Sunday, June 5, 2011

OPEN ROADS hosts Italy's Donatello winner, Mario Martone's WE BELIEVED

Offering, as it does, a group of the best films to come out of Italy over the past year, it should not surprise us that Open Roads, the annual series from the Film Society of Lincoln Center, often includes a number of the David di Donatello award winners (Italy's "Oscars"), including the movie that has won Best Film. Last year's Open Roads offered us Giorgio Diritti's winner The Man Who Will Come (L'uomo che verrà), and this year it's Mario Martone's WE BELIEVED (Noi credevamo) that won the big prize.

When Signore Martone, shown at right, introduced the film at its first screening yesterday (there are two more at the Walter Reade Theater:  Tuesday., June 7, at 8pm and Wednesday., June 8, at 1pm), he noted that, at a former Q&A, comments were made about how We Believed seemed to reflect what is going on currently in the so-called democratizing "spring" of the middle eastern countries. After viewing Martone's very fine film, TrustMovies could only think how much it reminded him of what is going on in the USA: the co-opting and betrayal of democracy (under its very name) as the powerful align, as usual, against the people they supposedly represent.

We Believed is a historical epic that "celebrates" (those quotes are intentionally ironic) the 150 anniversary of the unification of Italy as a nation. While familiarity with important historical Italian names and personages is a help, it is not a necessity. (My own familiarity stops at Garibaldi, but I was still able to follow and understand what was going on -- and more importantly, why.) Martone gives us history lived -- via specific people and incidents that span at least a 30-year period. As we get to know and understand these people -- their backgrounds, needs, desires and, yes, betrayals -- we become emotionally involved with them all. This makes it more difficult to judge them so easily as heroes or villains. This is history made by flawed men (and a few women: that's Francesca Inaudi, as the young Cristina di Belgiojoso) going one step forward, two back. Oh, how many plots, plans and attempts simply do not work or can't provide the hoped-for consequence (more likely it's an unintended one).

Martone takes us from the salons of Paris to Montefusco prison, from the opera house to the guillotine, from country taverns to Garilbaldi's recruits (above) on the beach saluting their leader on the cliffs above them. In the huge and noteworthy cast are Open Roads regulars Luigi Lo Cascio (above), Michele Riondino (at bottom, right) and Toni Servillo (below) to the likes of Fiona Shaw (as Emilie Ashurst Venturi, daughter of a famous British radical and follower of Giuseppi Mazzini. The filmmaker gives us both imagined characters and those from real-life, and both work well together.We get history passed from father to son, Italians killing Italians with impunity, betrayals (often because of class as much as of politics) and, in the absolutely brilliant conclusion, a trip to Parliament to learn the result of all these endeavors.

While content come first in We Believed, something should be said for the filmmaker's fine visual sense. Early on there's a beautiful scene of morning sunlight pouring into a courtyard via a small tunnel. Later an execution (below) is observed almost formally, from a distance that allows us to mourn, as must the observers, quietly.

Each country that strives for some kind of equality and social justice will do so in its own way, of course. Yet We Believed surprises by showing us how much in common so many western would-be democracies have with Italy -- 150 years ago, and today. Of the wonderful movie about Spanish history, Sangre de Mayo, shown at the FSLC Spanish Cinema Now in 2009, I said that, to see it, makes Spaniards of us all. In something of the same way, We Believed makes Italians of us all.

If you can get to Lincoln Center for either of the film's final screenings, do.  This is the kind of movie (as was last year's The Man Who Will Come) that may never be seen theatrically or in any other manner here in the U.S. because it is deemed either too "artful" (read: few viewers) or too specifically "Italian" to possess wide appeal. Bullshit. Good history -- told dramatically, politically, intelligently -- speaks to everyone.

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