised way, in common with his close friend Federico Fellini. A Special Day is one of his most realist films and, for once, he does not soften his tone.

A SPECIAL DAY is set in Rome 1938 where Italy had joined the Second World War as an ally of Germany and the people are preparing to watch Hitler meeting Mussolini. Antonietta (Loren) stays at home because she is not a friend of the Duce, unlike her husband (Vernon) and the rest of her family, who are out to celebrate the great day. Antonietta’s neighbour Gabriele (Mastroianni), a homosexual, is an opponent of the fascist regime, and about to be shipped off to Sardinia. The two get to talk to each other, and Antonietta, unaware of Gabriel’s sexual orientation, starts flirting with him. Even though they are both feeling rather low and depressed, they end up in bed.

In the background we hear Hitler’s address to the crowd (which actually is his Nuremberg speech of 1934). And there can be no happy end: in the evening, Gabriele is deported, and Antonietta’s husband returns, with the intention of making good his promise to the Duce, to produce children for the country now under Fascism.

A Special Day is a low-key affair, and the maudlin atmosphere is caught by the bleached out images of legendary cinematographer Pasqualini de Santis (Death in Venice, L’Argent). Scola directs with great sensitivity: A Special Day is not so much political cinema, but a parable of the coming together of two outsiders, who meet just for a few moments of happiness, before both will embark on a bleak future. A chamber piece full of heart-breaking detail, in its approach strangely close to Käutner’s Romanze in Moll, which was ironically produced in Nazi Germany shortly before the end of the war, and was furiously attacked by Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. AS

ON BLURAY COURTESY CULT FILMS | 31 OCTOBER 2016

La Ciociara (1960) | Two Women | Bluray release

6963Dir.: Vittorio de Sica

Cast: Sophia Loren, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Eleonora Brown

Italy/France 1960, 100 min.

After the box-office failure of Umberto D. – perhaps his greatest achievement – Vittorio De Sica turned for the rest of his career to more light hearted fare, but LA CIOCIARA, based on the 1957 novel of the same title by Albert Morovia, was one of the exceptions: it was surprisingly bleak and utterly violent.

Set during the last months of WWII in Italy, Cesira (Loren) runs a little grocery shop in Rome, With the Allies approaching, she decides to take her teenage daughter Rosetta (Brown) to her hometown of Ciociara, to the south of Rome. There they meet Michele de Libero, a communist sympathiser, who seems to be flirting with both women, but making a greater impression on the young Rosetta. After the Allied troops liberate the region, Cesira decides to return home with her daughter, following the victorious troops. But they are both gang raped in a disused church by Marroccan soldiers, fighting for France. Back in Rome, Rosetta is still in a catatonic state, only the news of Michele’s death sets her – partly – free: behind her uncontrollable tears, we see the young Rosetta re-appearing. (De Sica, who was co-writer of the adaption, chose a rather hopeful ending, in the novel Rosetta embarks on a life as prostitute).

Winning Best Actress at Cannes, Sophia Loren is brilliant as the woman losing her faith in humanity: she starts off as pragmatic, always in control, but the evil she finds there, robs her of any hope. The black-and-white images of Hungarian born Gabor Pogany (Antonio Gramsci: The Days of Prison) are particularly sensitive, relaying the terror of the women without using graphic violence, but concentrating on the aftermath. De Sica directs without succumbing to melodrama, returning to the pure neo-realism of his first films. AS

NOW OUT ON BLURAY ON 24 OCTOBER 2016| IN BOTH THE ITALIAN VERSION WITH IMPROVED (SWITCHABLE) ENGLISH SUBTITLES AND ENGLISH SPOKEN AUDIO TRACK | NO OTHER WORLDWIDE RELEASE HAS THESE TWO OPTIONS | 

 

The Mafia only Kills in Summer (2013)

Director: Pierfrancesco Diliberto “Pif”

Writer: Michele Astori

Cast: Cristiana Capotondi, Alex Bisconti, Ginevra Antona, Pif, Barbara Tabita

90min  Italian  Comedy

An appealing rom-com that races irreverently and at breakneck speed through the director’s imagined family story, growing up in a sixties Palermo as Arturo. But beneath its sunny exterior lies a dark indictment of Mafia violence throughout Sicily. THE MAFIA KILLS ONLY IN SUMMER is the big screen debut of popular Italian household name, Pierfrancesco Diliberto  or “Pif” as he’s best known to his fans. He also wrote and produced the title which won the audience award at Turin Film Festival in 2014.

According to the story, told mostly in flashback, Diliberto’s birth coincides with the election of a famous anti-Mafia mayor, Vito Ciancimino and a mass execution by the legendary clan. Played cheekily as a young boy by Alex Bisconti, and later by the director himself, Arturo develops a keen interest in Mafia-linked PM Giulio Andreotti, obsessing over his biopic (Il DIVO by Paolo Sorrentino) and even going as the PM to a kid’s fancy dress party. During this time, he also develops a shine for his  a little girl called Flora (Ginevra Antona).

His childhood it full of chance meetings with anti-Mafia heroes in Italian society who all end up victims of the deadly organisation – magistrates Giovanni Falcome and Paolo Borsellino and General Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa. Eventually in his twenties, Arturo wises up to the corrupt criminal underbelly in his hometown of Palermo and his drama ends on a triumphant note in tribute to all those who have lost their lives as innocent victims of the Mafia’s treachery. Deftly intertwining fact and fiction by a skilful blending of archive footage and actual staging: the upshot is an entertaining if slightly slapstick story with the same cheerful charisma as Roberto Benigni’s LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL.

Significantly Diliberto has declined to pay protection taxes to the Mafia, in line with the Addiopizzo policy adopted by a group of Italian businesses. Let’s hope he’s stays around to bring more of this kind of cinema to arthouse audiences.

OUT ON RELEASE IN LIMITED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 1 JULY 2016

 

Suburra (2016) |

Directior: Stefano Sollima

Cast: Pierfrancesco Favino, Elio Germano, Claudio Amendola, Alessandro Borghi, Greta Scarano, Manfredi Dionisi;

130min | Italy/France 2015 | Action Drama.

After his standout first feature film ACAB – All Cops are Bastards, director Stefano Sollima directed two hugely successful crime series for TV, Romanzo Criminale and Gomorra (both were remade as features), before returning to the cinema with SUBURRA, an apocalyptic, anarchic and violent operatic saga of greed and decadence.Based on the novel by journalist Carlo Bonino and crime writer Giancarlo De Cataldo, the film takes its name from a district in ancient Rome, known as a Red-Light area, but nevertheless is the birth place of no lesser than Julius Caesar. This connection, linking Upper Class crime executed by professional criminals, links the action in SUBURRA.

In early November 2011, Rome two momentous events: torrential rainfall and the abdication of Pope Benedict XV. Sollima shows the week leading up to what he calls an apocalypse (an end of the world scenario) which leaves Rome in danger of being submerged in the floods. Filippo Malgradi (Favino) is an MP in the Lower House of the Italian Parliament and a well-known fixer with good connections to the underworld. After trying to sponsor a bill allowing the costal region of Ostia to be transformed into an Italian Las Vegas, with huge kickbacks for lawmakers and property developers, he spends the evening with two prostitutes, one under-aged. One girl dies of an overdose, and Malgradi leaves the other woman, Viola (Scarano), to get rid of the corpse. This way Malgradi sets in motion a violent circle of revenge killings, whilst he tries to get the Planning Bill through parliament.

A small-time pimp, Sebastiano (Germano), falls into the hands of the vicious Gypsy gang leader Manfredi Anacleti (Dionisi), after his father, a one-time powerful gang boss, commits suicide, leaving huge debts with Anacleti, who takes his anger out on Sebastino, taking away his villa and car. Meanwhile, Numero 8 (Borghi), Viola’s on-off boyfriend, a loose cannon, murders the man who helped Viola to dump the corpse of the girl in the sea. Unfortunately for Numero 8, his victim is Anacleti’s son Spadino.

Anacleti senior is unable to control his family; his sons are playing football in the living room, and the he goes into overdrive: he tries to kill Numero 8 and Viola, whilst kidnapping Malgradi’s son. All this chaos is anathema to the Samurai (Amendola), an ex-right wing terrorist, now in charge of the property deal in Ostia. Whilst he literally cleans up the loose ends, he underestimates Viola. And as the rain engulfs Rome, Malgradi, Anacleti and The Samurai get a very different, but deserved punishment.

DOP Paolo Carnera’s images of near eternal night and torrential rain together with an equally overpowering, electronic soundtrack by the French duo M83, make SUBURRA an emotional overpowering tour-de-force. It’s a contemporary Dante’s Inferno; a cesspit of soulless characters who are so regressed, they are almost antediluvian. Their bungling and lust for violence is astonishing, as is their capacity for self-glorification and deceit. Whilst the narrative is hardly original, it just about enough for this opera of wild decadence and engrossing sadism. SUBURRA is a B-picture with the aesthetics of Visconti’s La Caduta degli Dei. AS

OUT ON RELEASE FROM 24 June 2016

 

Tale of Tales (2015)

Director: Matteo Garrone

Cast: Vincent Cassel, Salma Hayek, Toby Jones, John C Reilly, Shirley Henderson

125min  Fantasy Drama   Italy

Matteo Garrone’s TALE OF TALES is an orgiastic fairytale romp in sumptuous costumes far away from the real world. Based on the fables of the 16th-century Neapolitan poet and scholar Giambattista Basile, this splendid offering is an imaginative blend that echoes Beauty and the Beast, The Singing Ringing Tree, Immoral Tales, Dante’s Divine Comedia  and every other trip to fantasy that literature has offered since the beginning of time. To watch it is to surrender to a mythical realm of the senses steeped in madness, magnificence and medieval bodily fluids – a dark and sinuously sensual world of pain and wicked pleasure.

Three fables intertwine from neighbouring imagined kingdoms drawn from the Pentamerone, a 17th-century book of Neapolitan folk stories compiled by the Italian poet Giambattista Basile: In Selvascura (Dark Wood) Selma Hayek and John C Reilly play a troubled King and Queen desperate for royal offspring. Their efforts to procreate lead them to a soothsayer who offers a remedy that results in ghastly albino twins.

Meanwhile, in Roccaforte (Strong Wood), a aptly-cast Vincent Cassel plays a corrupt and sex-obsessed King who has slept with all the available maidens in his pleasure-filled kingdom. When he becomes bewitched by the singing of a old woman, who he imagines to be a sexy nubile girl, he goes in hot pursuit of his prey. When she finally agrees to entertain him during the hours of darkness, Dora (played successively by Hayley Carmichael and Stacy Martin) emerges in her full glory, to his utter horror.

In the third Kingdom, Altomonte (Top of the Mountain) a tearful and cheerful Toby Jones plays a deranged King who decides to challenge his daughter Viola’s suitors with a bizarre test involving a giant flea the size of a cinquecento, reared tenderly in his palace. You can’t imagine the horrific outcome here.

Despite this extraordinary spectacle of grotesque black comedy – some of which is quite outlandish – the tone of TALE OF TALES is completely serious and dead pan and there are clearly stark moral lessons to be learnt from the wise Basile’s writings: Selma Hayek has the ridiculous task of devouring a giant bleeding heart, with utter dedication rather than horror. And Toby Jones is simply wonderful as the detached and mournful King, offering his daughter in marriage to the man who guesses the identity of a bizarre animal hide. Peter Suschitzky’s inventive cinematography sets this fantasy world on fire and Dimitri Capuani’s set design conjures up jewel-like contrasts from glowing candlelit interiors to sun-filled set pieces where Massimo Cantini Parrini’s gorgeous cossies glow vibrantly in gem-like crimson and indigo against pristine white and woodland green. A sumptuous treat. MT

NOW OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE  \ CANNES REVIEW 2015

Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea) (2016) | Golden Bear Winner 2016

Director:  Gianfranco Rosi
Documentary | World premiere | Italy France | 95min

Samuele is twelve and grew up on the island of Lampedusa with his family of fishermen, all struggling to survive. But fish are not the only thing in the sea, miles from mainland Italy. For years, his home has been the destination of thousands of people trying to make the crossing from Africa to a better life in Europe. They have paid expensive fares to traffickers but their journey often ends in death. The Italians rescue them and respect their dignity. Gianfranco Rosi’s sober exploration of this human crisis is a tribute to the kindness of strangers who say “we are all in the same boat”.

Rosi’s starkly rendered and absorbing documentary paints a vital and non-judgemental portrait of the situation where both immigrants and islanders are given ample weight. But pictures can tell a thousand words and that’s the way Rosi leaves it: we must draw our own impressions and conclusions of the humanitarian tragedy.

Samuele’s family are decent but poor. Eking out a meagre existence through diminishing returns, they prey to God and drink out of plastic cups at dinnertime, but somehow they are content with their simpe life and its ingrained traditions. His grandmother remembers the hardship during the Second World War when their livelihood was once again threatened by ships that came by with guns rather than immigrants, but they survived.

Amusing himself with a handmade sling Samuele spends his days messing around on the shoreline with pals and gaining his sea legs for when he becomes a fisherman himself. Those who reach the island are often mothers with kids and babies on the way. They have suffered war zones and hardshipin Sudan, Eritrea and Syria. Many have died in the overstuffed, leaky boats and appear like tragic creatures, bedragled from the heart of darkness or a holocaust; their gold plastic insulation blankets giving them an otherworldly appearance of stranded meteors with coal black skin. Patiently the Italian coastguards take them on rescue boats and doctors examine them, expertly offering free medical care.

FUOCOAMMARE is a calm and sobering film that often makes tough and gruelling viewing but its images linger long afterwards: the rugged landscapes, azure coves and bleeding corpses speak for themselves. It’s a bittter pill to swallow, sweetened by Samuele’s chipper vulnerability as we watch him learning English and coping with his own difficulties: asthma and heart palpitations suggest the boy is internalising some sort of inner turmoil or grief. The title is name of the song his granny dedicates on the local radio station to her sailor son who is hoping for better weather so he can launch his rickety boat and earn his living. MT

NOW ON RELEASE AT ARTHOUSE CINEMAS | BERLINALE GOLDEN BEAR 2016

L’Avventura (1960) | Criterion Bluray release

L'Avventura_2D_stickerDir.: Michelangelo Antonioni; Cast:Lea Massari, Monica Vitti, Gabriele Ferzetti, Gloria de Poliolo; Italy/France 1959, 143 min.

L’Avventura is the first part of Antonioni’s trilogy about alienation. La Notte (1960) and L‘Eclisse (1962), would follow, all staring Monica Vitti. This is a gently-paced journey across Italy where the protagonists slowly lose their identities, not unlike Rosselini’s Viaggio in Italia.

Anna (Massari), meets her best friend Claudia (Vitti), at her father’s villa. Together with Anna’s boyfriend Sandro (Ferzetti) and two other couples, they embark on a cruise trip to the Aeolian Islands, north of Sicily. On the uninhabited island of Lisca Bianca, Anna simply disappears. Claudia and Sandro start searching for her in Sicily, but become close to each other, losing interest in their objective. They make love outside Neto, after questioning a chemist, who might have seen Claudia. In Messina, Sandro falls for another woman, the 19 year old writer and actress Gloria Perkins (de Poliolo). By the time they reach Taormina, Claudia then surprises Sandro in the throes of his love-making. She forgives him: not with words, which have become meaningless, but a simple gesture.

There are no adventurers in L’Avventura, just a group of people who are afraid to commit to each other, and instead hope that something new might happen during their travels, something which delivers them from their inner emptiness. Even though this is not a silent film, it feels very much like it should be: sadness and lack of communication make words more and more pointless; the protagonists don’t talk to each other or even communicate. Kracauer, many years before L’Avventura put everything in one simple sentence: “The unity of the aesthetic form, the way the story is told and how the narrative is connected, brings this world of silence into a form much more fascinating than words.”

DoP Aldo Scavarda, who also shot Bertolucci’s Before the Revolution, creates grainy black and white images where the characters seem to blend with nature – leaving humans like strangers on this craggy, moon-like terrain. The light changes, but the new couple alway looks like transient visitsors: their search for Anna becomes a journey into a labyrinth; the deeper Claudia and Sandro get into the maze, the more they lose any attributes which they might have had at the beginning. Monica Vitti looks around in amazement: the moment something happens, it is already lost. L’Avventura is about the poetry of the sea landscape, and the desert of its soulless characters. AS

AVAILABLE TO BUY FROM CRITERION UK ON 30 MAY 2016

Umberto D (1952) | BLURAY RELEASE

Director: Vittorio De Sica

Script: Cesare Zavattini, Vittoria De Sica

Cast: Cesare Battisti, Maria Pia Casilio, Lina Gennari

89min        Drama      Italian with subtitles

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Umberto D is one of the most famous films of the Italian neorealist movement and successful in its mission to show true life after the second World War, happening to ordinary people suffering from its effects and protesting against poverty and Government cuts in the open streets, where they are unceremoniously moved on by the police.

From a story written and scripted by Cesare Zavattini, Vittorio De Sica directed this touching and deeply moving film that was claimed to be his favourite.  And I can see why. Conforming to neo-realist tenets of using non professional actors and outdoor settings, he casts a non-actor Carlo Battisti in the role of Umberto, a decent old man trying to keep his home in a small room amid desperate poverty of Rome. He is pestered by his landlady (Lina Gennari) for the meagre rent.  His only friends are his little dog, Flick, and a young housemaid  Maria (Maria-Pia Cailio).  Filmed out and about in Rome and in the dingy flat he occupies, it is made all the more sombre by composer Alessandro Cicognini’s orchestral score and a stark black and white setting.

