Saturday, June 2, 2018

Women power at OPENS ROADS 2018: Marco Tullio Giordana's NOME DI DONNA and Francesco Patierno's DIVA!

Two of the eight films I've been able to view for this year's OPEN ROADS are decidedly feminist -- but in quite differing ways. One is a documentary about the famous Italian actress (still alive but not longer making movies), Valentina Cortese, the other a fictionalized account of the journey one single mother must make in bringing to justice the powerful workplace boss who has propositioned her and then made her work life miserable after she rejects his "proposal." Both are worth seeing, though the documentary is the stronger and more interesting work.

DIVA! is the over-used but still appropriate title for the film that gives us a very oddball yet fascinating and surprisingly intelligent and even sometimes moving account of the life and career of Ms Cortese, who began her film work in Italy, moved on to Britain and finally America, before returning to her homeland and Europe to continue performing in movies and legitimate theater.

The filmmaker is Francesco Patierno (shown below), who last year made a much-heralded documentary titled Naples '44, narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, and back in 2003 the well-received narrative film, Pater familias.

For whatever reason(s), though Cortese is still alive, only archival footage of her and from her movies is used here. When the Cortese character is "shown" us, she is portrayed by eight different actresses, each standing in for a specific time frame. You might think this would be confusing or simply too strange to work very well, and yet it really does. The actresses include some of Italy's best, and the words they speak -- which appear to come from Cortese's oww diaries, letters and reminiscences -- resonate and sparkle with acute intelligence and feeling. Cortese certainly had a way with words (really: what a command of language she has!) and hearing her words spoken so well, with such understanding and emotion, makes the documentary continuously alive and riveting.

The actresses include the likes of Isabella Ferrari (above), Anita Caprioli and Barbora Bobulova (below), each one quite different and yet seemingly a fine stand-in for the actress herself, as the bio-pic documentary skips back and forth in time, resonating more on an emotional plane than via any strict time line.

Intercut with these actresses speaking the words of Cortese are numerous clips of the star's film work, as well as archival photos of her younger days. (That's she in her heyday, below, and as an older actress, further below, and at bottom in one of her earliest films.)

We meet Cortese's various lovers, co-stars, directors and producers -- among them Dassin, Truffaut, Zeffirelli, Losey, Gilliam, Zanuck, Richard Basehart and many more -- as they get screen time (or at least verbal remembrances), in which Mr. Zanuck comes out worst of all. As the film rolls along, even as crazily back-and-forth in time as it goes, there's a character, a personality and a strength here that is genuinely surprising.

I have never seen another bio-pic-doc anything like this one, and I doubt I would recommend that other filmmakers try it this way. But Patierno has certainly achieved something unusual and memorable. When I think of Ms Cortese from now on, in addition to her many fine performances, this documentary is sure to come immediately to mind.

Diva! plays at Open Roads this coming Wednesday. June 6, at 8:30pm. Click here for further information and/or tickets.

Marco Tullio Giordana (shown below) has long been one of my favorite Italian filmmakers. His The Best of Youth still stands as an amazing movie achievement. He has been represented at Open Roads before, and his latest film, NOME DI DONNA could hardly seem more timely, dealing as it does with sexual harrasment of a woman by her powerful and wealthy employer. What's more, it is beautifully photographed and acted, and features a lovely supporting turn by Adrianna Asti (at left, two photos below), as one of the residents in home for the elderly into which our heroine, at the film's beginning, is hired to work.

That character, Nina, is single mom with a young daughter and a genuinely caring and thoughtful boyfriend (who in not that daughter's dad) in tow. Nina is played by Cristiana Capotondi (shown below, right and further below), an actress whom I've enjoyed since first encountering her in the wonderful Italian film, Kryptonite! (click and scroll down). She is very good in this role, as well.

As directed and co-written (with Cristiana Mainardi) by Signore Giordana, Nome di donna proceeds quickly and smartly along its designated path, with never any doubt about the kindness, strength and overall quality of heroine, which Ms Capotondi brings to fine life.

Nor is there any doubt about the incident of sexual abuse that sparks the action of all that happens for the rest of the movie. It is also more than clear that the abuser has practiced this on more women in his employ than merely Nina.

The movie is particularly good at showing us the ins and outs of the Italian justice system, workers' unions, and how the workers at this home for the wealthy elderly, when their employment is threatened by the one woman who stands up for herself, will band together against this woman and allow the sexual abuse to continue. It also shows us, via Nina's daughter and what she "learns" at school, how immigrants are so easily demonized in Italy (as they are elsewhere throughout Europe) these days.

So how to fight all this? While Giordana, his cast and crew deliver the goods, all right, and his film is consistently interesting as it moves along its charted course, everything begins to look a little too easy -- almost pre-ordained. "I don't want to brag, but I've won every case," her lawyer (Michela Cescon, below) tells Nina. One wonders, what with the Italian courts so noted historically for their rather lax understanding of justice where the powerful are concerned, how all this can work itself out so easily. Well, maybe Italian courts are changing these days? God knows, American courts certainly are -- for the worse.

In any case, once the movie reaches its conclusion, you can feel free to bask in good feelings. Whether or not you'll be able to believe it all is another matter. I wonder if even Giordana actually believes it. The film's final nasty joke involving a newscaster, together with the ironic song played on the soundtrack, indicates that, for all the feel-good going on here, there remains an awfully long way to go toward gender equality.

Worth seeing, Nome di donna screens at Open Roads today, Saturday, June 2, at 3:30pm (with a Q&A with the director following the screening) and again Tuesday, June 5, at 4:30pm. To see the entire Open Roads schedule, click the link preceding. And to see TrustMoviesearlier posts on this year's series, click here, here and here.

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