Posts Tagged ‘Italian Arthouse’

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

           

Loro (2018) ****

Dir: Paolo Sorrentino | Paolo Sorrentino, Umberto Contarello | Cast: Toni Servillo, Elena Sofia Ricci, Riccardo Scamarcio, Kasia Smutniak, Euridice Axen, Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Roberto De Francesco, Dario Cantarelli, Anna Bonaiuto, Alice Pagani, Mattia Sbragia | DoP: Luca Bigazzi |Biopic Drama 151′ 

Director Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) exposes the hedonistic emptiness of Italian mainstream culture in this entertaining and sumptuously scenic sensual satire on Silvio Berlusconi. 

And once again Toni Servillo is the star turn and spot on as the man himself. Bringing his colossal charisma and a chink of humanity to this ebullient portrait of a leader who is foremost a salesman. It’s a film about the much-devalued power of seduction. We first meet Silvio after his government has been blown out in the elections and he needs to win back his prime position. This will be achieved by his superlative seduction technique and prepares to persuade six senators to join his party, so he can to be top dog again: “In love, you betray. In politics, you change your mind.” And this proves to be a piece of cake.

The international version conflates the director’s original two-parter into a parade of preternatural vulgarity. But there’s something compelling about the way it all plays out that is gripping until the finale. This is no dry old political pot-boiler, but an all-singing all-dancing affair where the flamboyant, flirtatious four times president (and now leader of Forza Italia) loves to party at all times. And Sorrentino knows that Italian audiences love to party too. And so the thrust of this biopic is party-time in Italy as never before (and never mind the debut-ridden economy or the Mafia): bare-breasted babes and buff boys gyrate in vertiginous coastal villa: Sardinia is seen at its most glamorous and recherché. Meanwhile, Berlusconi, when not partying or indulging in his famous Bunga-bunga games, likes most Italians, loves to seduce. And there’s an extraordinary scene where he does just that – and nobody even takes their clothes off.

Toni Servillo, has already tucked caricatures of Giulio Andreotti (Il Divo), and a compulsive gambler Gorbaciof under his belt. As ‘Berlusco’ his disingenuous perma-smile is a legend in its own lunchtime. Meanwhile his wife Veronica Lario (Elena Sofia Ricci) looks on disdainfully as cool and calming as pistachio ice-cream. Luca Bigazzi’s luscious cinematography and Stefania Cella’s spectacular interiors compliment Carlo Poggioli fabulous costume design.

The condensed cut brings a better clarity to the prostitution ring run by Sergio Morra (Riccardo Scamarcio)and his wife Tamara (Euridice Axen) and Berlusconi’s subtle distancing from his boring long term marriage to the supercilious Veronica. But it also brings into focus a narrative whose slackness contrasts sharply with the endless pertness of the bottoms and boobs on show. But this surfeit of uproarious partying eventually feels sad and vacuous also emphasising  the delusional qualities of Berlusconi’s own ego, showing him to be a narcissist and showman who deep need to be loved and admired is eventually laid bare by the fully dressed object of his ongoing affections (Alice Pagani).

We are fully aware that modern European mainstream culture is a vision of x-factor trashy tawdriness but at least in Italy there’s a certain style and enjoyment to the gaudiness. And for the most part Sorrentino’s tongue is firmly in his cheek as he showcases the endless marketing of sex as the best way to achieve the ends on the slippery pole to riches and success. There is no suggestion in any way that these girls don’t know what they are doing. They’re actually empowered by their looks and that sexiness is propulsive in a world where youth, fitness and beauty is the key to success. And it’s still the way the world goes round, whatever anyone else might suggest, a machiavellian mind and a killer instinct is the icing on the cake. Sorrentino and Umberto Contarello’s script still points out that it’s not what you know, but who you know, and laugh in the face of Veronica’s claim that her long term-husband is “pathetic”. And we do too. However depressing that may be.

Sorrentino brings us firmly back to reality with sequences showing the earthquake that destroyed the city of L’Aquila where a statue of Christ is solemnly lifted to safety from a ruined church. This is clearly a link to the real ‘them’ and seems an appropriate way to close this bacchanalian feast. MT

LORO IS OUT ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 19 APRIL 2019

 

Red Earth, White Snow (2019) *** Bergamo Film Meeting 2019

Dir.: Christine Moderbacher; Documentary with Joseph Moderbacher, Alois Doppel, Sabinus; Austria 2017, 71 min.

Christine Moderbacher serves as her own DoP in this insightful debut feature that explores her change of attitude towards the Christian missionaries at work in the Eastern Nigerian village of Nkwumeatu.

Red Earth, White Snow (Rote Erde Weisser Schnee) is very much as journey into the past. Civil war was raging when she first went to Nigeria during the late Sixties. And things have clearly moved on. But Moderbacher has changed too and is longer that God-fearing little girls she used to be. Back in the village with her father Joseph, and his Catholic helpers, the intention is to help with the harvest. But she is faced with nagging  questions about herself and the role of the Austrian Catholics, who still see themselves as saviours, sent by God.  

Joseph Moderbacher might be ageing, but he he still has the drive and optimism of he had during the Civil War when Biafra split from Nigeria for a time. But all is not well: during this time in the adopted village of his Catholic crew he really starts to feel his limitations. The tractor they need for the harvest, has broken down, and Joseph and his college Alois are unable to get it going again. Moderbacher senior is, however, the star of the show: the villagers and Sabinus, the priest, pay homage to him. Daughter Christine compares past and present and nails down the common factor between Blacks and Whites: under the guidance of a Male God, Nigerian and Austrian men cooperate to repress females, making them into second class citizens. White women are patronized, black women are treated like slaves. Catholic ideology helps to keep the status quo. The clips from the Civil War are still traumatic: so much violence, and the helplessness of the ‘civilised’ nations.

The director questions past and present: the role of a Christian ideology, which so clearly segregates race and sex now feels outdated in its ability to promote change and still offer hope and salvation. Male chauvinism is still the dominating factor. And the need to re-examine the mythos of Christian volunteer work, when Moderbacher sen. and his friends are skiing in the Austrian mountains, where they  are “so near to God”.

There are structural questions, but Moderbacher’s approach helps to lift the hypocritical cover from the Good Samaritans, who are celebrating not equality but an exercise in superiority. A sharp irony permeates the whole feature, deconstructing and re-assessing the real motivations behind do-gooders or all kinds.

BERGAMO INTERNATIONAL FILM MEETING | 9-17 MARCH 2019 | CLOSE-UP STRAND

      

Pier Paolo Pasolini: New Restorations at Bergamo Film Meeting 2019

The cinema of Pier Paolo Pasolini is one of the highlights of this year’s Bergamo Film Meeting taking place from 9 until 17 March 2019 in the ancient city just north of Milan in Lombardia.

PASOLINI AND THE ARABIAN NIGHTS, will consist of an exhibition of the auteur’s photos and the screening of three recently restored films: the delicately erotic Il fiore delle Mille e una notte (Arabian Nights (1974), and his two entographical documentaries: Le mura di Sana’a (The Walls of Sana’a (1971) and Appunti per un film sull’India (Notes for a film about India (1968).

In 1961 Pasolini took a trip to India with Elsa Morante and the writer Alberto Moravia (Il Conformista). Pasolini’s idea was to compare the stark reality of  the appalling poverty they encountered, with the myths and legends of the vast and exotic continent with its multi-faceted cultures. The focus here is Bombay and the extreme poverty of its environs. Sixty years later, the constrast betweet rich and poor appears even more polarised.

In 1971, while filming of The Decameron, Pasolini made this 13 minute documentary serving as an impassioned plea to UNESCO to preserve Yemen’s capital and its ancient construction. The result was this short film The Walls of Sana’a.

