Saturday, June 30, 2012

On DVD: URBANIZED--Gary Hustwit's third design documentary may be his very best

This newest film in Gary Hustwit's trilogy of documentaries about design and how it affects our lives may be his best yet. Having appreciated all three films -- Helvetica (2007), Objectified (2009) and now URBANIZED (2011), TrustMovies thinks this one is his best because it hits us squarely where we live (most of us, anyway): in the big city. Hustwit lets us in on what's going on in major cities around the world, as everyone -- from politicians to architects, city planners to sociologists -- shows and tells us the good stuff and the bad.

Unlike fans of The National Enquirer, Mr Hustwit (shown at right) has a genuinely inquiring mind -- one interested in a lot more than mere gossip -- as do the talking heads with whom he peoples his films. If you at all care about how we live now and how we might live better and more productively for the environment and the world, you will learn one hell of a lot from his movies. These are often witty, visually and verbally, and none more so that Urbanized, during which we take a bike ride with Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogota, Colombia (below), as he explains how mass transit and bicycles are helping to change the city; later, he tells us that he doesn't see anywhere in his (or most countries') Constitution the right to a parking place for a car. Yet so many citizens seem to think of this as one of their "inalienables."

While typefaces (Helvetica) are generally designed by a single person, cities are the product of many minds and hearts, desires and various kinds of greed. So how they come into being and whether they stand the test of time is up for grabs. In Urbanized we go from rise to sprawl to fall, seeing some cities that work, some that work only for the wealthy (the movie was made prior to the Occupy movement, but it is easy to find similarities in both), and others that are trying to change to meet the increasing needs of the 21st century.

How they can do this is the subject at hand and by the time you come awey from Hustwit's 85-minute movie, you should be energized by the possibilities. While the filmmaker possesses no Pollyanna attitude, simply hearing the thoughtful ideas -- many of which have been shown to work -- from all the smart people he has assembled is a very positive experience.

Some of the folk you hear from include Udo Andriof (of Stuttgart 21), Alejandro Aravena (Elemental), Amanda Burden (NYC Department of Planning), James Corner (Field Operations) Mark Covington (Georgia Street Community Garden), Joshua David and Robert Hammond (Friends of the High Line), Ellen Dunham-Jones (Georgia Tech), Sir Norman Foster (Foster + Partners), Jan Gehl (Gehl Architects), Alastair Graham (City of Cape Town), Bruce Katz (Brookings Institution), Rem Koolhaas (OMA), Eduardo Paes (Mayor, Rio de Janeiro), Sheela Patel (above, from SPARC,) Edgar Pieterse (African Centre for Cities), Ric Scofidio (Diller, Scofidio + Renfro) and Michael Sorkin (Sorkin Architects).

Architect Gehl is one of the most interesting of these, another is Ms Dunham-Jones. And Brookings' Bruce Katz is an unalloyed delight. When I finished the film, still craving more, I turned to the "extras" on the DVD and was not disappointed. I first watched the section on the "cities we love/hate" then moved to the rest of the outtakes, in which the speakers wax, in some cases, even more eloquent and inspiring than they did in their portion of the actual film. This is one of the few DVDs I've seen that I would recommend watching every last "extra." (There is very nearly an hour more of excellent material here).

Urbanized is available now for sale or rental, via the usual suspects -- and you can also rent/stream or own/download the film from Distrify. To stream or download, click here.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The FSLC's New York Asian Film Fest 2012 opens today at the Walter Reade Theater

From animation (The King of Pigs, above) to zombies (Dead Bite, below), from Asian art films (a few, at least) to box-office blockbusters, romance and comedy, sci-fi and sports, heists and hotties, retrospectives and current films, award-winners and some that will only inspire genre-audience love -- hell, there's even a South Korean remake of an Argentine rom-com on tap! -- the New York Asian Film Festival is back for its 2012 edition. Sporting the kind of movies that he who Trusts would die for (had he not just finished seeing the complete Italian Open Roads fest and so must rest awhile and content himself with a few of the films currently opening in NYC), this festival seems to only grow more popular from year to year.

