Friday, May 26, 2017

Italian film lovers, prepare -- FSLC/Istituto Luce Cinecittà's OPEN ROADS series arrives!

That annual slice of heaven for fans of Italian film is nearly upon us. OPEN ROADS, the yearly collection of new Italian cinema from The Film Society of Lincoln Center and Istituto Luce Cinecittà will begin this coming Thursday, June 1, and play for one full week through Wednesday afternoon, June 7. TrustMovies has at this point viewed only eight of the fourteen films to be shown but he must say that this year's roster is shaping up to be one of the darkest so far. And why not -- considering that Italy, along with the rest of the world, is slipping deeper into everything from debt (personal and national) and that ever-widening gap between the uber-rich and the rest of the population to the increasing effects of climate change and the crumbling of those "rocks" of Italian society: the family and, oh, yes, religion?

Speaking of family and religion, Open Roads' opening night movie decimates these to the point of no return. INDIVISIBLE (Indivisibili) tracks the tale of a pair of Siamese twins named Daisy and Violet (is this a nod to that great Broadway musical Side Show or maybe just to the actual twins themselves?) whose talent at singing and visual beauty have kept their parents, along with the Church, in the money for some time. When the twins discover that an operation could free them at last, all bets are off, and the movie lights out on a very bizarre road-and-sea trip as it explores everything from family and identity to our deepest desires/needs.

As directed and co-written by Edoardo De Angelis, and starring a pair of beautiful and unsettling actresses, Angela Fontana (who also stars in another series film, Due Soldati, see below) and Marianna Fontana, assisted by a crack supporting cast, the film is finally as unsettling as its two leading actresses: raw, alternately ugly and lovely, with the kind of gaze at religion and family that will make you question all the great Italian film about those two icons that have gone before. The movie also shows, as do so many others in this year's series, the Italian citizenry as doltish imbeciles with little more on their mind than following a fake religion and consuming the latest in... whatever. Whew, is this one dark experience! Indivisible screens Thursday, June 1, only -- at both 1:45 pm and 6:30 pm at the FSLC's Walter Reade Theater.

Three years ago Roberto Andò gave us that great actor Toni Servillo as identical twins in the charming and pointed political/social comedy Viva la libertà. Andò and Servillo are back again with THE CONFESSIONS (Le Confessioni), a darker (yes, of course) look at the world today, even if the representative of The Church is this time, and for a change these days, the good guy. The movie gives us a very interesting theory of the ideas and actions that lie behind, say, the IMF/World Bank policy of "austerity" for countries that are in deep financial trouble. While the result for those countries may be horrible indeed, the resulting movie is as elegant, funny, somber and fascinating as you could want, boasting a superb international cast (many of whom are shown in the photo, top), led by Servillo in his usual fine form.

That cast includes a particularly well-used Daniel Auteuil, plus Connie Nielsen, Pierfranceco Favino, Moritz Bleibtreu, Lambert Wilson and Marie-Josée Croze, among others. The movie is a mystery -- of what, why and how -- and if by the finale, some questions remain unanswered, I suspect you'll have gotten so much out of this unusual film already that you won't much mind. The Confessions screens Thursday, June 1 only, at both 4 pm and 9 pm at the FSLC's Walter Reade Theater.

The students who actually complete their "training" at the prep school shown us in CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT (I figli della notte) could easily, I think, grow up into that set of "world-class" economists observed in Le Confessioni. You will have to view both films to get the connection, but that's OK, since each is well worth seeing. Initially, the young men we meet at this school would seem to be "problem" children. But as the movie unfurls, we slowly become aware they may be a good deal more. Or less. The movie, directed and co-written by Andrea De Sica, concentrates on two of these boys and the girl that one of them meets at the local (and rather bizarre) brothel.

