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.

Cinema Paradiso 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.)

Rose del Deserto 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.)

Viaggio Segreto 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.

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Posted by dwhudson at June 4, 2007 12:06 AM


Terrific film alert: In memoria di me, which was one of the highlights of the Berlinale competition, is part of the programme. Since -- at least on the surface -- it deals with a Jesuit novitiate in Venice, perhaps James will skip this, though for my money it is one of the most evocative films on trying to find one's bearings in a long, long time...

Posted by: Boyd at June 4, 2007 3:26 AM

Oh, I'm sure James won't be skipping it.

As you know, though, I'm not nearly as enthusiastic about this one as you are (or for that matter, as Dennis Lim is as well). Marvelous cinematography, of course, but in a way, Rivette's Don't Touch the Axe, struck me in part as a coincidental reply to In Memory of Myself by addressing the consequences of hying oneself away from the world. That's a superficial connection between the two films, I know, but one I couldn't help making at the time.

Posted by: David Hudson at June 4, 2007 4:00 AM

I hope that Open Roads: New Italian Cinema will be a riposte to those, like me, who wonder what happened to Italian cinema since the days of 'De Sica, Rossellini, Visconti, Fellini, Germi, Bolognini, Lattuada, Zurlini, Antonioni, Bertolucci or Bellocchio', and (I add) Pasolini, Olmi, the Tavianis and Risi. Italy, which was once the glory of world cinema, only produces one or two decent films a year among the morass of syrupy pictures in the line of Cinema Paradiso and Life is Beautiful. The Tavianis have greatly disappointed in the last few years and so has Moretti. Ironic that the Italian revival might be in the hands of a nonagenerian.

Posted by: ronald bergan at June 4, 2007 4:01 AM

You're reminding me, Ronald, of an amusing moment in a press conference with Sophia Loren that Movie City News is pointing to:


Finally, there was a glimpse of fire in Loren when reminded of director Quentin Tarantino's recent claim at the Cannes Film Festival that Italian cinema was dead.

"It's not true, it's not true at all. There's so many things going on in Italian cinema, so beautiful, also new actors, new actresses," she said.

"How dare he, how dare he talk about Italian cinema when he doesn't know anything about American cinema."


Spoken like an ambassador.

Posted by: David Hudson at June 4, 2007 4:12 AM

David, I'm not sure if I care to be lumped together with Tarantino's views. I remain an agnostic on Italian cinema. I actually await a Fourth Coming (after the three great eras.)

Posted by: ronald bergan at June 4, 2007 5:03 AM

No lumping intended! Let's keep hoping for that 4th Wave...

Posted by: David Hudson at June 4, 2007 5:29 AM

Boyd, Boyd! Of course I won't skip In Memory of Me. It just was not screened in advance. I loved Costanzo's PRIVATE and look forward to this one. I am still often fascinated (as well as repelled: sort of like some people react to snakes) by others' religious faith, even if I have none myself.

And Ronald-- thanks for the addition of all those other fine Italian filmmaker's (can't believe I left out Olmi!) As to Second, Third and Fourth "Coming" or "Wave," I am not so sure about all this. What seemed like paradise back then was so only because we had the opportunity to see the work of these filmmakers. Not nearly all of their work was great. But it was there to sample. Nowadays, we aren't able to catch most new work from international filmmakers, even on DVD.

Posted by: James van Maanen at June 4, 2007 9:43 AM

Don't Touch the Axe is one of the big underestimated titles of Berlin, but in a way I feel that this year it was all about underestimated titles. The only one that got some positive buzz from everyone (except Variety) was Irina Palm, but that is hardly the film that will advance the 7th art. Instead, films such as the Téchiné, the Rivette and, yes, the Costanzo are at least still trying to push the envelope and go somewhere unexpected -- with exhilarating results.

Posted by: at June 4, 2007 10:23 AM

I wrote that previous comment...

and James - I don't know if loving Private is what is needed to love (or even like) In memoria di me. I was, shall we say, rather underwhelmed by his debut, but the weird thing is that what I found lacking in that film -- namely a separate identity for each of the characters -- actually works in his favour here because Memoria is about lost souls who seek consolation and a sense of validation for their existence in a congregation with strict rules that places the group above the individual.

I think that is what I like so much about this particular set-up: lost souls arrive at a destination that is bent on making them even less individual thinkers and more herd animals that follow dogmatic rules and traditions, and through that, they are still able to find themselves, for better or for worse.

Can't wait to read your thoughts on the film... bring 'em on!

Posted by: Boyd at June 4, 2007 1:18 PM

Mark me down for another basket of respect for In Memoria de Me. I found it absolutely compelling at Berlin this year. Despite continual traffic of people leaving (I can understand that), and arriving (this I could not figure at all) during the screening.

The usage of the monastery, and the Venice the viewer sees behind its windows, to underscore narrative was sublime.

Posted by: via collins at June 4, 2007 5:11 PM

I can't wait to see another movie with Alessio Boni! And now I'm lucky since I get to see two this time at the festival. Carravaggio and Secret Voyage.

A Presto!

Posted by: Elizabeth at June 4, 2007 11:22 PM

"Italian film industry rebukes Tarantino" - an update from the Hollywood Reporter. Snippets:


"Tarantino is a brute," said Marco Bellocchio, a five-time Palme d'Or nominee in Cannes and a member of this year's Cannes jury.

Even editorial writers got in on the counterattack, with the left-wing daily L'Unita saying Tarantino was himself "mentally impaired."

The center-left daily La Repubblica, Italy's second-largest newspaper, said that if Italian film isn't what it used to be, neither was Tarantino.


Posted by: David Hudson at June 5, 2007 2:42 PM