In the wake of the celebrations of the beginning of cinema’s second century and a new millennium, the Harvard Film Archive presents a synoptic look at Italian filmmaking over the last decade as part of 2013, Year of Italian Culture in the United States. The eleven films in this program reveal an important national cinema that continues to renew itself even as it absorbs and honors its past. Throughout the history of cinema, the films of Italy have ranked among the most important and influential, from the groundbreaking epics of the 1910s through postwar neorealism, to the contributions decades later of Bertolucci, Wertmuller and the Taviani Brothers. Today new generations of directors are surveying a country marked by the rise of visual and social technologies, waves of immigration, deep-rooted regional differences, recent political scandals and a sputtering economy. These filmmakers do not make up one school but rather exemplify a number of traditions and styles, from realism to social melodrama to Fellinian grotesquerie, finding inspiration in a resilient culture constantly in dialogue with its own history and traditions while remaining open to the future. — David Pendleton
This program is presented in partnership with the Consulate General of Italy in Boston and Professionisti Italiani a Boston. Special thanks: Giuseppe Pastorelli, Ubaldo Panitti, Antonio Talarico, Cinzia Del Zoppo – Consulate General of Italy in Boston; Giovanni Abbadessa, Valentina Cecchi – Professionisti Italiani a Boston; Carla Cattani – Cinecitta; Giuliana Bruno – Department of Visual and Environmental Studies, Harvard.
Directed by Marco Tullio Giordana. With Valerio Mastandrea, Pierfrancesco Favino, Michela Cescon
Italy 2012, Digital Video, color, 129 min. Italian with English subtitles
A taut, cerebral crime drama, part thriller and part procedural, Piazza Fontana follows the investigation into the real-life 1969 terrorist bombing of the headquarters of the National Agrarian Bank at the Piazza Fontana in Milan. Valerio Mastandrea plays police chief Luigi Calabresi, who must unravel the chaotic web of politics and ideologies in conflict just beneath the surface of Italian society. As Calabresi moves closer to the truth, the danger to his career and to his life likewise advance. Keeping the temperature of the film cool and the tension at a constant simmer, director Marco Tullio Giordana is far more interested in the political complexities and lingering ambiguities of the historic crime than in easy titillation or suspense, yet the crisp tempo and sharp construction leave no audience member behind.
Directed by Pietro Marcello. With Vincenzo Motta, Mary Monaco, Franco Leo
Italy 2010, 35mm, color, 68 min. Italian with English subtitles
Originally commissioned by a Jesuit Group in Genoa as a documentary about the city's disenfranchised, The Mouth of the Wolf took shape only when director Pietro Marcello met Vincenzo Motta, a weathered man with a gripping story of struggle, violence, prison, and love. Motta and his partner, a transsexual woman named Mary Monaco, play themselves in a film that explores their hard journey and the precarious happiness they seem to have reached. Equally precarious is the hybrid mix of documentary and fiction filmmaking Marcello employs. Interweaving neorealist empathy with mythic storytelling, the director simply states, “The aesthetical way of the cinema for me is also the ethical way.”
Directed by Leonardo di Costanzo. With Alessio Gallo, Francesca Riso, Salvatore Ruocco
Italy 2012, 35mm, color, 90 min. Italian with English subtitles
An elegant, tense yet poignant fiction feature debut from established documentary filmmaker Leonardo di Costanzo, L'Intervallo explores the same dark wave of Neapolitan crime as Garrone's epic Gomorrah, yet from the more intimate perspective of two adolescents trapped in a small corner of that world. Chubby teen Salvatore has his lemon ice cart – his sole source of income – held hostage by a gangster who forces him to act as prison guard to Veronica, a young woman being held captive in an abandoned school. Di Costanzo delicately leads us through the pair's journey from fear of one another to friendship, as they explore the immense, labyrinthine school and begin to dream of escape from their assigned roles and from the omnipresent threat of violence haunting the film’s every frame. As audience and characters anxiously anticipate Veronica's ultimate punishment, both cling to the moments of peace and beauty in the meanwhile, knowing they cannot last.
Directed by Marina Spada. With Anita Kravos, Karolina Porcari, Paolo Pierobon
Italy 2006, 35mm, color, 87 min. Italian with English subtitles
Filmed with a deliberate, assured hand that recalls Antonioni in its enigmatic distance, Marina Spada's As the Shadow is both paranoid and meditative. Claudia, a young travel agent, takes a night class in Russian and becomes enamored of her teacher, a Ukrainian named Boris. Trading on her affection for him, Boris asks Claudia to put up his cousin Olga, an intimidatingly beautiful blonde. As Olga disrupts Claudia's banal existence, the two women begin to form a true bond, and when Olga mysteriously disappears, Claudia devotes herself to finding her. The ensuing search through the calmly forbidding streets of Milan is a seductive journey into a minimalist mystery, Spada utilizing space and time to create a tone poem of tense melancholy.
Directed by Matteo Garrone. With Aniello Arena, Loredana Simioli, Nando Paone
Italy 2012, 35mm, color, 115 min. Italian with English subtitles
As a follow-up to the gritty realism of his acclaimed 2008 crime drama Gomorrah, Matteo Garrone presents a dark fairy tale in the tradition of Fellini’s The White Sheik and Visconti’s Bellissima, about the entertainment industry and its victims. Reality tells the story of Luciano, a fishmonger in Naples seeking to remake himself in order to earn a spot as a contestant on the reality TV show Big Brother. Luciano's search for fame leads him down a rabbit hole into the world of seductive images without referents. By setting his film in some of the most soulless locales in contemporary Naples, Garrone suggests that the struggles of his protagonist are a parable for an Italy stranded between an inaccessible past and a present made up of alienating illusion and false consciousness.