 

The Rome of the early fifties appears dour and worn down with no exciting cafe society or sparkle of the ‘Dolce Vita’ that was to come with the sixties, most of the buildings look dirty and worn down.  It’s a scene of unremitting gloom with the only brief lightness coming from the sunny park scene where Umberto offers to give Flick away to a young girl hoping to find him a good home because he can no longer feed him, or himself.  There’s no sentimentality attached to Flick: the camera does not dwell on his tricks or his charm, just on the fact that he is devoted to his master and his master to him. This is a sad story told without melodrama or judgement: the only person we judge is his possibly his landlady, who would rather offer his room to cheating couples than allow him refuge.

Considering he has no training as an actor Carlo Battisti, then in his seventies, gives a convincing performance as a self-respecting and well-turned-out pensioner in hat and overcoat, who puts his best foot forward despite his difficulties and never resorts to anger, resentment or self-pity.  His facial expressions echo the sorrowful dignity and personal torture of a gentleman brought to his knees by poverty and loss but still preserving with decency and hope.  The only time he complains is when, after a long day trudging the streets in search of Flick, who goes missing while he’s in hospital, he returns to the persion and simply says to Maria: “I’m tired”.  And that simple comment and his quiet resignation, speaks volumes. At one point there’s an extraordinary scene where he’s on the verge of begging in the street for L2,000 to pay his landlady, and puts his palm out to see if he can beg.  Just as a passer-by is about to give him money, he turns it over, as if testing for rain.  the timing of this is quite brilliant and, seen out of context, could almost raise a laugh. The other suburb scene is towards the end when, out of desperation, he jumps in front of a passing train.

Somehow the relationship with his dog allows him to express the deep emotions he feels that could not be expressed with a fellow human being and that is the key to the success of the film: De Sica shows how tenderly love us and never judge us; always love us and it’s Flick, the dog, who ultimately redeems his master, allowing us to connect to the pain and suffering of one man and the here the true vulnerability of the human soul is allowed to shine through in this simplest and purist of tragedies. MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD | Bluray

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Novecento |1900 (1976)

24792350955_64a327a9c7_mDirector: Bernardo Bertolucci

Cast: Robert de Niro, Gerald Depardieu, Dominique Sanda, Werner Bruhns, Laura Betti, Donald Sutherland, Burt Lancaster, Stefania Sandrelli, Sterling Hayden, Alida Valli, Romolo Valli, Anna Henkel, Maria Monti

317min | Drama | Italy/France/West Germany

Bertolucci’s epic, combining the personal and political during the first 45 years of the 20th century, is set in the Italian province of Emilia-Romagna, were the featureless landscape and the ancient city of Parma are the background for the ongoing rivalry between families: the landowning Berlingheri and their peasant workers, the Dalcò. It is a melodrama featuring moments of extraordinary beauty – Oscar-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s sumptuous visuals glow with the resplendent luminosity of an Impressionist painting by Manet or Manet. But there is also outrageous cruelty and savage brutality and the performances, particularly by the female characters are often suffused by histrionic outbursts giving this the quality of a Greek tragedy, underpinned by Ennio Morricone’s often doom-laden orchestral score.

In 1901, the year that local composer Giuseppe Verdi died, two boys are born on the estate of the Berlingheri: Alfredo, who will inherit from his father Giovanni (R. Valli) and grandfather (Lancaster), and Olmo, son of Leo (Sterling Hayden) and Rosa Dalcò (Monti). After Alfredo’s grandfather commits suicide in the cowshed, his father dictates a false testament to the local priest, making sure that he inherits most of the estate, giving only an allowance to his brother Ottavio, a playboy, who travels around Italy. The two boys become friends, in spite of their different upbringing, Alfredo hiding from his father, whom he hates.

After Olmo (a softly-spoken Depardieu) returns from the Great War, he is greeted with open arms by Alfredo (a sultry de Niro), who wants to continue their friendship. But everything has changed and his father has since employed Attila (Sutherland), one of Mussolini’s fascists, as a foreman. Olmo warns Alfredo about the danger Attila represents, but Alfredo is only in hedonistic pleasures. After Mussolini takes power in 1922, strengthening Attila’s position, Olmo and Alfredo travel to Parma where they meet Ottavio (Bruhns), Alfredo’s uncle, and his beautiful companion Ada (a gracefully hypotic Dominique Sanda) and the two fall madly in love. Olmo’s partner and fellow socialist, the teacher Anita (Sandrelli), gives birth to their daughter Anita , but tragically dies in childbirth. Devastated by his friend’s loss, which seems to spur Alfredo on to marry Ada. At the magnificent wedding celebration, Attila and Regina (Betti), Alfredo’s cousin, feels jilted and madly jealous, as she hoped to be his bride. In a fit of angry displaced lust, Regina embraces Attila who, in a sexual rage, savagely murders a little boy and tries to pin the blame on Olmo. Alfredo does not stop the fascist mob trying to lynch Olmo, but a deranged young man, confessing wrongly to the murder, saves Olmo’s life. Ottavio, who had brought a white horse named ‘Cocaine’ as a wedding present for Ada, is disgusted and swears never to return to his brother’s house. Attila commits more and more gruesome murders, including a particularly horrendous one of the widow Pioppi (Alida Valli), to secure her home for himself and Regina. The relationship between Ada and Alfredo deteriorates and she finally leaves him, just before April 1945. Italy is liberated and Olmo, who has become a partisan, shoots Attila, celebrating their liberation from Alfredo, the ‘Padrone’, with his daughter Anita (Henkel) and the other peasants. Olmo declares the death of the ‘Master’, but keeps Alfredo alive, “so we all know forever that the Master is dead”. Alone with Olmo, Alfredo states very realistically, “the Master is very much alive.”

NOVECENTO is Bertolucci’s most ‘Viscontian’ film, premiered in the year of the older director’s death. Using a cast, many of whom had worked with Visconti (Alida Valli, Romolo Valli, Burt Lancaster), Bertolucci also explores one of Visconti’s central themes: the sexuality of fascism, here demonstrated in the murderous relationship between Attila and Regina. But in spite of history and politics, 1900 belongs to DoP, Vittorio Storaro (Strategia del Rago, Il Conformista). The childhood scenes of the first part are shot like summer: the colours are drenched, in dream nostalgia. Heavy clouds and torrential rain threaten the early stage of Fascism. The wedding is an icy winter picture, cold, harsh hues echo the deterioration of the relationships between Ada and Alfredo. Liberation brings spring’s acid primary tints; the lighting growing increasingly bright and celebratory. The mass scenes in Parma, during the socialist demonstration, are framed with impressive intricacy. The camera moves, swoops and glides in harmony with Ennio Morricone’s majestic, moving sound track, maintaining Novecento’s status as one of the great epics of film history. AS

NOVECENTO IS FULLY RESTORED ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF EUREKA FILM AND VIDEO FROM 18 APRIL 2016

Per Amor Vostro (2015) | Anna | CINEMA MADE IN ITALY WEEKEND

Direct0r: Giuseppe M. Gaudino

Cast: Valeria Golino, Massimiliano Gallo, Adriano Giannini, Elisabetta Mirra, Daria d’Isanto, Eduardo Cro

109 min | Italy France | Drama

Director and co-writer Giuseppe M. Gaudino (Round the Moon between Earth and Sea) delivers a typically Italian tale of woe and a sensitive character piece for Valeria Golino, one of Italy’s best loved actresses. Anna is a mother of three, a martyr to her family who is clearly depressed. Overloading the already confusing narrative with various subplots, Gaudino chooses a mannered style which oscillates between moody black and white images and colourful phantasy sequences, leaving Golino to struggle with her subtly nuanced performance amid a fog of artistic experimentation.

In Naples, Anna is in her forties and lives with her teenage children Santina (Mirra), Cinzia (D’Isanto) and Arturo (Cro), the latter being deaf, and her violent out of work husband Gigi (Gallo), a failed singer, whose has previously led his family to near ruin. But a criminal streak run throughout the whole family: Anna served time in a  juvenile prison to cover up for an adult relative, who would have had to spent ten years behind bars. Now working in a TV studio, she writes dialogue prompts for the amateurish cast of a TV soap opera that stars another Italian favourite Adriano Giannini (as Michele). In a brief spell of euphoria the two become lovers but gradually black clouds drift in (literally and metaphorically) when a friend, whom she replaced at work, is murdered. But that’s not all: her family is again plunged into financial trauma affecting the lives of her neighbours.

Valeria Golino moves elegantly through this drama with impressive grace and serenity despite her purported mental instability and Matteo Cocco’s appalling black and white images and freeze frames which lend and air of artificiality to the whole undertaking: they lack any crispness because they have been probably shot originally in colour. In an attempt to evoke feelings of helplessness, her bus becomes flooded with water. Other artful gimmicks include clouds of ink which gather whenever Anna looks out of her window into the Bay of Naples. Obviously, Gaudino is trying to convey Anna’s mental illness in these symbolic sequences but the results are often overbearing and provide no real insight into her troubled mind. An often repeated kitsch-colour scene shows her as an angelic child, having to ‘fly’ from her window down to the yard on a secured rope. But despite her unhappiness she feels a responsibility to her kids, despite Santina’s turning against her on the grounds of her lack of enterprise in acquiesing to her difficult past.  Valeria Golino won the Silver Lion for Best Actress at last year’s Venice Film Festival for her portrayal. She is the only reason to watch this over-ambitious, but flawed drama. And, of course, Adriano Giannini who is superb as the quintessential Latin Lover, with his raffish charm and come to bed eyes. AS

SCREENING DURING CINEMA MADE IN ITALY | 10 – 14 MARCH 2016 |

Rossellini and the War Trilogy

Rossellini’s War – an exploration of a 20th century war trilogy by Alan Price

Rome,_Open_City_pic_7 copy

There are very few war trilogies that dramatise and document a nation’s history throughout the significant stages of a war. The most famous is probably Andrej Wajda’s trilogy: A Generation, Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds chronicling Poland’s occupation. The least well known trilogy is Rossellini’s early fascist war achievement: The White Ship, A Pilot Returns and The Man with the Cross, all set in Italy. For the British we have the Humphrey Jennings’s documentaries, Fires were Started, Listen to Britain and Diary for Timothy. Although not officially regarded as a trilogy, it is possible to make out interesting thematic links. As for the American cinema, Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front, A Walk in the Sun and Pork Chop Hill have been lumped together but they are set in different wars and countries, Germany in WW1, Italy in WW2 and Korea.

When it comes to Rossellini’s Rome, Open City, Paisà and Germany Year Zero; we have two films that deal with Italian Fascism and Nazism’s effects on Italian society plus a third film about the civilian population of post-war Germany. So does the description trilogy really apply here too? Maybe not as a comprehensive war history for the Italians but, perhaps more interestingly, how Rossellini – having established neo-realism along with other hybrid elements – allowed himself to question this label and depart from an obvious neo-realist agenda. The term neo-realist is often misleadingly applied to Rossellini’s films of the 1940s. Certainly his films are very real, acutely placed on the streets and vibrate with his mix of professional actors and ordinary people. Yet consider his style of neo-realism. It embraces moments of Expressionism, heightened naturalism, Brechtian theatricality and an anguished challenge replete with spiritual yearning and existential doubt.

Rome,_Open_City_pic_3 copy

Certain critics of Rossellini once complained that his neo-realist principles were betrayed in Germany Year Zero (1949) and abandoned thereafter. And that Rossellini, the serious filmmaker, was diminished. Surely this criticism can be compared to the early sixties view that Bob Dylan’s renouncing of folk music was an artistic mistake. Did Bob  Dylan ever completely abandon folk: he was always far bigger than just a folk singer. Whilst Rossellini (even more than De Sica) was seen as the godfather of a ‘pure’neo-realism and was, until quite recently, never forgiven for supposedly abandoning his principles, so much of Rome Open City (1945) has a vivid documentary realism, especially in the famous sequence where fascists raid a block of flats as they search for resistance fighters. The photography, editing and camerawork, despite Rossellini’s poor film stock and equipment are very impressive. Later films like The Battle of Algiers (1965) or even Gomorrah (2008) owe much to Rossellini’s staging.

Rome

Yet even the verisimilitude of Rome, Open City is punctured by absurdist comedy. The resistance worker priest, played by Aldo Fabrizi, pretends to reside over the last rites of an old man who is not dying at all. He has been knocked unconscious from a blow to his head by a pan. The soldiers arrive just before weapons have been hid under the man’s bed. After this ‘comic relief’ Rossellini presents us with the tragic death of Pina (Anna Magnani). She is shot running after the truck carrying her lover Francesco (Francesco Grandjacquet). The arbitrary nature of her killing is one of the most iconic depictions of death in cinema history. It is a civilian death amidst the ‘fog of war’ and is heartbreaking. Of course this is quintessential neo-realism. Yet Pina’s death is not only juxtaposed between the humorous (almost Hollywood) business with the priest, but followed by a female informer having a lesbian relationship with an older German woman – this could be seen as a reaction against the middle-class, escapist “white telephone films” of the thirties – and the horrific torture of resistance worker Manfredi (Marcello Pagliero). The later is a scene that is aesthetically in the manner of a Renaissance painting of a crucified Christ. Not forgetting other elements of melodrama that propel the film, Rome, Open City is a hybrid of styles departing from its neo-realist base.

images-1A great disruption of narrative is present in Paisà (1946), most noticeably in its second act: A drunk, black American GI (Joe from Jersey) tries to communicate with a young Italian boy but neither can speak each others’ language. Staged in an almost Brechtian manner; Joe, seated on a pile of rubble, bemoans his lot in the army. Gradually sobering up he says, “I don’t want to go home. Home’s a shack.” and then falls asleep. The young boy steals the GI’s boots. The next day, Joe discovers the boy and forces him back home in order to retrieve his boots. Home turns out to be a desolate network of caves where families are living in dire poverty. Feeling both guilty about war’s destruction and also empathetic – his shack and their caves will still be around a long time after the war –  the GI forgets his shoes, gets back into his jeep and drives away. Such narrative abruptness continues throughout Paisà up to the film’s climax on the River Po, where the resistance fight it out with the German army.

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Rossellini is a master at directing the physical displacement of individuals and the movement of crowds in wartime. Yet his raw, disconcerting documentary-like and awkward breakage of action in Paisà isn’t simply adhering to some neo-realist manifesto for filmmakers, but continues as a prominent force in Rossellini’s post war films with Ingrid Bergman. Here in his controversial film Stromboli, Ingrid Bergman’s flight from the intolerable conditions of the island of Stromboli creates another form of rupture. Her spiritual breakdown asks for some sort of belief in order for her to continue living. Rossellini’s next film Europa 51 sees Bergman depicted as a quasi-martyr/saint/Christ like figure who is adored by a neo-realist crowd of poor people that might have strayed out of De Sica’s Miracle in Milan.(right) 

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Germany Year Zero (left), the final film of his rough trilogy, is set in post-war Berlin as the city’s population attempts to survive the cities economic and material destruction. At the time his audience and critics were upset and confounded as to why Rossellini had shifted focus to the fate of the former enemy. This was certainly a bold and controversial thing to do. An interesting comparison to make would be with D.W.Griffith’s film Isn’t Life Wonderful (1924, depicting the homelessness and ration queues of Germany after their defeat in WW1). Yet Germany Year Zero’s harsh neo- realism masks a darker psychological tragedy. The devastated cityscape of Berlin has a bleak and often surreal nightmarish look. The film depicts the reality of survival: selling a gramophone record of Hitler’s speeches to British soldiers, an old man goes into hospital to receive more food than can be provided at home, and the slaughtering of a horse by crowd desperate to eat. Yet the film’s most disturbing story is the physical death of a child, alongside of the spiritual death of a boy denied a proper childhood.

imagesThirteen year old boy Edmund (Edmund Meschke) is placed under extreme pressure by his bartering for goods on the black market. He’s an innocent child turned into a hunter/scavenger enduring the impositions and demands of his family and neighbours to supply their needs. The child has become an unwilling ‘father to the man’ in a world where a new man or woman, untainted by Nazism, has not yet been born. Edmund is covertly persuaded by an ex Nazi school teacher and pederast that the weak most perish and the strong survive. At this point the film makes an audacious departure from neo-realism. Without resorting to crude melodrama, Rossellini shows Edmund poisoning his father. Patricide as a release from the burden of care and the strengthening of the family is hardly a prominent concern of neo-realism.

The last twenty minutes of Germany Year Zero (1948) features some of the most sublime scenes ever committed to film. Edmund wanders the ruined streets to his death. His suicide is a devastating critique of a morally bankrupt society. The real poison is not the one he has given to his father (that act is bad enough) but the taint of an ideology that cannot yet allow its children to live as normal children (There are scenes of groups of children conniving on the black market or about to be sexually abused).

images-2Rossellini does not give us a political Marxist analysis of Edmund’s fate. His death is oddly serene (in tone very like the death of the peasant girl Mouchette in Bresson’s Mouchette). Edmund’s suicide is a terrible act of despair, yet not totally bleak, for there’s a hint of spiritual renewal for others after Edmund as a woman in the street holds the boy’s dead body in a religious manner.

The subject of Rossellini’s War Trilogy is certainly War. Yet Rossellini: the Known and Invisible Consequences of War (cumbersome though that sounds) might be a more apt description. How can fighters and civilians move intelligibly through the chaos of war; can the bringing of peace mean authentic renewal? Germany Year Zero, the most disturbing of these three masterpieces, poses that question.

ROME, OPEN CITY is screening at the BFI on 29 January 2022 | introduced by Dr Julia Wagner | Also on BFI Player

 

Hawks and Sparrows (1966) | Uccellacci e uccellini | Blu-ray

Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini  Writers: Dante Ferretti, Pasolini

Cast: Totò, Ninetto Davoli, Femi Benussi, Umberto Bevilacqua, Renato Capogna

89min   Comedy Drama  Italy

Pasolini’s eighth film has all the charm and innocent humour of Italy in the sixties but while managing to take on and delicately express some serious human and philosophical themes of that era: the power of the Catholic Church; left-wing intellectualism (Pasolini was a confirmed Marxist); pregnancy out of wedlock; poverty and class conflict.

