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Claus Mueller

Claus Mueller is a Film Festival Ambassador to

He is based in New York where he covers the festival scene.


New York: Open Roads 2019

Co-presented by New York’s   Film at Lincoln Center (formerly branded as the Film Society of Lincoln Center) and the Rome based Instituto Luce Cinecitta from June 6-12, in its 19th edition the festival presented 16 feature films produced in 2018 and 2019 and the 1962 classic first film by Bernardo Bertolucci LA COMMARE SECCA.  It was followed by a separate homage from June 14 – 26 to  Ermano Olmi also  presented at the Lincoln Center  by Film at Lincoln Center and the Instituto Luce Cinecitta covering 19 features  he directed from 1961 to 2014.

Against the background of a shrinking US theatrical markets for foreign feature films, the smaller number of feature films produced in Italy compared to past years and declining Italian box office and ticket sales Open Roads plays an important role since it keeps against all odds the door open for theatrical and digital distribution of Italian films in the United Sates.  In past years about 2 to 3 films have been acquired here for each edition and this year Open Roads helped the release of four films, PIRANHAS, THEM, THE TRAITOR, and THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MY MOHER.  Following its programming philosophy Open Roads offers a mixture of commercial and independent productions with works by established and first-time directors spanning the range of selected films from comedies to dramas.

In early 2018 Terry Huang researched the penetration of foreign films in the US theatrical market over the prior five years identifying films which made at least $5 million in North America and were produced outside the United States. 30 foreign films out of 852 met the criteria but generated only 0.2% of the total box office revenues of films making over $5 million. In the list of foreign exporters of films to the US Italy is not listed with a single film on that level. During the same period the highest grossing Italian film in the US was MIA MADRE  by Nanni Moretti with $300.000 in 2016 and in 2014 the Oscar winning THE GREAT BEAUTY by Paolo Sorrentino.  Distribution of Italian films for US theatrical release is problematic since the audience for foreign language films is getting smaller each year. Digital distribution of films has risen dramatically and 64% of all US households now use streaming services with Netflix reaching 75% of them. At any given point in time the number of Italian films on Netflix far exceeds whatever Italian productions are offered theatrically. This master trend is accelerated by Netflix’ growing acquisition and production policy of foreign films.  Most US distributors are reluctant to touch Italian films.

Except for countries such as France with a quota system enforcing the theatrical distribution of local productions, most other countries are impacted by foreign streaming services, specifically by Netflix.  Italy has been experiencing a steady decline of box office income for Italian films and cinema attendance. For some observers this resulted from by Berlusconi’s control over the two principal production and distribution companies, Medusa which he owned and RAI reorienting them towards television style entertainment productions. In 2018 Italian box office dropped to the lowest in a decade scoring just $633 million with a concomitant decline in ticket sales, whereas the box office in 2010 reached $837 million and scored higher tickets sales.

As noted, several of the productions featured in the 2019 Open Roads program have apparently been placed into US theatrical distribution.

LORO a 150 minute long 2018 co-production by Italy and France was directed by the Oscar-winning director of THE GREAT BEAUTY Paolo Sorentino.  LORO offers a satirical portrait of the fall of Silvio Berlusconi and his final service as Italian prime minister. In part fictionalized the film was first released n two separate feature versions and subsequently combined for the UK market.  As expected the audience can enjoy the depiction of the importance of drugs and sex debaucheries in Berlusconi’s life and his entourage craving to benefit from his status by providing him with female companions.  The demonstration of hedonistic excesses reminding of Fellini is parallel to Berlusconi’ss political decline and attempts to regain power. Acting performance by Toni Servillo as Berlusconi and Riccardo Scarmarcio as the fixer facilitating sex and drugs are persuasive but the narrative lacks rigor and does not drive the film. The story may only appeal to an Italian audience.

PIRANHAS  by Claudio Giovannesi produced in 2019 won the Silver Bear for best screenplay at the 2019 Berlinale and depicts in a fast moving, well scripted and enacted  story the coming of age of a group of youngsters emulating the life style and actions of Naples dominant crime groups. Shot in Naples everyday locations the Giovannesi’s film is an adaptation of a novel by Matteo Garrone who directed GOMORRAH with a cast of local children and non-professional actors.  Franceso Di Napoi performs as the lead actor the 15 years old Nicola a pack of youngsters who lead a gang of barely teen-age kids living in a neighborhood where   extortion and violence is part of everyday life and of the folklore they grew up with. This gives to PIRANHAS a freshness and immediacy lacking in most films with kids turning into criminals. The youth of the actors is an advantage and the skillful and plausible portrait of their transformation from relative innocence to violent criminal behavior is appealing. The cinematography reinforces the realistic depiction of their life and transformation.

NORMAL is a 2019 documentary by Adele Tully which premiered in North America at the festival and deals with common behavior expressing manifestations of and reactions to female gender identity.  NORMAL had its world premiere at the 2019 Berlinale and depicts with an ethno-anthropological orientation in many vignettes how gender identities are transmitted and fused with Italian normal behavior.  The individuals shown are not aware of the significant gender implications of their actions. Adele Tulli certainly knows but does not spell out the meaning of the images she recorded thus stays clear of a structural approach and explanation. We view brief segments which may strike us as outsiders as bizarre, such as piecing ears, girls idolizing a male singer, taking part in a beauty contest, youngsters racing mini-bikes, young mothers exercising while pushing strollers, posting of straight and gay wedding rituals, and beach side behavior to name but a few. The viewer is entertained but gets no clue about the social codes driving the behavior and their impact.

LA COMMARE SECCA is the first film Bernardo Bertolucci made in 1962 at the age of 21, a murder mystery based on a story by Pier Paolo Pasolini.   Open Roads placed this production into the program, a much-appreciated addition since the film is rarely shown here and its subtitled version can only be accessed through the New York based Criterion Collection streaming service.  A prostitute is killed in a Roman park and Bertolucci resolves the murder by carefully sequencing in real time short segments visuals of the individuals who could be involved also picturing the gradual investigative process. Until the ending of the film the audience cannot decipher who did it. The film has rough edges, but the narrative structure shows sophistication. We are accompanying potential suspects, a young man looking for work, thieves robbing lovers, a soldier tracking women on Roman streets, a well-dressed pimp handling prostitutes, two boys and girls hanging out , an individual accosting the prostitute to name but a few individuals who were inn contact with the prostitute. Throughout the film we observe in several segments her day, from getting up to applying make up for work.  Bertolucci is outstanding in his mastery of the passage of time. LA COMMARE SECCA is a cinematic text book of innovative superb film making.


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