Monday, May 30, 2016

OPEN ROADS: New Italian Cinema returns to NYC via the FSLC and Istituto Luce Cinecittà

Another June, another dose of fine Italian films -- via the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Istituto Luce Cinecittà's always wonderful and thankfully annual Open Roads series, which this year begins this coming Thursday, June 2, and continues through Wednesday, June 8. TrustMovies used to view every single one of the Open Roads selections, and he greatly misses this annual opportunity now that he lives in Florida.  But thanks to the good work of a certain excellent PR firm, he's been able to view a few of this year's films that, as usual, prove (mostly) a delight.

This year's roster -- you can view the entire selection by clicking here -- includes all kinds of genres, from arthouse and experimental to utterly mainstream (but intelligent, enjoyable examples of the latter), plus one tribute film, Ugly, Dirty, and Bad, a mid-period work from the lately departed and dearly missed Italian master, Ettore Scola. Of the three films I've so far seen, my favorite is the charming and often very funny comedy about faith and family, GOD WILLING, starring that just-keeps-getting-better actor Alessandro Gassman (on poster, right, and above left) along with another actor I've seen previously but never really appreciated until now, Marco Giallini (at left on the poster; above, right; and below, center).

In this smart mainstream tale, a famous-and-full-of-himself doctor and surgeon (played by Signore Giallini) who has raised his family as atheists gets an interesting comeuppance from those around him, including family, co-workers and especially a criminal-turned-priest (played to subtle and near-perverse perfection by Signore Gassman). The movie is, by turns, very funny, surprising, and finally even a bit profound. It manages to turn inside out the old saw about not being able to solve a person's problems in just 90 minutes (or in this particular case, only 82!). The movie will leave you with a tear in your eye, a smile on your face, and a rare feeling of, well, inclusion. And this, mind you, comes from an elderly and agnostic reprobate like yours truly, who calls God Willing a don't-miss in this year's Open Roads.

Also worth seeing is the new film, FIRST LIGHT (La prima luce) from Vincenzo Marra starring the popular, talented and very attractive actor Riccardo Scamarcio (on poster, left, and below, right), who has been seen in copious Italian films and at Open Roads for some years now. Here, Scamarcio plays Marco, an Italian lawyer married to a Spanish (or maybe South American) woman who has had a child by him. Now, with their relationship tanking, she wants to return home -- and bring their son with her, permanently.

As director and co-writer (with Angelo Carbone), Signore Marra has had the good sense not to make either parent a villain. Both he and she are flawed, difficult people, but both appear to love their child. "There's no future here," notes the mother (Daniela Ramirez, below right), and the line resonates -- not just about Italy but most of Europe (and, hey, the Western world) these days. Marra has also made very clear how difficult it is for a parent to fight against a spouse in a foreign country.

Slow-moving but done with a firm sense of reality, the movie picks up considerably once mom has absconded with child and dad travels to her country to try to find his son. Much more is suddenly at stake, and how things work out is handled with substance and enough unshowy style to make the film resonate.

When the name Daniele Luchetti is attached to a movie (he gave us the fine Ginger and Cinnamon and  My Brother Is an Only Child some years back), I expect something special. Unfortunately, that is not the case with his newest movie, a standard-issue bio-pic of our new Pope titled CALL ME FRANCESCO (Chiamatemi Francesco). Those interested in the current Pope but who have not bothered to learn much about him may appreciate this pretty much by-the-numbers look at his life (with particular attention paid to the military dictatorship in Argentina under which he served). Soon after the announcement was made concerning this Pope's appointment, questions were raised about his conduct during this horrendous period of Argentina's history. Try as it may, the biopic does not lay them to rest

The movie turns the man into a major hero of his time (he is well played as a younger man by Rodrigo de la Serna, above), and while I certainly cannot gainsay this theory, and I am impressed with how progressive this Pope does seem in comparison with all the Popes in my lifetime who've come before him (with the exception of John XXIII), I still expected a little more rigor and probing from the filmmaker, who no doubt was advised to give us a mainstream and laudatory movie. He has.

Doubt still lies at the heart of the dictatorship period when so many priests who were helping the downtrodden were tortured and killed, while those who helped the dictatorship managed to survive and prosper. The question of how our boy managed to last out so well appears to be via his gift for compromise, but this simply does not nearly explain things to my satisfaction. When the need arises during the darkest days to have a compatriot possibly disguise himself as Bergoglio (our priest's name pre-Popedom), that compatriot announces, "It's an honor to pass myself off as you!" Amen.

Another enjoyable, if more fictional venture (depending on just how fictional the above Pope movie actually is) into Italy today is THE COMPLEXITY OF HAPPINESS (La felicità è un sistema complesso), a film about everything from Socialism, Capitalism and Globalization to employment, family and responsibility. As co-written and directed by Gianni Zanasi, this is a tale of a "responsible" fellow (played by Italy's favorite "everyman," Valerio Mastandrea) who fixes things for the wealthy and corporate -- and must suddenly come to grips with a small family crisis in his own life that, of course, begins to change just about everything else.

Mastrandrea (above, right, and below, left ) is a superb actor, and his ability for subtlety and finesse is on fine display here. Co-starring with him is Israeli actress Hadas Yaron (above), who plays the young woman who helps precipitate that crisis, and she the intelligence and charm Ms Yaron exhibits makes a fine foil for Mastandrea's reticence and rigor. Also on hand is another staple of Open Roads, the portly delight, Giuseppe Battiston (at right, below), here playing a business friend of our hero whose grace and humor masks something sadder and darker.

The film is full of good dialog and some very smart lines, one of which "How come it's never anyone's fault?" might easily stand in as the mantra of almost any government in the western world. If the movie is better at diagnosing than correcting -- "You can't fight the economy," one character insists -- at least, by the finale, it does offer a bit of hope for change.

If you're looking or a good, extended love story (perhaps a little too extended), ALASKA, the new film from Claudio Cupellini, might fill the bill nicely. This tale of a young woman induced to attend a Parisian modeling audition and the ambitious-if-hot-tempered hotel employee she encounters begins like a house afire, as this pair meet and quickly bond -- only to have their not-quite-affair nipped in the bud by his sudden, violent actions.

Director and co-writer Cupellini takes us and his duo from Pairs to Milan, from prison to that modeling career and the hot-shit night club that bears the movie's name. (For some reason, Opens Roads has decided to retitle the film The Beginners, though Alaska's the more appropriate moniker.) It's a two-hour-plus journey, but it's also an interesting, surprising and sometimes moving one, as our hero/heroine couple, break off, reunite and move into different states of careers and couplings.

As played by the two attractive performers, Elio Germano (an Open Roads regular, shown just above) and French star Astrid Bergès-Frisbey (shown two photos above), the movie could hardly ask for two more sexy and compelling leads. Germano always seems to manage to look quite different from role to role, and he does this without make-up, simply by virtue of attitude, talent and maybe haircut, too. Ms Bergès-Frisbey, while not possessing quite the talent (yet) of Germano, keeps up her part of the bargain well enough. Also, her character has not been given the depth that Germano's receives, a typical result, I fear, of what often happens when a male writer/director tackles the female psyche.

This has been true of literally all five films I've covered at this year's Open Roads, And I'm sorry now that I did not opt instead to see the new film directed by Laura Morante.(above) or the one from Maria Sole Tognazzi (below). Well, next time.... Meanwhile, those of you in the tri-state area can view the work of both these female directors, along with the rest of the movies in this year's Opens Road. Don't miss out!

You can view the entire selection of Open Roads films 
by simply clicking here. and then clicking on 
the film or films of your choice.

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