The 2012 collection of films comes from Thailand, Hong Kong, China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, and Taiwan and contains just about every kind of movie you can imagine, including some that you probably can't -- until you've seen 'em, that is. (View the entire program here, and then click on the individual films for more specifics.)  There is, 'natch, a movie based on a video game (Ace Attorney, below), as well as another that's an oral history of

Cambodian cinema that was destroyed by the Khmer Rouge (Golden Slumbers, below). There are plenty more movies of every sort -- 43 programs in all (44, if you don't count the classic Infernal Affairs 1 & 2 as a single entity) shown over a two-week period at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center.


Other than the above-mentioned Infernal Affairs duo, TrustMovies has seen but one of this year's films, the Korean crime opus titled NAMELESS GANGSTER (Bumchoiwaui junjaeng). This heady stew of societal corruption, which takes us back to the 1990s and to South Korea's "war" on organized crime, and then via flashback to the decade previous, is said to be based on a real case from that fetid period involving one particular criminal, here known as Mr. Choi (given a memorable rendering by Choi Min-sik, below), who goes from a bribe-taking civil servant (not all that different, it would seem, from most civilians of that time) to a major criminal kingpin without ever quite being able to completely take on the calculatingly lethal criminality required of the "best" gangsters.

Choi wants himself and his family to survive above all else. But on the other end of the spectrum is a real gangster, played by another exceptional Korean actor, Ha Jung-woo, below, who uses his somewhat younger age, effortless sexuality, and utter ruthlessness to counter Choi. For a time the two men work together, but betrayal is never far away.

How else can one get ahead in a society this corrupt, the movie asks? Many Americans will shake their head in recognition. Venality and corruption run neck in neck throughout: politicians, police, special prosecutors all give the gangsters a run for their money. "There's no end to a man's greed," notes the slut of the moment to Choi, with a certain pride in her voice.

While an understanding of the ins-and-outs of Korean culture would be a big help in deciphering some of the mores on display, most regular art house audiences will be able to keep up well enough with this film, which has been described as a kind of Korean Goodfellas -- quite an appropriate comparison. Written and directed -- both exceedingly well -- by Yun Jong-bin, the movie is intelligent, exciting, fast-moving (despite being over two hours long), featuring a pulse-pounding finale and a denouement (a family party a few years down the road) that's a quiet humdinger.

Nameless Gangster plays twice during the festival: tomorrow night, Saturday, June 30, at 9pm, and again Tuesday, July 3, at 1pm.  Click here to purchase tickets.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Auraeus Solito's Philippines-set BUSONG provides glorious vistas, legend, poetry-- and maybe a few unintentional chuckles

As a fan of Philippines filmmaker Auraeus Solito, ever since his bizarrely affecting narrative debut The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros (from 2005), and his interesting follow-up, Boy (2009), I was primed for the beauty of this filmmaker's lovingly shot male bodies and his effectively simple story-telling technique. His new movie BUSONG (aka Palawan Fate) is something different, both more and less: a sumptuous mix of gorgeous sea- land- and sky-scapes, Philippines legend, mysticism, modern-day intrusions and, as ever, rather simple storytelling.

Via his mother, Mr. Solito, shown at right, comes from the Philippines' Palawan tribe, located in the South-westernmost point of the islands. Not until after the filmmaker graduated from university and returned home did he begin to learn the many stories of Palawan culture, religion, magic and the Shaman-Kings -- from whom, mother informed son, their family had descended. Eventu-ally, Solito decided that he must make a film about all this, of which Busong -- the Palawan version of "fate" -- is the first in a trilogy that the filmmaker has promised to continue.

From the outset, as a pair of scantily-clad young men carry a hammock-like receptacle along an uninhabited shoreline, the movie offers up the timeless look, sound and feel of legend. The crisp, bright, utterly pollution-free landscape makes for the kind of color cinematography that you can only achieve in the non-industrial areas of the world, and many of the shots here will take your breath away with their beauty.

What the young men are carrying turns out to be a very ill young woman (above), the sister of one of the men. Another young woman offers to help carry the load and to take the girl to a "healer," so off they go. We learn of this new young woman's problems (missing husband, chainsaws and felled trees), and then another bearer takes over the carrying duties (a hunky fisherman who once had a son and a boat), and finally another young man returning from the city to his ancestral place among the Shamans.

We learn of each of these bearers' life via memory, dream and narration, as one story flows into another like the constant ocean waves or the waterfall (three photos above) that feeds the little lake below it. If we're not always sure where we are or of whose story we're currently part, we're soon back again with the sick girl, as she is carried further toward either healing or death.

