June 5, 2008

Open Roads. Preview.

With this brisk overview, James Van Maanen opens another series of dispatches from the Film Society of Lincoln Center.Updated through 6/6.

The Girl by the Lake Open Roads: New Italian Cinema is beckoning once again, presenting 14 films from tomorrow (Friday) through June 12, all of them new except one little-seen classic, the New York premier of Franco Piavoli's Blue Planet from 1982, plus a program of new Italian shorts.

What holds true for this festival year after year (as it does for the FSLC's other annual "country" fests, the Spanish and the French) applies again this time. Where else can you see the culture, economy, politics, problems - big city/small town, north/south, old/new - of a country mirrored, often stunningly, in so many different ways? Nowhere, in my experience, except at the Walter Reade Theater, where each feature will be shown twice (only once for Blue Planet, but that opens commercially the following week at the Pioneer).

Having now seen every film except the group of short subjects, I can flatly state that this year's fest takes a major leap, artistically and commercially, from those of the past few years. And the sheer enjoyment level is about as high as I can recall. There may be a disappointment or two within this lot, but there's not a ringer in the pack. Every film is worth seeing for one reason or another, and several are much more than that.

If you're an "Awards" groupie, get set for the film that won the most Davids (the Italian Oscars) at this year's David di Donatello awards: Andrea Molaioli's The Girl by the Lake. (Interestingly, the movie that won most of the major awards last year, Giuseppe Tornatore's The Unknown Woman just opened commercially in New York last week - to rather disparate reviews.)

As I watched this year's films, I was impressed again and again with the confluence of themes: how the same earth celebrated by Blue Planet is ravaged in Biùtiful Cauntri; how Wilma Labate in Ms. F explores the famous 1980 strike against FIAT (from a narrative perspective that involves lovers, employers and family), which we see again from another angle in Francesca Comencini's fine documentary In the Factory. The Italian economy (applicable, at this point, to the west as a whole) is present in the documentaries, of course, but really everywhere: from Gianni Zanasi's return-to-family comedy Don't Think About It to Davide Marengo's noirish, chase thriller/black comedy Night Bus and Silvio Soldini's moving Days and Clouds, in which the economy takes its toll on an upper-middle-class family.

Family is everywhere (come on: this is Italy!) and in various conceptions. There's the "real" family of famous jazz composer/musician Luca Flores in Riccardo Milani's Piano, solo; the group of friends as tight as any family in Ferzan Ozpetek's Saturn in Opposition; the Mafia family of Andrea Porporati's The Sweet and the Bitter; the fracturing families of cinematographer Stefano Coletta's debut film An Unusual Time to Meet, and the faux families of Carlo Mazzacurati's The Right Distance and Salvatore Maira's The Waltz. These latter two films are, for me, the highlights of this year's Open Roads. In the former, family is really an entire community, which we get to know as well as possible within the framework of 100-or-so minutes. Mazzacurati has given us the most humane film of the festival - at once kind and uplifting, sad and surprising - while Maira's groundbreaking movie melds startling technique with content and character to deliver the most bracing cinema I've seen since Jaime Rosales's Goya-winning La Soledad.

Finally, there is the just-plain-wonderful group of Italian actors that, this year, more than in any Opens Roads I recall, make it seem as though you have stumbled into one of the worlds' great repertory companies. The same actor/actress you loved here pops up again there, some of them three times, in roles so different you may not, until the final credits roll, even recognize them. I'll have more on all these films in dispatches to follow. But don't wait on my further babblings. Queue up for tickets ASAP.

-James Van Maanen

Simon Abrams has more on this year's Open Roads in the New York Press, and: "On its 25th anniversary, Franco Piavoli's Blue Planet remains a one-of-a-kind nature documentary," writes Vadim Rizov in the Voice. "While Planet Earth and its ilk try to shock and awe viewers into submission, this is a defiantly formalist, nearly avant-garde Italian countryside romp."

Update, 6/6: Martin Tsai in the New York Sun gives Open Roads a newsy hook: "'Italy's cinema is again flying high,' the veteran critic Paolo Mereghetti declared at last month's Cannes Film Festival after the country nabbed the hotly contested Grand Prix and Jury Prize, respectively, for Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah, a gritty film about the criminal underground in Naples, and Paolo Sorrentino's Il Divo, a satire on the nation's former prime minister, Giulio Andreotti. The triumphs have lent the country's fading industry some much-needed resuscitation, even if it still has a long way to go before reclaiming the glory days of neorealism established by Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica, Roberto Rossellini and Luchino Visconti."

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Posted by dwhudson at June 5, 2008 3:40 PM