Directed by Mario Martone. With Luigi lo Cascio, Valerio Binasco, Francesca Inaudi
Italy 2010, 35mm, color, 170 min. Italian/French/English/Polish with English subtitles
Filmmaker Mario Martone initially seems beholden to a standard Italian cinema tradition: a literary adaptation of a classic novel (of the same title, by Anna Banti) concerning a patriotic moment in history (Il Risorgimento, or Italy's unification) that was famously addressed in the work of a past auteur (Visconti's Senso). We Believed is no work of reassuring nostalgia, however, but a confrontational rejection of melodrama and sentiment. He presents a web of actors, perspectives and actions within high-definition video and a deliberate aesthetic formlessness. Acknowledging the ongoing debates and tensions that have shaped so much of the country’s history, he deconstructs the idea of history as having a romantic and noble arc, and instead rallies the intricate, fragmented complexities of true history as a basis for an avant-garde narrative immersion of sprawling scope and ambition.
Directed by Michelangelo Frammartino. With Giuseppe Fuda, Bruno Timpano, Nazareno Timpano
Italy 2010, 35mm, color, 88 min. In Italian
Poetic, philosophical, and purely cinematic, Michelangelo Frammartino's film gazes near-wordlessly upon only a few subjects: an elderly shepherd, a kid goat, a tall fir tree, a charcoal oven. From these simple components of life in Calabria unfurls a story of startling depth, a transcendent meditation on the rhythms of life, growth, change, and death in the natural world. Straightforward, sometimes funny, sometimes dark and poignant, the scenes are imbued with a certain lightness of being as if Frammartino is asking the audience to gently conspire with him, to breathe together, to take each scene as it comes – whether it be a nearly abstracted image of a burning charcoal heap, or a wry visual comedy set-piece involving a dog, a truck, and a Passion Play.
Directed by Giuseppe Capotondi. With Ksenia Rappoport, Filippo Timi, Antonia Truppo
Italy 2009, 35mm, color, 95 min. Italian and Spanish with English subtitles
A haunting neo-noir with a story that twists our perception of reality, the debut film from director Giuseppe Capotondi is a mind-bending labyrinth, full of dread and confusion. When Sonia – a Slovenian immigrant working as a hotel maid in Turin – meets Guido – an ex-cop whose wary cynicism and hint of melancholy matches her own – the promise of romance is overshadowed by the insistently ominous. Before too long that threat is made into a reality, or is it? The Double Hour is a film of reversals, doubles, revisions, hallucinations, doubts, and fears. In the tradition of such great cinematic abysses as Vertigo and Mulholland Drive, nothing is as it seems, and everyone is in the dark.
Directed by by Francesca Comencini. With Nicoletta Braschi, Camille Dugay Comencini, Stefano Colace
Italy 2004, 35mm, color, 89 min. Italian with English subtitles
Loosely based on a true story, Mobbing paints a disturbing portrait of Italy's white-collar business world through the story of Anna, a sales associate in a manufacturing firm who is "mobbed," or harassed, after her company is sold in a corporate merger. Her new superiors, forbidden from laying Anna off, decide instead to terrorize her into quitting. For this comment on late capitalism, Comencini returns to the Italian tradition of cinematic realism – shooting on location with a handheld digital camera, available light and improvised dialogue. Best known in the U.S. for her role in Roberto Benigni's Life is Beautiful, Nicoletta Braschi delivers a remarkable performance stoically battling harrowing levels of manipulation. With her unobtrusive style that evokes at different times an objective fly on the wall and an empathetic observer, Comencini captures the revelatory within moments startlingly human and those shockingly inhuman.
Directed by Paolo Sorrentino. With Toni Servillo, Anna Bonaiuto, Giulio Bosetti
Italy 2008, 35mm, color, 110 min. Italian with English subtitles
Paolo Sorrentino joins Matteo Garrone as one of the most high profile New Neaopolitan directors, but his highly stylized expressionism stands in stark contrast to his countryman's modern neorealism. While addressing real social and political concerns, Sorrentino transforms the mundane into the fantastic. Il Divo, his fifth feature, chronicles the later years of Giulio Andreotti, the seven-time Prime Minister infamously steeped in corruption, accused of controlling a vast neo-fascist conspiracy involving the Mafia and the Vatican, and of ordering the assassinations of judges, journalists, and anyone else in the way, earning him the nicknames "Beelzebub" and "The Black Pope." Sorrentino brings energy and excess to both the gangsterism and the legislative deliberations, infusing every frame with a psychedelic visual imagination rarely brought to bear on the political thriller genre.
Directed by Luca Guadagnino. With Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parenti, Edoardo Gabbriellini
Italy 2009, 35mm, color, 120 min. Italian, Russian & English with English subtitles
Meticulously composed yet unexpectedly vibrant and kinetic, the images of I Am Love radiate with the emotions of its characters, the Recchis, a wealthy family whose well-manicured lives are thrown into disarray by startling passion. Tilda Swinton, who developed the film with Guadagnino for over a decade, stars as Emma, the wife and mother at the center of the maelstrom, the source and victim of the film's disruptive sexual energy. The Milanese scion’s trophy wife, Emma begins to notice significant cracks in her carefully constructed world when she discovers that her daughter is a lesbian and that she herself has developed a forbidden lust for Antonio, a friend of her eldest son. The social melodrama that follows is pure Visconti, while the unabashedly Romantic celebration of food, sex and nature recalls the most sensuous moments from the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul.