Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Open Roads: the Gentilis' I AM ALIVE and Edoardo Winspeare's BRAVE MEN

The Sicilian Mafia? We don’t hear so much about them of late, now that the Camorra (via Gomorrah) are all the rage. No surprise: That Sicilian branch is still around, and every bit as nasty and destructive to the Social Contract – as Edoardo Winspeare’s new film BRAVE MEN (Galantuomini) makes clear. In this, his fourth work in thirteen years, as the FSLC’s Open Roads program notes, the director “creates a tantalizing blend of melodrama and investigative cinema” about that rare figure, the female crime boss.

Our main character, Lucia, is a kind of mini-boss, functioning directly under the top man. She’s managed to keep her station and occupation somewhat of a secret, particularly from the new judge in town, a childhood best friend until he left for the big city. These two clearly have the "hots" for each other and spend much of the movie in a state of longing, with furtive glances passing back and forth. And back and forth. And back and forth. Yes: the attraction begins to resemble a pair of windshield wipers that work in the old-fashioned “opposition” manner.

Fortunately, there’s competition for the title of “top man” in the mob, resulting in plots, betrayals, shoot-outs, and sundry Mafia-related fare that interrupts the love angle. Winspeare (shown right) stages his actions scenes well, the cinematography (by Paolo Carnera) is first-rate, and the locations are quite beautiful. The lead performances by Donatella Finocchiaro (shown below, left, also seen in last year’s The Sweet and the Bitter and 2007’s Secret Journey) and Fabrizio Gifuni (below right, seen in last year’s The Girl by the Lake, Signorina Effe and The Sweet and the Bitter) are fine, as far as they go. Both performers are earthy, attractive and talented actors, but the screenplay (by Winspeare, Andrea Piva and Alessandro Valenti) lets them down by rarely letting us get inside these two characters, particularly the judge. We end up knowing little about him, except that he's attracted to Lucia and has trouble working this into his quest for justice.

Winspeare constantly teases us by placing the past into the present so that we alternately see the children and then their adult incarnations. This makes for some haunting moments, particularly where a third character, a be-spectacled best friend, is concerned. What we don’t see is much in the way of specific character. Instead, we get generic emotions and history: love, lust, parental devotion, the need for justice, and so on. Brave Men – a good enough movie that might have been much better -- screens Thursday, June 4, at 7pm; Friday, June 5, at 4pm and Saturday, June 6, at 1pm.

The whole of I AM ALIVE (Sono viva) occurs because our hero Rocco (echoes of Visconti’s fine film?) cannot find a job. He’s a good worker, better – more careful and caring – than most. But in Italy today (yesterday, tomorrow?) this seems not to matter much. About to lose his small condo apartment for missed mortgage payments (a situation utterly foreign to us here in the USA), he accepts a job that a friend has put him on to. Into an odder situation -- complete with corpse (quite a lovely one, shown below), grief, mourning, family, sexual attraction and bleak, black comedy -– neither he nor us viewers are likely to find ourselves.

First-time filmmakers Dino and Filippo Gentili (they both have substantial writing credits) let us experience this through Rocco’s eyes, and a more decent guy you’ll not be seeing in all of this year’s Open Roads. The actor who plays Rocco – Massimo De Santis (from last years Night Bus) is a real find. I can’t imagine that, after his work here, his dance card will not be filled to the brim with the names of Italy’s best young filmmakers. The odd situation at the center of I Am Alive manages to shed light onto themes of immigration, paternity, and Italy’s nouveau riche (among other topics), and the cast includes some excellent actors, Giorgio Colangeli and the oft-seen Giovanna Mezzogiorno (as appealing as ever) among them.

The film’s final scene atop a mountain is so full of decency and sadness that it takes this black comedy into a new and surprisingly moving realm. (In retrospect, you may realize to whom the film’s title actually refers.) To describe the scene in any detail would be a waste because, just as does the film’s hero, you have to first have lived through the preceding 24 hours to be able to understand and appreciate this unique and wonderful moment.

I Am Alive
screens Friday, June 5, at 2 and Sunday, June 7, at 9.


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