BERGAMO FILM MEETING | 9-17 MARCH 2019

 

 

Festival Focus: Bergamo Film Meeting 2019 | 9-17 March 2019

Bergamo Film Meeting unveils its 37th edition from March 9 – 17, 2019 in the mountain side venue just north of Milan in the Italian Dolomites. Bergamasco is one of Italy’s most intriguing dialects and the town boasts a wealth of gourmet restaurants and bars where you can savour saffron-flavoured risottos and a legendary pancetta laced pasta dish called casonelli alla bergamasca in a rich butter sauce accompanied by the local wines, including the famous red Moscato di Scanzo. Local handmade ice creams are based on regional ingredients, with stracciatella a speciality.

To open this year’s festival there will be a live performance of Fritz Lang’s  METROPOLIS on Friday 8th March, 20.30, Ex Chiesa di Sant’Agostino – P.le Sant’Agostino, Bergamo.

During the nine screening days and more than 180 films among feature films including world premieres, docs and short-films

COMPETITION EXHIBITION

Dedicated to new auteurs, the International competition will premiere 7 feature films, which will compete for the Bergamo Film Meeting Award (the audience will grant 5,000 euros to the best three films) and, from this year, for the Best Director Award (the International Jury will grant 2,000 euros to the best director). The competition line-up includes three debut features: British director Jamie Jones’ Obey; Holy Boom, which won an award at Zaragoza festival for Greek filmmaker Maria Lafi; Hadrian Marcu’s A Decent Man and Balkan feature Raindrops, Borders from Nikola Mijovic. Also in competition are two winners from last year’s San Sebastian festival: Benjamin Naishtat’s gripping Argentinian thriller RojoThe Snatch Thief from Agustin Toscano. Richard Billingham’s multi-awarded biopic Ray & Liz, 

CLOSE UP

Dedicated to documentary cinema. Two awards will be assigned: the Best Documentary CGIL Bergamo – Close Up Section (the audience will grant 2,000 euros) and the CGIL Jury Prize (the CGIL Bergamo trade union delegates will grant 1,000 euros).

EUROPE, NOW!

The complete works of two filmmakers who, in the last few years, have portrayed Europe’s varied  aspects through a uniquely personal vision: the Norwegian BENT HAMER (10001 Grams) and the Spanish director ALBERTO RODRÍGUEZ (Marshland) along with his collaborator RAFAEL COBOS, will be guests of the Festival from March 13 to 16.

RETROSPECTIVES 

JEAN-PIERRE LÉAUD. The renowned actor will be a guest of the Festival to mark this tribute to his film canon. The retro includes I Hired A Contract Killer; La Chinoise; L’amour en Fuite, La nuit americaine, Le depart, Les quatre cent coups, Masculin et Feminin, Porcile, La mort de Louis XIV, La mama et le putain. 

Also joining the celebration will be Macedonian director and cinematographer Karpo Godino as part of THE YUGOSLAVIAN BLACK WAVE: Retro of his work.

Polish director, animator, painter, cartoonist and performer MARIUSZ WILCZYŃSKI will also join to take part in the festival.

TRIBUTE to PETER MULLAN

PASOLINI AND THE ARABIAN NIGHTS, special event consisting of a photo exhibition, a panel discussion and the screening of three restored films: Il fiore delle Mille e una notte (Arabian Nights, 1974), Le mura di Sana’a (The Walls of Sana’a, 1971) and Appunti per un film sull’India (Notes for a film about India, 1968)

https://www.bergamofilmmeeting.it/

 

Cinema Made in Italy 2019 |

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY is back in London to kick off the Spring with the latest crop of Italian films. The 9th edition takes place at Cine Lumiere and is supported by Istituto Luce Cinecitta and the Italian Cultural Institute.

LORO ****

Director: Paolo Sorrentino Cast: Toni Servillo, Elena Sofia Ricci, Riccardo Scamarcio, Kasia Smutniak, Euridice Axen, Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Roberto De Francesco, Dario Cantarelli, Anna Bonaiuto | 150′

Paolo Sorrentino’s savage political satire is a powerful portrait of controversial Italian public figure Silvio Berlusconi and his inner circle. | UK release date: 19 April 2019

EUFORIA ***

Director: Valeria Golino | Cast: Riccardo Scamarcio, Valerio Mastandrea, Isabella Ferrari, Valentina Cervi, Jasmine Trinca, Francesco Borgese, Francesco Pellegrino, Andrea Germani, Marzia Ubaldi | 120′

Valeria Golino’s second film as a director explores brotherly love through two very different siblings. It stars her on/off partner Riccardo Scamarcio as one of two brothers brought together through adversity when one falls dangerously ill. Matteo is a man of means in central Rome, Ettore is a primary teacher in their provincial hometown. Beautifully photographed in the eternal city, Euforia ultimate predictability is rescued by the strength of its dynamic performances.

RICORDI? ***

Director: Valerio Mieli | Cast: Luca Marinelli, Linda Caridi, Giovanni Anzaldo, Camilla Diana, Anna Manuelli, Eliana Bosi, David Brandon, Benedetta Cimatti, Andrea Pennacchi, 106′

After success with her debut Ten Winters this touching love story explores the ups and downs of this emotional journey for two young lovers Luca Marinelli and Linda Caridi.

LUCIA’S GRACE (Troppa Grazia) ***

Director: Gianni Zanasi | Cast: Alba Rohrwacher, Elio Germano, Hadas Yaron, Giuseppe Battiston, Carlotta Natoli, Thomas Trabacchi, Daniele De Angelis, Rosa Vannucci, Elisa Di Eusanio, Davide Strava | 110′ 

Alba Rohrwacher blazes through this upbeat ecumenical drama that sees single working mother Lucia juggling her life between motherhood, an emotionally exhausting romance, and her work as a land surveyor. When she discovers that an ambitious new building project will have devastating effects on the locale, she debates whether to challenge the project when up pops a mysterious woman, claiming to be the Madonna and offering to support Lucia in flagging up her concerns, and suggesting the construction of a church as an alternative. This whimsical affair offers cheap laughs as an alternative to trusting its strong psychological elements, but Vladan Radovic’s lively camerawork and a strong cast carry it through in the end.   

THE GUEST (L’Ospite) ****

Director: Duccio Chiarini | Cast: Daniele Parisi, Silvia D’Amico, Anna Bellato, Federica Victoria Caiozzo aka Thony, Milvia Marigliano, Daniele Natali, Guglielmo Favilli : 96′

Sofa-surfing is the theme of this coming of age drama about the ups and downs of modern day love and commitment phobia. Guido (Daniele Parisi) is a 38-year-old academic who is writing a pot-boiler on Italo Calvino. But his girlfriend girlfriend (Silvia D’Amico) is having none of it, and puts an end to their flagging relationship forcing him to out of his cosy existence to face some uncomfortable truths through the experiences of lodging with his friends and family. Insightful and enjoyable  .

THE MAN WHO BOUGHT THE MOON ( L’Uomo che compró la Luna) ***

Director: Paolo Zucca |Cast: Jacopo Cullin, Stefano Fresi, Francesco Pannofino, Benito Urgu, Lazar Ristovski, Angela Molina |  103′

This off the wall spy-themed buddy movie from Sardinia stars Jacopo Cullin as a secret agent tasked with investigating a claim that one of his compatriots has bought the Moon as a gift for his girlfriend. Teaming up with his fellow Sardinian Badore (Benito Ugo) the pair set off to infiltrate the Sardinian community and investigate the ludicrous idea in a surefire but engagingly silly caper.

WHEREVER YOU ARE (Ovunque Proteggemi) ***

Director: Bonifacio Angius |Cast: Alessandro Gazale, Francesca Niedda, Antonio Angius, Anna Ferruzzo, Gavino Ruda, Mario Olivieri | 94′

Bonifacio Angius won the Junior Jury Award at Locarno for Perfidia (2014) and returns with this impressively perceptive drama about a middle-aged ‘mammalone’ with a drinking problem. Burning a hole in his mother’s pocket with his failed singing career, he has a mental breakdown and is taken to hospital, where he meets Francesca (Francesca Niedda), a young mother with drug issues. The two fall madly in love and set off on an eventful odyssey to redeem each other by reclaiming Francesca’s daughter who has been taken in to care. 

