Monday, May 29, 2017

OPEN ROADS 2017 -- Part II: Here come Amelio, Aronadio, Vicari, Daneli and more

As TrustMovies viewed the remainder of this year's Opens Roads series 
of new Italian cinema, via The Film Society of Lincoln Center 
and Istituto Luce Cinecittà, he has posted each here.
 He was able to catch 13 of the 14 films, all but
a couple of which are very worth seeing.

TrustMovies can verify how difficult it is to grow up in a family that is enmeshed in a lunatic religion. Most religions are exactly that (ultimate faith is, after all, a crazy deal-breaker for a rational person), but some religions are more loony than others. While mine was that of Christian Science (as practiced by my particular family, it was neither very "Christian" nor at all "scientific"), the religion in one of this year's Opens Roads series' better films is that of Jehovah's Witnesses.

As directed and co-written by Marco Danieli, it seems to me that the movie plays scrupulously fair with this religion, showing it -- crazy is it is -- to be peopled by folk who want and hope to do the right thing. Yet what this does to the children brainwashed by the religion via their parents and their church elders (shown above), however, proves very difficult. And so it is for the two sisters -- one nearly of age (Giulia), the other much younger -- whom we meet in THE WORLDLY GIRL (La ragazza del mondo). The younger is probably lost for good, having spent her entire life in this religion. The older one, though -- excelling in school and hoping to go to University (a no-no for the Witnesses) and still possessing a mind and spirit of her own -- is having quite the struggle.

Via an extraordinary young actress, Sara Serraiocco (shown above), this struggle is brought to pulsating life and truth to produce a memorable movie. So grounded is the film in the reality of the religion and of the outside world pushing in on it, as well as both the inner and exterior life of its heroine, that there is not a scene here that rings false. (How our girl slowly handles the desire for and then experience of sex is particularly well done.)

In the role of the young and very problemed fellow Giulia falls in love with is that fine actor, often seen at Open Roads, Michele Riondino (shown above), and he, too, is thoroughly genuine and believable in this catalyst role. The plot take numerous twists and turns, but given the character and background of its two protagonists, what happens, right up to and including the finale, makes perfect, if sad but salutary, sense. This character study -- of a religion and its participants -- is a must-see. The Worldy Girl screens only once: Saturday, June 3, at 4 pm at the FSLC's Walter Reade Theater.

One of the more bizarre entries in this year's Open Roads is THE WAR OF THE YOKELS (La guerra dei cafoni), an oddball combo of Romeo & Juliet/War of the Buttons with a heavy overlay of class consciousness and idiot humanity, Italian-style. The first hour (and more) of this 98-minute non-romp is pretty heavy going: obvious, tiresome and snail-paced. Then, during the last half-hour, things pick up considerably, and the movie almost redeems itself. But if you imagine that it is going for the expected happy ending, think again.

The movie has all the makings of something legendary -- except for ingredients good enough to make that something into a legend. As directed and co-written by Davide Barletti and Lorenzo Conte, the film is so full of arbitrary changes in tone and one-dimensional characters that it mostly elicits a very large shrug. Yes, the rich and the poor have long fought each other. What else is new? Not exactly "new" but at least typical and expected is the love story that develops between the leader of the wealthy class and the pretty young girl from the downtrodden bunch (newcomers Pasquale Patruno and Letizia Pia Cartolaro, shown respectively, right and left, above).

A dog goes missing, due to a smack from the oar of the would-be hero -- a particularly nasty and stupid young man -- and this hangs over the movie nearly start to finish. But, as I mentioned, things turn stranger and less expected in the final section, and this may be enough for you to take a chance on the film. Shot in some splendid and highly photogenic locations in, I am guessing, Italy, maybe Sicily, The War of the Yokels screens on Sunday, June 4, at 1:30 pm and Tuesday, June 6, at 4:30 pm at the FSLC's Walter Reade Theater.

Can the workplace kill you? Yes, indeed, and if that doesn't finally get you, toss in your own family responsibilities and you'll have even a less good chance of survival. This thesis is given a good run for its money in Daniele Vicari's latest film, SUN, HEART, LOVE (Sole, Curore, Amore) is which noted Italian actress Isabella Ragonese (shown below) gives a wonderful performance as the put-upon worker/mom. 

This is one of the darkest films in a very dark Open Roads 2017, which is all the more surprising because the movie is so full of energy and near-improvisational humor and charm. 