Ninetto Davoli plays a teenager walking through the neo-realist landscape of Lazio – near Rome –  accompanied by his formally-dressed father (the famous comedian Totò), on their way to a metting.  During their walk they bump into a crow, a pregnant woman, and other allegorical figures who each represent one of the themes of the piece.

During their long journey on foot,  the crow tells the story of how St. Francis instructed two of his disciples to spread the Word of God and to love one another, while the son and father become the disciples (Fra Ciccillo and Fra Ninetto): Toto the more faithful one, while his son is the more lascivious of the pair. The crow relates various biblical parables as a group of travelling actors enact the various characters. The neorealist setting is rendered in a delicate and beautifully framed starkness that elevates the humour to something rather tragic and appealingly absurd, as Pasolini gently plays with tonal nuances, in one of his more abstract but idiosyncratically Italian works, also said to be his favourite film. Ennio Morricone’s opening score accompanies Domenico Modugno who sings out the film’s credits. MT

Hawks and Sparrows is now on BLU-ray and dual format DVD rom Masters of Cinema.

Youth (La Giovinezza) |(2015) Prime Video

Director: Paolo Sorrentino | Cast: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano, Ed Stoppard | 118  Drama  Italy

Sorrentino’s second film in English, YOUTH, opens with the Sicilian director’s signature razzmatazz and rhythm: a girl singing on a revolving bandstand in a luxurious Swiss mountainside Hotel, possibly Davos. This is where Michael Caine, as retired conductor Fred Ballinger, is meditating the future – missing his wife, but not his music. Joined by his film director friend, Mick (Harvey Keitel) their contemplate life and their married kids, Lena and Julian, (Wiesz and Stoppard).

YOUTH is a leisurely-paced drama that feels like a languorous troll down memory lane punctuated by explosions of dramatic choreography and entertaining vignettes from Jane Fonda, who plays an actress friend of the men; a voluptuous prostitute who services the male guests, and a couple who sit in silence at dinner, and an obese footballer who can barely breathe.

This riff on the pleasures of physical and emotional love has a three-stranded narrative that explores Lena’s sudden break-up with Julian, who has supposedly found a better lover (she spends the rest of the film talking about her own bedroom skills to anyone who’ll listen). Mick is meanwhile putting the finishing touches to a film script with the ‘legendary’ Brenda Morel (Fonda). Paul Dano, plays another filmmaker guest and stooge for Fred as the two shoot the breeze on the subject of fame and being type-cast for one’s previous successes.

YOUTH works best in the scenes involving Keitel and Caine who create some touching emotional moments and pleasant comedy. Caine is especially good as the staid yet sensitive ageing conductor – he’s similar in some ways to Toni Servillo’s Tito di Girolamo in Consequences of Love, Sorrentino’s first and most satisfying film to date.

Very much a case of style over substance, Youth occasionally feels like a series of interesting moments strung together rather than a satisfying whole. That said, it looks fabulous, Luca Bigazzi continues to wow us with some dazzling camerawork including a magnificent sequence of St Marks Square, and Venice sinking into the sea. There is plenty to enjoy performance-wise thanks to the sterling talents of Keitel, Caine and the rest of the starry cast, Youth is great while it lasts but instantly forgettable once the credits have rolled. MT

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO |  CANNES 2015 PREMIERE

South Social Film Festival | 12 -15 November 2015

SOUTH SOCIAL FILM FESTIVAL is a long weekend of indie film, food and music in South London venues. There’s an opportunity to enjoy some deliciously-themed food to match the independent film premieres before they go on general release in the UK.

The festival kicks off on Thursday November 12th at 7pm with the documentary HEARTS OF TANGO   that gets inside “tanguero’ fever hitting the streets of Toronto, and explores what makes this dance so addictively popular all over the world.

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Thursday November 12th at 19.00| HEARTS OF TANGO (2014) | live music from Tango specialist Javier Fioramonti | Dulwich Constitutional Club | Empanadas by CHANGO |

Friday November 13th at 19.00| W.A.K.A (2014) | live music from Jazz guitarist Muntu Valdo | Roxy Bar & Screen | Cameroonian style Buffet

Saturday November 14th at 14.30| FILOSOFI KOPI (2014) | Sumatran Coffee tastings from Volcano Coffee Works | PITCHIPOI (2014) at 17.00 | music from London Klezmer Quartet | FEAR OF WATER at 20.00|(2014) | all at Roxy Bar & Screen

Sunday November 15th at 15.30  |VIKTORIA (2015) | Roxy Bar & Screen | 18.30  PER AMOR VOSTRO (2015) | Italian Food by the Italian Institute and SAID Chocolate | Kennington’s Cinema Museum.

SOUTH SOCIAL FILM FESTIVAL | A NICHE FESTIVAL FOR CINEASTES AND FOODIES SOUTH OF THE RIVER

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Morire Gratis (1968)| Die Free | UK Premiere

Writer|Director: Sandro Franchina

Cast: Karen Blanguernon, Franco Angeli, Isabel D’Avila, Adriano Amidei Migliano

87mins  Drama   Italy

Winner of the Prix Max Ophuls for the best new director on its first appearance in 1968 but soon forgotten and never released in Britain, MORIRE GRATIS finally received its UK premiere as the concluding attraction in the ICA’s recent season devoted to Italian experimental cinema of the 60s and 70s. The only feature directed by Sandro Franchina, who died in Paris in 1998 at the age of 58, his film resembles Antonioni with jokes. The Italian art cinema having tired by the 1960s of neorealist examinations of the plight of the dispossessed, it instead turned its attention to the ennui of the affluent but discontented; represented in MORIRE GRATIS by Enzo (Franco Angeli), an arrogant young sculptor who stroppily consents to serve as a drug mule. His ‘cargo’ concealed within the belly of his latest work – a Capitoline Wolf with a tape recorder inside it – his drive from Rome to Paris proves eventful.

Clearly inspired by Dino Risi’s Il Sorpasso (1962), and also recalling John Schlesinger’s Darling (1965) in the graceless self-centredness of its principal characters; the bulk of MORIRE GRATIS concerns itself with Enzo’s time on the road with a leggy, kohl-eyed French sixties chick (Karen Blanguernon) who he picks up along the way. We never learn anything about her and neither engages our sympathy; and the predictably nihilistic ending demonstrates that the director shares our feelings about them. The film’s working title had been Il Sole all’Ombra (Sun in the Shadow), and although the general shiftlessness of its main characters and bleak take on humanity anticipates the countless interminable road movies that followed during the seventies and eighties, MORIRE GRATIS moves along as swiftly as the restless anti-hero’s sometimes careless driving (there’s even a car chase at one point), the scenery is attractive – including a pretty little churchyard where Enzo moves the headstones about for a prank – and clocks in at a brisk 83 minutes. The audience at the ICA enjoyed it. RICHARD CHATTEN

MORIRE GRATIS was presented in 35mm with subtitles especially created for the screening as part of the ICA & Tate Modern film season IF ARTE POVERA WAS POP: ARTISTS’ AND EXPERIMENTAL CINEMA IN ITALY 1960s-70s. 

Black Souls (2014) Anime Nere

Director: Francesco Munzi

Writer: Francesco Munzi, Fabrizio Ruggirello

Cast: Marco Leonardi, Peppino Mazzotta, Fabrizio Ferracane, Anna Ferruzzo, Barbora Bobulova

Drama, Italy, France, 103 mins

Dubbed as the new Gomorrah in some circles, Francesco Munzi’s mafia family drama purrs with tension, taking the brutal Mafioso world to the rustic villages of the Calabrian foothills at the southern tip of Italy.

This is the heartland of the ‘ndrangheta, the biggest and furthest-reaching mafia group in Italy, far stronger than the Comorrah and the Sicilian mafia, but more secretive and rarely infiltrated by outsiders. It’s because the group is made up of family units that the ‘ndrangheta are so tight, but it also means that entrance to the group for descendants is tacitly obligatory. If you don’t want ‘in’, you’re asking for trouble.

That’s the case with Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane), a farmer whose brothers are long-standing members of the Carbone clan; he instead tends to his farmland of goats on the slopes of the Apennine Mountains. His son Leo (Giuseppe Fumo), however, is eager to join a group where he’ll gain respect, and in an age where Italian youngsters are frequently downtrodden by unemployment, this is something he is eager to commit to. His uncle Luigi (Marco Leonardi), a drug dealer who travels Europe, takes Leo under his wing, but after an altercation between Leo and a rival clan, events spiral to take the apparently peaceful town to gang war.

This is a slower, more composed film than Gomorrah, and doesn’t have that film’s electric socio-political edge. Instead, it works as a family drama that simmers with personal tragedy and works up to a powerful, gripping finale. Sumptuously filmed in the village of Africo, often said to be the home of the ‘ndrangheta, and with the peninsula’s craggy dialect, it convinces as a place where the state, the police, and perhaps conventional morality have trouble accessing. Among a cast of non-actors and professionals, Fumo, plucked from hundreds of local kids, is remarkable in his debut role as Leo, saying little but carrying a primordial terror with every retort at his disillusioned father.

Munzi’s script, co-written with Fabrizio Ruggirello, starts the film in Amsterdam and Milan, and perhaps could have done with setting the film more tightly in the insular ‘ndrangheta communities. Here it feels like there’s no escape, where every aspect of life is dominated by the mafia. The organisation helps local politicians gain election, bars and shops have to obtain ‘protection’ by one of the clans, and respect to members is non-negotiable. But that blinkered view of the world is also this family’s downfall, as the cracks in the foundations make the whole house fall down. Ed Frankl.

REVIEWED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2014 | NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 30 OCTOBER 2015

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L’Eclisse | Eclipse (1962) | BFI Long Release | DVD

B&W010 copyDir.: Michelangelo Antonioni

Cast: Monica Vitti, Alain Delon, Francisco Rabal, Lila Brignone, Rossana Rory

Italy/France 1962, 126 min.

After L’Avventura (1960) and La Notte (1961) Antonioni finished his ‘trilogy of alienation’ with L’Eclisse. Another story of doomed love, Vittoria (Vitti) leaves her long-term writer lover Riccardo (Rabal) after a night of soul-bearing and when L’Eclisse starts in the morning, it feels somehow like a continuation of La Notte.

But before Vittoria ends her relationship with Riccardo, she arranges a new Stilleben behind an empty picture frame. The break-up is not traumatic, Vittoria cowers on the sofa like a mourning child, Riccardo cannot get through her passive-aggressive attitude with his arguments. Vittoria seems to pay for the break-up with a life in silence, words or sounds do not reach her anymore. The freedom she has achieved turns out to be alienation. Rome is hot, and Vittoria wanders without focus through the city, only following a man for a short while: he has lost a fortune at the stock market, and draws an endless array of little flowers on a slip of paper. Antonioni shows the transition of Italy in the architecture of its capital. The EUR quarter, with will later be the business centre, was originally planned by Mussolini, to celebrate twenty years of fascism in 1942. Wide boulevards and austere buildings give an idea how the city would have looked if the Axis would have won the war. Now Rome is one big building side: the old and the new fighting for supremacy. Vittoria, searching for her neighbour’s dog is lost in a city, also losing its own identity.

She visits her mother (Brignone), who is playing the stock market, always ready to “play” big – later she will loose a million Lira. Mother and daughter have not much to say to each other, Vittoria seems to be condemned to a lonely, silent life. At the stock exchange she meets Piero (Delon), but is not impressed by him at all. Later, they run into each other again by accident, starting an affair, which is very unsatisfactory for Vittoria: ”I wish I could love you more or not at all”. But Piero, who spends his life in the fast lane, is not a loveable character at all: when his car is stolen and later turns up in a river with the thief trapped dead behind the wheel, he is only concerned about the dents.

Piero belongs to the future: “One can love, without knowing much about each other”. But Vittoria somehow comes alive, her isolation seems to be over. The lovers arrange a rendezvous, but their hearts are not in it. Clearly Piero is married to his work and Vittoria needs more: the camera lingers over the place of their tentative meeting, before a nuclear-style eclipse of the title, brings the film to a close. Vittoria seems to be set free by a cosmic storm: as her urban confines: door frames, scaffoldings and shop grilles, are replaced by trees.

Monica Vitti’s Vittoria is like Wenders Alice in the City: a child in a world of adults, repelled by their emotional coldness. Delon is all actions and superficiality, his friend’s remark “long live the façade” sums it all up. DOP Gianni De Venanzo’s long panorama shots show very little empathy with the eternal city, particularly the shots in silence which seem to evoke a ghost town populated by little worker ants, dwarfed by the huge buildings. Giovanni Fusco’s score kicks in towards the second half and with the voice of Italian superstar Mina. After the tremendous closing sequence, L’Eclisse will lead without much transition to Deserto Rosso (1963/4), where Vitti as Guiliana wanders the streets, getting lost again in a fog on a very unearthly planet. AS

ON LONG RELEASE AT THE BFI FROM AUGUST 28 2015 | BLU-RAY AND DVD COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL

 

Venice Days | Giornate degli Autori | 2 – 12 September 2015

Venice Film Festival has its own version of Cannes Film Festival: Quinzaine des Réalisateurs, called GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI – VENICE DAYS. Independently run, parallel to the main programme, it all happens just down the road in the grounds of a lush villa overlooking the famous beach where Dirk Bogarde starred in Visconti’s melancholy masterpiece Death in Venice.

El Nascondido - RetributionWith a jury headed by French director, Laurent Cantet, this year’s official selection comprises new works from well-known talent including Chile’s Matias Bize and Italy’s Vincenzo Marra, along with emerging names such as Poland’s Piotr Chrzan and India’s Ruchika Oberoi. Agnes Varda will also be there with her short film Les Tres Boutons which is part of designer Miucci Prada’s strand  ‘The Miu Miu Women’s Tales.’

The Daughter

VENICE DAYS opens with Spanish filmmaker Dani de la Torre’s debut thriller EL DESCONICIDOS (RETRIBUTION) (above) and closes with Jindabyne actor and theatre director Simon Stone’s debut drama THE DAUGHTER. which stars Geoffrey Rush and is losely based on Henrik Ibsen’s play The Wild Duck.

KlezmerWe’re particularly looking forward to the WORLD PREMIERES of Polish wartime drama KLESMER (left) from Piotr Chrzan and Stray Dogs scripter Song Peng Fei’s directorial debut UNDERGROUND FRAGRANCE (below) which follows a similar vein to the 2013 outing which won Grand Special Jury Prize at Venice 2013. High on our list is also Vincenzo Marra’s fourth feature LA PRIMA LUCE which brings Riccardo Scamarcio back to the Lido again starring an Italian lawyer in search of his son lost in Chile.

Underground FragranceCarlo Saura’s documentary ARGENTINA showcasing the country’s national pastime, compliments his series on dance that includes; Fados, Blood Wedding and Carmen. The 83-year-old director is taking a break to come to the Lido from filming Renzo Piano: an Architect for Santander, to screen next year. Britain will be represented in a special event by Grant Gee and his latest film INNOCENCE OF MEMORIES, based on Orhan Pamuk’s book The Museum of Innocence.

GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI | VENICE DAYeptember 2-12.

 

The Wonders | Le Meraviglie (2014) | Grand Prix Cannes 2014

safe_image.phpWriter/Director: Alice Rohrwacher

Cast: Alba Rohrwacher, Monica Bellucci, Maria Alexandra Lungu, Sam Louwyck, Sabine Timoteo, Agnese Graziani

100min   Drama   Italian with subtitles

GRAND PRIX WINNER – CANNES 2014

Writer/Director Alice Rohrwacher’s debut feature Corpo Celeste was a delicate coming-of-age drama that had a brief outing in London cinemas in 2011, introducing us this new director. She returns with THE WONDERS another wistful but sure-footed rites of passage tale of an enigmatic family of bee-keepers, eking out a living in challenging circumstances in rural Tuscany. This time our heroine is 13-year-old Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu), the eldest of four daughters who work hard in this cottage industry, helping their father with the hives and honey bottling.

Rohrwacher’s restrained, impressionist approach creates a vague feeling of suspense that allows our imagination to wander and luxuriate in this magical story. A palpable tension is felt amongst the sisters as they carefully spin the honey and decant it into plastic buckets and jars without losing any of the precious nectar in the process. They tiptoe round round their cantankerous father who lives in the fear that colony collapse disorder or contamination with ruin the family’s future. Gelsomina absorbs all this angst at a time where she is also growing up and finding her feet as a young woman and the second in command of the business, and all the responsibilities involved.  Out of the blue, the police entrust the family with a teenage boy delinquent who needs rehabilitation into the community. They are then asked to take part in a TV competition for local farmers to enter their produce – Gelsomina develops a teenage crush for the glamorous presenter in the shape of Monica Bellucci – who dazzles the impressionable girls. The preparations are fun but nerve-wracking involving national dress in local Etruscan costumes. Rohracher’s bitter-sweet depiction of teenage awakening is brought to life by Pina cinematographer, Hélène Louvart who beautifully captures the young girls’ dreams and anxieties while growing up in the country. THE WONDERS is naive, surreal and absolutely enchanting. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE 17 JULY 2015

The Bicycle Thieves (1948) | Ladri di Biciclette |Neo-realism at the BFI

Director: Vittorio De Sica

Script: Luigi Bartolini (novel) Cesare Zavattini, Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Vittorio De Sica, Oreste Biancoli, Adolfo Franci, Gerardo Guerrieri

Producers: Giuseppe Amato, Vittorio De Sica

Cast: Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell, Gino Saltamerenda, Vittorio Antonucci, Guilio Chiari, Elena Altieri, Carlo Jachino, Michele Sakara

87min Drama Italian with subtitles

Taking their cue from the work of Jean Renoir, Italian filmmakers like Visconti and Antonioni helped create the Neo-Realist movement out of necessity, post war. This entailed dispensing with studios, expensive set-ups and even professional actors, with stories inspired by the lot of the common people, the lower working classes, desperate for work and even food.