NOTTI MAGICHE ****

Director: Paolo Virzì |Cast: Mauro Lamantia, Giovanni Toscano, Irene Vetere, Giancarlo Giannini, Eugenio Marinelli, Marina Rocco, Paolo Sassanelli, Roberto Herlitzka, Regina Orioli, Andrea Roncato, Giulio Scarpati, Simona Marchini, Annalisa Arena, Ornella Muti, Jalil Lespert, Paolo Bonacelli | 125 ‘minutes

Ornella Muti makes a welcome return in Paolo Virzi’s playfully affectionate black comedy that explores the mysterious drowning of a film producer in the River Tiber. The main suspects are three young aspiring scriptwriters, and their outlandishly spirited alibis form the basis of an entertaining exploration that takes us back to the golden years of Italian cinema and a moving and magical trip through the backstreet of Rome

THE CONFORMIST (Il Conformista) *****

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci | Cast: Jean-Louis Tritignant, Stefania Sandrelli, Gastone Moschin, Enzo Tarascio, Fosco Giachetti, José Quaglio, Yvonne Sanson | 118′

A wonderful chance to see this classic cult thriller adapted from a novel by Alberto Moravia. Set in 1938, it tells the story of an aristocratic would-be fascist who is sent to Paris to murder his former, anti-fascist philosophy tutor. Jean-Louis Tritignant is supremely sinister in the role of Marcello Clerici, whose demeanour is an eternal reminder of the banality of evil. It was an instant hit when it was released in 1970, and some say it is one of the most poetic and influential films ever made, beloved by film-makers the world over.

WE’LL BE YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL (Saremo Giovani e Bellissimi) ***

Director: Letizia Lamartire | 92 minutes)

In the early 1990s, 18-year-old Isabella (Barbora Bobulova) was a pop star. Two decades later she’s still on the road singing the same old songs with her son Bruno (Piavani) on guitar. But nothing can last for ever and soon the ties that bind will also unravel in this bittersweet and often poignantly moving musical love story.

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY | LONDON 2019 | 26 FEBRUARY – 3 MARCH

 

Systeme K (2019) **** Berlinale 2019

Dir/Wri/DoP: Renaud Barret | Doc | French, 94 min

The ‘Satan of Light’ is up to his tricks in the dusty streets of Kinshasa. Kids run away at the sight of horned head and ghastly grimace. 

Award-winning documentarian Renaud Barret (Victoire Terminus) records his encounters with Kinshasa’s street artists who entertain, shock and delight passers by with their quirky brand of street art using anything they can lay their hands on. This quirky and compelling film explores the very nature of creativity and ponders: Where does art begin? And where does it end?”

Known as Freddy, Béni, Kongo Astronaute, Strombo, Majesktik, Kokoko! and Geraldine among others, these people are creating sculptures, paintings, performances and installations in public spaces. Their work is not dissimilar to that found in the Tate or Saatchi galleries of London or MOMA, New York. They have yet to capture the attention of the international art world, but its only a matter of time. Their resourcefulness and passion to create is staggering to behold and reflects an extraordinary will to survive and a restless exuberance that is visually arresting and commendable, one of them explains: “living in Kinshasa is a performance in itself”

Materials include disused bullet cases, plastic waste, electronic scrap, smoke, monkey skulls, wax, blood, machetes and even their own bodies. This is not art for art’s sake but ground-breaking, urgent and politically satirical. Their themes are relevant, important and contemporary: exploitation, the privatisation of water, personal and national trauma and also, as a constant, the fascinating history of the Congo. 

Mastering his hand-held camera to brilliant effect in a stylish tour de force Barret shows us Kinshasa, a poverty-stricken metropolis where art is an unaffordable luxury and the location of a passionate and vibrant subculture claiming the city as its stage.

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 

Flesh Out (2019) *** Berlinale 2019

Dir.: Michela Occhipinti; Cast: Verida Deiche, Amal Oumar, Aichetou Najim, Sidi Chiglay; Italy/France 2018; 94 min

Governments in the Western world are desperately urging people to lose weight. Not so in Africa. In her second feature Italian filmmaker Michela Occhipinti (Letters from the Desert) travels to  Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott where it turns out that Islam is at the root of the situation. And once – as in FGM – the matriarchs are in control. Occhipinti uses a non-professional cast to explores the conflict between Verida and a repressive tradition with lyric poeticism.

Young beautician Verida (Deiche) is expected to gain a great deal of weight so she will meet the requirements of her arranged marriage to Amal. Verida’s husband-to-be Amal (Oumar), is well off and drives a Mercedes, the usual car in North Africa. Her best friend, Aichetou (Najim) dreams of going to Cairo, and is proud of her rudimentary English, which includes phrases such as ‘good-bye’ and ‘fuck-off’. Both young women are clearly enjoying their life in the 21st century, and Verida is readying .Bonjour Tristesse’. But three months before the wedding, Verida’s mother Sidi (Chiglay) makes her gain weight, as is customary in the region. The intention is to gain a more imposing stature, and lend gravitas to their new family. Verida is totally against the idea and starts taking pills to counteract the gain – but to no avail. She finally challenges her mother, kicking over a bowl of food. Her mother reacts by taking her off into the desert, where she is force fed a mixture of milk and cereal, the same method for producing foie gras. When Verida spews out the brew, the women force her to eat her own vomit, and Verida’s mother condones their actions. After arguing with Amal, she decides to take charge of her life.

Flesh Out has a languid pace, Occhipinti takes her time introducing the main protagonists. Verida and Aichetou are very close, they daydream and have pillow fights, and although work is the centre of their life, but the family elders think differently, the men’s wishes enforced by the senior women in their community. A worthwhile and well-crafted experience, enlivened by DoP Daria d’Antonio fabulous desert scenes. AS

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

Bangla (2019) *** Rotterdam Film Festival 2019

Dir: Phaim Bhuiyan | Drama | Italy | 90′

Phaim Bhuiyan’s endearing romcom Bangla has already been likened to last year’s standout hit The Big Sick, and it’s easy to see why. Strangely I actually preferred Bangla for its unassumingand disarming central character. And although the film lacks the star power of The Big Sick, this tale of young Bengali Muslim Phaim – who also directs from a script based on his experiences as a second-generation Italian, about falling for a feisty young Italian girl – is watchable and even quite funny, despite the rather clunky awkwardness of the twenty-something himself.

Directing-wise Phaim clearly has a lot to learn but he makes for a decent lovelorn ingenue alongside  the spunky Asia (a convincing turn from Carlotta Antonelli) who is instantly charmed by his cool reticence – which actually masks his desperate desire to get closer and more personal. He describes himself at one point as: “something in between, like a cappuccino – 50% Bengali, 50% Italian and 100% a Torpignattara guy”, referring to a melting pot of different nationalities in that corner of the Italian capital, and he clearly loves his home town and doesn’t want to move to London when his parents need to up stakes and join a new family business.  .

But his observations and nouse is spot-on for a cool Roman dude. And we certainly feel for him when he struggles to explain his feelings of lust and love for this totally unsuitable and forbidden playmate in the shape of Asia. Clearly, Phaim is caught between his own instincts and his those of his   traditional parents. The scenes showing his love hate relationship with his sister work particularly well and there’s a vulnerability and truth to their sibling rivalry that certainly rings true. There are also some nods to rampant racial prejudice that are sadly all too familiar. By no means perfect but a promising first effort, Bhuiyan takes his own story and develops it with this decent debut that has an honesty to it and some really funny lines. Let’s hope his next project builds on his promising start with with Bangla. MT

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019

Camorra (2018) ***

Dir; Francesco Patierno | Doc | Italy 70’

Francesco Patierno offers a pragmatic but mournful insight into the criminal identity of his birthplace Naples in this historical and socio-anthropological portrait of the capital of Campania in Southern Italy.

The phrase “see Naples and die” takes on a different meaning here from the one coined during the city’s Golden Age when it was the Bourbon capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Patierno seeks to show how the city’s criminal underbelly dealt with pernicious result of unemployment and poverty through powerful self-regulation that confined crime to the working classes.