Though we see little of "modern civilization" -- a scene in a hospital-like office, an encounter with a nasty white man -- we're made aware of how the Palawan people have been and still are ill-used by their oppressors and by western religion. One character remarks of wanting to be "where the sound of church bells is not heard and government does not exist."

Along the way there is a scene of a breath-taking giant plant (no special effects, just nature, I suspect); another demonstrates the healing effects of Palawan urine; and the finale offers up our young woman's wounds actually breeding butterflies out of her sores (nice make-up job here).

What holds this very slow-paced film together are its staggeringly lovely visuals, as well as as the beautiful young men and women the director has chosen for his leading roles. His camera caresses them all, particularly the men, with appreciation and barely-concealed longing. While the simplicity of the stories and their telling makes for charm, however, it can also lead to some longueurs, during which you may find yourself wondering what Mystery Science Theater's man and his robots might make of all this. Their occasional commentary, no doubt, would be choice.

The above might sound unfairly harsh, for there is much to appreciate about the filmmaker's endeavor. But sometimes Solito's simple and beautiful leans a little too much toward the former. Busong opens this Friday, June 29, in New York City at the Quad Cinema. No other U.S. playdates are to be immediately found, but you can click here to see its many past playdates, at festivals internationally.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

André Téchiné's latest -- UNFORGIVABLE -- opens in New York City and Los Angeles

One of the reasons this year's Rendez-vous With French Cinema seemed so special is that several world-class filmmakers were represented by movies that show them working at, or close to, the top of their form: Lucas Belvaux with 38 Witnesses, Benoît Jacquot's Farewell, My Queen, Robert Guédiguian and The Snows of Kilmanjaro and André Téchiné with his newest, UNFORGIVABLE (Impardonnables).

Téchiné (shown at right) and Guédiguian are similar in the manner in which their movies often span a wide canvas of characters, though the former is never nearly so overtly political as the later. This does not mean that Techine is not political, but he always arrives there via different routes than other filmmakers. His new film is so utterly fascinating, so perfectly cast, and so full of humor, surprise, sadness and mystery (the mystery of character) that, moment to moment, I believe it may be his very best. It is also about change, and how we had better -- we must -- keep accepting, in fact, engaging it. This movie may also be the filmmaker's most accessible (for a relatively mainstream audience, at least) in some time.

Unforgivable gives the classic beauty and fine French actress Carole Bouquet (above) her best role in years as an ex-model who now deals in real estate in Venice, Italy, and early on in the film becomes involved with a writer of mysteries, played by another grand old Frenchman André Dussollier (below, left), who has come to Venice to find a way around his current writer's block.

Into the mix are introduced that remarkable Italian actress Adriana Asti (above, right), whose relationship with Bouquet goes way back; her son, a very troubled youth, played by Mauro Conte (below, right, with dog*); Dussolier's daughter, Mélanie Thierry (an equally troubled adult) and the impoverished-but-sexy Italian royalty, Andrea Pergolesi, with whom she is involved.

There are more, but these half-dozen characters are enough to set the game in motion, allowing the filmmaker (he co-adapted the scenario from the novel by Philippe Djian) to explore again, and so very well, our needs and desires, and why we betray others, even as we inevitably inflict the worst damage upon ourselves.

In a way, the movie is slice-of-life, Téchiné-style, in that it cuts a wide swatch and burrows deep. A number of unforgiveable things are done along the way, the biggest, perhaps, by the character played by Dussolier. And yet, I suspect that this filmmaker would tell us -- hell, he's shown us -- that very nearly nothing is unforgive-able. Not when we fully understand where it comes from. And Téchiné, maybe more than any other movie-maker I can think of, is always in there, probing, questioning, making sure that we do.

Unforgivable , from Strand Releasing and running 112 minutes, opens this Friday, June 29, in both Los Angeles (at Laemmle's Royal Theater, Playhouse 7 and Town Center 5) and New York City (at the Beekman and the IFC Center).

*That dog is amazing -- much better than the little guy in The Artist (same breed, too, if I am not mistaken). But this one is so incredibly lively and funny, plus he has a scene that will nearly destroy you. He's a don't-miss, all on his own.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

TrustMovies goes to the dogs (for one day) as ADOPT NY hits Tompkins Square Park bandshell this Sunday, July 1, noon-4pm!

