by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor
With the tabloids on both sides of the Atlantic covering the nasty divorce spat between Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his former-actress wife (a spicy melange of adultery, illicit sex with teenage "models" and political corruption), the Italian penchant for soap opera and high drama continues unabated. Our on-going interest and curiosity about all things Italian continues with a double sided invasion of Italian cinema in the next few weeks in New York City and its environs.
This has been a banner year for Italian film. GOMORRAH, the relentless film from Matteo Garrone about the Napolitean crime scene, has been an arthouse hit throughout the world and offers a non-romantic view of the Mafia that contrasts with the romanticized view of the GODFATHER films. IL DIVO, the stylized tale of Prime Minister Guilio Andreotti, directed with a Visconti-like flair by Paolo Sorrentino, has also been widely embraced for its mix of the grand and the petty (which describes the Italian political scene at its most colorful).
With this double header of films creating renewed interest in Italian cinema (which has been a favorite of Americans since the post-war years of neo-realism), two new film programs debuting this week are highly anticipated. One looks back, while the other looks forward, to establish a lineage of Italian film language and sensibilities that continues to fascinate.
The Jacob Burns Film Center, that beacon of cinematic art located in Westchester County just north of New York City, will be presenting some of the masterpieces in the Italian canon. Beginning this Friday, the Center is presenting its program of Classic Italian Cinema, which includes the chefs d'oeuvres of some of world cinema's most legendary filmmakers. The program begins with a ravishing new 35mm film print of AMARCORD (1973), director Federico Fellini's lyrical and gorgeous memory film of his youth in pre-war Italy, with superb visuals by director of photography Nino Rota and one of film composer Nino Rota's most beautiful film scores. The opening night premiere will be followed, most appropriately, by a food and wine reception that includes the obligatory Italian buffet. Fellini is represented again in the series by his ROMA (1972), a sprawling semi-documentary love letter to his adopted city that includes some of the master's most memorable vignettes and set pieces.
Other unmissable films in the series include: the masterful OPEN CITY (1945), director Roberto Rossellini's neo-realist classic that remains a shattering and raw portrait of Rome under the occupation by the Nazis, featuring a for-the-ages performance by Anna Magnani; THE DAMNED (1969), stylist Luchino Visconti's magnum opus of German society during the rise of Hitler, with a brilliant international cast that includes Dirk Bogarde, Charlotte Rampling and Helmut Berger; JEALOUSY, ITALIAN STYLE (1970), a delicious sex comedy by Ettore Scola, featuring a dream cast that includes Marcello Mastrioanni, Monica Vitti and Giancarlo Giannini; and the lesser-known DILLINGER IS DEAD (1969), an anarchic comedy commenting on violence and hero worship by Marco Ferreri that features a wonderful performance from Italian everyman Michel Piccoli. The film series continues through June 25. For more information, visit the website: http://www.burnsfilmcenter.org/
While it is always a treat to revisit the classics, the vision of contemporary Italian filmmakers is equally compelling. A little burdened by the celebrated masters of the past and a rather dysfunctional film industry and government support structure, contemporary Italian film artists depend more on their wits to create cutting-edge examinations of their cherished if often tattered society. In this sense, they have a close affinity to the American independent film movement, which also must rely on its own resources to survive.
Giving contemporary Italian artists a major resource of visibility is the goal of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which is presenting its annual OPEN ROADS: NEW ITALIAN CINEMA program beginning on Thursday. The series offers a snapshot of both established talents and emerging artists on the Italian film scene and their world views.
The program opens with BRAVE MEN, an intriguing melodrama by Edoardo Winspeare that offers the story of a judge who unknowingly falls in love with the aid of a female mob boss. Other highlights of the series include: AS GOD COMMANDS, a compelling road movie by local sensation Gabriele Salvatores; THE GERMANS' FACTORY, a documentary/fiction mix that looks at lives lost in a factory accident by Mimmo Calopresti; GIOVANNA'S FATHER, a 1930s-set melodrama of murder and madness by the popular Pupi Avati; THE MAN WHO LOVES, a non-sentimental love story that is the sophomore film of Maria Sole Tognazzi, the daughter of legendary actor Ugo Tognazzi; and A PERFECT DAY, featuring a Venice Film Festival Best Actress performance by Isabella Ferrari, as directed by Ferzan Oztepek.
Many of the film directors, producers and actors will be present for the screenings held at the flagship theater of the Film Society, the luscious Walter Reade Theater. For more information on the program, visit: http://www.filmlinc.com/wrt/onsale/italian09.html
For two marvelous weeks, the Italians are invading New York......and not a moment too soon.