Cinema Made in Italy

Cinema Lumiere
March 5th-March 9th, 2014

by Alice Sanders

The 4th edition of Cinema Made in Italy was held at the French Institute in Kensington – Cinema Lumiere. I’d never been to this cinema before, but it’s a big, lovely, comfortable one and I recommend you all go there and see something foreign. The only drawback is, like the Barbican cinema, you are not allowed any drinks or food in the screen, and you’re definitely not allowed to sneak a packet of Malteasers in inside your backpack.

The Cinema Made in Italy film festival screens a lot of modern Italian films from new directing talent, and also has Q&As after almost every film. The screenings I went to were full of real life Italians. So if you’re interested in modern European cinema or you just really like Italians (ahem) you should get yourself down there.

The Third Half/ Il Terzo Tempo
Director: Enrico Maria Artale
The film focuses on the relationship between a boy who has just been released from a young offenders’ institute, Samuel, and his parole officer, Vincenzo. Samuel is a troubled boy who has had a hard life. We learn that Vincenzo too has had his problems – he lost his wife and has had to bring up his daughter alone. Samuel is assigned a job on a farm and put in a house, as part of a rehabilitation programme. Samuel is full of rage and aggression that he can’t quite seem to control. There are many animal symbols throughout the film, particularly that of the bull, that seem to represent that wild part of himself that he can’t tame. As well as a parole officer, Vincenzo is a rugby coach and ex-rugby player (I mistakenly thought this film was going to be about football, which I play and understand, but it was about rugby, which I neither play nor understand). I learnt from other people more au fait with the game, that apparently the rugby sequences are quite realistic in comparison to other films that portray the sport, Invictus, for example. Vincenzo essentially forces Samuel to play for his rugby team because he sees raw talent in him, but also because he thinks rugby could be a way that Samuel could learn some self-control, a way to manage that untameable inner beast. It’s an interesting film, not least because the actor that plays Vincenzo has such a wonderful face. It’s not just that he’s handsome, but he’s so intense and interesting to watch. I did have one problem with this film. A romance begins to build between Samuel and Vincenzo’s daughter. When they are alone in the woods together, she asks Samuel what crime he committed to get sent to a young offenders institute. He tells her he assaulted someone, then he tells her that he raped a girl. He describes the girl as looking just like her. She becomes obviously nervous, then he tells her it’s all a joke. In the end, they laugh about it together and continue their romance. I can’t imagine laughing off that very frightening situation with no consequences as a teenage girl. In the end, if you have a misogynist character or incident in your film, if that’s what you choose to portray, then I think you should be very careful about how the other characters react to it. Especially the females ones.

Zoran, My Nephew the Idiot/Zoran, Il Mio Nipote Scemo
Director: Matteo Oleotto
Paolo is a curmudgeonly forty year old alcoholic. He lives in a Friulian town near the border of Slovenia. A number of the residents of the town seem to drink a little bit too much of the local produce, and in any case Paolo seems to get away with being mean, selfish, and blotto all of the time. An aunt of Paolo’s dies and he unexpectedly ends up looking after a Slovenian nephew of his. His motives are, of course, entirely egocentric, but nevertheless the unlikely duo end up together. This film provides an interesting insight into the life of a little village, the characters are believable and strong. However, Paolo is so unlikeable as a protagonist, that as the film continues and your well of empathy empties like a bottle of Friulian wine, you find yourself caring less and less. I found that I hoped that the relationship with his nephew would change him, would make him see the light. I also hoped that we would learn a little more about what made Paolo the man he was, but there wasn’t a great deal of back story apart from a failed marriage. Paolo’s ex-wife is by all accounts a lovely woman, now married to a man more worthy of her. I found it slightly uncomfortable that the film seemed to hint that she was the only thing that could save Paolo from himself. It’s a common trope in films and literature since the beginning of time: a good woman can save a bad man. It makes me feel uncomfortable because it condones women getting into a relationship with someone who is abusive in some way because they will be able to change them. This is very often not the case in real life. Maybe the film was simply showing the point of view of Paolo himself, who is clearly still in love with his ex-wife though he treated her very badly.

Those Happy Years/Anni Felici
Director: Daniele Luchetti
In the email I received about this film festival, this film was pitched as a romantic comedy. Now I enjoyed this film very much, but it definitely wasn’t a romantic comedy. Set in Rome in the 1970’s, it is a drama about a married couple stuck in a dysfunctional relationship. Guido is an artist, who just so happens to make a lot of nude busts of the female form, and also just so happens to have a lot of affairs with the models he uses to make them. He is married to Serena, who tries her best to be supportive but is often angry and jealous, with good reason, of course. Guido has his own problems too, as he tries desperately to get critical acclaim and be more avant garde in his work. Even his own mother is disparaging of him and he clearly feels inadequate. The film takes an unexpected turn when a female gallery owner who exhibits some of Guido’s work persuades Serena to come on a feminist retreat with her. Serena leaves with her two young sons, and the power balance of the relationship shifts and Guido discovers that perhaps he needed them much more than he thought. Serena starts to need Guido much less as she embarks on a lesbian affair with the gallery owner, who is much more attentive to Serena’s needs than her husband ever was. Both Guido and Serena go on a journey of self-discovery and find at the end, like so often in life, that there are no simple solutions that make everything ok. The story is cleverly told from the point of view of one of the young sons, now an adult, which gives it an extra layer at the beginning and end. There is one very strange surreal bit, where Serena seems to dance in and out of a moving car. I got very confused in that moment, but apart from that this was my favourite of the bunch.

How Strange it is to be Named Federico!/Che strano chiamarsi Federico!
Director: Ettore Scola
It’s hard to describe what this film actually is. In a way it’s a biopic of Fellini, but also it’s the story of Ettore Scola’s friendship with the famous director. The story is told by a narrator who appears onscreen, and is outside of the actual story, and unseen by the other characters.  It starts with Fellini getting a job at Marc’Aurelio, a magazine like Private Eye, where later Scola also gets a job, aged only sixteen and still at school. This is how the two of them meet. It hops forward in time, to when the two men are directing their own pictures, but focuses on their late night conversations in cafes, or driving around the city picking up prostitutes and street artists and driving around in Fellini’s fancy car with them. The most enjoyable parts of the film were the depiction of the artist as an archetype. This starts early on, when at meetings at Marc’Aurelio grown men have serious conversations about the construction of a joke, to Fellini talking about how he was attracted to the people in his village that didn’t wash or get their hair cut often enough – these people were artists, he claims. I entirely empathised with these thoughts, and his interest in the many and varied people of the big city. The film was shot in Cinecitta, which is where Fellini shot his films, and many of the sets are constructed so that it is clear that they are film sets, which I found a bit weird and pointless. At times, the film can be disjointed and refracted, and frustratingly, we don’t get to find out more about Fellini’s personal life, neither where he came from nor his relationship with Giulietta Masina, to whom he was married. I am far from an expert on the films of Fellini, and I have a feeling that if I were an expert, I would have got more from this film.  But, as Fellini famously believed, life is a party, maybe I just wasn’t invited.

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