TrustMovies has not done this previously, but as his only child and lovely daughter has requested it, he's giving over his blog to a worthwhile event:

Adopt NY -- a new initiative launched by Dog Habitat Rescue and Project Pet Inc. that will put New York at the forefront of animal rights and save the lives of local homeless animals -- has scheduled its first event, to be sponsored by Stella & Chewy’s (S&C), one of America’s leaders in high-quality freeze-dried and frozen pet foods, for this Sunday, July 1, from noon until 4pm in the bandshell at NYC's Tompkins Square Park (shown below), in Manhattan's East Village, between Avenues A and B and 7th through 10th Streets.

Adopt NY’s mission advocates a citywide no-kill policy and encourages local adoption of animals from the New York area. The organization also educates the public about the importance of rescuing and dispels negative stereotypes about shelter animals. Its adoption website,, showcases NYC adoptable rescue dogs and cats and make it easy for potential owners to connect to rescues. A series of adoption events, sponsored by Stella & Chewy’s, will be held throughout the NY Metro area. The first occurs this Sunday, July 1; the second will be in Brooklyn, late September. Both social and traditional media have been engaged to disseminate Adopt NY’s message.

In only three months since its inception in March, 2012, more than 30 local animal rescue organizations from across the five boroughs have joined Adopt NY. The program is currently growing -- and accepting new partners. In addition to its website, you can access Adopt NY via Facebook or Twitter.

For further event information, please contact: Laura Simms,, 917.848.8899

At BAMcinemaFest: WALK AWAY RENÉE, Jonathan Caouette's follow-up to Tarnation

Some of us were not so pleased, back in 2004, with Jonathan Caouette's debut feature Tarnation because-- with its constant style-trumps-content and its consistent sense of me-me-me! oh-look-I'm-a-star! -- we felt it played not at all fair with his mother Renée Leblanc. We may have to eat crow now that his latest work, WALK AWAY RENÉE, is about to make its North American premiere -- at the BAMcinemaFest. (Fortunately, TrustMovies has a flock of crows who often fly right outside his Jackson Heights window -- they've even scared away the red-tailed hawk that had taken up residence -- and he'll be happy to get out his BB gun and share some lunch with fellow critics.)

Caouette's new film -- while it still offers mom (stylized, above, and simply vulnerable, below) as someone who can barely be lived with -- allows Renée to come across fully as as a human being worth our compassion, and even worth the caring she gets from her son Jonathan, his companion David, and Jonathan's son Joshua.

In this new film, we get the family history in a more solid, less fragmented manner than we did with Tarnation, and while the filmmaker still enjoys diddling with style, he's kept it more at the service of the story he wants to tell. When it's there, as it definitely is during a long, phantasmagorical light show around two-third of the way through the film, it arrives as almost a pleasurable respite from the turmoil that Caouette -- and the audience -- stews in throughout most of the rest of the movie.

Probably the most shocking visual element we see here (other than Renée's sad state) is how much and how badly Caouette appears to have aged in the years between films. This fellow, so full of energy, spirit and beauty in his younger days (at right), now looks so drained, tired and overweight (below) that it seems like some 28 years, rather than merely eight, have passed. But given what we see during the film's time line -- which takes us, zipping backward and forward, from Renée's early years, pre-Jonathan, to practically present-day -- this last decade in particular has been no picnic for anyone involved. In the first film, the movie-maker was happy to gaze at the camera 24/7; now he can barely bring himself to look directly at it.

If Tarnation often seemed like self-love taken beyond even mastur-batory level, Walk Away Renée is more than mere penance. It puts us in the seat next to a person with bi-polar disorder (and then some). If you've ever spent time around this sort, as I have, that weird double response of helping another person coupled to your own self-protection will quickly kick in. (Personal note: I live with my companion of 20-odd years and his 98-year-old mother, who has lived with us for the past ten years. While I would not call this living arrangement easy, by comparison with what Caouette and his companion contend -- and now, it seems Caouette's own son lives with them, too -- I consider our immediate family to be lucky.)

Back and forth in time we go, as son tries to take mom by car from Texas to New York, in the process losing her meds (one wonders if she herself did not toss them out) and try desperately to cadge a refill, while filling viewers in on family history over four generations. By the 50-minute mark, we've come full circle. And then we move ahead toward... what?

