Friday, March 19, 2010

VINCERE conquers; Bellocchio's back in form; short Q&A with Filippo Timi

TrustMovies first saw VINCERE in performance during last year's New York Film Festival, but the movie -- directed and co-written (with Daniella Ceselli) by Marco Bellocchio is so smart, dark and telling that it deserves longer mention, particularly since it begins its official U.S.theatrical run today.

Bellocchio (shown at right) tells the tale of Benito Mussolini (aka Il Duce) as combination black comedy, opera, history, horror, politics, and masochistic love story of the woman who fixated on Mr. M, married him and fathered his child, only to see -- but you'll have to see for yourself. It's worth it, as this is Marco Bellocchio, after all, whose skills I think have only grown as he has aged. We discover here, too, a very different side of popular Italian actress Giovanna Mezzogiorno (below, right), who at times seems very nearly feral in this film, while getting yet another taste of the fellow who may well be the most talented, versatile and charismatic young actor in Italy, Filippo Timi (shown below, with his arm around Ms Mezzogiorno).

The movie is strange and disturbing, most of all because it takes the political and spins it into the purely personal -- while forcing us to understand how the two are connected and how Italy itself seems still, as then, devoted to a fascist media mogul. I didn't realize till seeing this film that Mussolini began his career as a socialist (shades of Ronald Reagan!) and -- thanks to the money from Ida Dalser (played by Mezzogiorno) -- also became a media mogul of his time, prior to his rise to ultimate power. Along the way, in his tour of pre-WWII Italy, Bellocchio also skewers the hypocrisy of the so-called "family values" of the Catholic Church.

If the film may seem to concentrate too heavily and too long on Dalser's decline, Mezzogiorno makes the character so real yet so crazy, clinging futilely to her love for this worthless man whom she believes will ultimately honor and save her, that the movie becomes a kind of endurance test for her -- and for the audience. The filmmaker fills the screen with fine performances, as well as newsreel footage, fascist slogans of the time writ large on the screen, fantasy, reality, and wonderfully imagined moments that, whether they actually happened or not, are now indelibly soldered to our brain.

For his part, Signore Timi plays both mad Mussolini and his sad son, who, along with his mother Ida, may be among Italy's most ill-used citizens. Seen simply as history, the movie jolts; as art, it amazes and chills.

Vincere (the word means win) is Bellocchio's best since Good Morning, Night and should further secure his place in the pantheon of the world's great filmmakers. The film, from IFC opens Friday, March 19, in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and the IFC Center. You can find other upcoming playdates, cities and theaters here.


Considered one of the very best Italian actors of his generation, Filippo Timi is also something of a shape-shifter (face-shifter, anyway). Having seen him in half a dozen movies at this point, I always find it difficult to recognize him film to film, so different, inside and out, does he make each character.

At last year’s FSLC Open Roads Italian film festival luncheon, TrustMovies was lucky enough to sit at the same table as Timi, who proved an utterly delightful raconteur, keeping us amused and enlightened via his many interesting tales of life in today's Italian cinema. One of the things he spoke about was his own problem of stuttering, and how this effects his life and art. (More of this in the interview below)

From Vincere (Timi is shown center, left)

A few days after that luncheon, we had to opportunity to speak in person with Timi for perhaps fifteen minutes about his career up to then. Vincere had only just made its debut at the Venice Film Fest and had not been seen here in NYC, neither at the Film Festival nor in its current theatrical release. So all our questions had to do with his earlier roles. In the conversation below, TrustMovies appears in bold while Timi is in standard type….

So far I have seen you in four very different roles – five, really, but I don’t remember you in Giada Colagrande’s Aprimi il cuore. You were the “hero,” the main male lead in Wilma Labate's Signorina Effe; one of the young novitiates in Saverio Costanzo's In Memory of Me; the really scary father in Gabriele Salvatores' As God Commands; and in Ferzan Ozpetek's Saturno Contro, I believe you played... the boyfriend of actress Serra Yilmaz?

Yes!  That was a much smaller role.

How did Ms Labate's Signore Effe do with the Italian public?  Did they embrace it?  Was the movie popular in Italy?