Camorra is the result of months of research among the treasures of Rai Teche and the Riccardo Carbone archive. What emerges is a surprising trove of unseen news footage and period films from the 1960s to the 1990s, enlivened by a visceral score from local musician Meg.

The Camorra ‘phenomenon’ was born from a culture of subordination. Many post-war orphaned children found in it a structure to protect them from complete poverty and homelessness. They became street workers who learnt to sell cigarettes arriving as contraband from Morocco and further afield, smuggled in by the criminal underworld. Things changed with the advent of warlord Rafaele Cutolo, who unified the activity into a single large military and economic organization providing its members with an identity of social and territorial redemption. 

The culmination of Cutolo’s power coincides with one of the darkest events in the history of the Republic, when the Christian Democrat Ciro Cirillo was kidnapped by the Red Brigades and returned after a massive family ransom was paid. Cutolo negotiated with the terrorists for the release of the politician and the State remained in his debt.

Patierno adopts a different approach to the usual one involving the violence and blood-letting for which the organisation is known. His narrative searches for a meaning and an explanation for the Camorra’s existence, tracing its history and exploring the background of its protagonists, to offer a short but engaging watch. By understanding the roots of the organisation and its methods, positive change can hopefully be brought about.MT

NOW SHOWING AT BERTHADOCHOUSE and selected arthouse venues | VENICE FESTIVAL 2018

Bertolucci on Bertolucci (2013) Tribute

Dir.: Luca Guadagnino, Walter Fasano

Italy 2013, 105 min  Documentary

This is much more than the sum of over 300 hours of documented interviews with Bernardo Bertolucci, it is an essay on the art of film making itself; and to a certain degree, the history of European filmmaking since the early sixties.

Bertolucci represented much more than Italian cinema. His close links with the French Nouvelle Vague are well-documented not only by his ruptured friendship with Jean-Luc Godard, but his insistence that the art of film making should be discussed in French, the birthplace of the Seventh Art. Needless to say, his French is impeccable; he could pass for a native. Whilst the filmography is handled more or less chronologically, the interviews themselves jump from topic to topic, and we can listen to Bertoluccci’s often changing views on his work, politics and personal life.

To start with, his relationship with his father Attilio was the inspiration for the young Bernardo: we see a scene from a prize-giving for poetry: Attilio is hiding from the camera, not wanting to steal the limelight from his young son. Later on his father says “you are a clever man, you have killed me over and over again, but only on film, so you stayed out of prison”. His relationship with his mother is not mentioned in length, but the discussion about La Luna answers these questions. Early influences were Rossellini and Fellini; after seeing the latter’s La Dolce Vita, BB decided to convert from poetry to film- making. Seeing Fellini’s remarkable skill: the Via Veneto was a boring street where nothing happened until the excitement of Fellini’s film transformed the banal into something magical – Bertolucci was inspired.

The transformation from the bourgeois poet to the Marxist revolutionary is documented by Before the Revolution and BB’s friendship with Pier Paolo Pasolini, whom he met as a friend of his father. (He was assistant to Pasolini for Accatone). Bertolucci is quiet cagey about Maria Schneider’s accusation regarding Last Tango in Paris, but he sees himself more of a victim than a wrong-doer. The scandal seems to have lingered on in Italy. Twenty years later a relative of Giuseppe Verdi tried to kill BB in his car, when the director was filming outside Verdi’s villa, shouting: “You have no right to be here, you are a Marxist pornographer”.

Bernardo Bertolucci at the Cannes Movie Stars Lounge 2012

His masterpiece 1900 was for him also “a poem about the countryside where I grew up”, even though he and others thought at the time that “they had sold the ruling class the rope with which they would hang them”; a reference to  the exorbitant cost for an openly Marxist film financed by a major Hollywood studio. Undoubtedly, Bertolucci has had a full and fascinating innings thus far: Guadagnino almost bites off more than here can chew here: the meeting with the Dalai Lama, his three operations on a slipped disc, which ended with him being unable to use his legs any more, the long creative pause between Dreamers (2003) and his last film Me and You (2012), which he shot from the wheelchair.

Apart from the lack of images showing the director at work, our enjoyment and engagement with the film is somewhat reduced by the interviews being nearly all in French and Italian, making the not so polyglot viewer focus on the subtitles rather than on the images of this extraordinary talent. Andre  Simonoviesz

BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI 1941-2018

 

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

 

 

      

Suspiria (2018) ** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Luca Guadagnino, Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Cloe Grace Moretz, Lutz Ebersdorf; USA/Italy 2018, 152 min.

Luca Guadagnino follows his much praised Call Me By Your Name with a rather confused and overloaded vision of Dario Argento’s horror classic, using the original script by Argento and Daria Nicoldi, re-written by David Kajganich (A Bigger Splash). 

Unfortunately the Kajganich has added new material, setting the narrative in Berlin at the height of the Baader Meinhof crisis. A running time of 152 minutes also tests the audience severely.

In the dank Autumn of 1977, Susie Bannian (Johnson) arrives from Ohio at the famous Dance School TANZ, near the Wall in West Berlin. There is an unsettling atmosphere at the academy, the two leading teachers Blanc (a luminously sinuous Swinton) and Markos are fighting for supremacy, the conflict a battle of life and death. Susie soon becomes the lead dancer, relegating Patricia (Moretz) and Sara (Goth) to the lower echelons of the troupe.

When dancers start to disappear, the sinister infighting turns more and more bloody. Enter Dr. Joseph Klemperer (Ebersdorf), a relict from WWII, who is still searching for his Jewish wife sent to the Concentration Camp Teresienstadt, where she was killed. The psychiatrist feels deep guilt over her death. As the nastiness at the Academy unfurls, a Witches’ Coven is uncovered and Klemperer’s role becomes more and more murky – in tune with this muddled affair. 

DoP Sayonbhu Mukdeeprom creates magnificently macabre images, but in the long run this is not enough to save Susperia from emerging an awkward mixture of two films, both competing for our attention. The acting is also mixed, with Swinton being head and shoulders above the rest (quite literally) in achieving visionary eminence. In the end the German history lesson loses out to the horror strand, but the brake comes too late. A needless remake where less would have been so much more. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 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

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

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

 

 

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 

 

 

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

Women on Top | 2017

Hollywood may still be struggling with female representation as 2018 gets underway, but Europe has seen tremendous successes in the world of indie film where talented women of all ages are winning accolades in every sphere of the film industry, bringing their unique vision and intuition to a party that has continued to rock throughout the past year. Admittedly, there have been some really fabulous female roles recently – probably more so than for male actors. But on the other side of the camera, women have also created some thumping dramas; robust documentaries and bracingly refreshing genre outings: Lucrecia Martel’s mesmerising Argentinian historical fantasy ZAMA (LFF/left) and Julia Ducournau’s Belgo-French horror drama RAW (below/right) have been amongst the most outstanding features in recent memory. All these films provide great insight into the challenges women continue to face, both personally and in society as a whole, and do so without resorting to worthiness or sentimentality. So as we go forward into another year, here’s a flavour of what’s been happening in 2017.

It all started at SUNDANCE in January where documentarian Pascale Lamche’s engrossing film about Winnie Mandela, WINNIE, won Best World Doc and Maggie Betts was awarded a directing prize for her debut feature NOVITIATE, about a nun struggling to take and keep her vows in 1960s Rome. Eliza Hitman also bagged the coveted directing award for her gay-themed indie drama BEACH RATS, that looks at addiction from a young boy’s perspective.