I'd have liked to have learned more about the filmmaker's companion David, whom I'm sure viewers will imagine is some kind of saint. (People have referred to me in that way, too, because I've taken in the mother of my companion. They don't realize, of course, that it is easier to distance yourself when it is not your mother because you have none of that 30-, 40-, or -- for us -- 60-year baggage that must come along with any mother-child relationship.)

I hope Caouette will continue his story -- of Renée, of his life with David, of the progress of his son Joshua (above, left). This tale would seem to beg for a third chapter, if only to see mom put to rest, and the remaining lives put to other, less stressful, perhaps more normal -- if these people have a clue as to what that word might mean -- tests. Walk Away Renée, from Sundance Selects, screens tomorrow evening, Wednesday, June 27, at BAM, as part of the BAMcinemaFest. You can see the entire -- and pretty damn special -- BCF program here, and get directions to BAM here. As for the film itself, in addition to any theatrical showings, it can now be seen (starting Wednesday, June 27: I'm posting a tad early) on the new SundanceNow doc club, where it can be rented for a one-time charge of $6.99 -- or screened FREE for anyone who subscribes to the Doc Club.

Monday, June 25, 2012

As Ferzan Ozpetek's LOOSE CANNONS hits DVD & VOD and MAGNIFICENT PRESENCE opens the recent FSLC Italian fest, we do a quick Q&A with one of Italy's top directors

From his directorial debut Steam, though the gorgeous Harem Suaré and the surprising, bracing Ignorant Fairies (best know here on DVD as the tritely-titled His Secret Life) to the ever more sophisticated in style and story Facing Windows, Sacred Heart and Saturn in Opposition, Ferzan Ozpetek, born in Turkey but raised in Italy, has become one of the latter country's currently most famous and loved filmmakers.

As Ozpetek's penultimate (for now) movie Loose Cannons, has just becomes available on DVD, VOD and iTunes via Focus Features, and his latest film, Magnificent Presence, was chosen as the opening night selection at the recent FSLC Open Roads fest of new Italian film, this seemed a particularly good time to speak to the man.

Just below, I have re-posted my earlier coverage of Loose Cannons -- from its appearance at the Tribeca Film Fest (where it won two awards) two years back -- followed by my recent shorter review of Magnificent Presence. Following these is the interview with Ferzan that took place on Friday afternoon, June 8, 2012.


Who'd have imagined that a current movie about a gay man coming out to his family might have anything remotely new or interesting or even particularly entertaining to say?  Turkish-born, Italian-bred Ferzan Ozpetek (shown below): that's who -- and so he made this film.  Bless him for it -- because LOOSE CANNONS (Mine vaganti) turns out to be not only new, interesting and entertaining but deeply felt, lavishly funny and one of the most visually beautiful movies to arrive on our shores in quite some time. (It was filmed in Southern Italy, in and around the city of Lecce.)

Premiering this past February at the Berlinale, it was chosen for the just-concluding Tribeca Film Festival, where -- the evening I viewed it -- audience response seemed overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Because you can never be certain that a foreign-language film, even from a director as well known as this one, will secure distribution these days, I recommend you see this movie now.

Signore Ozpetek has been to the gay well a few times before -- Steam, Ignorant Fairies, Facing Windows, Saturn in Opposition -- always from a different angle and always successfully.  What he consistently manages, and what I think I love most about his work, is that he approach homosexuality as one part, sometimes hugely important, other times less so, of the world at large, in which so much else is terribly important, too.  Family, friendship, work, health (mental and physical) are prime among these, and in Loose Cannons, they come together in a combustible mix that offers everything from drama to farce, fantasy to a reality that moves from chuckles to tears.

A young man named Tomasso (Riccardo Scamarcio, shown above, left), from a wealthy family whose business is pasta-making and who is about to join forces with another prominent family, has deci-
ded to own up to his homosexual orientation -- after which, he ex-
pects his father to chuck him out of home and business, freeing him to move in with his lover and pursue a writing career. Not quite. One big surprise lies in store, followed by several lesser -- most of which cause ebullient laughter but sometimes a deep loneliness.

You may know young Scamarcio from My Brother Is an Only Child, or from Costa-Gavras' still unreleased Eden Is West. After being swaggering and studly in the former, frightened and vulnerable in the latter, he is by necessity manipulative and quietly thoughtful here -- and is proving himself a more versatile actor than the pretty face with the very sexy body that we might have initially imagined.  While this movie is primarily Tomasso's story, Ozpetek insists on seeing things from many angles, and so we slowly begin to understand -- and feel for -- several generations.