But what begins on a difficult-but-relatively-light note slowly turns heavier -- without losing a bit of its credibility -- as the life of our heroine (one of them, at least) begins spiraling out of her control. Signore Vicari doesn't point fingers too heavily at anyone here. The boss begins as a pretty decent guy, who eventually has concerns of his own that take precedence over those of his employees. 

Our gal's out-of-work husband appears to do as well as one might expect from the typical Italian male. One might question why this pair decided to have four -- count 'em -- children, rather than maybe one or two that they could more easily afford. But this is Italy, a very Catholic country, and so we must let that idea pass unquestioned. Her friends rally 'round to help as best they can, as well. One of these is the film's secondary heroine -- a woman (Eva Grieco, above, right) -- who has given up the career that her mother preferred she choose to become an "artist," and she is also, it would seem, a lesbian who is having some trouble embracing this idea. We see a lot of her dance work (which is often quite striking), especially toward the finale, which contrasts dance and death. Sun, Heart, Love is a film for today's hugely difficult environment, and it is also one of the stand-outs in this year's Italian series. The movie screens Saturday, June 3, at 6:30 pm and Wed., June 7, at 2 pm at FSLC's Walter Reade Theater.

Gianni Amelio has long been one of my favorite Italian writer/directors, and his latest film -- TENDERNESS (La tenerezza) only burnishes even brighter my love of this filmmaker's work. Adapted by Amelio, Alberto Taraglio and Chiara Valerio from a novel by Lorenzo Marone, The Temptation to Be Happy (a title of which turns out to be an explanation of the film itself), the movie also makes a fine follow-up to Amelio's little-seen but enormously affecting earlier film, L'Intrepido, in both spirit and poetic beauty. The less you know about plot here the better, for the movie unfolds with grace and some shock. Yet what happens is indivisible from both the film's and the novel's titular theme. A dark but honest look at the Italian family under extreme stress, the film slowly unveils its characters, with believability and surprise going hand in hand.

An old man, a recently retired lawyer, played in award-winning style by Renato Carpentieri, appears to be completely on the outs with his own family, even as he adopts a new family who has just moved to Naples and is housed in the apartment adjoining his. The husband and wife are played by two of Italy's finest actors -- Elio Germano (above, right, and an Open Roads regular) and Micaela Ramazzotti (above left, and recently seen in Like Crazy), while the lawyer's actual daughter is played by the beautiful Giovanna Mezzagiorno, here looking as plain as I have ever seen her. Who these people are and how things slowly change are played out with such intelligence, beauty and finesse that my hat is again off to Signore Amelio. Our understanding of what we, as individuals, have control over, and what we don't, makes such a difference. And Amelio forces us to think and feel and grow like few other filmmakers can. Tenderness screens Friday June 2, at 6:30 pm and Monday, June 5, at 4:30 pm at the FSLC's Walter Reader Theater.

Another excellent, if bizarre, comedy to screen this year is the new one from Alessandro Aronadio, who, at an earlier Opens Roads, gave us the surprising and remarkable One Life, Maybe Two. With EARS (Orecchie) Aronadio is in full comedic mode, and the result is extremely funny -- and original, too. His star is a delightfully hang-dog actor named Daniele Parisi (below, left), who plays a substitute teacher of (among other things) philosophy and is quite down on the world, in particular, of course, the state of Italy and its populace. I suspect it will be rather easy for audiences to identify with this character, given that Italy voted into office again and again a certain Silvio Berlusconi, just as we here in the USA have given over our Presidency to a fool and a fraud named Donald Trump.

We follow our hero from his awakening in the morning to discover a note from his girlfriend informing him that a friend of his has died and that she has taken the car. He can't remember just who this friend actually is, and he is also suffering from a ringing and a pain in his ears, and so he sets out to discover who the late friend might be and to assuage that ear pain. What happens is hilarious, bizarre and just crazy enough to be more than a little bizarrely credible.

I laughed harder and more often during this film than I have at any Hollywood comedy in some time, and by the finale, I was also caught up short in discovering how very much like that of our hero my own attitude toward the world is. The film ends with a thoughtful and moving speech over a plastic-wrapped casket. To say that Ears is an original is surely understating the case. And the terrific black-and-white cinematography (by Francesco Di Giacomo) is another reason not to miss it. The movie screens Friday, June 2, at 3:45 pm and Monday, June 5, at 9 pm at the FSLC's Walter Reade Theater.

One more to come: As I view each
I will add my notes on the remaining films
at the top of this link. Stay tuned....

View the entire schedule of the
OPEN ROADS series by clicking here.

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