Meanwhile, back in Europe, BERLIN‘s Golden Bear went to Hungarian filmmaker Ildiko Enyedi (right) for her thoughtful and inventive exploration of adult loneliness and alienation BODY AND SOUL. Agnieska Holland won a Silver Bear for her green eco feature SPOOR, and Catalan newcomer Carla Simón went home with a prize for her feature debut SUMMER 1993 tackling the more surprising aspects of life for an orphaned child who goes to live with her cousins. CANNES 2017, the festival’s 70th celebration, also proved to be another strong year for female talent. Claire Simon’s first comedy – looking at love in later life – LET THE SUNSHINE IN was well-received and provided a playful role for Juliette Binoche, which she performed with gusto. Agnès Varda’s entertaining travel piece FACES PLACES took us all round France and finally showed Jean-Luc Godard’s true colours, winning awards at TIFF and Cannes. Newcomers were awarded in the shape of Léa Mysius whose AVA won the SACD prize for its tender exploration of oncoming blindness, and Léonor Séraille whose touching drama about the after-effects of romantic abandonment MONTPARNASSE RENDEZVOUS won the Caméra D’Or.

On the blockbuster front, it’s worth mentioning that Patty Jenkins’ critically acclaimed WONDERWOMAN has so far enjoyed an international box office of around $821.74 million, giving Gal Godot’s Amazon warrior-princess the crown as the highest-grossing superheroine origin film of all time.

The Doyenne of French contemporary cinema Isabelle Huppert won Best Actress in LOCARNO 2017 for her performance as a woman who morphs from a meek soul to a force to be reckoned with when she is struck by lightening, in Serge Bozon’s dark comedy MADAME HYDE. Huppert has been winning accolades since the 1970s but she still has to challenge Hollywood’s Ann Doran (1911-2000) on film credits (374) – but there is plenty of time!). Meanwhile, Nastassja Kinski was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Honour for her extensive and eclectic contribution to World cinema (Paris,Texas, Inland Empire, Cat People and Tess to name a few).

With a Jury headed by Annette Bening, VENICE again showed women in a strong light. Away from the Hollywood-fraught main competition, this year’s Orizzonti Award was awarded to 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. And Sara Forestier’s Venice Days winning debut M showed how a stuttering girl and her illiterate boyfriend help each other overcome adversity. Charlotte Rampling won the prize for Best Actress for her portrait of strength in the face of her husbands’ imprisonment in Andrea Pallaoro’s HANNAH. 

At last but not least, Hong Kong director Vivianne Qu (left/LFF) was awarded the Fei Mei prize at PINGYAO’s inaugural CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON film festival and the Film Festival of India’s Silver Peacock  for her delicately charming feature ANGELS WEAR WHITE that deftly raises the harrowing plight of women facing sexual abuse in the mainland. It seems that this is a hot potato the superpowers of China and US still have in common. But on a positive note, LADYBIRD Greta Gerwig’s first film as a writer and director, has been sweeping the boards critically all over the US and is the buzzworthy comedy drama of 2018 (coming in February). So that’s something else to look forward to. MT

CATE BLANCHETT WILL HEAD THE JURY AT 71st CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 8-19 MAY 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

Lasciati Andare | Let Yourself Go (2017) | UK Jewish Film Festival 2017

Dir/Writer: Francesco Amato | Cat: Toni Servillo, Veronica Echegui, Valentina Carnelutti | Comedy | Italy |

A mildly amusing comedy that looks encouraging then rapidly goes downhill with Toni Servillo playing a sophisticated psychoanalyst who runs into problems due to his unavoidable sedentary lifestyle on the couch. Set in the upmarket surroundings of some plush Italian neighbourhood, Let Yourself Go starts brilliantly with a strong line-up and a convincing storyline: divorced but successful shrink, still involved with his attractive and intelligent ex-wife but foisted by his own ego – there’s no fool like an old fool –  throws it all away for a feckless and unsuitable younger woman and a lifestyle that doesn’t really ring true. The Great Beauty‘s Tony Servillo is far the best thing about this good-looking Jewish-themed comedy drama. He certainly raises a chuckle in the early scenes with his knowing glances and light-hearted disdain for most of his patients, and his wife who is agreeable and amusing. (Carnelutti in fine form). But after he meets the feisty fitness trainer Claudia (Echegui), the narrative becomes more ludicrous and far-fetched with some slapstick situational comedy that grows irritating because the initial laughs are based on a convincing scenario, whereas the later scenes are not. Amato has lost his own plot. MT

SCREENING DURING THE UKJFF | NATIONWIDE | 7 NOVEMBER UNTIL 27 NOVEMBER 2017

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

Liberami | Deliver Us (2016)

  C9mufahWsAEk2vd.jpg-smallDir: Federica Di Giacomo | 89 mins

Exorcism is still a fact of contemporary life particularly in Catholic countries such as Italy where every year more and more people claim that their illnesses are caused by demonic possession. Father Cataldo is a veteran priest, one of the most sought-after exorcists in Sicily. Every Tuesday, many believers follow his mass of liberation, searching for a cure for some adversity for which there does not seem to be a label or a remedy.

Italian documentarian Federica Di Giacomo won the Venice Horizons Award last year for this penetrating study of an ancient practice that has found its way into the contemporary world with as much conviction as it did in Medieval times. What emerges doesn’t provide answers but gives fascinating insight as Di Giacomo combines interviews and footage to show how, in some ways, exorcism is enjoying a boom especially in Sicily where this candid observational approach completely avoids sensationalism. MT

DELIVER US (Liberami) is in cinemas 27th October and on DVD 30th October#DELIVERUSFILM

 

La Notte (1961) | Bluray Release

Dir: Michelangelo Antonioni | Cast: Jeanne Moreau, Marcello Mastroianni, Monica Vitti | Drama | Italy | 122’

Antonioni’s great early 1960s trilogy (L’Avventura, La Notte and L’Eclisse) continues to mesmerise in its haunting multi-layered originality without diminishing in its
mystery. Indeed, the puzzle of existence is the films’ raison d’être. What does it mean to be truly human? And if we have any inkling of an answer to that question how do we meaningfully connect with others to overcome our individual loneliness?

LA NOTTE posits these questions in the context of a bourgeois middle class marriage that is desperately failing. Antonioni never concerns himself with great angry outbursts – the vicissitudes of a naturalistic domestic life are not his territory: but explores how abstractly observed frustration coalesces with a form of passive aggression. The marital tension turns reflective, even static. Antonioni’s prowling camera conveys a calm – though never emotionally arid – neutral ground. Whilst other directors would aim for obvious realism, naturalism or even satire; Antonioni’s cinema is deeply philosophic. What matters to Antonioni is a solitary individualism that needs connection with others so as to be better acquainted with a sense of self. But can we compromise or overcome our solitude?

Nothing happens in La Notte. Everything happens in La Notte. It’s a soulful journey, within a hot day and night of a couple Giovanni (Marcello Mastroianni) and Lidia (Jeanne Moreau). They visit an old friend (a dying writer) in hospital, return home, wander through their apartment, the streets of Rome attend a party held by a literary loving millionaire; and then come the dawn they try to re-kindle their passion for each other. Their estrangement is observed by Antonioni’s startlingly dense and distanced technique. An elegant style of suggestion and nuance – without ever becoming mannered – creates a moral ambiguity; not through the eye of a moralist, but a filmmaker’s drawing board, where nothing is planned in advance, but remains fluid and spontaneous.

Antonioni is always providing a blue-print for a building (cinematic home) for his characters. The foundations may be in doubt but Antonioni compassionately observes the vulnerability of his men and women: the tension in these relationships more often quietly implodes more than explodes (Zabrieskie Point’s explosions being an exception where the suffocating materialism of things is destroyed through a kind of fantasy wish fulfilment).

Many words have been written about Lidia (Jeanne Moreau) and her famous walk through Milan on that hot Saturday afternoon. It’s usually discussed in terms of sexual symbolism (the erosion of her marriage). This sequence is interrupted, more than intercut, with scenes of her husband Giovanni waiting anxiously at home. He reads a letter, paces restlessly thorough his high-rise flat, to eventually fall asleep on a couch. Giovanni the writer/intellectual feels unable to save the marriage. Lidia’s walk through the cityscape is her break from this emotional sterility. However a further sub-text for the walk is for me the signalling of modes and styles of post war Italian cinema.

