The second film we have seen at the Italian film festival was an entertaining comedy starring one of the most popular actors and singers in Italy nowadays. The title Quo vado? may send to serious philosophical and even Biblical connotations, but it’s actually a light-heart comedy about the Italy and Europe of today.
It’s probably good not to take this film too seriously, especially using the political correctness filter. The main hero is a mid-class, mid-age, bold type living with his parents and enjoying what seems to be a for-life bureaucratic public servant position in a small place somewhere in Italy. One sunny day the skies fall on his head, as his job is going to be terminated because of an efficiency campaign. He either should resign, pocket some termination bonus and give up the good life, or fight for his job – which means being sent to all extreme places to perform the extreme job an Italian clerk is supposed to perform. The hero is sexist, ethnic prejudices and stereotypes abound, and he undeservedly accommodates any place and gets the smart and beautiful girl at the end (who just happens to have three different kids of three different races without having evener been married. No-PC? Thanks, God! Funny? yes – most of the time. Original? Not really, but who cares as long as we have a good time.
Director Gennaro Nunziante relies on a script that could be as well the skeleton of a theater comedy or musical show, and on his leading star actor Checco Zalone who is apparently popular enough in Italy to assume the risk of lending his name to the hero. A few holy cows are tickled just enough not to cause too many waves and allow for the good spirit of comedy to prevail. It’s easy but not stupid entertainment, and with this state of mind many viewers will enjoy it, I believe.
‘Veloce come il vento’ (which translates ‘fast as the wind’ – but got the English title Italian Race is a quite original combination between a teen drama, a car races story (including the corresponding stunts) and a moralistic story about what (mostly bad) drugs do to people. All is based on a true story, or at least the true characters of a brother and sister in a race cars pilots family. The result is a fresh film, with enough drama and good acting to keep the interest of the viewers and confirm that the Italian cinema is the place where one can find lately more and more interesting films.
Giulia de Martino (Matilda De Angelis) is racing cars although she is just 17 and does not even have a driving license. This is apparently possible in Italy especially if you are born into a car racing family, and her father is trainer and mentor. The film actually opens with the death of her father, and we are soon in family drama territory, with a drug addicted brother showing up and settling in the house which is also inhabited by the younger brother. To keep the house the girl must go on racing, and the unsettling brother proves to be an ex-pilot, fallen out of the path of life or races because of his addiction. What follows is a combination of coming-to-age and family drama combined with spectacular car races, and some melodrama. We eventually learn that the smile on the face of a kid is more important that money, or even houses, or even winning in car races.
Much of the film attraction is due to the splendid performances of the two lead actors Stefano Accorsi and Matilda De Angelis . Accorsi’s character who sees his life destroyed by drugs but keeps trying to be a good person is poignant, while De Angelis is smart and beautiful and her work here may draw the attention of the international scene, she has all the looks and skills for success. Director Matteo Rovere seems to specialized in films about the problems of teenagers, here is broadening the scope with the exploration of the world of the car races (legal and illegal). The result is a film which looks fresh and true and keeps the interest of viewers even if car races or teenagers problems are not their preferred themes.
Quite difficult to believe that Paolo Genovese‘s Perfect Strangers is not inspired by a theater play. Everything happens within the closed limits of one apartment where seven friends meet for a casual dinner which turns into something completely different when they decide to play a ‘Truth or Do’ kind of game using their … mobile phones. One immediately thinks to movies like Roman Polanski‘s Carnage , but that one was based on the play (and screenplay) of Yasmina Reza. It seems however in this case that the movie took precedence, but I am confident that the stage adaptations will follow quickly. So will the American remake, I am afraid.
What happens if all the calls, messaging, social networking content we believe to be confidential comes in the clear? This is the game the friends decide to play and the results will – as expected- be disastrous for most of the friendships and couple relationships. Is the film about the dangers of social networking and other forms of Internet communication? or maybe about the dangers of hiding and lying and trusting or not trusting your friends? One should see this film to decide. And ask yourself also if you are ready to play the game with your friends.
The film starts at a slow pace, and it took a while to catch me. When it did it was fantastic. It also contains a final twist in the script that I will not reveal. It’s well acted and smartly written. I recommend it. There are good chances that you’ll enjoy it.
Papacy and its institutions have attracted film makers in many different ways. The Vatican or its clones have been used as sets and stage for many movies in genres ranging from historical movies to crazy comedies. Nanni Moretti‘s Habemus Papam tries to be more and different. It tries to say something important about the burden of supreme office of the Catholic Church, while telling a story that hesitates between social satire and comedy of situations.