Both movies are in their way metaphors, with Le Confessioni a metaphor brought to elegant, slowly pulsating life. Figli della notte remains a metaphor because it is almost other-worldy. Yet it is so beautifully, creepily filmed and acted quite well, considering that it is at all times simultaneously real and unreal, that it casts a kind of magical (if ugly, and yes, dark) spell. And the performances of, especially, Ludovico Succio (above, left, of La Sapienza) and Vincenzo Crea (above, right), work wonders in pulling us into this warped world. Children of the Night screens Sunday, June 4, at 4 pm and Wednesday, June 7, at 4:30 pm at the FSLC's Walter Reade Theater.

The one comedy I've seen so far proves surprisingly dark, as well. AT WAR WITH LOVE (In Guerra per amore) begins like some kind of rom-com farce involving everything from World War II and FDR to Mussolini vs the Virgin Mary and the Mafia (Sicilian and American versions).

This sounds like a recipe for something very spoofy and goofy, and indeed the movie is all that, along with a lot else. It darkens as it moves forward, and the tone changes in just the right manner and at just the right speed so that by the finale, we're practically pinned to the floor with our mouths agape, our laughter curdling in our throats.

I was not so impressed with an earlier work (The Mafia Kills Only in Summer) of Pierfrancesco Diliberto (who now suddenly seems to be going by the cutesier/sillier name of Pif) , but I must say that this new film won me over completely. It offers up the collusion of power with money, even -- or especially -- during wartime, while its look at the Mafia on both sides of the Atlantic is nasty and sobering. America, it seems has a lot to answer for concerning the post-WWII proliferation of the Sicilian branch of this worthless, murderous men's club. Signore Diliberto (shown above, right) excels here in the roles of writer, director and leading actor, too. At War With Love, which offers one of the best low-key funny/sad ending moments in movie history, screens Saturday, June 3, at 9:15 pm and Tuesday, June 6, at 2:30 pm at the FSLC's Walter Reade Theater.

A new film from Italian master Marco Bellocchio is always an event, and his latest -- SWEET DREAMS (Fai bei sogni) is no exception. This is one of my favorites of this filmmaker, and, yes, it's a little too long, sometimes seems to ramble, and the first half is better than the second. But when a filmmaker is this good -- concerned with so much of what makes Italian life spin and resonate, and with the talent and skill to bring all this to wonderful life and art -- I'm more than happy to give the man his lead and let him go wherever it takes him. Here it takes him into the life of a fellow (Italian everyman Valerio Mastandrea) who lost his mother at a young age and has never recovered from it. He's successful to a point, but his life is enormously circumscribed due to this death and the manner in which those around him in his childhood -- and even now, in adulthood -- have handled the situation.

Also in the large cast are Bérénice Bejo as the doctor who helps our hero, and Barbara Ronchi, indelible as that mother who has gone missing. The opening scene, featuring mom and son doing the twist, is one memorable keeper, and later in the movie Bellocchio finally allows the son to dance again, and this, too, is both beautiful and wrenching. Mastandrea's performance is, always with this smart and accessible actor, beautifully and believably calibrated. Midway along, we get a splendid scene featuring French actress Emmanuelle Devos (above). The filmmaker, who is approaching eighty years, shows no signs of faltering so far as I can see. Here, as director and co-adapter (of a novel by Massimo Gramellini), he is in full swing. Long may he reign. Sweet Dreams plays Sunday, June 4, at 9 pm and Tuesday, June 6, at 8:45 pm at the FSLC's Walter Reade Theater.

The saddest of all the films I've so far caught has got to be FIORE, directed and co-written by Claudio Giovannesi. It's certainly not the darkest -- there's way too much energy here for that -- but the sadness at the heart of the film arrives because the filmmaker causes us to care so very much about its leading character and then has that character betray herself and her better instincts over and over again. Why? That is the big question the movie asks, and the responsibility falls mostly on the character herself: Daphne (played to the hilt and beyond by Daphne Scoccia), who simply cannot seem to help herself, time after time. Sure, her parenting wasn't so hot (her dad, played by the oft-seen Valerio Mastandrea, is trying harder now), and the state, while not villainous and actually rather caring, is simply unable to reach this young woman.

