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Giuseppe Tornatore’s
Baaria
OPEN ROADS: NEW ITALIAN CINEMA—10th Anniversary
Open Roads: New Italian Cinema
June 6 – 14, 2007
Walter Reade Theater at The Film Society of Lincoln Center


Starring: Francesco Scianna, Margareth Made, Nicole Grimaudo, Angela Molina, Lina Sastri, Salvo Ficarra, Valentino Picone, Gaetano Aronica, Luigi Lo Cascio, Michele Placido, Monica Bellucci, Donatella Finocchiaro, Marcello Mazzarella, Raoul Bova.

(Italian dialogue, Sicilian dialect with subtitles, 163 min.)

Written by Giuseppe Tornatore

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Like Cinema Paradiso was a love letter to his youth and infatuation with film, Giuseppe Tornatore’s sprawling and grand new work, Baaria, is a love letter to the Sicilian town he grew up in. The difference is the former (in its director’s cut long form) is a masterful blend of nuanced characters and rich cinematic situations. Baaria is an epic wannabe, either too short or too long depending on how you look at it, it’s characters, with a few noted exceptions, undeveloped, and it’s script lacking the potency necessary to achieve success in its high celluloid ambitions…and they are high!

The film opens with a young boy running down a Sicilian street so fast that he soon takes flight. The image will be returned to near the end of the movie in a moment that should produce tears and feelings of wonder (and I will admit I did feel the latter, but mostly because Tornatore is a master of manipulation!)

Baaria (the way the locals of Bagheria pronounce the name of the town in dialect) follows one family surviving through war and social change from the 1930s until the 1980s and specifically centers on Peppino, the child a of a shepherd who is never quite able to find his fortune but does find so much more along the way.

Actually, one of my problems with the film is that it mentions so many of the fraught political movements (including the start of the Mafia and their eventual rule of Corleone) in passing, never bothering to engage and educate the audience who, unless they grew up in Italy, would not know that much about Italian politics. In addition, as someone who had family survive the Allied bombings in WW2, I was hoping for more insight in those scenes. And I never quite understood why Peppino remained a Communist, even after they disappointed him.

What the film does exceptionally well is capture the sense of Sicily and its people: how they speak, how they think, how they love. The film shows how superstition plays an important part in the Sicilian mindset and how they love to joke at others expense. I was struck by the town idiot as a constant (we have one in our Sicilian town) and the hotheaded temper we are so known for.

Tornatore is also a master at capturing the look of a time and place, although his match shots become a bit tiresome (i.e. someone says “toss them into the sea” and we cut to kids jumping into the sea.)

Francesco Scianna plays the adult Peppino and impressively carries a great deal of the film. Newcomer Margareth Made is wholly believable as his long-suffering wife. Lina Sastri plays her grandmother as well as a homeless psychic and is the standout supporting turn. In one scene she burns scraps of meat for the neighbors to smell so they have no idea that her family hasn’t eaten in a week, explaining to her daughter: “Better dead than to be gossiped about.” Sastri resembles Anne Bancroft and is mysterious and creepy enough to give the audience an idea of just how fascinating these people truly were. She is also a good example of what is lacking in so many of the other supporting part as written. Seriously, if you have Monica Bellucci in your film, write a real part for her to play!!!

There is much to recommend in Tornatore’s mega-work, I just wish it had gone much further in the character and script development stage. The film could have been a masterpiece.

All films are screened at: Walter Reade Theater at The Film Society of Lincoln Center 165 West 65th Street, upper level (between Broadway and Amsterdam Ave.) Subways: 1 train to 66th Street Lincoln Center Buses: M5 M7 M104

For more information visit www.Filmlinc.com or call 212 875 5601.

filmlinc.com/wrt/onsale07/italian07.html


Walter Reade Theater at The Film Society of Lincoln Center
165 West 65th Street,
Upper level (between Broadway and Amsterdam Ave.) Subways
1 train to 66th Street Lincoln Center Buses: M5 M7 M104



Rocco Papaleo’s
Basilicata Coast to Coast

Open Roads: New Italian Cinema
June 6 – 14, 2007
Walter Reade Theater at The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Written by Valter Lupo, Rocco Papaleo

Starring: Alessandro Gassman; Paolo Briguglia; Max Gazze; Rocco Papaleo; Giovanna Mezzogiorno; Claudia Potenza; Michela Andreozzi; Antonio Gerard;, Augusto Fornari; Gaetano Amato.

(In Italian with subtitles, 103 min.)

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Basilicata Coast to Coast is a delightful cinematic gem about a band of outcasts who are asked to appear at a music festival in Sicily and decide to walk their way there across the southern province of Basilicata. It’s a road movie with a heart and soul.

Nicola (director, co-writer Rocco Papaleo masterfully wearing all hats) is the leader of a music group and on a spiritual journey of sorts he wishes to share with his bandmates. So he turns a two-hour ride, by car, into a ten-day walking excursion from the Tyrrhenian Coast to the Ionian Coast. His infectiously endearing mates include: Nicola’s former TV star friend Rocco (the always hilarious Alessandro Gassman); Franco (Max Gazze) a man who can speak but insists on remaining silent since his girlfriend dumped him years ago and Salvatore (Paolo Briguglia) a kind, attractive guy who hasn’t had sex in seven years.