The Bicycle Thieves is as pure an example as you can get of this style, using a cast of non-actors and shooting entirely on location, it cannot be underestimated the impact that the Neo-Realist movement had on film as a medium and even this film in particular, inspiring the French New Wave, The Polish Film School and even Satajit Ray in India. Even today, De Sica’s subtitled, black and white masterpiece can be found in countless significant lists of Greatest Films Ever Made and for a long time, even held the top spot. It’s easy to see why.

Erstwhile factory worker Maggiorani was cast to play the lead after he arrived for the audition with his son. A deeply impassioned and committed performance from both him and Staiola, playing his boy give this stark story it’s authenticity and edge.

Antonio Ricci is one of the many long-term unemployed, when he is plucked out of the jobless masses and given a job pasting billboard posters. The only condition being that he has a bike. He did have a bike, but pawned it to feed his family. So follows the mad scramble to retrieve his bicycle and thereby regain his self-respect by earning a wage with a proper job, working for the Council.

Underpinning this entire story, supplying its veracity and depth is the relationship between a man and his son; what it means to be a father and a father figure and all that befalls Ricci is put into even more stark relief by being played out with his boy as witness, serving to heighten the emotion for Ricci and by extension, the audience, be it the soaring heights of elation or black lows of humiliation.

This film won an extraordinary slew of awards across the world, from an Oscar, A Golden Globe and a BAFTA, to Bodil in Denmark, Italy, Japan and the Critics Circle in New York. It really doesn’t need me to tell you- deservedly so. If you haven’t seen it, take this opportunity and delve into the Italian Neo-Realist movement and see what all the fuss is about. An ageless story told with a fluidity, clarity and a peerless emotional power that still glisters like diamonds in grime. There are a few perfect films out there and this is one. AR

SEE THIS ON THE BIG SCREEN AT THE BFI SOUTHBANK DURING AUGUST

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmth0tVsdhU

Still Life (2013) | DVD release

Director/Writer: Uberto Pasolini

Cast: Eddie Marsan, Joanne Froggatt, Karen Dury, Andrew Buchan

92min  Drama

Uberto Pasolini’s expertly-crafted and affecting look at one man’s life is nothing short of a mini masterpiece. After screening at Venice back in 2013, it has finally arrived in British cinemas and has been very much worth waiting for.

The main reason to see it is for Eddie Marsan’s performance as John May, a 44-year-old South London civil servant, whose job is to trace the next of kin of those who die unnoticed by their friends and family. Some would consider this a morbid profession, but such is the dedication and touching commitment of Mr May to his work, that to watch him go about his daily duty becomes absorbing and almost enjoyable, in itself.

A seasoned professional with over 100 films to his name, Eddie Marsan, has made his performances here into a work of art: every subtle detail; every expression; tilt of the head; sigh and quiet smile is a subtle and yet integral to the part of Mr May.  His integrity and pride he takes in the gloomy tasks is transformed into a thing thing of joy. That everyone deserves a decent burial, goes without saying, but Mr May adds dignity to theirs lives, if only in death, by attending the funerals of the deceased, sometimes as the only mourner.

And these are not only Christian ceremonies: all denominations are catered for personally, based on photos in the deceased’s council homes, he composes thoughtful eulogies based on minimal details and selects the appropriate anthems  music for services (Pasolini’s wife, Rachel Portman, composed the film’s score). Pasolini’s shrewd scripting and subtle characterisation are complimented by Stefano Falivene’s elegant and occasionally witty visuals echoing the central character’s preoccupation with order and Marsan’s powerful stillness embues every scene. John May is a character straight out of an Anita Brookner novel. A tightening tension creeps in slowly as the narrative develops but no one could predict the final scenes. MT

NOW OUT ON DVD

 

 

Quiet Bliss (2014) In Grazia di Dio | Cinema Made in Italy | 5-9 March 2015

Dir.: Edoardo Winspeare

Cast: Celeste Cascario, Laura Licchetta, Anna Boccadamo, Barbara de Mattheis, Amerigo Russo, Antonio Carluccio

Italy 2014, 127 min.

Edoardo Winspeare (Life Blood) has tried to create a modern family epic in the aesthetic forms of neo-realism, along the lines of Alice Rohwacher’s Cannes hit LE MERAVIGLIE. Whilst he not always succeeds, QUIET BLISS is an interesting family-saga, which is full of fights, reconciliations and renewed strife. Italy has always been known for its family businesses but Chinese competition and high loan-interests signal the end for a family-run clothing company in the Southern town of  Salento. As a result, four women are made homeless and the family home has to be sold too. The mother, Salvatrice (Boccadamo) has three very different daughters: Adele (Cascario), who had run the factory with her cousin Vito (Russo), a goody-two-shoes, suffering from chronic psycho-somatic pain; Ina (Licchetta), who does not pull her weight in the factory and is more interested in the young men of town and Maria (Matteis), who has an university degree and is an aspiring actress. After Vito has unwisely taken up smuggling with the criminal Cracifixo, the men drift out of the picture to Switzerland, and leave the women to build a home and tend the olive orchards in the countryside. Bliss this is not, since none of the protagonists has changed – apart from Salvatrice, who marries the pious Cosimo. Adele still tries to “reform” her sisters, but her efforts are thwarted: Ina has an unwanted pregnancy and Adele’s selfishness nearly ruining Maria’s acting career. Her only friend in life seems to be Stefano, a former classmate, who tries to help her to reduce the still enormous loan payments to the bank.

QUIET BLISS begins intensely, the fight for survival in a global world is contrasted by the old-fashioned family intrigues. Together, they spell doom for Adele, who has to fight on two fronts. Her efforts at saving anything is finally thwarted by Vito’s smuggling affair, no wonder she sees men as an hindrance in life – just the opposite of Ina, who can’t have enough male attention. The tempo begins to limp when the women have arrived in the countryside, where too much time is spent on agricultural questions. The long shots, reminiscent of the Brothers Taviani, compensate for a sagging last hour. Cascario (Winspeare’s wife) and Ina (the director’s stepdaughter) head a very strong female cast. Camerawork tries to be innovative, working very hard to create a huge dichotomy between the factory and rural life, without making an idyll out of the latter. The length of QUIET BLISS is its main detractor, hampering the effectiveness of this otherwise watchable family drama. AS

SCREENING DURING CINEMA MADE IN ITALY FROM 5-9 MARCH 2015. TICKETS HERE

 

So Far, So Good (2014) | Cinema Made in Italy | 5-9 March 2015

FINO A QUI TUTTO BENE

Dir; Roan Johnson

Cast: Alessio Vassala, Silvia D’Amico, Melissa Anna Bartolini, Paolo Cioni, Isabella Ragonese, Gugliemo Favilla)

Italy 2014, 80 min.

Roan Johnson follows his first film, The First on the List, with SO FAR, SO GOOD, another outwardly enjoyable but ultimately empty film.

In Pisa, five flatmates are facing up to the end of their lives as students with varying degrees of success – or failure, as the case may be. Ilaria (D’Amico) is pregnant by a married man who has not returned to his wife but to a new mistress.  Instead of writing her PHD thesis, she will have to return to her very traditional parents in a small town. Vicenzo (Vasallo), the only scientist in the household, has landed a job at Rejkavik university. His girlfriend Francesca (Bartolini) is a theatre student and actor like the rest of the group and doesn’t want to go with him and be jobless in Iceland. Cioni (Cioni), the odd man out and least selfish of the flatmates, offers to live with Ilaria and adopt her baby, in desperation. But over this whole story hangs the ghost of their flatmate Michele, who killed himself in a staged car accident a year ago. Andrea (Favilla), was going to follow Michele’s brother Marco to Nepal – until he bumps into his ex-girl friend Marta (Ragonese), an established TV actress, at the farewell party. So, the quintet is left at sea in a motorboat, without any gas in the tank.

SO FAR, SO GOOD suffers from the fact that Johnson can never make up his mind if he wants to direct a rather silly comedy or something more substantial. His protagonists are a selfish bunch and not very endearing. The men don’t even try to hide their rank machismo. The women blame the men for everything, whilst having a tendency to indulge in self-pity. All this would work with a much more serious approach, but Johnson takes a much more light-hearted look at their ups and downs, which are admittedly funny but detract from the underlying problems of the group. Instead of showing five people in search of an identity, SO FAR, SO GOOD is just another comedy about a group of young people who don’t know how to grow up. A  shame then, since the ensemble acting is brilliant and the fresh and lively camerawork shows Pisa from an interesting and novel perspective. An opportunity missed. AS

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY RUNS FROM 5-9 MARCH 2015. FULL PROGRAMME HERE

The Ice Forest (2014) La Foresta di Ghiaccio | Cinema Made in Italy | 5-9 March 2015

Director: Claudio Noce   Writers: Francesca Manieri

Cast: Emir Kusturica, Adriano Giannini, Ksenija Rappaport, Domenico Diele

99min  Noir Thriller   Italian with subtitles

The feisty Bosnian actor and director Emir Kusturica (Time of the Gypsies) is the reason to see this dourly sinister revenge thriller set in the wintery mountains of the Trentino Alto Adige, Northern Italy. He plays Secondo, in name and in nature – as this is not a lead role despite his being the best-known actor here. A Serbian national, he lives in a snowbound power plant next to the Slovenian border and runs a clandestine human trafficking outfit with half-brother Lorenzo (Adriano Giannini). A pre-credit sequence from 1994, shows the murder of a Serbian man by human traffickers whilst his little brother escapes, and we are led to believe that Secondo is the key contact involved in illegal immigration and money laundering in this remote location.

When young mechanic Pietro (Domenico Diele) arrives in the village to repair a dodgy electricity cable, the others become uneasy eyeing him with a savage mistrust. And it doesn’t take long for us to realise who Pietro really is, particuarly when Lorenzo suddenly disappears. Suspicions are further aroused with the arrival of Lana, a Slovenian (Ksenija Rappoport) forest ranger on the hunt for a dangerous bear: it soon emerges that she is really a detective investigating the disappearance and murder of a Libyan woman.

Claudio Noce does his best to ramp up tension in this confident, well-paced second feature, with a series of revelations that keep us on our toes to a degree, while admiring the Alpine setting with its icy landscapes and sweeping aerial photography of  a majestic dam over the valley. Performances, particularly from Kusturica and Rappoport, are strong and although the script could benefit from being tighter, there is a constant threat of skulduggery with animosity brewing between the predominantly male cast involved in cross-border intrigue and illicit subterfuge. An unexpected twist develops between Pietro and Lana adding a frisson to the proceedings and marking out Pietro to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing and far from the unassuming character who originally came to town. In the brutal climax of this watchable Noir thriller, it becomes clear that the village victims are not going to be of the bear variety. MT

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY RUNS FROM 5 -9 MARCH 2015 – TICKETS HERE

 

 

 

Good for for Nothing (2014) Buoni a nulla | Cinema Made in Italy | 5-9 March 2015

Director/Writer: Gianni Di Gregorio

Cast: Anna Bonaiuto, Gianni Di Gregorio, Camilla Filippi, Valentina Gebbia

87min   Comedy  Italian with subtitles

Best know for his recent drama, Mid August Lunch, Gianni Di Gregorio plays himself in this light-hearted comedy that follows the trials and tribulations of an elderly civil servant in Rome. Kafkaesque in the extreme it never takes itself too seriously, driving home the message that it never pays to be too kind or flexible in work or in play.

On the brink of his retirement, Gianni discovers he is going to be working another three years due to a change in Government policy. And that isn’t all. His office is re-locating outside Rome, adding another hour to his leisurely morning commute via the local Coffee Bar. Can it get any worse? Apparently, yes. In the new office location, a toxic brew of politics puts a further dampener on his working life in the shape buxom Cinzia (Valentina Lodovini) and his new boss (Anna Bonaiuto) and her willing side-kick (Gianfelice Imparato). Luckily, Marco (Marco Marzocca) seems to be the only decent employee, joining forces with Gianni on the daily grind and even offering to work on his birthday. Just when he is re-adjusting to his new situation, Gianni’s daughter (Camilla Filippi) decides to take over his flat in the centre of Rome. All this stress sends Gianni into orbit and his blood pressure suffers as a result. But his doctor advises him to treat them mean to keep them keen. All very well when decency is your default position as a human being.

Well-acted and watchable throughout its running time of just over an hour, GOOD FOR NOTHING is pleasant, light-hearted fare that doesn’t outstay its welcome and occasionally puts a smile on your face, especially if you’re a fan of Gianni Di Gregorio and his charming brand of Italian humour. MT

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY IS BACK IN LONDON FROM 5-9 MARCH 2015. TICKETS HERE

 

Cinema Made in Italy | Cine Lumiere London | 5-9 March 2015

LackCINEMA MADE IN ITALY is back in London with a five-day mini festival showcasing the latest in Italian features and documentaries from new and established directing talent.

There will be plenty of opportunities for a lively exchange of views during the packed programme of screenings, Q&As and discussions with the filmmakers themselves. The 2015 line-up offers a variety of titles drawn from arthouse cinema, comedy and documentary fare. Ermanno Olmi’s wartime drama  GREENERY WILL BLOOM AGAIN (Torneranno I Prati) will open this year’s festival and there will be a chance to see Gianni Di Gregorio’s witty comedy GOOD FOR NOTHING (Buoni a Nulla). Have a look at the full screening programme here:

1394926442551GREENERY WILL BLOOM AGAIN (Torneranno i Prati) **** a finely-tuned wartime drama;

Quiet BlissQUIET BLISS (In Grazia a Dio) a family goes back to the countryside after suffering great loss in this tender and beautifully-crafted drama.

THE LACK a sumptuous exploration of female suffering, separation and loss set in Iceland and Sicily.

THE MAFIA KILLS ONLY IN SUMMER (La Mafia Uccide solo d’Estate) charismatic and upbeat, “Pif’s” dark comedy follows the history of the ‘anti-Mafia’ seen through the eyes of a Sicilian boy.

SO FAR SO GOOD (Fino a qui, tutto bene) a comedy about a group twentysomethings on the cusp of real life

Mafia_Kills_Only_in_Summer-01THE ICE FOREST (La Foresta di Ghiaccio) Claudio Noce’s icebound thriller stars Bosnian actor/director Emir Kusturica

9×10 NOVANTA Documentary shorts from a selection of directors

So Far So GoodPERFIDIA – drama centering on one man’s fight to motivate his aimless son

DARKER THAN MIDNIGHT (Piu Buio di Mezzanotte) a young man’s journey into poverty on the streets of Catania

GOOD FOR NOTHING (Buoni a Nulla) comedy from Gianni Di Gregorio

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY TAKES PLACE AT THE CINE LUMIERE LONDON SW7 FROM 5 – 9 MARCH 2015

The Lack (2014) |Cinema Made in Italy 2015

Directors: Nicolò Massazza and Iacopo Bedogni

70mins  Experimental | Drama |  Italian

Women’s suffering has long been the subject of World cinema and particularly in Italy. Curiously titled The LACK is a semi-experimental mood piece that plays a tune with four different themes: abandonment, separation, courage and exertion and their effects on six isolated female characters. With minimal dialogue and some sumptuously inventive camera effects, a visual narrative explores their inner journey of loneliness, discovery and eventually, self-healing in natural surroundings.

Best known for their work as video artists, directing duo Nicolò Massazza and Iacopo Bedogni call themselves THE MASEBO. A metaphor for survival, their film concentrates on sound and visuals to express the palpable emotions of their female protagonists as they grapple with the reality of life. The opening scenes play out like a slick advert for Volvo:, a woman wakes up abandoned in a bedroom and tries desperately to call her lover without success. In tears and distraught, she takes to the road and drives recklessly through a vast and frozen snowscape with only a flimsy white gown to protect her from the elements. As she leave sthe vehicle, the camera follows her in close-up and slow-mo, painting an ethereal picture of ice blue alienation against the windswept wasteland.

The second segment studies an Oriental beauty alone inside a massive ferry boat. Seawater gushes against ancient rock formations and craggy cliffs as waves wash over the echoing steel plates of the hull. Escaping to the shoreline she is warmed by the setting sun. Only her sighs of exertion and the mournful sound of the seagulls are audible in the marine wilderness as she installs a large searchlight on the cliff face, illuminating the approaching night.

Part 3 is set in remote Steppes of Russia where an enormous pipeline is carrying oil or gas from an inland refinery, belching smoke creates puffy clouds into the endless skyline. A woman flights for survival swaddled in furs. Another woman floats flotsom-like in the aftermath of flood desperately clinging to domestic detritis in possibly the most conceptual segment which is intercut with images of a little girl dressed in white. The final segment is probably the most bleak. The weaker sex emerges tough yet vulnerable, suffering throughout.

MASEBO have exhibited their work in museums and film festivals as well, such as Venice, Locarno, Rome, Istanbul, Lisbon, Athens, Miami and Reykjavik. Since 2002 they have been working with the French writer Michel Houellebecq with whom they have written and produced 11.22.03 and THE WORLD IS NOT A LANDSCAPE, video art piece with Juliette Binoche, it had its premier in Paris at the Grand Palais.

REVIEWED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2014. SCREENING DURING CINEMA MADE IN ITALY

 

Greenery Will Bloom Again | Torneranno i prati (2014) | Cinema Made in Italy

Writer/Director Ermanno Olmi

Cast:Claudio Santamaria, Camillo Grassi, Niccolò Senni,

80min   Italian   Drama

English translations of subtitles and films titles leave a great deal to be desired. Are they all being churned out from a trailer park in deepest Albania by teenagers googling internet translation sites? Not that I have anything against either but the English in the subtitles simply does not do these arthouse and independent films any favours – it does not reflect the tone or content accurately. The English translation of TORNERANNO I PRATI is GREENERY WILL BLOOM AGAIN. Surely MEADOWS WILL BLOOM AGAIN would more evocatively conjure up the hope of Peace and renewed prosperity after the grim hardship of War in this starkly drawn First World War drama by one of Italy’s most talented contemporary filmmakers, Ermanno Olmi.