Lidia smiles in reaction to two men enjoying a laugh on the street. Next she feebly attempts to comfort a crying toddler in a run down, almost war damaged, slum. Both moments echo neo-realist and post neo-realist imagery (I’m thinking of early Fellini-such films as I Vitteloni and Rossellini’s war trilogy). Next, an old woman eating her lunch, scraping at a food carton, has the appearance of a De Sica character in his fifties films. Then Lidia witnesses a gang fight between young men who seem to have strayed out of Pasolini’s Accatone. This is followed by Lidia joing a crowd to watch two men lighting the torches of paper rockets. As the firework rockets shoot into the sky they make you think of a party moment in Fellini (say La Dolce Vita).

La Notte’s roaming scenes are further intercut with Lidia’s body in relation to the city’s buildings. Antonioni, aided by the great photographer Gianni di Venanzo, beautifully films landscape and architecture (If you froze any frame at any moment you would have a stunning composition). Behind such brilliant modernist abstraction is the ghost of a documentary filmmaker: Antonioni’s early films were poetic short documentaries, commentaries on modern life in the late 1940’s and early 1950’. To them, and his features, he brings melancholy and sense of loss. La Notte’s nods to Italian cinema’s genres- neo-realism, realism and naturalism, are referenced and framed within Antonioni’s unique form of modernism.

La Notte is compacted with similar scenes of peoples’ alienated responses to the world round them. Most notably is the appearance of the character Valentina (Monica Vitti) at the party. Valentina threatens to come between the couple. “You’ve completely exhausted me. The two of you.” She finally says. But is her exasperation an expression of her own selfishness rather than concern? Anyway can anyone prevent this marriage from breaking up?

A rich perspective of readings can be allowed for La Notte (and most of Antonioni’s output) because of the director’s deliberate open-endedness. Things are left imprecise but rigorously shown: never creating a cold void but a moving and profound sense of how people attempt to achieve a workable authenticity, even though that’s probably unobtainable. This masterly film, coupled with its equally masterly companion films authentically records the great attempt. Alan Price©2017

NOW ON BLURAY COURTESY OF CRITERION CLASSICS

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

 

The Suspicious Death of a Minor (1975) | Bluray release

Unknown-1Dir: Sergio Martino | Cast: Claudio Cassinelli, Mel Ferrer, Lia Tanzi | Italy | Horror Comedy | 100′

Some consider this more part of the poliziottesco subgenre than strictly a giallo but it is nevertheless a slick and stunning ride  through the crime underworld of 1970s Milan where a young girl is brutally murdered uncovering a sleazy slavery and teen exploitation ring. Casinelli is the suave standout as he cuts a dazzling dash through the investigation, which is Martino’s final giallo, based on an original story by Ernesto Gastaldi (Death Walks at Midnight). MT

NOW OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF ARROW FILM AND VIDEO | 11 SEPTEMBER 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

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 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

 

 

 

 

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

 

A Bigger Splash (2015) | DVD release

BIGGER_SPLASH_A_palm_tree copyDirector: Luca Guadagnino

Cast: Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes, Aurore Clément

Paolo Sorrentino, Piero Messina and Luca Guadagnino: the Southerners seem to be making the most interesting Italian films at the moment and using their native towns and villages as the cinematic backdrop to their narratives. A BIGGER SPLASH is set in the volcanic island of Pantelleria – nearer to Tunisia than to Sicily, it is a wild and savage place popular for its hots springs and therapeutic mud – an suitable place for a re-make of Jacques Deray’s sixties psychodrama. Guadagnino’s regular collaborator Tilda Swinton is an inspired choice as Marianne, a jaded rock star and a cross between Eve, her Only Lovers Left Alive character and David Bowie. Wise and witty, she is a statuesque and sexy heroine with an aristocratic swagger and sensitive hunky Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) who keeps her satisfied in their deserted villa, where she has come to rest her voice, after surgery.

But peace is shattered by the unexpected arrival of Ralph Fiennes, who plays Harry, an all-singing, all-dancing producer whose glib one-upmanship makes you exhausted just to look at him. Harry is Tilda’s ex and clearly still carries a candle for her and to up his ante he arrives with a trailer-trash sexbomb Penelope, who is apparently his daughter. And so begins a game of cat and mouse amongst the geezers and the rock pools, cleverly acted by Fiennes and Swinton and scripted by American writer David Kajganich (True Story).

Harry is desperate to be alone with Marianne and leave their younger counterparts to amuse themselves. So after pleasuring Marianne with some impromptu oral sex, Paul wanders off with Penelope: it transpires that there is no chemistry in the pairing and so they drift silently into the hinterland while we are entertained royally by the more captivating couple – Marianne and Harry. Marianne’s voiceless whisper throws the emphasis on her physical allure and poise and she is bedecked with some stylishly provocative outfits and eye-make-up that is a legend in its lunchtime – rivalling that of Liz Taylor in Cleopatra.

Tilda Swinton is clearly the uber-frau of the drama. Not only does her chemistry boil over with Schoenaerts: she also shares a simmering sexiness with Fiennes kicking Dakota Johnson firmly into touch. There is much pleasure in seeing a mature woman knock the younger one into a cocked hat, especially when the older one is Tilda Swinton, whose beauty and style is still unparalleled in her mid-fiftes. Fiennes gives another extraordinarily entertaining comic performance to that in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Suave and sardonic by turns, he too sports a torso taut and tanned by the Italian sun. Although there is a vague immigration theme bubbling in the background to give it gravity, Guadagnino treats this with such levity that it is almost blown away by the more-scene grabbing central thrust.

A BIGGER SPLASH is seductive witty and wonderful to watch. Although initially it appears facile, it is one of those films that grows on you in retrospect and one, quite frankly, you’ll definitely want to see again. Oscars for Tilda and Ralph. MT

REVIEWED AT THE VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2 -12 SEPTEMBER 2015 | Now available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray from 27th June | http://tinyurl.com/hk29gx3

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

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

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. 

Blood of My Blood (2015) | FIPRESCI Award | Venice Film Festival 2015 | LFF 2015

Director: Marco Bellocchio

Cast: Roberto Herlitzka, Pier Giorgio Bellocchio, Abla Rohrwacher, Lidiya Lubermann

106min | Historical | Drama Italy

Marco Bellocchio fuses the past and present in this inventive horror story that explores a 17th century witch trial and its relevance to a more lightweight contemporary story.

The medieval town of Bobbio, Emilia Romagna, has inspired story-telling for hundreds of years. It was the setting for Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose and Bellocchio’s debut Fists in the Pocket. With Blood of My Blood he returns to the abandoned Bobbio convent; a slightly humorous arthouse outing that will appeal to cineastes prepared to let their imaginations wander.

The first half of the narrative is a classic tale of Catholic crime and punishment. A young nun, Sister Benedetta (Lidiya Lieberman), has slept with a fellow priest who has taken his own life in remorse. With her hair cut severely short, she hangs upside down in a cloister room awaiting punishment. Meanwhile, his twin brother Federico Mai (Pier Giorgio Bellocchio) has arrived to extract the truth and a confession from the defiant Benedetta, so that his brother can have a decent burial in holy ground. Federico pretends to be his brother while Benedetta undergoes a series of tests to determine whether she is Satan’s daughter and, surviving the trials, she is walled up in the convent. In an entertaining vignette, Alba Rohrwacher and Federica Fracassi meanwhile play a delicate duo of virgin sisters who accommodate Federico in their home and later their bed.

