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A Taste of Italy at the London Film Festival


Tuesday, October 23--------Having just been in Italy for the past 12 days (a week of vacation in Venice, mainly seeing art and sampling the food and wine, and 5 days in Rome to attend the Rome Film Festival), I've got Italy on the brain these days. Well, coming to London, there is still lots of Italian to appreciate, especially here at the London Film Festival. While it is not exactly an official section of the Festival, there are a good number of superb Italian films to be seen, mainly in the Film On The Square and Cinema Europa sections.

One of my favorite films viewed at last month's Toronto Film Festival screens in London tomorrow evening. MY BROTHER IS AN ONLY CHILD is the story of two brothers who grow up in Italy in the 1960s and 1970s who are complete political opposites-----one is a leftish firebrand and the other a staunch Fascist conservative. The film traces the tensions in the family as emblematic of tensions in the overall society in those turbulent years. The director Daniele Luchetti produced the intimate film epic THIS IS OUR YOUTH, an eight-hour television drama that was also released in theaters two years ago, which also charted Italy's political and social history through the lives of its fascinating characters. If you are thinking that his newest film sounds like a dry semi-documentary, I have not communicated its humanism and great heart, since it is mainly about the blood ties that are stronger than any political affiliations that bind even extreme opposites to one another. This is a superbly acted and written drama that is also filled with supreme comic moments and well-observed nuances of human behavior. Pounce.

DAYS AND CLOUDSDAYS AND CLOUDSSeveral new Italian films are among the strongest components of the Cinema Europa section of the Festival. ANDRES AND ME, directed by Andrea Adriatico, unspools an intriguing mystery tale about a political speechwriter who has suddently disappeared without a trace. a man who may or may not be a detective comes to the city where the speechwriter lived and begins to examine every acet of his life and work, almost taking on the missing man's identity. This is an accomplished directgorial debut full of secrets, lies and underlying ambivalence. DAYS AND CLOUDS by director Silvio Soldoni (BREAD AND TULIPS) gives the actress Margherita Buy a role that she really sinks her teeth into. She plays a middle-aged, middle-class wife and mother, who discovers at her lavish birthday party, no less) that her husband is bankrupt and that they are literally homeless. Set in the port town of Genoa, the film is a moving evocation of family life and one woman's fight for dignity and independence.

The interlocking lives of a set of friends in their 40s is the touchstone of SATURNO CONTRO, the latest film from director Ferzan Ozpetek (FACING WINDOW). A group of friends have their solidarity threatened by the shocking circumstances when one of them is taken ill. Margherita Buy leads an ensemble cast of hot Italian talents, including Stefano Acccorsi and Pierfrancesco Favino, in this humanistic tale about the power of transformation in peoples' lives. It offers its group of actors tantalizing roles to show off their considerable acting chops. Another terrific acting turn is given by Valerio Mastandrea as the world weary rock-and-roll star in Gianni Zanasi's DON'T THINK ABOUT IT. The film captures a moment when the former music idol faces his crumbling career and personal life, and finds a way towards redemptions by reviving his tattered relationship with his family. The film has much to say about the ties that bind and the reversals in life that always lead us back home.

IN MEMORY OF MEIN MEMORY OF METwo other Italian films screening at the Festival portray the still powerful role of the Church in everyday Italian life. IN MEMORY OF ME has been described as a "spiritual thriller". Directed by Saverio Costanza (PRIVATE), the film centers on a young man who has decided to find himself through the inner discipline provided by joining an austere Jesuit seminary on an isolated island in the Venice lagoon. As he learns more about the power dynamics between the priests, he begins to see the seminary as more of a prison and attempts to escape. The film is accented with beautiful candle-lit sequences and heavenly choral music, that add both a sense of majesty and desperation to the story of a young man's journey towards inner peace. The atmosphere of IN MEMORY OF ME is echoed in the film ONE HUNDRED NAILS, by award-winning director Ermanno Olmi (TREE OF WOODEN CLOGS). An act of religious vandalism in a library of rare religious books is the starting point for this allegory that combines deep respect for the traditions of the Church as well a decidely anti-Catholic tone. The film had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and has been one of Italy's unlikely box office hits this season. Alternately austere and lush, this is auteur filmmaking of the highest order.

The influence of pop culture on Italy's historic heritage is the subtext of two other Italian films in the program. WE WANT ROSES TOO by director Alina Marazzi is a documentary look at the post-war period, when the lives of Italian women where being changed by films, television, advertising and mass culture. The director deftly mixes interviews, animation sequences, television advertisements of the period and film clips to ilustrate and how feminism and the sexual revolution transformed the lives of everyday women in Italian culture. The wickedly funny VALZER, directed by Salvator Maira, is a satirical drama that links a number of storylines set within a hotel. As the drama is played out, the Italian obsessions with sex, intrigue, football, religious imagery and ribald humor is wonderfully skewered as the camera literally follows the characters in and out of rooms and from door to door, acccompanied to the waltz music supplied by a small band playing in the hotel's foyer. 

The London Film Festival certainly offers an intriguing cross-section of Italian films for audiences to savour, pointing to the fact that current  Italian cinema remains a strong component of European culture in general, mixing influences from earlier periods with contemporary concerns. They are high on my list of films to see at the Festival, a kind of Italy rehab after 12 days of immersion "in the boot". Now, if I could only get over my obsession of finding the perfect risotto.

Sandy Mandelberger, Festival Circuit Editor


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About Festival Circuit

Mandelberger Sandy
(International Media Resources)

Coverage of the world of film festivals on the international film festival circuit.

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