Shot in a sombre palette of gunmetal and taupe by cinematographer (and son) Fabio Olmi, the anti-War story unfolds in the desolate mountains of North Eastern Italy near the Austrian border, where a winter landscape envelopes a group of exhausted and grimy soldiers, chilled to the bone despite being swaddled by heavy (and sodden) uniforms. Led by a strong performance from Claudio Santamaria as The Major, who arrives with a dispatch that can only lead to tragedy for all concerned in the bunker of death. In the meltdown that follows, soldiers lose their lives and are interred in the heavy snow.

The strength of Olmi’s drama lies in his stark depiction of the miserable drudgery of combat: an uneasy tension builds as the platoon waits in appalling conditions for certain death either from the elements or the enemy. TORNERANNO I PRATI is a gruelling mood piece that fails to match the complex narrative of his previous outings THE PROFESSION OF ARMS or TREE OF WOODEN CLOGS but nonetheless conveys the pity and futility of war. This is war that affects ordinary working men equally – there are no good or bad characters here, just simple farmers or tradesmen forced to fight in a senseless battle where no one is ultimately a winner, Olmi’s tragedy delivers its message simple and soberly.MT

Reviewed at Berlinale 2015 and screening at the CINEMA MADE IN ITALY festival here in March.

La Sapienza (2014) | Seville Film Festival

DIR/WRITER; Eugene Green

Cast: Fabrizio Rongione, Christelle Prot Landman, Ludovico Succio, Arianna Nastro

107min  Drama Italy/France

Eugene Green’s Portuguese Nun was a work of subtle and enigmatic beauty. La Sapienza (a Univeristy in Rome and ‘wisdom’ in Italian) has the same rather cool detached allure in which the actors recite their lines clearly and often looking straight into the camera, in well-composed frames. It centres on a disillusioned middle-aged couple who have reached the companion stage after a difficult marriage where they have lost a handicapped child. Alexandre (Fabrizio Rongione) and Alienor (Christelle Prot Landman) arrive in Stresa, Lake Maggiore, on the first leg of a trip that intends to re-ignite their relationship and allow Alexandre to complete his architectural research on the work of his hero, the Baroque master, Francesco Borromini. They come across a brother and sister who are students; the young man Goffredo (Ludovico Succio) is studying architecture, his sister Lavinia (Arianna Nastro) becomes bed-ridden with unexplained dizziness. Alienor suggests that her husband continues his research trip down to Rome with Goffredo’s able assistance, while she remains with the poorly young girl to chat in French and help with her recovery.

In this intellectual, dialogue-driven drama there is little natural small talk: each conversation is direct and frank, aiming to offer some kind of didactic enlightenment or edifying debate on the subject-matter discussed: architecture, the theatre, love, philosophy allude to the title of Wisdom. Through these crisp and pared-down exchanges, Green fleshes out his characters’ thoughts and feelings. The men embark on an richly textured architectural diatribe covering the finer points of Barroque architecture while the women discuss more emotional and psychological issues including the nature of how the past, present and supernatural co-exist in perpetuity. Gradually though, the mens’ conversations appear more cultivated and heavyweight while the womens’ are made to feel more trivial and ephemeral. That said, this is an ambitious and richly textured film not least for its spectacular landscapes and majestic views of Borromini’s Baroque architecture in various locations around Italy. Occasional flashes of humour help to lighten the load of the intense didacticism, enriched by the elegant visuals of Raphael O’Byrne. MT.

Seville European Film Festival runs from 7-17 November 2014

Sacro Gra (2013)

Dir.: Gianfranco Rosi; Documentary: Italy 2013, 82 min.

Gianfranco Rosi’s SACRO GRA (“Holy Grail’) won the Golden Lion at Venice in 2013 – as surprising as undeserved. Rosi (Below Sea Level) has filmed and scouted over two years, followed by eight months of editing, to present diverse images of the “Grande Raccordo Anulare”, Rome’s ring road, all 43.5 km of it -akin to London’s North Circular. Apart from the traffic, we meet inhabitants living near the highway in soulless high-rise blocks, seedy caravans or mansions. Sheep and electricity pylons feature like rivers: a mixture of contrasting images. Rosi has been inspired by Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities”, but unfortunately the structure of this novel is untranslatable to film.

We meet Francesco, a scientist, who creates computer generated sounds, to fight off the red palm weevil, who attacks palm trees in army like hordes. Then there is Roberto, an ambulance driver, whom we watch at work and caring for his mother. Cesare is one of the last fisherman on the Tiber river, talking about nature and life before the GRA was built. Filippo is the owner of a splendid home, with kitsch 80s furniture, rented out as a movie set or to B&B clients. And then there are Paolo and Amelia, father and daughter, living in a high-rise block: they have moved from the North to Rome, and feel somehow alienated. Rosi films them with a fixed camera through the window, showing their flat to be more like a prison than anything else. A couple of aging whores and two go-go dancers, a Virgin Mary gathering and the reburying of bodies from a cemetery make up the randomly assorted occurrences, before Sacro Gra suddenly ends: many parts of the ring road shown on hundred of surveillance TVs.

Rosi fails to show how this high road differs from any other in the world. There is nothing specific about this documentary, apart from a certain diversity, which is as unstructured as interchangeable. One could easily watch the film starting with the ending – the difference would be non-existent. The camera tries its best to focus, but whenever we are introduced to one of the participants, we loose them quickly, and when re-introduced, we learn not much more. There seems to be little engagement on behalf of the director for any of his interviewees, he is just overloading the film with everything he comes across. The jury of last year’s Mostra must have been really conflicted, going for lowest common denominator in its choice. AS

NOW ON MUBI

 

Zabriskie Point (1969/70) |IMAGE © WARNER BROS

Dir.: Michelangelo Antonioni; Cast: Mark Frechette, Daria Halprin, Rod Taylor: USA 1969/70, 111 min (IMAGE © WARNER BROS)

Zabriskie Point was an unmitigated commercial failure at the box office but has since become somewhat of a cult classic largely due to its atmospheric, otherworldly score by Pink Floyd complimenting ravishing widescreen visuals of Death Valley. Along with Blowup (1966) and The Passenger (1975) it completes a trilogy of English-language films made by Michelangelo Antonioni. Critics were not very kind at the time of the premiere: Pauline Kael wrote: “Antonioni has always been a clumsy director and has never had much luck at solving the mechanical problems of how to get his characters in and out of places”. But when you realise the Americans, as a nation, didn’t like themselves at the time, why should they like foreigners holding up a mirror?

ZABRISKIE POINT is not a masterpiece, but a rather misunderstood film poem that became at important signpost in US counter-culture of the time. Since everyone wanted to see action and revolution, nobody was happy: neither the European art house audience nor the American counter-culture brigade. Strange to think that anybody could expect ‘action’ from Antonioni; and his sort of revolution was mainly an internal process, slow burning and with a lot of self destruction. The only point worth making is that Antonioni himself tried too hard to please the audience – just leave out the fireworks and shoot in black and white and all what would have worked out much better. But then, he could have stayed in Italy. This way, he fell between two stools, but there is still a lot to admire about ZABRISKIE POINT.

The narrative is sparse: Mark (Frechette) is at a student’s meeting in LA “willing to die, but not of boredom”. Later he nearly shoots a police officer during a violent demonstration, steals a small plane, circles in the desert over a Buick, driven by young, naive pot-smoking Daria (Halprin). Later the two meet, make love in the desert, “Zabriskie Point” being the lowest one in the whole of the USA, before Mark paints the plane full of political slogans and psychedelic colours, and on landing is shot dead by the police in LA.
ZABRISKIE POINT is predominantly a road movie, with some Western thrown in. But is not political, let alone revolutionary. Yes, what we see about America is rather ugly and violent, not much change there, but Mark’s actions come from the heart: he wants fun, sex and travel. Sure, the police are in way way, but not as a collective political force.

In the end, ZABRISKIE POINT is just about a man lost in the vastness of LA, needing another point of view (like most of Antonioni’s heroes), finding Daria in a sort of no-mans-land, where happiness can exist, before choosing to go back to the city and death, spurning his second chance. Alfio Contini’s camera paints both the vast city and the valley in the desert as a melancholic death dance. AS/MT

RE-RELEASED FROM 24 OCTOBER AND AVAILABLE ON DCP FOR THE FIRST TIME – IMAGE SUBJECT TO COPYRIGHT OF WARNER BROS ENTERTAINMENT INC.

I Nostri Ragazzi (2014) The Dinner | Venice International Film Festival

Dir.: Ivano de Matteo

Cast: Alessandro Gassman, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Luigi Lo Cascio, Barbara Bobulova

Italian with subtitles, Drama, 92 min.

Two brothers, Massimo (Gassman), a doctor and Paolo (Cascio), a glib lawyer, meet regularly with their wives, whilst their teenage children Benedetta and Michele go to parties together. The adults actually despise each other: Massimo is self-congratulatory, looking down on his more down-to-earth brother and trying to bend the law in favour of his clients. No love is lost between the women either: Massimo’s wife Clara (Mezzogiorno), a practical hands-on woman, finds the fashion-conscious Sofia (Bobulova) rather trivial, despite her responsibility for Benedetta, whose mother died very young.

But of the blue, the parents find out that their kids have killed a homeless woman, apparently just for fun. All but Paolo, want to cover up the crime so as not to destroy their future. But when Paolo insists on handing the pair over to the police, Massimo reacts with violence.

Ivano de Matteo delivers a moral, character-driven fable, with some unexpected twists. These are, by no means, the people we thought they were to begin with: Massimo starts out as the moral apostle, doing good in his profession, full of love for mankind (apart from his brother and his wife). Paolo is only interested in success, the means do not matter to him. But when it comes to the crunch, he is the only one to ask for justice – the other man wants to cover up for the children. Nowadays, over-protection of kids in the middle classes is the norm; parents buy (or cheat) to get their “mini-me’s” a good place in life (this author being no exception); trying to resolve all problems for them; making them dependent on the older generation; often forgetting to teach responsibility and self-reliance.  Sure, the outcome is not often so cruel as in this fictional case, but the root of Benedetta and Michele’s coldness lies in their own upbringing.

The cast is brilliant, the camera vividly tries to find the protagonists in the concrete jungle, or in their work places. The grown-ups seem always on the run; the teenagers are indolent. A very gloomy but perceptive indictment on a social class who, on superficial appearances, seems to have everything.

REVIEWED AT VENICE 2014. LONDON FILM FESTIVAL RUNS UNTIL 19 OCTOBER 2014

 

Italian film | London Film Festival 2014

At this year’s LONDON FILM FESTIVAL Alice Rohrwacher presents her Cannes-award-winning drama THE WONDERS. Sister Alba Rohrwacher, joins her as star of both THE WONDERS and HUNGRY HEARTS, that won her Best Actress at Venice Film Festival. Other Venice winners, Directors Saverio Costanzo (HUNGRY HEARTS) and Ivano De Matteo (THE DINNER) will also grace the Red Carpet for the festival.

LEOPARDI (Il Giovane Favoloso) by Mario Martone Il_giovane_favoloso_4-Elio_Germano,Michele_Riondino,Anna_Mouglalis-_Mario_Spada

Mario Martone (Amore Molesto) takes on the crippled 18th Century literarary genius, Giacome Leopardi, in this ambitious but rather worthy biopic. Sumptuously set in the verdant countryside of Tuscany and The Marche it stars Elio Germano (A Magnificent Haunting) as the lonely poet and child prodigy who struggles to break into fashionable circles despite a disciplinarian father and poor health. Leopardi did not score heavily on the romantic front, unlike Lord Byron, who, despite his club foot, enjoyed a great deal of erotic attention from the opposite sex; Ippolita di Majo’s screenplay dabbles with some of his female fantasies in the shape of a young illiterate girl who dies early on and a ravishing Florentine countess, played superbly by Anna Mouglalis who lights up this otherwise rather dry biopic with her charm and elegance. Sadly she falls for his more good-looking and glamorous friend Antonio Ranieri (Michele Rondino). The only aborted action he has between the sheets is with a Naples prostitute, but this episode ends cruelly in humiliation. As the drama progresses to Rome and Naples, it opens out visually with some magnificent landscapes of southern Italy and further opportunities to discover Leopardi’s moving poetry and learn about his ideas as a philosopher. This is an ambitious and watchable film and Elio Germano gives a strong and convincing performance as a tortured artist wracked with pain and mental anguish who was wiser of the human condition than his elders gave him credit for: “People are ridiculous only when they try or seem to be that which they are not”.

BLACK_SOULS_still_2

BLACK SOULS (Anime Nere) by Francesco Munzi

Dubbed as the new Gomorrah in some circles, Francesco Munzi’s mafia family drama purrs with tension, taking the brutal Mafioso world to the rustic villages of the Calabrian foothills at the southern tip of Italy. This is the heartland of the ‘ndrangheta, the biggest and furthest-reaching mafia group in Italy, far stronger than the Comorrah and the Sicilian mafia, but more secretive and rarely infiltrated by outsiders. It’s because the group is made up of family units that the ‘ndrangheta are so tight, but it also means that entrance to the group for descendants is tacitly obligatory. If you don’t want ‘in’, you’re asking for trouble. That’s the case with Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane), a farmer whose brothers are long-standing members of the Carbone clan; he instead tends to his farmland of goats on the slopes of the Apennine Mountains. His son Leo (Giuseppe Fumo), however, is eager to join a group where he’ll gain respect, and in an age where Italian youngsters are frequently downtrodden by unemployment, this is something he is eager to commit to. His uncle Luigi (Marco Leonardi), a drug dealer who travels Europe, takes Leo under his wing, but after an altercation between Leo and a rival clan, events spiral to take the apparently peaceful town to gang war.

This is a slower, more composed film than Gomorrah, and doesn’t have that film’s electric socio-political edge. Instead, it works as a family drama that simmers with personal tragedy and works up to a powerful, gripping finale. Sumptuously filmed in the village of Africo, often said to be the home of the ‘ndrangheta, and with the peninsula’s craggy dialect, it convinces as a place where the state, the police, and perhaps conventional morality have trouble accessing. Among a cast of non-actors and professionals, Fumo, plucked from hundreds of local kids, is remarkable in his debut role as Leo, saying little but carrying a primordial terror with every retort at his disillusioned father. Munzi’s script, co-written with Fabrizio Ruggirello, starts the film in Amsterdam and Milan, and perhaps could have done with setting the film more tightly in the insular ‘ndrangheta communities. Here it feels like there’s no escape, where every aspect of life is dominated by the mafia. The organisation helps local politicians gain election, bars and shops have to obtain ‘protection’ by one of the clans, and respect to members is non-negotiable. But that blinkered view of the world is also this family’s downfall, as the cracks in the foundations make the whole house fall down.

merav

THE WONDERS (Le Meraviglie) by Alice Rohrwacher – GRAND PRIX, CANNES 2014

The follow up to her acclaimed debut Corpo Celeste, The Wonders, 33-year-old Alice Rohrwacher, won the Grand Prix at Cannes this year. Set in her native Italy, the film explores the impact of a stranger upon a dysfunctionally hermetic family living in the Umbrian countryside where they cultivate delicious wild honey from their native bees. As with Corpo Celeste, the film focuses on a young girl’s coming of age. This delicate and gently tragic coming of age tale is told with tenderness and respect to the traditions of a country where communities still live from the land, threatened by the ever-increasing presence of “Heath and Safety”. A magical narrative with some touching performances from Alba Rohrwacher and a star turn from Monica Bellucci.

Hungry_Hearts_6HUNGRY HEARTS by Saverio Costanzo

BEST ACTRESS AND BEST ACTOR, VENICE 2014

Severio Costanzo’s Venice ‘Best Actor and Actress” winner, Jude (Adam Driver) and Mina (Alba Rohrwacher) proved divisive amongst critics’ circles.  It’s a weird and quirky drama that’s not quite a thriller but feels it ought to be. It centres on a couple who remain cloistered in their apartment after the birth of the baby boy. Mina, who has been anorexic during the pregnancy, is also germo-phobic and does not want to leave, or take the baby outside. Well cast in the role, Rohrwacher, makes for a subtely unhinged Mina while American, Adam Driver’s, feels somewhat out of place as Jude. With the help of a social worker, he more or less kidnaps his son, who goes to live with his mother (Maxwell) in the countryside outside New York. But Mina does not give up, she tries to regain custody of her son, and after Jude hits her, she manages to regain custody. The desperate grandmother can only think of a very radical solution. Half way through the film, the fish-eye lense is introduced, turning the narrative even more into a real life horror story. Mina is a frail and emaciated creature, just skin and bones, a fanatical gleam in her eyes. Jude is geeky and ambivalent – for much of the film, he tries to mediate between Mina and reality. His mother is made of much sterner stuff, and does not fall for Mina’s passive-aggressive schemes. However harsh the denouement appears, it’s clear that somebody had to make a stand – and Jude was much too feeble to be this person. Despite a weak script with gaping potholes, the superb cast handle the action masterfully. Not a film for the faint-hearted, but a convincing story of ordinary madness

I nostri ragazzi 4 - Giovanna MezzogiornoTHE DINNER (I Nostri Ragazzi) by Ivano De Matteo,

Another Venice Film Festival Winner, THE DINNER is very much a family-focused drama. Two brothers, Massimo (Gassman), a doctor and Paolo (Cascio), a glib lawyer, meet regularly with their wives, whilst their teenage children Benedetta and Michele go to parties together. The adults actually despise each other: Massimo is self-congratulatory, looking down on his more down-to-earth brother and trying to bend the law in favour of his clients. No love is lost between the women either: Massimo’s wife Clara (Mezzogiorno), a practical hands-on woman, finds the fashion-conscious Sofia (Bobulova) rather trivial, despite her responsibility for Benedetta, whose mother died very young.