Not really.  It did OK, but it was not a huge success.

 Timi in Signorina Effe

Do Italians have the same attitude toward their own films today as it seems the Spanish often do: "Oh, this is a Spanish film, so it must be shit!"

No, I think that Italian people do love their country's films: Fellini, De Sica, Rossellini, all of them!

But those are the old directors. What about the films of today?

Well, films by Garrone and Moretti, among others, are very popular.  I believe that cinema in Italy, right now, is trying to provide a contrast with what is happening with the political situation in Italy.

Ah. Maybe that is why not one single actor or director with whom I have spoken in the last two years of Opens Roads festival has anything good to say about Berlusconi?

Yes: Cinema offers alternatives, and so audiences are looking for that, for something different.

You mentioned yesterday at the luncheon that you have a stutter, but that this only seems to come out when you are speaking Italian.  It does not appear when you are speaking French or English.   What about when you are performing on stage?

I don't stutter then, either, when I play in theater or the movies.  I don't know why. Maybe you could say that my work has really saved my life!

There is something very vulnerable about someone who stutters. For me, it makes me want to protect that person more. And yet when I see you on screen, it is always like you are a very strong person.  Someone who would never need protection.

 Timi, at left, shown in a production still from In Memory of Me

One of my secrets is that I have a very big problem with my vision, as well. I don't see from the center -- or in the center.

This is like another handicap, then? 

I am actually "blind" according to the Italian National Association for the Blind. People don’t look for this problem in me because they can’t see it. So maybe the stuttering is like to say to people: Look, I do have a problem, and it with the eyes. Maybe, I think, that when I am playing in theater or film, that this is a safe way for me to be doing things.

Did you see the Italian film Verso Nord – about a young man who also has an odd vision problem (we don’t find out about this until halfway through the movie however).

No, I have not seen that one.  But this vision problem is known as Stargardt Syndrome. And because of this, I must have special scripts given to me that are much bigger type than usual. Even scripts that run to like 400 pages -- with huge type!

You must have become very strong, carrying around these scripts!

Yes, yes!

Yet when you are acting in a film or on stage, you can get around all these... handicaps?

Timi, in white shirt, from Saturno Contro

Yes. The typical situation is that the director will tell me, to look here or look thee. Like, "Look at that big yellow spot on the wall," for instance – and then I can do it.

If you could find just a  few words to use to describe the directors you have worked with, what would those words be?  Let's start with Gabriele Salvatores:

Someone who works with his hands, as in a trade.

Like a manual laborer?  

An artisan.

As opposed to an artist?

No! But he has a very concrete approach to his work. Very artisanal. Like he is building his movie.

Ah!  And what about Saverio Costanzo:

Timi, left, from As God Commands

Un amico!  I would say:  couragio. Very brave! When he chooses a road to follow, he follows it all the way along without worry about where it might be going.  What is so extraordinary about Costanzo is that is he is so young: He is only 33 now, but he was 31 when he made the movie.  And you can find in him a perfectly combined young soul and at the same time someone who is very deep.

Wilma Labatte?

Strong, a great heart, a very political woman. She believes very strongly in things!

At the end of Signorina Effe, do you think the two characters will ever get together? Or not?

I think that they will not. I once happened to meet again, after a long time, an old girlfriend of mine to whom I actually proposed to get married, but when I saw her again after that long time, all that amazing amount of love I felt for her, it came up again in such a huge way.  In order to handle this, I had to go off in another direction. I could not handle it. And I could not see her again.

In Signorina Effe, do you think it is politics that is keeping them apart? Or her family?

Just life -- in which all these things play a part.  It is like Genet says: Only criminals can truly love.

What about Ozpetek?

He is very much into his friends and family.

We might call it his "extended family?"

Yes, extended family. He really welcomes you and gives you, while you are with him and the movie, a sense of belonging to a wonderful family and group.

And that, dear reader, is all the time we had. I wish I could have asked Timi about Vincere, which -- nearly one year later, I've now seen.  Well: next time.  Meanwhile, I believe we'll be seeing lots more of Filippo Timi....

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