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Film

Best of Italy in New York
Open Roads: New Italian Cinema
Lincoln Center
June 6-14, 2007

Written by Frank J. Avella


 

Open Roads: New Italian Cinema should be a vital part of the New York cinemagoing experience. Each year the cineastes at the Film Society of Lincoln Center showcase some of the best films from Italy and prove that Italian Cinema is a force to be reckoned with.

This 7th annual Open Roads kicked off with 92-year old Mario Monicelli’s Le Rose Del Deserto (Desert Roses) about the futility of war. The festival’s most eagerly awaited entry is the world premiere of the highly ambitious film Caravaggio, directed by Angelo Longoni, starring Italia’s heartthrob Alessio Boni and photographed by legend Vittorio Storaro.

Another highly anticipated movie is Giuseppe Tornatore’s celebrated and controversial La Sconosciuta (The Unknown Woman).

“We're delighted to present in this year's Open Roads films by emerging talents, as well as a new film by the great Mario Monicelli, one of the directors whose work continues to inspire Italy's newest generation of filmmakers,” says Richard Peña, program director at the Film Society.

The festival runs from June 6-14.

Single screening tickets for Open Roads: New Italian Cinema are $11 for adults, $7 for Film Society members and students with a valid photo ID and $7 for seniors at weekday screenings before 6 p.m. They are available at both the Walter Reade Theater box office and online at www.filmlinc.com. Additional information is available by calling (212) 875-5600.



Angelo Longoni’s
Caravaggio
2007 Open Roads: New Italian Cinema
Lincoln Center

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Simply put: Angelo Longoni’s Caravaggio is a sprawling, ambitious and stunning artistic achievement.

Brilliantly shot by visionary legend Vittorio Storaro (Reds, Apocalypse Now), this sumptuous eye-popping feast is one of the few films in recent memory about the life of an artist, that tries to capture and understand the artist as well as his work. (Robert Altman’s great Vincent and Theo comes to mind as another.) The result is a mesmerizing and beguiling work that almost achieves greatness.

The artistic temperament is usually portrayed as a type of madness in film. Here we experience the painter’s passion and his struggle to work in a world that, strangely, adores and detests him because of his audacity. Caravaggio must paint. His way. And, ironically, it’s the thing that irked the Catholic hierarchy the most that, ultimately, makes his art so beautiful and rapturous. The Church and many others were offended by his use of street folk (prostitutes, vagabonds, etc...) portrayed as saints and even Jesus himself.

And, then there was the rowdy, rapscallion that frequented pubs and whorehouses, usually engaging the creepier characters into quarrels, and sometimes life-threatening duels.

Angelo Longoni’s film depicts a portrait of a constantly conflicted and flawed artist trying to do what he was placed on this earth to do.

The central role would be quite a challenge for any actor. Luckily, Alessio Boni is up for it. It’s a rich and compelling performance. So often we are unable to get any type of clear picture of the man making art. Here, Boni gives us glimpses into his mind and heart. If marketed correctly, this is the project that will bring Boni the worldwide attention that Best of Youth should have given him a few years back.

The cast is, for the most part, wonderful and the production values--from the gorgeous art direction the period costumes--are marvelous.

Caravaggio’s sexuality has always been in question. The assumption has been that because he painted so many male nudes AND that many of his paintings have homoerotic undertones, he must have been homosexual himself. Derek Jarman sealed this theory in his 1986 film Caravaggio.

Longoni’s Caravaggio is much more a ladies man than even bisexual (although there are fleeting references to his having a male lover). Of course, Italian films tend to shy away from overtly gay themes. And short of going on a diatribe about homophobia in a repressed Catholic country, I will simply say it is not surprising. But in the filmmaker’s defense, recent evidence has come to suggest that Caravaggio was, indeed, a womanizer. So he may very well have been both. But this movie is far more interested in focusing on his need to create art.

My chief grievance with Caravaggio is that I wanted MORE. And there is more. The film was made for Italian television and will be seen in miniseries form later this year. That may be wherein the masterpiece lies. I think the theatrical version deserved a good three hours instead of the current paltry 130 minutes! (Yes, I’m one of THOSE cinephiles!!!) Still, Caravaggio never feels truncated, and that is a tribute to the tremendous talents involved



Giuseppe Tornatore’s
La Sconosciuta (The Unknown Woman)
2007 Open Roads: New Italian Cinema
Lincoln Center


Reviewed Frank J. Avella

Much celebrated Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso) has not made a film since Malena in 2000. In his long awaited return to filmmaking, Tornatore has crafted an ultra-violent, gruesome yet extraordinary film about true evil and one woman’s struggle for redemption.

I admire Tornatore for making an honest and no-holes-barred thriller that will certainly turn a lot of people off...ah, but for those who stay with it...the rewards are many!

