June 4, 2007
Open Roads: New Italian Cinema. Preview.Following a terrific Rendez-vous with French Cinema, James van Maanen prepares for an 8-day week of Italian cinema by getting a few words with FSoLC program director Richard Peňa. With the advent this Wednesday of Open Roads, the Film Society of Lincoln Center's annual festival of new Italian cinema - it's a good time to consider the role of Italy in world cinema today. As did many of us older movie fans, I came of age when, playing in our favorite big-city cinemas at any given month might be a new film from De Sica, Rossellini, Visconti, Fellini, Germi, Bolognini, Lattuada, Zurlini, Antonioni, Bertolucci or Bellocchio. Ask an American moviegoer today - even one who frequents art houses and is unafraid to tackle subtitles - about a current Italian director, and you'll be lucky to hear Scorsese mentioned. (Talented as he may be, as an Italian-American, Marty doesn't fill the bill). So few Italian films open theatrically here in the US, is it any wonder most of us might have trouble identifying the filmmakers? (The one Italian film currently playing in "selected" US cities is Emanuele Crialese's Golden Door.) 2007 marks the 7th edition of Open Roads and, as usual, there are a few directors/writers making a return engagement, along with some first-timers and one - Mario Monicelli (remember Big Deal on Madonna Street?), who, at 92 years of age, will introduce his wonderful new film, Desert Roses. Certainly one of the grand old men of cinema (I believe that only Antonioni at 94 and Portugal's Manoel de Oliveira at 98 best him as working directors), Monicelli proves he can still make an old-fashioned, mainstream movie full of humor, pathos, humanity, irony and art. "One of the great things about finding Italy's new directors, which we do try to showcase," explains Open Roads program director Richard Peňa, "is watching them move into new and different areas, discussing things overlooked or not talked about in the past. It's the sense of their trying to use cinema to discover or rediscover their own country." For many Americans, notes Peňa, the image of Italians as gregarious, loud, fun and sensual is perhaps the major impression, but it is only one impression and does not apply to the entire country. "Italy is a varied place of many different regions. Regionalism has always been important to our festival, and it will be again this year, too." For this viewer, one of the joys of experiencing the entire festival is the sense one can perceive - vaguely perhaps, but it's there - of what Italy has been thinking, feeling and experiencing over the past year. Having thus far seen 10 of the 13 programs in this series, I can attest to this yet again. There may be less overt politics/economics/sociology on view this time (which was also the case with the recent Rendez-vous with French Cinema series), but, as Peňa explains, "While it's true that there is nothing here like last year's Crime Novel - a classic Italian political film showing the inter-workings between mafia, police and the left - other films do touch on aspects of contemporary politics." The program director cites the documentary See Naples and Die as one example. "It looks at the city of Naples, which had a remarkable renaissance in the late 1980s and 90s, but has since slipped back a bit into certain traits, habits that don't easily disappear: Mafia and family structure, along with new problems like immigration." Immigration (which figures prominently these days in every western country's politics and economics) also appears as a motif in films as disparate as Paolo Sorrentino's The Family Friend, Laura Muscardin's Billo, Davide Ferrario's Primo Levi's Journey and perhaps most strongly in Giuseppe Tornatore's The Unknown Woman. (I say "perhaps" because the latter is one of the three films not available for advance screening.) Tornatore's movie has just swept this year's David di Donatello nominations (Italy's "Oscars"), so it looks to be a very hot ticket at the festival. Other nearly sold-out films are Desert Roses and Caravaggio, with Roberto Andò's Secret Journey also selling briskly (nudity, sex, Sicily and Alessio Boni? Well, of course!). None of the films - not even Tornatore's (Cinema Paradiso, Legend of 1900, Maléna... hello, distributors? Mainstream art here!) - has as yet garnered a US release, which makes it all the more imperative, if one is an Italian film buff, to see them here at Lincoln Center. When prompted for a theme or idea that might characterize this year's festival, Peňa points to "the sense of spirituality that certain of the films offer - of characters finding their place in terms of faith - even if this faith does not follow the manner of prominent religions." Past years have seen such disparately "spiritual" films as Ferzan Ozpetek's Sacred Heart (from last year's festival) and Riccardo Milani's Il Posto dell'anima (from 2004). While one man's spirituality may be another man's poison (I'll place my faith in the human over the divine, thank you), I did indeed perceive a strong sense of faith (or its noticeable absence) expressed in films as different as Monicelli's Desert Roses, Eugenio Cappuccio's One Out of Two, Laura Muscardin's Billo, Roberta Torre's Dark Sea and Davide Maderna's Schopenhauer. More on each of the films on or near the day it makes its Open Roads debut.
Posted by dwhudson at June 4, 2007 12:06 AM