Joining this motley crew is an apprehensive journalist Tropea (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), daughter of a famous politico who is unhappy with her life and career and currently working for a local Catholic paper.

The encounters and travails along the journey are poignant and hysterically funny. Salvatore’s encounter with a bride-to-be and her deluded bandit brother is particularly unforgettable and Tropea’s slow but sweet melting of Franco’s heart is a wonder to watch as well.

The jazz-infused musical moments are terrific as is Fabio Olmi’s wonderful camerawork and Rita Marcotulli’s inviting score.

But what makes Basilicata Coast to Coast so lovely is the ensemble and their pitch-perfect performances. Standing out in a cast of standouts is Mezzogiorno who gets to show off her comic chops. Resembling Debra Winger in her heyday, she is so charming even in her petulance that you cannot help but love her. Mezzogiorno, brilliant in Vincere earlier this year, is a national treasure in Italy. We should be so lucky to appreciate her as much here.

All films are screened at: Walter Reade Theater at The Film Society of Lincoln Center 165 West 65th Street, upper level (between Broadway and Amsterdam Ave.) Subways: 1 train to 66th Street Lincoln Center Buses: M5 M7 M104

For more information visit www.Filmlinc.com or call 212 875 5601.

filmlinc.com/wrt/onsale07/italian07.html


Walter Reade Theater at The Film Society of Lincoln Center
165 West 65th Street,
Upper level (between Broadway and Amsterdam Ave.) Subways
1 train to 66th Street Lincoln Center Buses: M5 M7 M104


 



Paolo Virzi’s
The First Beautiful Thing (La prima cosa bella)
Open Roads: New Italian Cinema
June 6 – 14, 2007
Walter Reade Theater at The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Written by Paolo Virzi, Francesco Bruni, Francesco Piccolo

Starring: Valerio Mastandrea: Micaela Ramazzotti: Stefania Sandrelli, Claudia Pandolfi; Marco Messeri; Fabrizia Sacchi; Aurora Frasca; Giacomo Bibbiani; and Sergio Albelli.

(in Italian with subtitles, 122 min.)

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Italian helmer Paolo Virzi believes cinema is “something you make for others” and not necessarily “something you make to exorcise your own demons.” Yet it’s hard to fathom that The First Beautiful Thing isn’t autobiographical in some ways since it feels so personal.

Virzi’s film blends great humor with resonant pathos as he (and his two co-screenwriters Francesco Bruni & Francesco Piccolo) tells the story of one family via flashbacks.

The opening scene takes place in the summer of 1971 at a beauty contest being held in Livorno, Italy. Unbeknownst to her, the gorgeous Anna (Micaela Ramazzotti) is about to be chosen as the best looking mom in the audience, which immediately causes friction between she and her possessive and jealous husband Mario (Sergio Albelli, playing typical Italian male very well). This oddball moment will have ripples that will affect Anna, Mario and their two children, the petulant Bruno and needy Valeria, for the rest of their lives.

The pic sprints forward to the present and finds Bruno (Valerio Mastandrea) estranged from his dying mother Anna (now played by the great Stefania Sandrelli). Bruno has developed into a misanthropic misfit who constantly seeks escape (usually through drugs) from the humdrum life he has created for himself. Valeria (Claudia Pandolfi) has her own issues stuck in a marriage to a buffoon.

The film bounces back and forth in time arranging the narrative pieces together until the full bittersweet puzzle emerges and we see how the sibs’ lives got grim. Virzi explores the male-ego dominated view of female sexuality and, how, even the inference of an indiscretion on the wife’s part is seen as the worst betrayal while a husband’s infidelity is accepted and often celebrated.

At equal times poignant and infuriating, The First Beautiful Thing soars when either Anna is onscreen.

Ramazzotti captures Anna’s youthful exuberance and tentative sensuality perfectly while Sandrelli shows us a woman struggling to hold onto those qualities as death approaches.

Virzi finds a nice balance between the ridiculous and the grave and provides a few catharses along the journey for a few of the characters as well as the audience.

All films are screened at: Walter Reade Theater at The Film Society of Lincoln Center 165 West 65th Street, upper level (between Broadway and Amsterdam Ave.) Subways: 1 train to 66th Street Lincoln Center Buses: M5 M7 M104

For more information visit www.Filmlinc.com or call 212 875 5601.

filmlinc.com/wrt/onsale07/italian07.html


Walter Reade Theater at The Film Society of Lincoln Center
165 West 65th Street,
Upper level (between Broadway and Amsterdam Ave.) Subways
1 train to 66th Street Lincoln Center Buses: M5 M7 M104



Gabriele Muccino’s
Kiss Me Again (Baciami ancora)

Open Roads: New Italian Cinema
June 6 – 14, 2007
Walter Reade Theater at The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Written by Gabriele Muccino

Starring: Stefano Accorsi: Vittoria Puccini: Pierfrancesco Favino: Claudio Santamaria: Giorgio Pasotti: Marco Cocci; Sabrina Impacciatore; Daniela Piazza; Primo Reggiani; Francesca Valtorta; Adriano Giannini; Valeria Bruni Tedeschi.