A pope is dead, and a new pope needs to be elected. The college of cardinals gets together, doors close, cardinals start the election process. After a few inconclusive rounds, cardinal Melville (Michel Piccoli) is the unexpected winner. White smoke. The pope is to be announced and should bless the crowds gathered in the piazza in front of the San Pietro. However, there is a problem. The new pope seems to have second thoughts. The burden of responsibility? Stage fear? A shrink (Nanni Moretti himself), the best money can buy, is called in help. And then the pope runs away. Maybe he is looking to get back to his secret vocation, repressed in childhood? Maybe he will be convinced to get back, after revisiting his responsibilities?
The premises are exceptional for a very interesting film, maybe for more than one. This is actually the problem with ‘Habeamus Papam’. Nanni Moretti seems to not have decided which film to make. The characters comedy with the shrink trying to psycho-analize the pope, and the bunch of semi-idiots with teenager behaviors which seem to compose the cardinals crowd? The situation farce where a member of the guard plays the shadow of the pope to mask the fact that the head of the Catholic church just ran away to try to face real life? The drama of the man facing a huge burden and questioning whether he is ready to undertake it, doubled by the conflict between life as it happens and the deformed reality lived by priests? Each of these succeed to some extent, especially the later due to the superb acting of Michel Piccoli. The ensemble does not work as one movie.
A few days from now ‘La Grande Belleza’ will probably get the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language picture so it’s probably a daring act on my part to share the opinion that this film is over-rated and that it’s not – in my humble opinion – the best film of Paolo Sorrentino. I actually like a lot the work of the Italian director, but I liked more the sharp critic of the Italian political system in the biographical Il Divo and especially the very original approach to the Holocaust in ‘This Must Be the Place’ - one of the best and unusual films in the Holocaust genre.
There is certainly a lot of charm and visual beauty in this ‘Great Beauty’. If this was a documentary I could have enjoyed the views of Rome and the film is a declaration of love for the Eternal City, a poem dedicated to it’s magnetism and power to corrupt. If it was a study of characters I would have first admired the aristocratic spleen of the principal hero in the story, as well as the collection of characters from the debauched and corrupt, and yet so fascinating high society and artistic media the characters come from. The film however also tries to draw a moral about the ephemeral nature of life and love, and about the vanity of beauty and emptiness of the extreme sensations – and this moral core is too thin for the fabulous wrapping it is enveloped in.
Of course, one can admire the exquisite cinematography and splendid performance by Tony Servillo, the preferred lead actor of Sorrentino. Just by seeing him here, in a film and a role so different from the one in Il Divo one can appreciate what a great actor he is and how he identifies with the character and melds in each role he undertakes. The disappointment is however with the director approach. Sorrentino used us that each new film is different than the previous one – strong and original, unexpected in vision and inventive in means. In La Grande Belleza he seems to have decided to quote Fellini – does Fellini need to be quoted, and did he really need to quote him? I love Fellini but I know that he died a while ago and I did not go to see a film of Fellini, but a film by Sorrentino, hence my disappointment.
This time the translation in Hebrew got it right, following the original Italian title which says ‘Come to the world’ rather than the English title ‘Twice Born’. The film is indeed about bringing children to the a world in conflict, and it’s a powerful love story taking place during one of the most tragic and absurd war in Europe in the 20th century (but what war is not absurd?), a war that placed one against the other neighbors and friends who were the same blood and spoke the same language, the differences being buried back in history, mostly of religious origins. ‘The best stories are sometimes the weird ones’ tells one of the characters, and this is indeed a strange and a complicated, but also a very emotional love story taking place in tragic circumstances.
The story alternates between the time today, the period back 30 years ago when Communist Yugoslavia still existed and Sarajevo was known to the world as the location of the 1984 Winter Olympics, and the city 10 years later when it became the battle place in one of the most bloody episodes of the ethnic wars in the Balkans. It tells about the obsessive falling in love of two young and idealistic ‘western’ professionals Gemma and Diego (Penelope Cruz and Emile Hirsch) who happen to meet in Bosnia, then part of Yugoslavia, attracted there mostly by the original culture of the Balkans and by its people. They soon meet a group of mostly young and idealistic artists of the same kind who seem to live happily, aiming to create and make their world better. For much of the first half the story focuses on the love story of the couple, and the hurdles they meet on the road (they cannot have a child of their own). And then war breaks in this area which was not only the crossroad of the empires, but also their battlefield. The empires are gone, but the conflicts continues perpetuated by religion and by politicians. The world of the heroes blows apart.
The story is structured on alternate scenes from the trip taken in present in Bosnia by Gemma and her son and flashbacks from the two time periods (of the first encounter and the war). I liked the way director Sergio Castellitto kept perfect balance between the love story, the descriptions of the falling of Bosnia into war and the war itself, and the coming to age of the son (the directors own son Pietro Castellitto acting) – all three threads are clear, articulate, and conclude in a way that makes sense. To the excellent acting of Cruz and Hirsch I need to add the name of the Bosnian actor Adnan Haskovic who is playing the colorful and passionate Gojco, their friend of blood.