But of the blue, the parents find out that their kids have killed a homeless woman, apparently just for fun. All but Paolo, want to cover up the crime so as not to destroy their future. But when Paolo insists on handing the pair over to the police, Massimo reacts with violence. Ivano de Matteo delivers a moral, character-driven fable, with some unexpected twists. These are, by no means, the people we thought they were to begin with: Massimo starts out as the moral apostle, doing good in his profession, full of love for mankind (apart from his brother and his wife). Paolo is only interested in success, the means do not matter to him. But when it comes to the crunch, he is the only one to ask for justice – the other man wants to cover up for the children. Nowadays, over-protection of kids in the middle classes is the norm; parents buy (or cheat) to get their “mini-me’s” a good place in life (this author being no exception); trying to resolve all problems for them; making them dependent on the older generation; often forgetting to teach responsibility and self-reliance. Sure, the outcome is not often so cruel as in this fictional case, but the root of Benedetta and Michele’s coldness lies in their own upbringing. The cast is brilliant, the camera vividly tracks the protagonists in a concrete jungle, or in their work places. The adults seem always on the run; the teenagers indolent. A very gloomy but perceptive indictment on a social class who, on superficial appearances, seems to have everything.

THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 9-19 OCTOBER 2014

 

Il Giovane Favoloso (2014) – Venice International Film Festival

Director: Mario Martone

Cast: Anna Mouglalis, Isabella Ragonese, Elio Germano, Michele Riondino

137mins  Drama Biopic  Italian with English subtitles

Mario Martone (Amore Molesto) takes on the crippled 18th Century literarary genius, Giacome Leopardi, in this ambitious but rather worthy biopic.  Sumptuously set in the verdant countryside of Tuscany and The Marche it stars Elio Germano (A Magnificent Haunting) as the lonely poet and child prodigy who struggles to break into fashionable circles despite a disciplinarian father and poor health.

Leopardi did not score heavily on the romantic front, unlike Lord Byron, who, despite his club foot, enjoyed a great deal of erotic attention from the opposite sex; Ippolita di Majo’s screenplay dabbles with some of his female fantasies in the shape of a young illiterate girl who dies early on and a ravishing Florentine countess, played superbly by Anna Mouglalis who lights up this otherwise rather dry biopic with her charm and elegance. Sadly she falls for his more good-looking and glamorous friend Antonio Ranieri (Michele Rondino). The only aborted action he has between the sheets is with a Naples prostitute, but this episode ends cruelly in humiliation.

With some clever editing to the earlier scenes this is, however, an art house drama that could appeal to audiences outside Italy, or those who are interested to discover more about Italian literature beyond Dante, Ovid and Catullus. Indeed, Giacomo Leopardi’s work embraces many of the tenets of Romanticism and there are some allusions to this in Renato Berta’s dreamlike cinematography although Sascha Ring’s contemporary music feels strange and incongruous in a scene by the waterside where Leopardi’s collapses in sheer desperation at his blighted existence and health problems.

As the drama progresses to Rome and Naples, it opens out visually with some magnificent landscapes of southern Italy and further opportunities to discover Leopardi’s moving poetry and learn about his ideas as a philosopher. This is an ambitious and watchable film and Elio Germano gives a strong and convincing performance as a tortured artist wracked with pain and mental anguish who was wiser of the human condition than his elders gave him credit for: “People are ridiculous only when they try or seem to be that which they are not”. MT

VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL runs until 6 September 2014. Follow our coverage under the FESTIVALS banner.

 

Venice Film Festival 2014 – preview

_AF_6405.CR2With a focus on World premieres from maverick directors from France, Italy and the USA, this year’s Venice Film Fesitval (27 August until 7th September) may yet prove to be a treasure trove of gems. Stars gracing the Red Carpet at the 71st Edition of the Italian Lido’s most glamorous event will include Ethan Hawk and Al Pacino. Composer, Alexandre Desplat, heads up the Competition jury that includes Tim Roth, Jessica Hausner, Sandy Powell.

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The Festival opens on 27th August with BIRDMAN, or the UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu) starring Michael Keaton and Ed Norton and closes on 6th September with Ann Hui’s THE GOLDEN ERA, that looks back at Japanese Imperialism in China.

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The Competiton line-up at the World’s oldest film festival looks at new work from Abel Ferrara with a biopic on the Italian filmmaker  PASOLINI, (his Welcome to New York recently shocked critics at Cannes) Swedish director, Roy Andersson brings his existential film A PIGEON SAT ON BRANCH and Fatih Akin’s THE CUT, starring Tahar Rahim as a father looking for his lost daughters, promising to be a contraversial year with hardly any offerings from Eastern Europe or the Far East . Most noticeably, Venice agent provocateur of the past two festivals, Kim Ki-duk, has been side-barred to Venice Days with his latest outing ONE ON ONE. 

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Five American films feature in the competition line-up among them: R Bahrani’s subprime mortgage drama 99 HOMES, with Laura Dern and Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary THE LOOK OF SILENCE, a welcome follow-up to his critically-acclaimed The Act of Killing. Last year David Gordon Green brought Joe to the Lido, this year his film MANGELHORN stars Al Pacino as a small-town Texan locksmith suffering from unrequited love. Ethan Hawke appears in Michael Almereyda’s modern take on Shakespeare’s CYMBELINE.

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From France, Benoit Jacquot’s drama THREE HEARTS stars Charlotte Gainsbourg and Catherine Deneuvre. THE PRICE OF GLORY is a seventies-set comedy involving the imaginary theft of Charlie Chaplin’s coffin, starring Peter Coyote. Viggo Mortensen plays a teacher in David Oelhofften’s LOIN DES HOMMES that centres on the French war in Algeria.

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From Italy comes Francesco Munzi’s mafia thriller ANIME NERE, Saverio Costanzo’s New York love story HUNGRY HEARTS starring Alba Rohrwacher and Adam Driver and Mario Martone’s historical biography IL GIOVANE FAVOLOSO that tells the fascinating story of the poet and philosopher Giacomo Leopardi.

Il_giovane_favoloso_4-Elio_Germano,Michele_Riondino,Anna_Mouglalis-_Mario_SpadaAnother Turkish director vying for the Golden Lion in this year’s competition is Kaan Mujdeci who makes his debut with SIVAS, that tells the story of an 11-year-old boy and his dog on the steppes. Already we have two contenders for the “Golden Dog” along with Vittorio De Sica’s Neo Realist drama UMBERTO D‘s mutt who appears in the Venice Classics strand this year. Meanwhile British outings are thin on the ground (in the Horizons (Orizzonti) sidebar) and include Duane Hopkins’s social-realist crime thriller BYPASS and Guy Myhill’s Norfold-set debut drama THE GOOB, starring Sienna Guillory and Sean Harris.

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Other highlights from the East include Andrei Konchalovskiy’s POSTMAN’S WHITE NIGHTS that depicts an isolated community that live a neolithic lifestyle in contemporary Russia. Iranian director, Rakhshan Bani-Eternad’s TALES, Shanghai director, Xiaoshuai Wang’s thriller RED AMNESIA (Chuang ru zhe) and, finally, not to be missed in the competition line-up is,  WWII epic drama FIRES ON THE PLAIN (NOBI) – the original 1959 version involved the starvation and privation of its entire crew and cast and is said to be one of Roman Polanski’s favourite films. Shin’ya Tsukamoto’s remake is one of the most anticipated dramas, starring Riri Funaki (Like Father Like Son) in the lead role and is a fitting tribute to this year’s WWII commemorations.

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Debut films competing for the Lion of the Future
“Luigi De Laurentiis” Venice Award for a Debut Film

Kaan MÜJDECI, Sivas (Turkey) (Venezia 71)
Naji ABU NOWAR, Theeb (Jordan/U.A.E./Qatar/United Kingdom) (Orizzonti)
Michele ALHAIQUE, Senza nessuna pietà (Italy) (Orizzonti)
Salome ALEXI, Kreditis limiti (Line of Credit) (Georgia/Germany/France) (Orizzonti)
Veronika FRANZ, Severin FIALA, Ich Seh / Ich Seh (Goodnight Mommy) (Austria) (Orizzonti)
Chaitanya TAMHANE, Court (India) (Orizzonti)

Suha ARRAF, Villa touma (Palestine) (SIC)
Stéphane DEMOUSTIER, Terre battue (40-Love) (France/Belgium) (SIC)
Ivan GERGOLET, Dancing with Maria (Italy/Argentine/Slovenia) (SIC)
Timm KRÖGER, Zerrumpelt Herz (The Council of Birds) (Germany) (SIC)
Hoàng Điệp NGUYỄN, Đập cánh giữa không trung (Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere) (Vietnam/France/Norway/Germany) (SIC)
Vuk RŠUMOVIĆ, Ničije dete (No One’s Child) (Serbia) (SIC)
Yukun XIN, Binguan (The Coffin in the Mountain) (China) (SIC)

Shawn CHRISTENSEN, Before I Disappear (USA/United Kingdom) (Venice Days)
Mario FANFANI, Les nuits d’été (France) (Venice Days)
Peter HOOGENDOORN, Tussen 10 en 12 (Between 10 and 12) (Belgium/France/Holland) (Venice Days)
Guy MYHILL, The Goob (United Kingdom) (Venice Days)
Adityavikram SENGUPTA, Asha Jaoar Majhe (Labour of Love) (India) (Venice Days) ”

THE 71ST INTERNATIONAL VENICE FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 27TH AUGUST UNTIL 6TH SEPTEMBER 2014

 

The Assassin (1961) l’Assassino

image011THE ASSASSIN (L’ASSASSINO)

Dir.: Elio Petri; Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Micheline Presle, Salvo Randone, Christina Gaioni; Italy 1961, 105 min.

This is the first feature film of Elio Petri (1929-1982), who would become famous for Investigation of a Citizen above Suspicion (1970) and The Tenth Victim (1965). He tells the story of the antique dealer Nello Poletti (Mastroianni), who is one day accused of murdering his former lover Adalgisa de Matteis (Presle). During the investigation we learn that Nello has exploited Adalgisa, who is much older than him. She has set him up with a luxury antique-shop, but he still has debts and a new lover, the young Antonella Nogara (Gaioni), daughter of a rich industrialist. On the night of the murder, Nello had visited Adalgisa in a hotel near the coast, where he slept with her for the first time in a very long time, wanting her to pay a huge loan he owned the bank. Whilst we learn a lot about Nello (all rather damning) during the course of the investigation, led by the enigmatic inspector Palumbo (Randone), he is cleared of the murder, and for a time Nello seems repentant. But when we meet him again a year later, he sleeps with the now married Antonella, and is back to his old semi-criminal existence, calling himself laughingly ‘the Assassin’.

The monochrome photography shows a realistic portrait of Rome, far away from the splendour of Fellini or Antonioni. Nello is a real sleaze bag, and Mastroianni fills his shoes perfectly. With a chip on his shoulders, because of his upbringing in a poor quarter, he exploits everyone and everything around him; mainly woman, who fall for his boyish charm. But behind the façade, Nello is a perpetual schemer, using his glib tongue to seduce for cash. He is an empty vessel, waiting to be filled with the goods belonging to others. Adalgisa is rather a sad case: whilst looking right through Nello, she stills wants him in perverse way, even if it means paying his debts whilst he sleeps with Antonella, whom she introduced him too for exactly this purpose. Nicoletta is just a younger version of Nello himself: playing him at his own game, and soon to tire of his antics. Inspector Palumbo is the most sophisticated character: world weary and tired, he plays the game more than being a policeman. Sated with a life in the world of crime, he is just waiting to retire. We see a lot of storylines and characters of later Petri films, they are invariably studies of men being guilty, even if not in the eyes of the law. AS

ON ON DVD FROM 21ST JULY 2014

Arrow Academy is proud to present the first ever UK video release of L’Assassino in a gorgeous high-definition restoration created by the Cineteca di Bologna.

This deluxe package will be full of special features and bonus material including:
· New 2K digital restoration from the Cineteca di Bologna

· Uncompressed Mono 2.0 PCM Audio

· Elio Petri and L’Assassino, an introduction by Italian cinema expert Pasquale Iannone

· Tonino Guerra: A Poet in the Movies: Nicola Tranquillino’s documentary about the great Italian screenwriter

· Theatrical Trailer

· Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jay Shaw

· Booklet featuring new writing on the film by Elio Petri expert Camilla Zamboni, Petri’s own critical analysis of 1950s Italian cinema, plus a selection of contemporary reviews

 

 

 

Il Cinema Ritrovato – Bologna 28 June-5 July 2014

IL CINEMA RITROVATO or literally, Cinema Rediscovered, is now in it’s 28th year and, judging by the increased attendance this year, continues to grow in popularity. The Bologna festival takes place each year at the end of June for 8 days with screenings showing across four main screens in the city, all within easy walking distance, and the famous late night free open-air screenings in the Piazza Maggiore.

Ureshii goro_01Each year film scholars, academics and everyday cinemagoers descend upon medieval town in Emilia Romagna for specialised film screenings ranging this year from a William Wellman mini-retrospective, James Dean, The Golden 50’s – India’s Endangered Classics, Riccardo Freda, Werner Hochbaum, Italian episode films, Polish New Wave in cinemascope and Hitler war films to name but just a few of the strands. The regular strands that continued this year included new restorations of cinema classics, cinema from 100 years ago along with this year’s Japanese section which focused on early talkies from the Shochiku studio.

At any given time you could bump into on the streets, or at a screening, the likes of Jonathan Rosenbaum, Dave Kehr, Scott Foundas, David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson or even US director, Alexander Payne who is back for his second successive year.

renoir_la_chienne_03Director Costa Gavras was in attendance this year. Since 2007 he has also been president of the Cinémathèque Française. He was interviewed by the festival’s creative director, Peter von Bagh, and spoke about his early life in Greece and then working as an assistant director with the likes of René Clair (TOUT L’OR DU MONDE 1961), Jacques Demy (LA BAIE DES ANGES 1963) and René Clément (LE JOUR ET L’HEURE 1963 & LES FELINS 1964) before embarking on his own first film COMPARTIMENT TUERS (1965). He also discussed the political outcry around the release of his most celebrated movie Z (1969).

There was an opportunity to see some more recent restorations that had premiered at the Cannes Film Festival back in May. These included DRAGON INN (1967). LES CROIX DE BOIS (1931), LA PAURA (1954), COLOUR OF POMEGRANATES (1968) and LA CHIENNE (1931).

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There were two real highlights from these films and the first was Renoir’s film LA CHIENNE aka THE BITCH. Michel Simon plays the hapless Maurice Legrand, unhappy in his marriage to the nagging Adele and one night meets the beautiful Lulu who has just been beaten by her pimp boyfriend, Dédé. He walks her home to take care of her. Legrand falls in love with Lulu only to be the victim of her and her boyfriend’s plot to extract as much cash as possible from him. Simon is in superb form, as is Janie Marèse as the bitch of the story, Lulu. The film was later remade in 1945 by Fritz Lang as SCARLET STREET. The print screened at the festival was restored by the Cinémathèque française.

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The other film highlight from this strand was the L’Immagine Ritrovata Bologna restoration of Raymond Bernard’s 1931 film LES CROIX DE BOIS aka WOODEN CROSSES. Bernard’s remarkable and inventive use of both handheld and tracking shots to film recreated battle sequences in the trenches and on the battlefields of World War 1 are simply astonishing. There’s one particular battle scene that takes place in a cemetery that shall stay long in the memory as an incredible achievement of choreography in cinema.

The Polish New Wave in CinemaScope strand at this year’s festival was particularly impressive, following on from last year’s Czech New Wave strand entitled L’emulsione conta: Orwo e Nová vlna (1963-1968). Delights such as THE FIRST DAY OF FREEDOM (1964), SAMSON (1961), THE SARAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT (1964), FARAON (1965) and PASSENGER (1963) were on show. It would be hard to pick a favourite from this impressive selection as seeing  and Wajda’s SAMSON turned out to be a real discovery.

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Munk died tragically in a car accident on his way home from the Auschwitz concentration camp where he had been shooting PASSENGER, so the film was left incomplete and was finished posthumously by the use of stills and narration, two years later.  Seeing it projected on the big screen was a gruelling yet rewarding experience.

One of the more interesting strands, and an ingenious programming idea, were the Italian episode films. The strand was entitled L’Italia in corto. Prima parte (1952-1968) and featured two single episodes from different compendium films made during this period. Several of these were a lot of fun and worked surprisingly well when put together as a double bill. The best two were an episode entitled Il Professore by Marco Ferreri from the 1964 film CONTROSESSO paired with Renzo e Luciana by Mario Monicelli from the 1962 film BOCCACCIO ’70. The restoration of the latter film looked beautiful with its strong rich, vibrant colours literally glowing on the screen.

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William A Wellman was being celebrated at this year’s festival whereas in previous years we have seen the likes of Allan Dwan, Raoul Walsh and John Ford. I saw just three of Wellman’s films at the festival; NIGHT NURSE (1931) with a very early performance from Clark Gable as a suited and booted psycho-chauffeur, YELLOW SKY (1948) and THE OX-BOW INCIDENT (1943), a dark, disturbing western about a posse who end up lynching three innocent people. Henry Fonda and Dana Andrews starred.