The film begins, in fact, with a reminiscence of the grand-
mother (Ilaria Occhini, at right, seated) regarding her younger days (the penulti-
mate photo, below).  We learn what happened to her only slowly. The co-writer (with Ivan Cotroneo) and director gives us enough information to begin to piece together the story of this now aged but still gloriously strong woman, but we do not know it all until the finale.  Meanwhile we meet a group of people -- family, friends, business associates -- who are as diverse as they are memorable.  Dad (the wonderful Ennio Fantastichini, shown at right, three photos above), mom, Aunt Luciana (dizzy and sweetly sad Elena Sofia Ricci, shown two photos above, center, with glasses), brother Antonio (a terrific Alessandro Preziosi, standing, above right) and especially Alba, the daughter of the prospective business partner, played by the alluring Nicole Grimaudo (below, center).  Ms Grimaudo, in particular, captures a character -- nasty, funny, distant, dark, needy -- who grows more complex with each scene until she very nearly breaks our heart.

One of the great strengths of Ozpetek is allowing us to view life and sexuality from so many points of view: Here we see how the parents looks at things, the grandmother, the younger generation, straights, gays and a couple who may be more bi-oriented than they might like to admit.  There are moments between the two outsiders, Tomasso and Alba, that bond them in ways both sexual and on a level of deep friendship.  There is also some delightfully criss-crossed humor when a group of Tomasso's friends from Rome, shown at bottom, pay a visit.

The film's finale is an amazing blend of fantasy and reality, of time present and past, of what we deeply wish for but may never see.  This scene may remind you of the finale of some other films -- the little-seen-in-America Flight of the Innocent came immediately to my mind -- but Ozpetek makes it his own, and it seems as if everything he has ever learned about cinema is incorporated here.  Threatening to be too much, instead it keeps unfurling until love, sex, family and friends join in a spectacularly vibrant and moving dance of life.

About as arthouse/mainstream as it is possible to get, Loose Cannons delivers the goods.  As I go to press, the film has just won one of the two Tribeca Fest Special Mention Awards. Will some distributor -- Strand, IFC, Film Movement -- please step up to the plate and gift movie-lovers with this joyous celebration?  (Current after-thought: thanks, Focus Features, for at least making the film available on DVD/VOD.)


written and directed by Ferzan Ozpetek

When TrustMovies departs this world, one of his regrets will be his inability to see any more of the films of Ferzan Ozpetek -- which are gorgeous to view, deeply felt, and usually deal in some way with the gay experience. What he loves most about Ozpetek is that this filmmaker always places his (often gay) protagonist as simply one element among many within the vast canvas of the world as it is. Granted, it's an important element, but it never -- as happens in so many "gay" movies -- treats the rest of the world as less important, less special or less good (or, for that matter, bad). Usually Ozpetek gives us ensemble dramas/comedies. In his newest work, Magnificent Presence, the filmmaker stars Elio Germano -- extending his past work as a prime Italian everyman to now include a glorious Italian every-gay-man -- as a fellow soon surrounded by that ensemble. And they're all ghosts. However, these are a very classy, retro and delightful bunch of spirits, being part of a left-wing theatrical troupe in the Italy of the 1930s and 40s.

Our hero, Pietro (played by Germano, below, who has already given us a gallery of remarkable performances, from Do You Like Hitchcock? to My Brother Is an Only Child and The Past Is a Foreign Land to name a few), has come to Rome to be an actor, as well as to seek out a filmmaker fellow he's in love with -- though he tells his rather too-amorous female cousin that he is not even sure what sexual preference he possesses. As feel-good a film as Ozpetek has concocted -- and it is: I don't remember feeling this good, this moved, at a movie's end in a long while -- the writer/director also provides us with a couple of surprising scenes in which he unveils character flaws so great that they change not only the individual but make waves that can topple others and maybe even society itself. One of these involves Petro's would-be boyfriend, the other a member of that theater troupe who is now an elderly lady (played by Anna Proclemer, above).