The conflict in Bosnia, and the wars in the former Yugoslavia already generated many films, some of them good, including the ones produced by artists from the area themselves. ‘Venuto al mondo’ is a co-production, mostly made in Italy, with local participation. It will probably stay as one of the solid and sensible films made about those mad years. This is a film which will also stay with all these who will have the chance to see it.
The Shakespearean ‘All the world’s a stage’ gets a new meaning with this very interesting and very different film made by the Taviani brother whose actors and heroes are individuals for which the world is the high security prison where many of them are to spend long years paying for serious crimes. Using theater as a mean of therapy end education happens in some of these prisons, now a film not only dares to make this process known and visible outside the perimeter of the prison, but also tries to make of it a work of art. The Golden Bear at the Film Festival in Berlin is a proof that the Taviani brothers succeeded to convince at least the critics and members of the jury. I get the feeling that the larger public was less convinced – it’s a very interesting piece of cinema, but not one of these that attracts audiences in numbers. This is not entertainment.
In one of the introductory scenes we see a screen test. The actors-to-be are asked to introduce themselves in two situations – a ‘soft’ family one, and a second which demands them to feel constrained and express rage. Each of them acts with a mix of sincerity and intensity that much exceeds and compensates their lack of professionalism. This is the key of the film. We have already seen theater in theater (Shakespeare himself is the first and maybe greatest master of the genre) and theater about prisons, and many of these were already brought to screen. What we have never seen before is the mix of situations which makes the walls of the prison disappear for the ephemeral moments when the words of the ancient drama become the reality of life for the prisoners acting it.
The film asks many questions which arise after the screening ends. Julius Caesar is a play about values – honor, democracy, freedom. How do the prisoners relate to these? The characters of the play are cruel in modern terms, the plot is also about treason and murder – how do these men who have committed serious crimes relate to these deeds? Some of the most interesting moments in the play (and there are only a few of them) are these in which real life (which for the actors is life in prison) interferes in the scenes of the play. I found the smooth, sometimes unobserved, sliding of life in a 21st century prison into the political drama that took place in the first century BC to be terrifying.
And then we have the ending. The show is over, it ends in applause and ovations. Then the actors get back to what is their ‘home’ – the prison where most of them still have to spend many years. What we do understand is that life cannot go on without such a film changing it. The lives of the special actors in this movie, but to some extent the lives of the spectators as well.
Biographical films tend to be respectful to the historical figures that they describe. Even when they describe complex and controversial characters they try to explain and to put in context the motivation of deeds which in the perspective of history seem evil. Paolo Sorrentino‘s ‘Il Divo’ is quite the contrary, it is a negative biography about a character who dominated the Italian politics for most of the second part of the 20th century, the leader of the Christian-Democratic Party and seven-times Prime Minister of Italy, Giulio Andreotti. The film does not lack complexity – quite the contrary – and the historical context of the 80s and 90s is described in detail, but the effect is willingly opposite than in usual biographies. Even political actions which would have seen candid or neutral seem to catch a strong significance and are seen through the perspective of the corruption and Mafia-relations which seem to have dominated Italian political life of the period.
My knowledge about the Italian politics is too superficial to make a definite judgment about the correctness of the facts presented on screen. What I can say after seeing the film is that it does not seem to pretend to be objective. Even if there is no explicit statement, there is neither any positive angle we brought into the film or positive dimension that is not questioned. Even the relationship with his wife (‘I knew all these years what kind of man I married’) or helping the poor (which looks more like a political exercise deprived of sincerity). There are however many other scenes (like the repeated walk on empty streets surrounded by cohorts of security people, the reception after his last nomination as Prime Minister) which describe not only the outer-worldness of the man, but also of the whole system.
Even more amazing is the fact that Andreotti was alive when this film was made (he actually died about a month ago) and has seen at least part of the film, allegedly walking out after a while. So this is not only a biography, but a pamphlet directed against a living politician. Andreotti, by the way, was no stranger to the Italian cinema industry, he played an important role in establishing the rules that protected the local industry against foreign (especially Hollywood) imports in the 50s, but also the establishment of a de-facto censorship over the content of the productions which was in place for many decades. Is this film also kind of a revenge of the now free industry over this character? Maybe.
To a very large extent ‘Il DIvo’ relies on the extraordinary acting performance of Toni Servillo. He makes one of these creations which in time tend to superpose and replace the visual representation we have about the real-life person. Great acting indeed, but do we end by understanding better Giulio Andreotti the man? I doubt it. Paolo Sorrentino certainly knows how to construct complex characters which do not show easily their intense internal beings. Looking now retrospectively he did the same thing in This Must Be the Place (which he made later, but I saw it before). He does not however serve the viewers with ready prepared answers about the motivation of his heroes. I knew very little about Andreotti before seeing this film, I know many more facts now, but the man remains a mystery.