(In Italian with subtitles, 139 min.)

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Things do not necessarily get better or easier with age. They actually get messier. This seems to be the main lesson learned by the gaggle of misfit ‘amici’ in Gabriele Muccino’s new film Kiss Me Again. Coming off of directing two big Hollywood films starring Will Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness, Seven Pounds), Mucchino returns to his native land and tongue to revisit many of the same characters from his 2001 hit, The Last Kiss.

It helps to have a familiarity with the earlier pic to fully embrace this film, especially the triumphant final scene, which may fall completely flat if you are experiencing the trials and travails of these people for the first time.

Carlo (Stefano Accorsi) is now divorced from Giulia (Vittoria Puccini, in a role originated by the extraordinary and far more sympathetic Giovanna Mezzogiorno), the woman he cheated on. They have a 10-year old daughter together. Carlo would do anything to reunite with Giulia, who currently lives with an out-of-work actor.

Much screen time (too much) is devoted to Carlo and Giulia’s tempestuous teetering back and forth about reconciling, while they name call and shout a lot about each other’s infidelities.

Meanwhile, an even louder shouter when he’s not off his meds, Paolo (Claudio Santamaria) is involved in a very rickety relationship with the very unforgiving Livia (Sabrina Impacciatore) who erratically changes moods and does her share of shouting as well. Livia’s ex, Adriano (Giorgio Pasotti) has just been released from prison after a 2-year stint for drug smuggling, and wants to get to know his son, even though he’s been absent from his life for ten years. This gives Livia even more reasons to shout.

Rounding out the boisterous group is angry and borderline homicidal Marco (Pierfrancesco Favino, funny and frightening) and his cheating wife, Veronica (Daniela Piazza), who leaves him for a hot young buck (Primo Reggiani) which allows Marco the opportunity to out-shout the previous shouters.

Are you sensing a running theme? So many of these characters yell and scream at one another instead of actually listening to each other. And, while you can argue that perhaps Mucchino is commenting on how no one bothers to listen to anyone today (did they ever?), after a while, it just becomes alienating to an audience.

Mucchino’s script tends to border on misogyny as each man is forgiven for his sins while the women are condemned and/or seen as bitches and whores.

Still, I found the film worth the 139-minute sit because the ensemble makes it worthwhile. Accorsi, Santamaria, Favino, and, especially, Pasotti, do good work despite the soapy script. And Impacciatore transcends her manically written character to reveal deeper truths.

In a brief but potent turn, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi brings grace and strength to a role that could easily have been one-dimensional.

Kudos to Mucchino for his desire to probe the paradoxes and complexities of his pre-existing characters. I just wish he had spent more time honing the script and doing justice to his women. Perhaps in another ten years.

All films are screened at: Walter Reade Theater at The Film Society of Lincoln Center 165 West 65th Street, upper level (between Broadway and Amsterdam Ave.) Subways: 1 train to 66th Street Lincoln Center Buses: M5 M7 M104

For more information visit www.Filmlinc.com or call 212 875 5601.



Valerio Mieli’s
Ten Winters (Dieci inverni)
Open Roads: New Italian Cinema
June 6 – 14, 2007
Walter Reade Theater at The Film Society of Lincoln Center


Written by Valerio Mieli, Davide Lantieri, Isabella Aguilar.

Starring: Isabella Ragonese; Michele Riondino; Glen Blackhall; Sergei Nikonenko; Liuba Zaizeva; Sergei Zhigunov.

(In Italian and Russian with subtitles, 99 min.)

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

‘Ten years of missed opportunities’ is an accurate way of describing Ten Winters (Dieci inverni), Valerio Mieli’s tender romantic drama. Sometimes our two leads are even in the same place at the same times and do not know it, or know it and deliberately avoid one another.

Structured chronologically over a decade’s worth of ten winters, the film plays like Same Time Next Year meets (500) Days of Summer. Set in Venice, Italy and Russia, Ten Winters is a smart, subtle and thoroughly engaging film with two wonderfully real performances by the central actors: Isabella Ragonese and Michele Riondino.

The film opens in the winter of 1999 where Camilla (Ragonese) has left home to embark on her studies in Venezia. On the ferry, she is accosted by Silvestro (Riondino), a bit of a clown who follows her and ends up, incredulously, spending the night with her in her bed (although all they do is sleep).

He tries to make a move, but she is unresponsive. And when she shows signs of wanting him, he’s too proud to meet her halfway. This apprehension, nervousness and tentativeness continues for the next ten years as lovers come and go and they live their lives—often terribly jealous and always longing…

The audience knows these two belong together from the very first encounter and patiently wait for Camilla and Silvestro to figure it out. That is part of the fun and frustration of watching Ten Winters.

For more information visit www.Filmlinc.com or call 212 875 5601.


 

 


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