Ozpetek also gives us some glorious, richly funny and appealing moments (the ghost group's introduction to modern technology and the internet is one such). But this tale of Pietro and his unusual houseguests builds into something more than a mere ghost story. If we accept the homosexual -- as I think we must at this point in our society and for all the supposed strides we GLBT's have made -- as yet remaining an outsider, an "other," then Pietro's inability to fit into society takes on great meaning. Our young man has finally found the place where he belongs, and the film's finale -- a wonderfully sustained piece of movie art -- offers such beauty, sadness and joy that it defines the word poignant.  Magnificent Presence, which made its Italian debut only last month and scored big at the box-office by being both accessible and special, plays twice at Opens Roads. Both screenings are at the Walter Reade theater. Note: The director and his star will both appear at the Friday evening performance. (All this is over now, but, if interested, you can view the entire Open Roads series here.)


TrustMovies was late for his interview with Ferzan Ozpetek, but he has an excuse, sort of: He was on the M104 bus coming uptown from the special luncheon at Barbetta to celebrate the opening of Open Roads, and he was chatting with the FSLC's Richard Peña, who was also on that bus, discussing the work of Mr. Ozpetek. It was so much fun (Peña's a font of good information and a lively conversationalist) that TM missed his stop and arrived ten minutes late. Ferzan and his translator (the filmmaker speaks English pretty well but prefers to have a translator for certain moments -- and idioms) were most graciously forgiving, however, and so we set right to it: 

Ferzan – it’s good to see you again, and before I forget, I bring you greetings from Ivan Cotroneo, at whose table I sat for the Open Roads luncheon this afternoon. I haven’t seen his movie KRYPTONITE! yet, but what a lovely man he is! (Now, a couple of weeks later, I have seen it and it’s wonderful. You can read about it here: click and scroll down) 

He’s a wonderful guy. We worked very well together and I hope in the future that we can work together again. (Ferzan's attention is taken by a photographic portrait on the wall opposite.) Who is that lady, there? I do not recognize her…. (Ozpetek points to a photograph hanging on the hotel wall of Leona Helmsley. We’re sitting in the lobby lounge of the Park Lane on Central Park South, a hotel once owned by the late tax-evading dog-lover.) 

Oh, that’s Leona Helmsley who used to own this hotel, and now, I guess, her estate does. She was among the most hated women in New York City in her day. They called her the Queen of Mean. (Our excellent translator, who is clearly familiar with Leona and her history, chuckles and then fills Ferzan in, and I hear bits and pieces reminiscent of “Only the little people pay taxes,” and something about the immense fortune she left to her dog. The translator suddenly turns to me and asks--) 

How much money did she leave that animal?

You know, I’m not sure. But it was a lot. And it made sense, actually, since I doubt she had many human friends left at that point. And please tell Ferzan that, were Leona still alive and heard him ask the question "Who is that it in the photograph on the wall? she would have had him barred from this hotel immediately! If Ferzan is familiar with the term narcissist, he'll understand her personality. (The translator laughs and translates to Ozpetek) They also made a TV movie about her some years back that starred Suzanne Pleshette -- of The Birds. 

(But we’re digressing badly so we talk about Ferzan’s latest film: the absolutely lovely, funny and poignant ghost story Magnificent Presence.)

The last time I interviewed you, it was the year, I believe, that your film A Perfect Day played at Open Roads…. So that was three years ago, maybe...?     

Yes, because two years ago Loose Canons did not come to Open Roads but came to the Tribeca Film Festival. So, yes, three or four years ago was A Perfect Day

Which I thought at the time was your darkest film. It was good to see you work in such a dark vein. But then you made Loose Canons which is one of your funniest, most delightfully expansive movies – and which Ivan says was his favorite experience, ever, working on a movie. (Ferzan grins) Ivan also told me that Focus Films is releasing this movie on DVD and VOD, so America will finally get the chance to see it. 


And now we have Magnificent Presence – which is my favorite of yours. But actually, each time you make a movie, it’s hard not to feel it’s my favorite of your films. 

Thank you.

And you don’t always make the same kind of movie. Which is wonderful, too.

But I think I do make the same things but ….

In different ways? 

Yes. I always do the same thing, I think, I but I treat each one differently. There is a connecting thread to all my films -- but each time is different. They are always about similar topics: human relationships, friendship, sentiment, emotion, but always treated differently. Or at least, I try.

One theme I find throughout your films is “How does this protagonist fit into the greater world around him? 