Io sono l’amore starts with an impressionist-like picture of a city in winter, reminding a painting by Renoir. Yet, we’ll soon realize that we are not at the end of the 19th century but rather 100 years later. The next scene is a party in a very rich people mansion. A family gathers, three generations get together for the birthday of the founding father of the family. He has a big announcement to make about the family heritage, an announcement everybody waits for many years. The relations between the members of the family start to build up under our eyes during the dinner, the old man is obviously in control. Does this remind Coppola‘s The Godfather? What follows is however a film about the slow decay of the ruling class, a decay that starts from the degradation of the family fabric which does not allow any longer cohesion in face of the forces of economics and history. We are reminded the universe of another great movie – Visconti‘s Il gattopardo.
All these comparisons may seem extremely ambitious for the work of a director, Luca Guadagnino, who is practically at his second feature film only (and the first one seems to have been an erotic teenage drama). Amazing as it may seem, Io sono l’amore is a very complex and daring enterprise that succeeds to compare honorably with the illustrious antecedents it is inspired from and also has a lot to say on its own. The Recchi family in the center of the story is led by strong men who built a textile empire (with dubious origins in the second world war industry, so the Godfather quote is not completely unjustified) and married beautiful women, not always in their own class of super-riches. One of them is Emma (Tilda Swinton), Russian at origin, married to the heir of the empire, leading the house, coordinating the social ceremonies, managing the house economy, raising the children and dealing with their growth and emotional problems. Is she happy? Can she keep together a family that lives in a different age than the one of the ossified bourgeois clans, with some of the younger people trying to break the walls of the conveniences in order to find their vocation or their ways of loving? When the occasion shows up it will be Emma herself who will let her true feelings overcome the conventions, but the way to personal truth may be paved with tragedy. The story of the family relations is carefully constructed and impeccably acted, but there is one moment when the story risks to fall into soap drama. This moment is overcome by the superb acting of Tilda Swinton. I realize now that I missed somehow how huge an actress she is. In one film she succeeds to be at turns high-class cool and passionate, attractive and ugly, young enough to love and fast-aging, in control and completely broken, and all these in one character around whom the whole movie is spinning. At the end, when tragedy had struck, and she has the courage to speak the truth and break the social conventions, she is told by the husband who was a minute ago swearing love and offering protection ‘you are nothing’. It is actually the Recchi’s who get nothing but emptiness in their lives, and this is the moment when Emma gains back her life and the chance to start again.
There are so many beautiful moments of cinema in this film which make it stand on its own and worth remembering even beyond the story itself. There are some amazing moments of camera work, and some haunting fragments of musical score. There is a lot of good acting, and care to the social and relationship details, every corner of the screen is full with characters who live true lives in a realistic and exact composition. There is beautifully filmed nature and there is a lot of interesting food, actually food plays at some moment an important role in the action of the film, as the mean of communication between the characters (one of them is a very talented chef). Guadagnino’s movie continues a tradition in the Italian cinema of using family stories to deal with social and political issues and tells again a story which will be worth telling as long as class differences exist and are challenged by history and by emotions.
All the characters in Emanuele Crialese‘s Terraferma are in search of the solid ground, for safety, for the certainty of tomorrow. And yet, nothing seems to be solid in their destinies. The story happens on a small island near the bigger island of Sicily, an area of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The local community sees its traditional economy based on fishing threatened, its mode of life based on honor and the rough justice of the sea threatened by everything around – decaying fishing crops, invading tourists, the dissolution of the moral fabric of the local society. And then an apparently bigger threat comes as desperate African boat immigrants start showing up at the shores, after having risked their lives in the stormy seas, flying in despair the devastated continent of their birth.
I am not sure if the programming of this film together with the French ‘Intouchables’ was a coincidence. Both films deal with the problem of the African refugees seen as a symbol of the different people of different cultures trying to enter the Old Continent, same as repeated waves of immigration have stormed its gates all along the history. The same thing happens today in my country, and there are no easy responses, not on what concerns the clash of cultures and mentalities, not on the political or economic planes, and not on the human one. The shared message of the two films with their very different stories told in very different registers is that human beings can find their resources and show solidarity at moments of maximal crisis.
Despite the story line which is a little too expected and simplistic ‘Terraferma’ succeeds to create emotion, with a few direct and well directed scenes. The story is a coming to age and an Italian family drama in the good Italian tradition to the same extent that it is an immigrant drama. The film is also beautifully filmed, the director and the cameraman obviously love the sea and the landscape of the Mediterranean and make the best of these in a few sequences to remember. With good acting and a message that is fundamentally optimistic in its trust of the capacity of men staying human in the most adverse situationsthe rather anonymous ‘Terraferma’ did not fall much behind the ‘Intouchables’ which was one of the most successful films in the history of the French cinema.