Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Open Roads: Vicari's "Past," Colopresti's "Factory" and Marchese's "Effedià"

The love that dare not speak its name doesn't in Daniele Vicari's THE PAST IS A FOREIGN LAND (Il passato è una terra straniera). Still, it's ever-present -- and in one of its nastier incarnations -- from the moment that a young card sharp named Francesco (Michele Riondino, shown, left, on the poster at right) begins an odd relationship with the movie's ostensible hero, a law student called Giorgio (Elio Germano, shown right, from this year's As God Comands and Daniele Luchetti's My Brother is an Only Child).

The current edition of the FSLC's Open Roads has given us many metaphors for Italy today but this example, based on a novel by Gianrico Carofiglio, is one of the darkest: the country as a fixed card game, from which no one can win nor bow out. Everyone we see in this movie is trapped in his or her own little hell, from the gambling-addicted wife and mother (Chiara Caselli, above) with whom our hero begins an affair to his own self-involved and clueless parents (Daniela Poggi, below, plays his mom). But it's his "friend" Francesco who really has the mother problem (along with many others). Should you need an example of a character whose inability to come to terms with his sexuality proves disastrous, look no farther than this bleak film.

When a lawyer (Germano) receives a visit from a woman he does not immediately recognize, he is thrust back into his past -- which makes up the lion's share of this film about corruption of all kinds. In the course of an evening when he (as a younger man) and his girlfriend attend a posh mansion complete with gaming tables, he comes to the rescue of the Riondino character, and so begins a friendship that will see him descend from cheating at cards to drug deals and particularly ugly violence against women.

Vicari (right) sees to it that we do not wallow too long in any of his film's many stench pits, and the performances complement the very dark palette. By the finale, however, you may feel the need to bathe. Given all we've seen, the fact the our "hero" turns out to be a lawyer seems a fitting cap to the proceedings. Good luck, Italy! Both screenings of The Past Is a Foreign Land have already taken place at Open Roads and no US distribution seems yet in place, but perhaps -- given the sex and violence on view -- a marketable DVD deal might be forthcoming.


THE GERMANS' FACTORY, Mimmo Calopresti's odd mix of initially "acted" drama (which thankfully lasts but a few minutes) and documentary investigation, moves from black-and-white to color and from actors (including Silvio Orlando) performing to interviews with factory workers and friends/family of the workers who died in the infamous 2007 ThyssenKrupp factory fire that the movie covers.

At the press screening, everyone seated near me seemed in agreement that the "arty" black-and-white, "acted" beginning was simply unnecessary. I'd love to have a few minutes with Signore Calopresti to learn the reasons he chose to do this. When we get to the actual interviews, things pick up considerably. Though the documentary itself is sometimes repetitive (how many times must we hear about the Christmas presents, for instance?), the interviews do the job of making us angry, shocked and enormously empathetic. The director saves his best for last: I doubt you'll be able to forget what you've heard from the final witness to this horrible and probably unnecessary disaster.
The Germans' Factory screens one final time at the Walter Reade Theater on Wednesday, June 10, at 2:15pm.


EFFEDIA: ON MY AWFUL WAY, by Teresa Marchesi, was the one film on which, during the press screening, I walked out. This was not the fault of the film itself but the way in which it was being presented to us. A documentary about the late folk singer Fabrizio De André (shown above, in his younger days), who is known as the "Italian Bob Dylan," the film, though featuring subtitles during the spoken interviews and narration, offered none at all during the many songs of De André. Imagine a documentary about Mr. Dylan in which you get no clue whatsoever about his lyrics, and you'll have some sense of the frustration level felt by those of us who do not parle Italiano. (See the comment at the end of an earlier post from translator Lilia Pino-Blouin for a possible reason why this may have happened.) Italian rock star Jovanotti will introduce this film in person at both screenings. Perhaps the god of sub-titling (or the other one who handles copyrights) will have provided an English version of De André's song lyrics by the time of its final showing at the Walter Reade on Wednesday, June 10, at 6:15 pm.

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