Nothing is quite what it initially seems ot be in La Sconosciuta (The Unknown Woman)--specifically Irena (Kseniya Rappoport), the anti-heroine in Tornatore’s riveting saga, is not who and what we first assume she is. The Ukranian immigrant is first seen conning her way into a housekeeping job, then befriending a fellow maid and then violently tripping her down a large flight of stairs!

As the film unfolds with small flashes of flashbacks, Irena’s tragic story becomes all too clear and we begin to see how she fell victim to a ruthless monster known as Muffa, played with villainous zest by the incomparable Michele Placido. I will not give any more of the plot away because part of the joy of watching this film unfold is not knowing what is going to happen next! Tornatore tells his story in just the right way so we are constantly feeling anger, disgust and empathy for Irena--sometimes simultaneously.

Rappoport dives into the role face first and she is remarkable. The entire cast does great work here including: Claudia Gerini; Pierfrancesco Favino; Margherita Buy; Alessandro Haber; and Piera Degli Esposti.

Production values are excellent across the boards with the great Ennio Morricone providing an exciting score.

La Sconosciuta is unrelenting in it’s depiction of violence but there is a beauty in the brutality onscreen (reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver) and, in the end, the film is mesmerizing and transcendent.



Mario Monicelli’s
Le Rose Del Deserto (Desert Roses)
2007 Open Roads: New Italian Cinema
Lincoln Center


Reviewed Frank J. Avella

Ninety-two year old helmer Mario Monicelli deserves a round of applause. Most directors half his age could not have pulled off the biting and timely serio-comedy, Le Rose Del Deserto (Desert Roses). In many ways the film is an Italianized version of Robert Altman’s masterpiece M*A*S*H. Both are reflections on the absurdity of war and both are clever and enjoyable instead of preachy and didactic.

WW2 is in full swing and an Italian medical unit is stationed in the Libyan desert awaiting an assumed victorious march into Egypt. Alas, things do not go quite as planned for the Axis powers, and the medics are soon under attack (even though they’re the Red Cross). In addition, they find themselves alienated from those Arabs who live on the occupied land.

Among the lunatic characters in Desert Roses are: a horny optometrist (a terrific Giorgio Pasotti) who sees himself as “a tourist more than a fascist;” an elderly Sicilian who converses more with his donkey than his blind wife and a highly unorthodox Franciscan Friar played by the ubiquitous Michele Placido (who also appears in La Sconoscuita and directed last year’s brilliant Romanzo Criminale). Placido’s scene stealing priest is one of the supreme joys in a joyous film.

Monicelli skillfully blends the real with the ridiculous and pokes major fun at buffoonish military leaders as well as giving us a glimpse of the surreal nature of war itself. The power of the pic is in the way it has the audience howling with laughter one minute and then blasting us into brutal reality the next.



Roberto Ando’s
Viaggio Segreto (Secret Journey)
2007 Open Roads: New Italian Cinema
Lincoln Center

Reviewed Frank J. Avella

Leo (Alessio Boni) is a Roman psychoanalyst who has a close but bizarre relationship with his sister Ale (Claudia Gerini). She is engaged to marry a Serbian artist (gifted filmmaker Emir Kusturica) who is about to purchase the sibs childhood home in Sicily as a wedding present for his bride-to-be. Unbeknownst to him, this is the house they were forced to flee, as children, after a horrific family tragedy. Leo soon finds himself on his own journey, logistical and psychological, where he must come to terms with what occurred in that home, over thirty years ago, and try to heal his sister and himself.

Director Robert Ando has created a haunting and disturbing film that examines the devastation that secrets can have on people. One can almost see the sibs as metaphor for the Italian people (Sicilians, in particular) and the generation learned art of kept secrets in one of the most Catholic countries in the world.

Viaggio Segreto (Secret Journey) plays like a beautiful puzzle, moving back and forth in time, until all the pieces come into place and we are left with a searing penultimate scene where the two deeply-damaged sibs are locked in a twisted dance of desperation.

Alessio Boni is Italy’s reigning workaholic, and thank God for that! Here the underrated actor is at his most reserved and repressed, underplaying his part to perfection portraying a tortured soul who spends his life helping other tortured souls. Boni’s is a rich and painfully revealing performance.

Ando wisely chooses to film his actors in close up and since he casts so well, we are able to play voyeurs to the rawness these thesps bring to their roles.

The pic is exquisitely shot. Sicily has never looked so glorious (and it is!), but as I looked at the vistas of this gorgeous country, I was reminded of the opening sequence of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet where we first see the natural beauty of the suburban landscape only to have the camera probe deeper into the terrible underbelly. Ando does that in quite the psychological way, showing us that in a country so lovely there are secrets that can forever damage and destroy.


 


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