Embued with a rich palette of vibrant hues by expert cinematographer Daniele Cipri (Vincere|It Was the Son) the first half of the film is the most enjoyable. In its more fluid second half, the narrative broadens out into a more satirical style that feels at bewildering, and quite frankly disappointing, such is the intrigue of the opening section. Still in Bobbio, we land with an unwelcome bump into the world of social media and the upwardly mobile where a Russian billionaire (Ivan Franek) turns up at the convent doors (in his red Ferrari, naturally) demanding to buy the place. Federico Mai is now the estate agent. It emerges that the convent is haunted by Count Basta (a masterful Roberto Hertlitzka), vampire with a penchant for cultural pursuits. Implications and infringements on Italy’s strict bylaws and pension systems are also involved in this prospective purchase. But the Count has connections with the powers that be and an amusing final segment sees him swing into action in this playful if not tonally strange story. Carlo Crivelli’s score and Scala & Kolacny’s choir music feel out of place in this piece that feels happier in the past that it does in the present. A sentiment that many Italians will be in agreement with. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2 -12 SEPTEMBER 2015

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

 

68th Locarno Film Festival | Preview 2015

Bruno Chatrian unveils his eclectic mix of films for the 68th Locarno Film Festival which runs from 5 until 15 August in its luxurious lakeside location. Locarno is known for its edgy profile and this year will be no different: Films by established auteurs: Hong Sang-soo, Andrzej Zulawski and Chantal Akerman (left) will screen alongside an inventive array of undiscovered newcomers in a selection that embraces traditional stories and more experimental and avantgarde fare.

COMPETITION

dejanlost and beautifulFourteen world premieres compete for the Golden Leopard including Korean comedy delights from Sang-soo’s Right Now, Wrong Then and mavericks in the shape of Andrzej Zulawski who this year brings Cosmos. Pietro Marcello’s docu-drama Bella e Perduta (above right) will compete with Athena Rachel Tsangari’s Chevalier and Belgian auteur Chantal Akerman’s hotly awaited doc Not a Home Movie (above topis sure to delight both the press and the public. Two Sundance 2015 outings will screen in competiton: Rick Alverson’s Entertainment, exploring the journey of an American stand-up comedian and James White, a coruscating family drama from Josh Mond. Sophomores in the section include Pascale Breton with her appropriately titled Suite Amoricaine and Georgian auteur Bakur Bakuradze’s Brother Dejan (above left). Dutch director Alex van Warmerdam’s latest film is a thriller, Schneider vs Bax. that focuses on a hit man whose mission is to kill a reclusive author (below left).

Schneder vs Bax

To open the festival in the open-air Piazza Grande, Jonathan Demme is back with Ricki and the Flash. Scripted by Diabolo Cody and starring Meryl Streep, it explores the efforts of an ageing rock star to get back to her roots.jack copy

Locarno is known for its European flavour such as Catherine Corsini’s La Belle Saison starring Cécile De France, Lionel Baier’s LGBT title La Vanité (nominated for the Queer Palm at this year’s Cannes) and Austrian auteur Elisabeth Scharang’s Jack (right) which tackles the thorny topic of recidivism through the story of a brutal murderer. Philippe Le Guay’s comedy Floride stars Sandrine Kiberlain and Jean Rochefort and German director Lars Kraume’s The State vs Fritz Bauer explores the story of a prosecutor in the Auschwitz trials. From further afield comes Anurang Kashyap’s Bollywood gangster drama Bombay Velvet, Barbet Schroeder’s historical drama Amnesia and Brazilian director Sergio Machado’s Heliopolis. 

IMG_1536The CINEASTI DEL PRESENTE selection includes a fascinating array of indie newcomers with first or second films that focus on the filmmakers of the future: In Tagalog; Dead Slow Ahead (right) is cinematographer Mauro Herce’s debut (right). French helmer. Vincent Macaigne’s debut drama is Dom Juan. Kacey Mottet Klein (Sister) stars in Keeper by Guillaume Senez. Melville Poupard, Andre Desoullier and Clemence Poesy star in Le Grand Jeu, a debut for Nicolas Pariser and The Waiting Room from Serbian Bosnian director, Igor Drljaca, and starring Canadian actor Christopher Jacot (Hellraiser), and those that have seen the enchanting Elena by Petra Costa will be excited to see her next experimental docu-drama Olmo & the Seagull.

call me copySEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE

Ground we copy

This strand screens perhaps the most auteurish films of the festival with a distinctive style and look. Two new Polish films stand out, My Name is Marianna (right) from Karolina Bielawska and Brothers from Wojciech Staron (below right).Christopher Pryor’s black and white New Zealand doc The Ground We Won (above) and Aya Domenig’s The Day the Sun Fell from the Sky (left).

brothers copy

The Jury Selection offers a chance to see their favourite titles including Guy Maddin’s stylish drama, The Forbidden Room, Joanna Hogg’s superb study of a family holiday seen through the eyes of a single, middle-aged woman: Unrelated; and Denis Klebeev’s Strange Particles. The competition jury comprises U.S. photographer-director Jerry Schatzberg; German actor Udo Kier; Israeli director Nadav Lapid; and South Korean actress Moon so-Ri.

Te Premeto Anarquia

Locarno also screens a retrospective of Sam Peckinpah including his standout Western PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID. Marco Bellocchio will receive a Pardo d’Onore and show his 1965 classic I PUGNI IN TASCA along with Michael Cimino whose all time seventies favourite THE DEER HUNTER stars Robert De Niro. MT

LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 5 -15 AUGUST 2015

 

 

 

Otto e Mezzo | 8½ (1963)

Dir.: Federico Fellini

Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimee, Sandra Milo

Italy/France 1963, 138 min.

After the success of La Dolce Vita, Fellini decided that the time had come to make films which relied less on a narrative structure, but more on an aesthetic concept. 8 ½ turned out to be a self-portrait of the director, played by his “Alter Ego” Mastroianni and combined favourite themes from his earlier films in a vivid collage of carnival-like picturesque settings, questioning not only beliefs but the form of film-making itself.

Middle-aged film director Guido Anselmi (Mastroianni) tries to escape from the self-inflicted pressures of his personal and professional life to the spa of Chianciano. But his “harem” as well as his problems with his next film  compound to make his stay anything but relaxing. The original title of 8 ½ was La Bella Confusione (The beautiful Confusion), and Fellini literally throws everything into the mix: Anselmi’s dreams are interrupted by nightmarish visions from his childhood where he meets his dead parents on a cemetery and his guilty feelings towards Catholicism manifest themselves in scenes were he is haunted by clerics. His love life is equally bizarre: having invited his mistress Carla (Milo) to stay with him, he soon begs his long-suffering wife Luisa (Aimée) to join him in the circus which his life has become. His producer is very anxious that Anselmi starts shooting the film – instead of changing the script and having endless screen tests; the huge structure for an S-F film has been erected near the beach and the costs are mounting. But Anselmi is more interested in his past: he relives the dance of Saraghina, a frightening and alluring woman who chased the boys away. And whilst in reality he is ‘cheating’ both on his wife and his mistress, in his dreams he swings the whip, hoping to frighten them into submission. Enter Claudia (Cardinale), seemingly an innocent young girl, but really an opportunist, but Anselmi has retreated too far into himself to even try his vain charm on her. He dreams of suicide, before he turns the implosion into his only way out: he starts the film, incorporating actors and friends into a giant carnival of lost souls.

Fellini’s Anselmi is a sex maniac, a sadist, as well as a masochist, in love with myths (not real feelings), a coward, never having grown up from being a mother’s son, a fool, a phony and impostor. In one word, he is the archetypal Italian man of a certain class and education. In his review of the film, Alberto Moravia compares Anselmi with Leopold Bloom, the hero of James Joyce’s “Ulysses”: he is a neurotic, his failings make him withdraw more and more into an inner world where he tries to gain control. 8 ½ is a film, where reality intrudes into Anselmi’s nightmares and visions – not the other way round. Anselmi only seems to be in touch with his feelings as a young man – the images of the countryside in Emilia Romagna being the only peaceful ones in the whole film. AS

OPENING IN SELECTED CINEMAS NATIONWIDE FROM 1 MAY 2015

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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

 

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

 

 

 

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”.

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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.