BA remaining highlight of the festival, was Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 film THE MAN I KILLED aka BROKEN LULLABY. Whilst the acting would never win any awards, the film itself was very affecting indeed. It tells the story of a French soldier who kills a German solider in the trenches of World War 1. After the war he becomes wracked with guilt and sets off to Germany to beg forgiveness from the dead German’s parents and fiancé. The screening I attended was packed, with people standing around the sides and seated on the floor of the cinema. When the film was over it received a very deserved rousing applause from the audience. There’s something comforting when a fairly obscure 1932 film can still cause this sort of a reaction and this is really what IL CINEMA RITROVATO is all about; re-discovering those forgotten gems of cinema. NEIL MCGLONE

 

brownlow_It_Happened_ Here_ 02Neil McGlone is agent/representative for Il Cinema Ritrovato’s creative director, Peter von Bagh and has been involved with both this festival and Midnight Sun Film Festival for the past five years.  He is also programme advisor for London’s Nordic Film Festival.  Neil recently worked as film advisor and researcher for Mark Cousins’ A STORY OF CHILDREN AND FILM (2013) and Peter von Bagh’s SOCIALISM (2014). He is currently in pre-production with Alexander Payne on a documentary about British film historian, Kevin Brownlow (IT HAPPENED HERE).

IL CINEMA RITROVATO

 

Il Divo (2008) Bfi player

Dir: Paolo Sorrentino | Cast: Toni Servillo, Anna Bonaiuto, Giulio Bosetti, Flavio Bucci | 110min   Italian with subtitles   Drama

After successes with the small but perfectly formed Consequences of Love and The Family Friend, Il Divo bursts on to the screen in a baptism of fire that marks Paolo Sorrentino as a filmmaker of considerable talent in winning collaboration with much loved actor Toni Servillo. He plays Giulio Andreotti, the enigmatic leader of the Italian Christian Democrats who haunted the face of Italian politics like an enigmatic smile for nearly forty years and was seven times prime minister.

Mesmerising filmmaking takes over the first twenty minutes as the camera cuts and thrusts from every angle and Sorrentino’s signature soundtracks punctuate the action often to comical and contradictory effect. The story focuses on Andreotti’s last term in office and manages in nearly two hours to fast forward through complex political intrigue interweaving the mafia, corruption and the Catholic Church in a vast tapestry of Italian affairs at the end of the last century while creating an intimate portrait of a rather inaccessible and self-contained man.

Understanding such an ambitious and complex subject is quite a challenge for any audience and there’s a danger of being submerged by the complexity, and bowled over by the visual treatment of this fascinating story and, to some extent, this is where the film falls down. That said, Sorrentino’s  lively and accomplished film reflects the tenaciousness of a significant statesman and Toni Servillo is magnificent as Andreotti in one of the best performances of his career so far.  A masterful tribute to one of Italy’s most signicant historical moments. MT

NOW ON BFI PLAYER

Le Mani sulla Citta (1963) Hands Over the City

HANDS OVER THE CITY (Le Mani sulla citta)

Dir. Francesco Rosi; Cast: Rod Steiger, Salvo Randole, Guido Alberti, Carlo Fermarielli

Italy 1963, 105 min.

In one of the finest political dramas ever made, Francesco Rosi exposes the unscrupulous culture of civic corruption in post-war Naples, still endemic and universal today within the corridors of power.

After a panoramic view of Naples, we see Eduardo Nottola (Rod Steiger), a land speculator and owner of a big building company in Naples, explaining to Maglione, mayor of the city, the benefits of a new development at the outskirts of the city. Nottola holds up his hands and tells Maglione the profit margins, which he will share with him and the Christian Democrats, for whom he sits as a councillor on the city council. The next hands stretched up belong to the councillors of the CD, who are defending Nottola against a few communist councillors, who accuse him of responsibility for the death of two people, after one of the old buildings, which stands next to one of his new projects, collapses because of the pneumatic drills used for the foundations of the adjacent site. The Liberals, under the leadership of Professor De Angelis, join the communist, but it turns out that it was only a manoeuvre for the forthcoming election: the Liberals are the strongest party, but need the CD, so a bargain is struck: Nottola, who has joined the Liberals, will become the new Commissioner responsible for all building works in the city, after De Angelis promises Maglione, who had fallen out with Nottola for personal reasons, a share in the forthcoming profits of the new city development. The film ends with another panoramic overview of the city: it can sleep peacefully under the protecting hands of its leading citizens.

HANDS OVER THE CITY is not a film about Mafiosi, but about people who only have their own interests at heart. The politicians including de Vita, the leader of the communists, are only concerned with winning elections – the rest is talk. All parties are part of the system. And they need a powerful figure like Nottola, to make things happen. He is rightfully not shown as evil, but as part of a pseudo-democratic system, which excludes the majority of citizens. The new buildings Nottola is so proud of, are not for the inhabitants of the slum buildings he is demolishing – they are being ferried out on lorries to just another slum further away from the city centre. And the two victims of the accident are just footnotes, whilst the little boy, who has lost his legs in the accident, is being groomed as a beneficiary of the public health system, which otherwise is as underfunded as the rest of the public services – whilst Maglione is showing off his sumptuous art treasures to a friend.

Rod Steiger dominates the film, not only physically but emotionally. Whilst being critical, Rosi shows him as a tiger among hyenas. He paces the rooms, uses the telephone like a weapon as he barks orders and is not afraid to scarify his own son, who was in charge of the site where the accident occured. The politicians are greedy and self-seeking, but they don’t want to get their hands dirty. Camera work and music have all the elements of a thriller: the politicians are shown as conspirators, who hide in dark corners, afraid of Nottola and their own shadows. The music underlines the noir atmosphere, always threatening and dissonant. AS

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LE MANI SULLA CITTA IS NOW ON DUAL FORMAT (BLU-RAY AND DVD) AS PART OF AWARD-WINNING MASTERS OF CINEMA SERIES ON EUREKA FROM 31 MARCH 2014

 

 

 

 

Salvo (2013) Semaine de la Critique 2013

SALVO wastes no time in getting down to the gritty business of assassination. Hit man Saleh Bakri (Salvo) kills his rival, Renato, in the stunning opening of this action thriller which then rams on the breaks and becomes a slow-burning story of redemption (five years in the making).  The scorching Sicilian heat permeates every frame of Grassadonia and Piazza’s intense debut that turns its attention to the dead man’s visually-challenged sister, Rita (Sara Serraiocco), who is quietly awaiting his return at home.

Sara Serraiocco as Rita copy copy

Daniele Cipri (It Was the Son) is behind the lens of an exquisitely-executed long-take, ratcheting up the tension as it watches Rita going about her duties inside the darkened house as Salvo breaks in and tracks her down. Holding her hostage in a disused lock-up, he transforms her life into a bewildering nightmare of vaguely moving shapes. Has the trauma caused to her to regain sight or did she simply have extremely poor vision?: this is sadly unclear but Salvo becomes obsessed with his helpless captive gradually mending his former ways, as if out of respect for suffering. In a quirky twist, he also becomes the focus of an eccentric couple (Giuditta Perriera and Luigi Lo Cascio) who give him board and lodging in a seedy side of town, injecting texture and offbeat humour.

With a judicious use of silence and limited dialogue, SALVO has some clever ideas and a brilliant starting point, but the narrative flatlines in the second half and never really peaks again despite some interesting twists and turns. Bakri is superb as Salvo, a criminal with a fascinating modus operandi, and Daniele Cipri’s cinematography is a joy to behold. MT

SALVO IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 21 MARCH 2014 THROUGH PECCADILLO PICTURES.

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Rome, Open City (1946) NEW 4k restoration

Director:  Roberto Rossellini
Script:  Sergio Amidei, Federico Fellini, Roberto Rossellini
Producers: Guiseppe Amato, Ferrucio De Martino, Rod E Geiger, Roberto Rossellini
Cast: Aldo Fabrizi, Anna Magnani, Marcelo Pagliero, Vito Annichiarico, Nando Bruno, Harry Feist, Giovanna Galletti

103mins        War film   Italian with subtitles

In 1944 Italy there was, understandably, no film industry or indeed any money. Despite this, Roberto Rossellini had persuaded a wealthy woman to finance a documentary about a priest who had helped with the resistance. She was also interested in telling another story of the children who fought for the resistance.

Rossellini approached Fellini with the ambition of casting Fabrizi for the role of the priest, but Fellini came up with the idea of combining these two documentary strands into one fictional movie and they set about writing the piece with Amidei, just two months after the Germans vacated Italy.

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Based on factual events of 1944 and filmed in Rome directly after the war, Roberto Rossellini’s masterpiece stands as one of the greatest war films ever made. Handheld camera, shot almost entirely on location: Rome, Open City is another superb offering from the Italian Neo-Realist stable. The hatred of the Germans and the freshness of the atrocities is palpable in all of the non-professional actors serving justice to this story; where one is never in any doubt about the authenticity of the mise en scene. Presumably a cathartic experience for all involved.

As the Nazi net closes in, more by luck than judgement, resistance leader Giorgio Manfredi is forced into hiding, entirely dependent on the kindness and assistance of friends and colleagues. However, the stresses and strains on the whole community inevitably begin to show, where what normally might be seen as easy neighbourliness, during wartime becomes a matter of life and death.

One of the things that is remarkable here is Rossellini’s ability to find sublime humour in the darkest of moments.  And there’s nothing quite like a war movie, with Nazis as the baddies exerting unbearable pressure, to extract the most extreme jeopardy and distress. The human condition is under the microscope and with this kind of duress, everyone’s character and resolve is forced to the fore; the subjugator as much as the subjugated.

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Anna Magnani has a quite wonderful role as the feisty pregnant Pina, who lives life with a passionate vibrancy that seems to epitomise Italy. But it’s interesting to note that both she and Fabrizi, the only professionals in the film, were, up to that time, well known only for their comedy, this being their first foray into serious drama.

Rossellini was a trailblazer in a great many ways, not only in the casting, but also in the manner in which he ignored the script that the financiers had agreed to and simply went out and shot the film he wanted to make. Rossellini had had terrible trouble financing it; the money he already had from his initial investor wasn’t sufficient to cover the whole budget, but other potential investors shied away from a film with scenes of torture, wondering who in their right minds would go and see it, so it was shot on the hoof very much out of necessity than design.

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Upon its completion, Paris lauded the film, but the premier in Italy was a catastrophe, audiences perhaps understandably wanting more escapism than the grim realities of what they had just been through. US soldier Rod Geiger then took it to the US, where the film made a fortune for the distributor and also opened American doors to Italian Neo-Realist films. It was only by gaining a reputation abroad, winning the Grand Prix at Cannes, that Rome, Open City gained more acceptance at home.

A massive achievement and a landmark film, that, like so many recognised classics, gained its reputation in the years long after a less than stellar launch. But even if you disregard its significance as a piece of cinematic history, or the innovations on filmmaking, just see this film as a truly amazing and passionate piece of storytelling. It’s got all you could wish for: Nazis, suave resistance fighters, beautiful women, plucky kids, homemade bombs, espionage, religion and Rome. You cannot fail to be moved. Andrew Rajan.

THE 4K RESTORATION OF ROME, OPEN CITY OPENS ON 7 MARCH 2014 AT THE BFI, CURZON MAYFAIR, IFI DUBLIN AND SELECTED CINEMAS NATIONWIDE.

CINEMA made in Italy 5-9 March 2014

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY is at the Ciné Lumière in South Kensington from 5 – 9 March, giving Londoners an opportunity to see the latest Italian films that may not go on general release. Screenings will be followed by Q&A sessions with directors and actors. The five day annual event is organised by Istituto Luce – Cinecittà’s promotional department in Rome (Filmitalia), and the Italian Cultural Institute in London. This year’s line-up includes eleven feature films and one documentary.  We recommend:

Viva 2 copyVIVA LA LIBERTÀ by Roberto Andò

THOSE HAPPY YEARS (Anni Felici) by Daniele Luchetti

HOW STRANGE TO BE CALLED FEDERICO! (Che Strano Chiamarsi Federico!) by Ettore Scola

THE REFEREE (L’Arbitroby Paolo Zucca

BORDER by Alessio Cremonini

ZORAN, MY NEPHEW THE IDIOT (Zoran, Il Mio Nipote Scemo) by Matteo Oleotto

THE FIFTH WHEEL (L’Ultima Ruota del Carro) by Giovanni Veronesi

THE THIRD HALF (Il Terzo Tempo) by Enrico Maria Artale

THE HUMAN FACTOR (La Variabile Umana) by Bruno Oliviero

FIRST SNOWFALL (La Prima Neve) by Andrea Segre

OFF ROAD (Fuoristrada) by Elisa Amoruso

Full Programme details

Che Strano chiamarsi Federico (2013) Cinema Made in Italy 5-9 March 2014

HOW STRANGE TO BE CALLED FEDERICO

Dir.: Ettore Scola; Cast:Tomaso Lazotti, Vittorio Viviani, Sergio Pierattini, Antonella Attili; Italy 2013, 93 min.

This celebration of the life of Fellini (1920-1993) is put together in an atmospheric collage by his best friend, the director Ettore Scola. The two not only shared a passion for life and film, but also a friendship and regular collaboration with the actor Marcello Mastroiani, who joined them in their nightly excursions of Rome – Fellini being an extreme insomniac. It is no accident that the only feature film Fellini starred in was Scola’s aptly titled WE ALL LOVE EACH OTHER SO MUCH (1974), the story of a friendship, mainly shot on the road. Fellini also acted in Rossellini’s short The Miracle opposite Anna Magnani.

Frederico Fellini came to Rome from his hometown of Rimini in 1939, promising to attend university to please his parents – but no record of attendance has ever been found. Instead the future director earned his living with sketches and short texts for the theatre, before joining the satirical magazine “Marc’ Aurelio” in the early forties, when the magazine was controlled by the Fascist censors. Scola, still at High School, would join Fellini there a decade later. In Scola’s film much fun is made about life under Mussolini, but for the outspoken Fellini it could not have been easy despite his political disinterest  After the liberation he started script writing for Rosselini (ROME, OPEN CITY/1945 and PAISAN/1946) as well as other established directors like Alberto Lattuada (FLESH WILL SURRENDER/1947) and Pietro Germi (THE PAST OF HOPE/1950). In the same year he directed his feature debut LIGHTS OF VARIETY (1950), followed by THE WHITE SHEIKH (1952) and his first masterpiece I VITELLONI 1953). Whilst one could easily call these films neo-realistic, Fellini already tries his own take on reality: away from social realism to a more personal approach of the oppressed. LA STRADA (1954) starring his wife Giulietta Masina (who acted in seven of his films), was a kind of summing up of his first five years as a director, it won him the first of five “Oscars”. LA DOLCE VITA (1960) which made Mastroiani into a star, was the turning point: even though the city of Rome was the real star of the film, Fellini achieved his artistic dream of life as theatre captured on film. Or as he put it “Life is a party”. From FELLINI SATYRICON (1969), via CASANOVA (1976) to the LA CITTA DELLE DONNE (1980) he celebrated this maxim, “never becoming a good little boy” as Scola remarked.

HOW STRANGE TO BE CALLED FEDERICO is centred around the car rides of the trio (both Fellini and Scola hated any physical exercise) in Rome, picking up painters and prostitutes alike, always on the outlook for ideas for their films. In one scene, Mastroiani’s mother complains bitterly to Scola “you always show the ugly side of my son in your films, but Fellini only shows his beauty”. And there is always Fellini, in his coat and long scarf, getting away from reality into his dream world – even after his funeral, eluding the soldiers who stood at the side of his coffin, running through the streets of his beloved Rome, sitting down in a car on a carousel, where extracts of his films close this beautiful homage of a friend and fellow artist for the man who called himself “a born liar”, but who only used lies to make reality colourful and exciting with playfulness and passion. AS

SCREENING AS PART OF CINEMA MADE IN ITALY WHICH RUNS FROM 5-9 MARCH AT THE CINE LUMIERE LONDON SW7

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Viva La Liberta (2013)

Director: Roberto Ando

Cast: Toni ServilloValerio MastandreaValeria Bruni TedeschiMichela CesconAnna Bonaiuto

93min  Political comedy   Italian with subtitles

Even if politics leaves you cold you will warm to Roberto Ando’s imagined political comedy Viva la Liberta (Long Live Freedom) with its dynamite performance from Toni Servillo who recently starred in La Grande Bellezza). No stranger to Italian political roles, he gave an exultant portrayal of Giulio Andreotti in IL DIVO and here he plays Enrico Oliveri, a fictional leader of the shadow cabinet.

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Truth is stranger than fiction and Italian politics is certainly stranger than most with its colourful characters such as Berlusconi, and this opens up glittering possibilities for Roberto Ando’s provocative premise. Anyone with any knowledge of Italy’s state of affairs will appreciate the gently comedic take here: In Ando’s imaginary world, Oliveri’s opposition party has seriously lost its way so it’s not really surprising when its leader decides to go AWOL in exasperation. But it doesn’t end there. After disappearing,  Oliveri is replaced by his identical twin, Giovanni Emani, who seems to have completely lost his mind,  much in the sam vein as Nanni Moretti’s recent Habemus Papam.

Here Servillo plays both roles.  As Oliveri he is staid, serious and controlled.. He’s even distant with his understanding wife Anna (Michela Cescon). Naturally excuses wear thin after a couple of days and his chief secretary, Andrea Bottini (Valerio Mastandrea), is forced to come up with some sort of cohesive reason for his absence. After conferring with his wife, he discovers that Oliveri’s twin, Giovanni Emani (freshly out of a mental home) should take his place in the cabinet, to keep up appearances.  But he warms to the role: and Servillo flips with ease into the smug-faced, uber-confident leader glibly inspiring his colleagues, promising voters a shedload of reforms and generally galvanising the opposition into action.  As Oliveri, meanwhile, he takes refuge in the home of his ex Danielle (a calmly seductive Valeria Bruni Tedschi) who is now a wife, mother and script-superviser.

But it’s as Emani that Servillo really shines and although Ando’s film lacks the vibrant audacity of Paolo Sorrentino’s Il Divo, Viva La Liberta is a seriously grown-up, beautifully-crafted affair that stands up to scrutiny of politically engaged audiences and also looks superb thanks to Maurizio Calvesi’s sleek visuals. Servillo manages the dual roles perfectly mastering the slick, glibness of Emani and the quiet dignity of Oliveri with aplomb.

