Italian Film Festival 2010

Italian Film Festival 2010

By Hugh Lilly & Mary Romanov

The 15th Italian Film Festival starts next Wednesday at the Rialto Cinemas in Newmarket, and at the Bridgeway Cinemas in Northcote from Sept. 30th. This year’s programme features 17 films which range in tone from light-hearted romantic comedies to sweeping historical epics.

The opening night film is Tanti baci dopo (Many Kisses Later, a.k.a. Ex), an ensemble rom-com that follows six couples “between Christmas and Valentine’s Day in episodes that intertwine and revolve around the end of a love affair and the ways former lovers can shape our lives.” A small selection of four other films is highlighted below; three more will be covered in next week’s issue.

Student tickets for all sessions except opening night are $13; see for the full schedule & other details.

Generazione Mille Euro (The €1000 Generation)
Dir. Massimo Venier | 2009 | 91 mins.

This is a film in the vein of many similar coming-of-age stories set against the rapidly-changing landscape of modern Europe. Matteo is an overqualified maths graduate who is wasted on the marketing department of a soulless corporation. He’s barely surviving on a salary unrealistic as a living wage in Milan (a thousand euro, funnily enough), and has flatmate troubles. He also does some university lecturing on the side, and is inexplicably pursued by two beautiful women: Angelica, a senior manager at his company; and Beatrice, an unlikely new flatmate.

Matteo strives to find himself and a life direction while absurd business opportunities are thrown his way, tempting him to the ‘dark side’ of economic success. The plot is quite excessively far-fetched, and the constant self-referential quips by Matteo’s struggling film student vest friend do not help. In the end, this is a film for firm fans of the genre, or those who want to believe that doing an impractical degree will one day make their lives awesome. (MR)

Una Questione di Cuore (A Matter of Heart)
Dir. Francesca Archibugi | 2009 | 102 mins.

This story of an unlikely friendship formed in the emergency cardiac unit is Italian bitter-sweet drama through and through. Angelo, a simple and friendly mechanic with a young family of two children with a third on the way, lives in denial of his family history of massive heart failure in males in their early forties. Alberto is a neurotic, hypochondriac screenwriter living in entertainment circles, whose vulgar outbursts and selfish behaviour have rendered him a lonely old man. The two cross paths after being brought in for respective heart attacks, and Angelo encourages Alberto to engage with his family on increasingly intimate levels.

This film explores some interesting themes, such as the nature of romantic love, and family relationships. However, it does go to some dark and awkward places without really resolving anything at length. This will be of interest for general fans of Italian cinema, charting its most recent iterations. (MR)

Il Passato è una Terra Straniera (The Past is a Foreign Land)
Dir. Daniele Vicari | 2008 | 117 mins.

Based on a successful novel by Gianrico Carofiglio, this thriller follows a promising young law student about to take his bar exam whose bad side comes out when he’s lured into a seedy underworld by an enterprising card sharp (someone who cheats at card games). After screwing over a couple of mobsters, the two travel to Argentina with stolen cash in search of cocaine and whores—where the card sharp indulges his perverse pleasure of seducing and eventually raping unsuspecting women. Director Vicari plainly adores David Lynch, and Mulholland Drive in particular—a film he references incessantly throughout this film’s two-hour run-time, albeit with the gratuitous violence ramped all the way up to 11. This could have been an interesting thriller, and it’s certainly stylish—but is ultimately overlong, lacking in any real suspense, and unappealing in both its worldview and lackadaisical characterisation. (HL)

Vincere (Victory)
Dir. Marco Bellocchio | 2009 | 100 mins.

This initially-engaging biopic of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini vacillates wildly before eventually settling on a tone that’s somewhere between costume drama and musical. The film centres just as much on the life of the fascist himself as it does the fates of his first wife Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Love in the Time of Cholera; L’ultimo bacio) and child, who are basically disowned by Mussolini—he destroys his first marriage certificate after he starts a family (the official first family) with his second wife. No one will believe his first wife that she was once married to the most powerful man in the land, and, similarly, when he grows up, no one believes Benito Jr.

Overly theatrical, the film oftentimes seems as if it’s about to have its characters burst into song—and the abundance of opera on the soundtrack, while fitting and not anachronistic, serves only to reinforce this feeling: the characters stand around awaiting an entr’acte so they can catch their breath—but it never quite arrives. The characters do sing, but only in a drunken stupor, and only to show their political allegiance displayed as an almost unhinged, relentless fervour. Newsreel footage woven throughout—which shows Mussolini’s rise alongside the complementary biographical sequences—gives the film a welcome extra layer, though the discrepancy between the way the actor portraying Mussolini looks, and the way he actually looked (i.e. how he appears in the newsreel footage) is marked.

Septuagenarian director Bellocchio, who has been making films since 1965, has crafted a lavish costume drama that seems to want to split into two distinct features: one a fairly straight-forward documentary, and one a highly theatrical biopic. Still, seeing the two mixed together, even if the whole doesn’t quite jell, makes this easily one of the best films in the festival’s programme. (HL)

(NB: The programme lists Vincere’s run-time as 100 mins., but the screener I watched was 120 mins; the IMDb lists both 128- & 118-min cuts. So perhaps the version that plays in the fest will be an edit of some kind. It’d make sense, as the material was stretched just a little thin…)