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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 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

Copenhagen Architecture x Film Festival 27 – 30 March 2014

Pomerol_Herzog_de_Meuron_HD_1-960x540 copySome of the the World’s finest filmmakers are Danish: Carl Theodor Dreyer; Lars von Trier; Thomas Vinterberg; Nicolas Winding Refn and Susanne Bier. The Danes also excel in architecture, design and the spatial arts. With this in mind, COPENHAGEN ARCHITECTURE X FILM FESTIVAL will open its doors for the first year of what aims to become an annual event. Offering 80 films and events. including first-run as well as older releases showcasing  architectural space as only cinema can. Copenhagen Architecture Festival x FILM is built around 6 strands: Cinematic and Architectural Space; Landscape and FilmPersonal SpacesArchitectural Processes;  Ritual, and Modernism.

oscar-at-niteroi_still_04-960x540 copyThe inaugural festival presents the world premiere of Heinz Emigholz’ entire trilogy of DECAMPMENT OF MODERNISM, the 21st part of his monumental series PHOTOGRAPHY AND BEYOND. All three films will be shown including the final part: THE AIRSTRIP, hot from Berlinale 2014with an an introduction by the filmmaker himself.

Wim Wenders’ 3D project CATHEDRALS OF CULTURE (2014) also comes fresh from its Berlinale 2014 World premiere and there are other treats in store: KOOLHAAS – HOUSELIFE  that takes a looks at the designs of legendary architect Rem Koolhaas and MICROTOPIA, Jesper Wachtmeister’s documentary study about a group of designers whose work focuses on the use of recycled and industrial products in order to minimise waste and human footprint. Dieter Reifarth’s HAUS TUGENDHAT (2013) explores the fascinating history of Mies van der Rohe’s functionalist villa from private ownership in the thirties to official functions under the Germans and Russians to its current status as a stylish backdrop to films such as Hannibal Rising.

niemeyer27shouse2-960x540 copyTHE NEW RIJKSMUSEUM, Oeke Hoogendijk’s prize-winning documentary is a massive undertaking that charts the controversial renovation of one of the World’s oldest and best known museums. Angel Borrego Cubero’s documentary masterpiece THE COMPETITION (2013) explores the working relationship of star-architects Jean Nouvel, Frank Gehry, Dominique Perrault and Zaha Hadid’s through the tense process of tendering for the design of a new Arts Museum in Andorra.

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There will be a chance to revisit the past with DOG STAR MAN, Stan Brakhage’s experimental sixties piece that prioritises the visual to create the concept of an ‘optical mind’, and Werner Herzog’s acclaimed sci-fi documentary FATA MORGANA (1971), that imagines the world’s most remote corners as another planet.  Critic Sophie Engberg Sonne looks at Wong Ka Wai’s films in the context of his greatest muse: Hong Kong: this artist-city double-act will be illustrated with excerpts from his oeuvre including HAPPY TOGETHER and    THE CROWD, King Vidor’s psychogeographical 1928 silent epic, based in New York; and Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s haunting and sinister documentary ABENDLAND, that takes a voyeuristic look at the vast continent of Europe from the night skies.

COPENHAGEN ARCHITECTURE X FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 27-30 MARCH 2014  

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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©

The Great Beauty (2013) La Grande Bellezza

GREAT_BEAUTY_2D_DVDDir: Paolo Sorrentino   Writers: Paolo Sorrentino, Umberto Contarello

Cast: Toni Servillo, Sabrina Ferilli, Carlo Verdone, Carlo Buccirosso

137mins  *****     Italian with English subtitles   Drama

Paolo Sorrentino’s sensual overload of all things Italian transports you to Rome for a paean to pleasure and pain, gaiety and melancholy seen through the eyes of writer and roué, Jep Gambardella.  Played exultantly here by Sorrentino’s regular collaborator, Toni Servillo (The Consequences of Love, Il Divo), this is possibly Sorrentino’s best film so far, capturing the essence of Italy’s rich, beautiful and cultured middle class with an appealing and bittersweet languor that was first experienced in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, here seen in the context of 21st century ennui.

But Jep Gambardella has only written one book having spent most of his nights as a party animal and bon viveur.  At 65, well-preserved and suave, he exudes a Mediterranean masculinity with his finely-tailored jackets and well-made shoes.  In this rich Autumn of life,  jolted from his benign state of bachelorhood by an unexpected discovery, he is thrown off-balance and onto a Proustian trip down memory lane.  But as he looks back with friends and paramours, he sees complexity and spirituality beyond all the glamour and profanity.

The Great Beauty is an opulent banquet of tone and texture, captured here by Luca Bigazzi’s dizzying cinematography, evoking all that’s stylish and beautiful as well as hypocritical and shallow about the Italian way of life.  See it, enjoy it, savour it; because one day its passion and glory may be gone forever and only memories will remain. MT

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THE GREAT BEAUTY IS OUT ON DVD and BLU-RAY ON  13 January 2014  COURTESY OF ARTIFICIAL EYE.

THE FILM HAS ALSO BE SHORT-LISTED FOR THE FOREIGN LANGUAGE SECTION OF THE OSCARS IN MARCH 2014

 

Cinema Paradiso (1988)

NUOVO CINEMA PARADISO 35 copyDirector/Writer: Giuseppe Tornatore

Cast: Marco Leonardi, Salvatore Cascio, Philippe Noiret, Antonella Attili, Isa Danieli

171mins   Italian with English subtitles   Drama

This cute cult classic from memory lane was garlanded with awards including an Oscar back in 1990. Now celebrating its 25th Anniversary with a sparkling re-master and back on our screens for more cinematic indulgence.  Nostalgia and sentimentality aside, we see Salvatore (Marco Leonardi), now a famous auteur, transported to his childhood Sicily when he hears of the death of his cinema mentor, Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), the village projectionist. As a young ‘Toto’, (Salvatore Cascio), he had been inspired to follow his star thanks to Alfredo’s fatherly inspiration. Now the world has changed and there’s no going back. That said, the drama made Marco Leonardi an international star.   A romantic tribute to the love of film and the love of life. MT

CINEMA PARADISO (RE-MASTERED) IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 13 DECEMBER 2013

Io e Te (2012) You and Me ***

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Cast: Tea Falco, Jacopo Olmo Antinori, Sonia Bergamasco

96min      Italian Drama with subtitles.

Bertolucci resurfaced in Cannes last year with this very Italian two-hander, his first since The Dreamers back in 2003.

Set almost entirely in a poorly-lit basement, Io e Te is essentially a character study that focuses on two well-heeled but emotionally-crippled siblings.  Bertolucci is fascinated by Italian youth, and particularly the kids of well-off families. Despite bravado and stylishness, a gnawing vulnerability seeps through these two as they posture and pose in a effort to exude contemporary cool, flirting nonchalently with their nascent sexuality in a desperate bid to find a connection in their troubled lives.

Jacopo (newcomer, Jacopo Olmo Antinori) gives a thoughtful turn as a typical ‘mammalone’: or spoilt child, hiding out in the basement at home, on the pretence of being on a school skiing trip.  He seeks refuge here to escape his mother’s suffocating attention. But his welcome solitude is ruptured by the arrival of his bohemian half-sister, Olivia, who appears in a state of cold-turkey and insists on staying and smoking her way through a packet of fags, much to Jacopo’s irritation. Gradually these two fall into an awkward intimacy that borders on incestuousness and very much echoes Dreamers in conception. However, there’s much less interesting character development here and none of the stylish gad-about fun and frolics although the production does have award-winner Franco Piersanti’s pleasing score to help it along.

These are damaged kids and typical of a generation who somehow, through ‘the sins of the father’, have developed minor neuroses and narcissistic personality issues and both the leads give believable and well-drawn performances in a story that nevertheless feels claustrophobic and uncomfortable.  What could have developed as a fascinating foray into adolescence in the Italian borghesia becomes rather grungy and tedious after the initial stages and fails to lift off onto a really meaningful level despite a decent script (from a novel by Niccolo Ammaniti) possibly because of the unnappealing nature of the characters and physical and visual constrictions of the basement location,

As a study of half-siblings it just about holds the attention but at nearly two hours, it fails say anything that’s fresh or exciting. When you think of the rich and complex work of Bertolucci: from Once Upon A Time In the West to 1900, The Sheltering Sky and The Last Emperor this is slight in comparison. So don’t go expecting an epic: it’s extraordinary that this great master is still with us, let alone making a brave attempt at continuing his film career. MT

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IO E TE is on general release from 19th April 2013

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

 

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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