SCREENING AT CINEMA MADE IN ITALY WITH RUNS FROM 5-9 MARCH 2014 CINE LUMIERE LONDON SW7

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The Human Factor (2013) La Variabile Umana

(La Variabile Umana)

Director  Bruno Oliviero

Cast: Silvio Orlando, Giuseppe Battiston, Alice Raffaelli, Sandra Ceccarelli

83min  Crime Drama   Italian with English subtitles

Bruno Oliviero’s moody crime drama focuses on a police inspector whose life goes off the rails after the death of his wife. Refusing to return to the cutting edge of life on the streets, dealing with criminals and engaging with ‘joe public’, he opts for a desk job to lick his wounds and contemplate his next move.  But his when his only daughter is implicated in the murder of a rich industrialist, he’s dragged back into the criminal underbelly of Milan to conduct his own investigation. Following a straightforward narrative structure, The Human Factor is fairly standard fare, although well-crafted and watchable thanks to an atmospheric original score by Michael Stevens (Mystic River/Grand Torino). Father and daughter share a troubled relationship and Silvio Orlando and newcomer Alice Raffaelli give committed performances in the lead roles. If you’re looking for a good-looking thriller then this certainly fits the bill .

SCREENING DURING CINEMA MADE IN ITALY 5-9 MARCH 2014

La Prima Neve (2013) Venezia 70

Director: Andrea Segre

Cinematographer: Luca Bigazzi

Cast: Giuseppe Battiston, Anita Caprioli, Roberto Citran, Jean-Christophe Folly, Matteo Marchel, Peter Mitterutzner

103min  Italian with subtitles   Drama

Andrea Segre’s poignantly-observed but non-judgemental  ‘New Wave’ mood piece is an immigration story set in the Italian Alpine region of Trentino Alto Adige.  Segre stumbles at first but gradually finds his feet in telling the story of Dani, a grieving refugee from Togo, who has lost his family and fetches up in a remote community that has also experienced the tragedy of loss. Peter Mitterrutzner plays a woodcutter and his daughter Elisa (a brilliant Anita Caprioli) who are bringing up Michele (Matteo Marchel), a young boy who has been emotionally scarred by the loss of his father.

The local woods provide therapy for the pair as they work out their frustrations and disappointments on the land and although Dani feels very much at odds with his new environment, Michele leads the way, being familiar with the local countryside.  Newcomer Matteo Marchel is particularly good in a believable performance that combines childish anger with an ability to manipulate his elders.

Well-known for his documentaries, Andrea Segre uses his considerable talents in capturing the quiet beauty of the mountain landscape with the help of lenser Luca Bigazzi (La Grande Bellezza, This Must Be the Place).  Very much a character in its own right, the isolated mountain region provides an effective backdrop to this compelling narrative with its themes of nature, childhood and loss. Immersive and visually stunning, La Prima Neve is a promising feature debut. MT

SCREENING DURING CINEMA MADE IN ITALY WHICH RUNS FROM 5-9 MARCH 2014 AT THE CINE LUMIERE LONDON SW7

This Must Be the Place (2013)

Director: Paolo Sorrentino | Writers: Paolo Sorrentino, Umberto Contarello | Cast: Sean Penn, Frances McDormand, Harry Dean Stanton, David Byrne (as himself) Judd Hirsch, Dorothy Shore, Eve Hewson | English Cert 15 113mins  Comedy Drama

Retired rock star Chayenne (Sean Penn) swaggers around his Irish mansion like a soulful red-lipped raven in doc martens.   Bored since retirement from the music world he plays the stock market and pilote in an empty swimming pool and loves his wife Jane.(Frances McDormand). But something’s not right.  And then his father dies.

Paolo Sorrentino’s latest feature starts in seaside Dublin then relocates to rural New York where a weird and wacky road movie begins.   His mission to revenge his father’s humiliation by a Nazi war commander ends up as a fascinating journey into himself.

Sorrentino’s style is playful and visually exciting as he whips  through middle America with an energetic slide show of holiday-style snap shots punctuated by the music of David Byrne who performs the title song live. Chayenne is a gentle and intuitive soul refusing to be phased by the intense characters he meets along the way on his quest to find clues: relative Mordechai Midler (Judd Hirsch); Harry Dean Stanton as Utah Business man Robert Plath and his childhood history mistress (Joyce Van Patten).  He offers up inconsequential aphorisms to an imaginary audience: “Have you noticed how nobody works anymore but everyone does something artistic?”

But the holocaust and retribution are just red herrings; what’s really going on here is an eccentric insight into the value of family and the price of success. With subtly-nuanced performances from Sean Penn and Frances McDormand and delicious turns from Harry Dean Stanton and Judd Hirsch, this thought-provoking muse on midlife will amuse and entertain.  “We go from an age when we say “that will be my life” to an age when we say “that’s life.”   Paolo Sorrentino keeps on getting better. Meredith Taylor©

Cinema Paradiso – coming soon….

 

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Italian Doc City 2013

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iTALIAN DOC CITY JULY 2013 is a weekly event at the ITALIAN CULTURAL INSTITUTE  in London, showing contemporary documentaries, followed by a Q&A with the directors and an ITALIAN APERITIVO.  The INSTITUTE also presents regular screenings throughout the year of Italian dramas, documentaries and films related to Italy.

 

The Interval (2012) I’Intervallo London Film Festival 2012


Director: Leonardo Di Costanzo

Producer: Carlo Cresto-Dina, Tiziana Soudani

Script: Di Costanzo, Maurizio Braucci, Mariangela Barbanente

Cast: Francesca Riso, Alessio Gallo, Carmine Paternoster,

Salvatore Ruocco, Antonio Buil, Jean Yves Morard

Drama                                         86mins                                                Italy

With all the fire and foreplay that goes into film festivals, one always turns up a little ragged, but always in the hope of finding some unexpected emerald in all the dirt and dust. L’Intervallo is one such experience.  Already having found a hard-won spot at the top-flight Toronto and Venice Festivals, this Neapolitan set drama unfolds both deliciously and naturally. The young actors are at that pivotal stage in life where they are at once seamlessly able combine a streetwise world-weariness with the delight of a child’s unfettered imagination lying just beneath the surface and this pretty-much two-hander plays upon this dynamic to the full and greatly to its credit.

 Shot entirely in Naples’s dilapidated former Leonardo Bianchi psychiatric hospital, the style and cinematography are excellent, shot as it is on 16mm by DoP Luca Bigazzi. Subsequent to extended rehearsals pre-shoot, Director and erstwhile documentary maker, Di Constanzo treads a sure-footed path with his cast. Time indeed well spent; we never disbelieve either their circumstance, nor the veracity of the protagonists and the wonderful, haunting location simply serves as a multi-faceted character in itself.

It’s amazing what can be done with so little when someone puts their mind to it. I hope and trust we will be hearing a lot more from both director and cast. AT

 

I Am Alive (Sono Viva) (2011)

Directed by Dino and Filippo Gentili

Cast: Massimo de Santis, Guido Caprino, Giorgio Colangeli, Emanuela Gallussi

Italy 2008  87mins

This is the first feature for these two Italian scriptwriter brothers is best described as a noir thriller.   The action takes place in a single night in a seventies villa near Rome.

The story is centred on Rocco (Massimo de Santis) a decent bloke and a jobbing builder who is desperately short of money.  When his business partner offers him a strange gig at a plush-looking villa he really can’t refuse although it’s nothing to do with building work.   For a large sum of money they are to guard the body of a young woman for one night. She is the daughter of a rich businessman.  Nice work when you can get it, but is it?  As Rocco waits patiently, the painful secrets of this girl’s life gradually emerge during a series of visits by friends and family.

This is a novel idea for a film and the storyline is well thought out and suspenseful with skilful use of lighting and camera-work to great effect.  The problem lies in the characterisation of the main actors.   Little is done to flesh out their parts and they appear as stereotype roles that rather than real people with real personalities.  As a result, we feel nothing for them or for their story particularly as they are all so unappealing characters in the first place.

Meredith Taylor ©

 

The Absence of Love | Michelangelo Antonioni Retro

Humans are intruders in the film world of Michelangelo Antonioni: they destroy the harmony of nature and society. Only in a few cases, when they act in solidarity with others, do they have a chance to become part of something whole.

Antonioni grew up in Ferrara in the Po Valley not far from the setting of his documentary short GENTE DEL PO (1943-47). Visconti was in the throws of filming Ossessione nearby. Despite its neo-realistic moorings, this is a personal statement: an effort to interpret the world via the moving image, rather than the other way round. Antonioni’s realism is not to show anything natural, humane or  dramatic, and particularly not anything like an idea, a thesis. Memory alone forms the model for his art. Memory in the form of images: photos, paintings, writing – they form the basis of his later work – an adventure, where the audience peels off the many layers, like off an onion: a painting, more than once painted over.

Antonioni was already 38 when he made his drama debut with Cronaca Du Un Amore (1950)  Superficially a film noir, in the mood of Visconti’s first opus Ossessione, this expressed the overriding existential angst, loneliness and alienation that would permeate his work. Paola and Guido grew up in the same neighbourhood in Ferrara, and want to do away with Paola’s rich husband Enrico Fontana. This is no crime of passion, because Paola and Guido are unable to love, or even imagine a life together –  but they both stand to profit from Fontana’s death. And the city of Milan is much more than a background: life here is a reflection of the state of mind of the conspirators: like a drug, the street life full of chaos, the neurotic atmosphere in the cafes. All this is unreal, jungle like: modern urbanity as hell, a central topic of Antonioni’s opus. And he observes his main protagonists often, when they are alone, not only in dramatic scenes. This way, he creates an elliptical structure, with two combustion points: action and echo. As Wenders said: “The strength of the American Cinema is a forward focus, European cinema paints ellipses”.

I VINTI (1952) is set in three different countries (Italy, France and the UK), and tells the stories of youthful perpetrators, who commit their crimes not out of material necessity, but just for fun. Even though the crimes are central, Antonioni is not much interested in the structure of the genre. The police work is secondary, as are the criminals themselves: Antonioni is fascinated with the daily life of his protagonists, the crimes are more and more forgotten, the investigations peter out – shades of L’ Avventura and Blow Up.

In LE AMICHE (1955) Antonioni finds the structure for his features, seemingly overpopulated with couples and friends – who are all busy, but play a secondary role to their environment, in this case Turin. Clelia who comes to Turin, to open a designer shop for clothes, falls in with four other young women, all of them much wealthier than she is. Their changing couplings with men end tragically. Set between Clelia’s arrival in Turin and her leaving for Rome, LE AMICHE is a kaleidoscope of human frailty, in which the audience is waiting for something to happen, some sort of story of boy meets girl story, but when something like it really happens, it is so secondary, so much overlaid by all the small details we have learned before, that we are as dislocated as the characters: we flounder because Antonioni does not tell a story with a beginning and an end (however much we pretend), but he tells us, that the world can exist without stories. Because there is so much more to see in the city of Turin, as there will be in Rome: Clelia is only the messenger, send out by Antonioni to be a traveller, not a story teller. In so far, she is his archetypal heroine.

Aldo, the central protagonist in IL GRIDO (1956/7) is the most untypical of all Antonioni heroes: he has been expelled from paradise, after his wife left him. His travels are romantic, because he does not let himself go, but sticks to his environment, travelling with his daughter in the Po delta. Whilst looking back on his village, towered over by the factory chimney, it is his past history, which forces him to leave. He becomes more and more marginalised: an outsider, even when living near the river in a derelict hut, he becomes the victim of the environment, of the background of landscape, seasons and the history of his live, spent all here. El Grido ends tragically, because Aldo (unlike most other Antonioni heroes) insists on keeping to his past: he does not want to cross the bridges, which are metaphorically there to be crossed. And Aldo’s titular outcry becomes a good-bye, even though he is back home. Il Grido is also Antonioni’s return to neo-realism, another contradiction, because he never really was part of it.

 

L’AVVENTURA (1960) has four main protagonists, three of them humans, but they are dwarfed by Lisca Bianca, a rocky island in the Mediterranean See. A group of wealthy Italians visit the island but when they want to leave, the main character Anna, is missing. Her boyfriend Sandro starts the search, but is soon more interested in Claudia, Anna’s best friend. When they all leave, without having found Anna, Claudia and Sandro are ready to start a new life together. Antonioni is often compared with Brecht. Like the German playwright, he refuses the dramatization of the narrative, because it is a remnant of the bourgeois theatre. Analogue to this comparison, L’Avventura is epic cinema. Brecht’s plays are often transparent, because the actors do not identify with their roles. The audience is not drawn into the play, but left outside to observe. The same goes for Antonioni, because, as Doniol-Valcroze wrote “to direct is to organise time and environment”. Antonioni genius is, that he first introduces time scale and environment, before he develops the narrative, via the actions and words of the protagonists. The breakers on the island, are the real music of the feature. The fragility of the emotions manifests it selves mainly in the way the protagonists talk –  but mostly they are on cross purpose. Yet the overall impression is not that of a modern film with sound, but of a very sad silent movie. At Cannes in 1960, the feature was mercilessly jeered at the premiere, but won the Grand Prix nevertheless – a rarity of the jury being ahead of the public.

 

In LA NOTTE (1960) we observe twenty-four hours in the live of the writer Giovanni and his wife Lydia. Whilst their friend dies in a hospital, they have to accept that their love has been dead for a while. Antonioni uses his characters like figures on a chess board. They are real, but at the same time ghosts. He does not tell their story, but follows their movements from one place to an another. There is no interconnection between them and their environment. They have lost the feeling for themselves, others and the outside. Their world is cold and threatening. Antonioni offers no irony or pity. He is the surgeon at the operating table, and his view is that of the camera: mostly skewed over-head shots. It is impossible to love La Notte. Whilst Antonioni is the first director of the modern era, he is also its most vicious critic.

 

When L’ECLISSE (1962) starts in the morning, it feels somehow like a continuation of La Notte. Before Vittoria (Vitti) ends her relationship with Francisco, she arranges a new Stilleben behind an empty picture frame. Next stop is Piero (Delon), a stockbroker. Vittoria is like Wenders’ Alice in the City: a child in a world of grown ups, repelled by their emotional coldness. Piero, very much a child of this world, is all calculations and superficiality, his friend’s remark “long live the façade” sums it all up. Long panorama shots show very little empathy with the eternal city, particularly the shots without much noise (music only sets in after the half-way point of the film), are representative of a ghost town populated by little worker ants, dwarfed by the huge buildings. The couple’s last rendezvous is symbolic for everything Antonioni ever wanted to show us: none of the two shows up, we watch the space where they were supposed to meet for several minutes. L’Eclisse will lead without much transition to Deserto Rosso, where Monica Vitti is Guiliana, wandering the streets, getting lost in a fog on a very unlovable planet.

 

DESERTO ROSSO (1963/4)

 

Guiliana: “I dreamt, I was laying in my bed, and the bed was moving. And when I looked, I saw that I was sinking in quicksand”. Guiliana’s world is threatening, everything is monstrous, the buildings of an industrious estate are unbelievable tall. The machines in the factories, the steel island in the sea, and the silhouettes of the people surrounding her are enclosing around her. We travel with her from this industrial quarter of Ravenna to Ferrara and Medicina. She is never still, only at the end she is standing still in front of a factory gate. In Deserto Rosso objects become blurred, they seem to be alive, making their way independently. The camera never leaves Guiliana during her nightmare. We see the world through Guiliana’s eyes: “It is, as if I had tears in my eyes”. In the room of his son she sees his toy robot, his eyes alight. She switches it off – but this the only activity she is allowed to master successfully. There is always fog between her and everybody else, even her lover Corrado is “on the other side”. And the fable, which she tells her son Vittorio, who cannot move, before he is suddenly running through the room, lacks anything metaphysical. Roland Barthes called Antonioni “the artist of the body, the opposite of others, who are the priests of art”. For once, Antonioni is one with the body of his protagonist: Guiliana’s body is not one of the many others, she will never get lost.

 

BLOW UP (1966)

 

A feature one should only see once – never again. Otherwise one will suffer the same as Thomas photos: Blow Up. Antonioni to Moravia: “All my films before are works of intuition, this one is a work of the head.” Everything is calculated, the incidents are planned, the story is driven by an elaborate design. The drama, which is anything but, is a drama perfectly executed. Herbie Hancock, the Yardbirds, the beat clubs, the marihuana parties, Big Ben and the sports car with radiophone, the Arabs and the nuns, the beatniks on the streets: everything is like swinging London in the 1960ies: a head idea. Blow Up is Antonioni’s most successful feature at the box office – and not one of his best.

 

 

 

 

ZABRISKIE POINT (1969/70)

 

Given Cart Blanche by MGM, Antonioni produced a feature in praise of the American Cinema. Zabriskie Point is the birth of the American Cinema from the valley of the Death. Antonioni has to repeat this dream for himself. But he had to invent his own Mount Rushmore, his Monument Valley, to make a film about this country in his own image. A car and a plane meet in the desert. The woman driver and the pilot recognise each other immediately. The copulation in the sand is metaphor for the simultainacy of the act, when longing and fulfilment, greed and satisfaction are superimposed. Then the unbelievable total destruction: the end of civilisation; Antonioni synchronises both events, a miracle of topography and choreography. This is Antonioni’s dream: the birth of a poem.

 

Both, the TV feature MISTERO Di OBERWLAD (1979) nor IDENTIFICAZIONE DI UNA DONNA (1982) have in any way added something to Antonioni’s masterful oeuvre. The same can be said of his work after he suffered a massive stroke in 1985, leaving him without speech partly paralysation: BEYOND THE CLOUDS (1995), a collaboration with Wim Wenders, and Antonioni’s segment of EROS (2004). AS

A RETROSPECTIVE TAKING PLACE AT  THE BFI EARLY IN 2019

 

 

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