In this film, one of the topics is purity-of-heart. For example, this fellow has been to bed only one time, three years ago, with this person, yet he imagines that this man must be the love of his life. He has a very unusual view of things, and while this makes him something of a fool, he is also rather pure. In a way he is goodness personified in this world of egotism and people thinking only of themselves. My actor Elio Germano, whom I admire a lot. He is so strong.

He’s wonderful -- and so versatile. 

At one point in the filming I just told him, Well, be like Bambi. That’s it!

Bambi? The deer? 

Yes! While I was saying that I could see his eyes widening in understanding. So he was able to perform.

That scene when the man he imagines to be his true love comes to dinner is shocking -- but for two reasons. First, because Elio – Pietro – seems like a stalker. But when you think about it, the fact that they had sex once and for Petro it was wonderful, so of course he imagines that they will follow up on this. But for the other guy, it didn’t matter at all -- just another one-night-stand, business as usual. He doesn’t even have the courtesy to respond to Pietro by email -- to say something like, “Look, I am sorry if I misled you, but I have no interest in pursuing this.” But he doesn’t bother to tell Pietro anything. So while you can see Pietro as a stalker, you can also see this other guy as a real piece of shit. 

One of my issues, my challenges in the script was that I had to create the situation where the first contact between Pietro and the ghosts seemed like something that was credible. So when they sit down to dinner, it’s a repetition of that earlier dinner scene with the other man. You sense that Pietro is so desperate, so close to rock bottom, that he will now accept even these ghosts and so will not be afraid.

Yes, and this makes the finale of the movie all the more moving -- when you realize that he is now where he belongs. And he knows this, he feels it. 

Since Pietro is the only person who sees the ghosts, I tried to make that mostly apparent on Pietro’s face at the finale. Originally I made the end five minute long, and you didn’t see the ghosts performing onstage. You only saw the expression of Pietro’s face.

Wow – really? 

There was a critic, a friend of mine, actually, who told me what made the film so moving for him was that there would seem to be only two ways to react to these ghosts. You could try to make them leave, exorcise them, or you yourself would have to leave. The fact that you would take them all on the tram and go to the theater with them is what makes the ending so interesting and moving.

Again, this is about the protagonist finding his place in the world. And while this may limit his further growth, he certainly has found a place. 

Perhaps, but at the same time this experience will have changed him. His happiest times were those he spends with the ghosts. But once he leaves the theaters and goes back home, perhaps he will strike up a relationship with the guy next door, who clearly likes him.

But how terrific that you did not end the movie that way! (He smiles and shakes his head, yes.) Tell me something about that wonderful actress, Anna Proclemer,  who plays the old lady, the one person left from the theater troupe who is still alive. I went on the internet and found photos of her as a young woman – quite beautiful.

She was a very famous theater actress. She made only a few films, and her last movie was the Vincente Minnelli film with Ingrid Bergman and Liza MinnelliNina.

Yes, we called it A Matter of Time. That scene with Proclemer in your movie is so wonderful, because it darkens the film in a way that it needs, and this works so well. So: What’s next for you? 

I write now. I write with Gianni Romoli – with him I make five movies: Ignorant Fairies, Facing Windows, Sacred Heart, Harem Suare and Saturn in Opposition.

Sacred Heart was shown at Open Roads years ago. That was one movie that has no gay element.

Yes, and neither does A Perfect Day. I remember that at a Q&A at a screening in Florence at the time, they asked me, Why did this movie has nothing gay in it? I was sort of taken aback at this because usually, they ask you, Why does your movie have a gay element in it? So I thought quickly, and told them, "Well, you know the aunt in the movie is actually a lesbian. But I preferred not to show this in the film."

As we have to end now for your next interview, I just want to say that you are one of my favorite moviemakers in the world. But of all the moviemakers who makes films that deal with gay themes, I love yours the most because they show gays as part of the world at large, in a way that makes them included but not seeming to be the center of that world. Thank you for that. 

My aim is always to show life, but not necessarily to make gay films. But at the time that I made Ignorant Fairies, people told me, Finally – this is a really radical gay movie showing characters who are loved and appreciated. It didn’t show the usual conflict and was far more inclusive of humanity as a whole.

All you movies do this, I think. Thank you, Ferzan. Thank you so much for your wonderful films.

The photos above are from the respective movies, 
except for the first and final photos, 
which come courtesy of