Much of the film takes place in the prison where Daphne resides, and the details here seem quite unlike the what our USA offers prisoners, but they also seem pretty believable. Love, or something like it, arrives in the form of another problemed inmate, Josh, played by Josciua Algeri, a very good young actor who met his own untimely end in an auto accident this very year -- which only adds to the sadness of this film. Giovannesi's style is full of chiaroscuro lighting and close-ups that bring us into great intimacy with the characters. This is his third full-length narrative film, and we shall surely be hearing from him -- and his alluring and talented lead actress (who seems like a cross between Kristen Stewart and Angelina Jolie) -- again soon. Fiore plays Friday, June 2, at 9:00 PM and Monday, June 5, at 6:45 pm at the FSLC's Walter Reade Theater.

My favorite film in the Open Roads series (so far, at least) would be the new one from Marco Tullio Giordana (shown at right). I am using his photo here because, perhaps, his latest movie is so new that a poster for it does not yet exist. (I could not find one, at least.) Titled TWO SOLDIERS (Due soldati), it is said to be the third in Giordana's trilogy about organized crime that includes the very fine One Hundred Steps (2000) and Lea (2015). This filmmaker also gave us the memorable movie/TV series The Best of Youth. In this new film, the soldiers are in very different wars/organizations. One, played by Dario Rea, below, is fighting in Afghanistan. (Is George W. Bush's Coalition of the Willing still going on?) The other is a low-level-but-on-the-rise member of the local Mafia.

When the Mafia soldier (Daniele Vicorito, below, right) is wounded and must hide and somehow recover, he ends up in the apartment of that soldier and his about-to-be bride (Angela Fontana, from Indivisibili, at left, below).  This may sound highly coincidental on paper but how Giordana films it seems both appropriate and believable. From there, his movie deals in grief and doubt, need and compassion, and even though it includes only these three characters plus family members and friends of both the bride and the Mafia soldier, it manages to encompass much of current Italian society. The picture it paints is anything but pretty. This is another very dark film in terms of the Italian obsession with consumerism. Giordana also indicts war -- in both of the varieties we see here.

This is a movie in which characters actually change -- not much but enough -- as we viewers watch and wonder (in both senses of that word). The filmmaker makes us think, feel and struggle, as our sympathies grow and change. His characters struggle, too, and are all the better for it. Two Soldiers plays Open Roads on Friday, June 2, at 1:30 pm and Tuesday, June 6, at 6:30 pm -- both screenings at the FSLC's Walter Reade Theater.

If there's a lemon in this series, it would have to be the sole documentary in the bunch, DELIVER  US (Liberami), which is all about modern-day exorcism, as practiced in Sicily. Huh? Yeah. As directed by Federica Di Giacomo, this truly bizarre movie will have you convinced that Sicilians must be among the stupidest people on earth. Or maybe simply a people utterly mired in a nonsense religion, so much so that they will blame just about everything and anything on Satan. Or -- if you are easily swayed -- that Sicily must be a hotbed of Satanic activity in which way too much of the population is possessed and are then ministered unto by a priest that does some of his exorcisms via phone. No? Yes!

The filmmaker takes no sides here, nor does she even question anything we see, as she tracks the stories of these "possessed":  among them a teenage girl, a middle-age woman, and a young man with piercings and beaucoup tattoos (above). One priest here appears to be either downright nutty or himself in thrall to something a little "other." One scene in church begins to looks like a Catholic physical therapy session.

Eventually we see a priest who seems to treat all this like the self-induced attention-seeking behavior it probably is, and finally some prescription medicine even enters the picture. Briefly. The movie ends with a convention of exorcism priests in Rome, and then the credits tell us of the huge increase in cases of Satanic possession and how the Church has had to hire extra exorcists. The movie left me thinking that Italy has got to be the single dumbest country in the western world. But then I remembered that we had recently "elected" Donald Trump. Deliver Us screens only once, Sunday, June 4, at 6:30 at the FSLC's Walter Reade Theater.

Do check out the entire 
OPEN ROADS series by clicking here.

TrustMovies hopes to be able to view the
other six films in the series over the coming few days. 
If and when he does, he'll post a second entry on this 
Italian collection. Stay tuned.

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