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Film
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Sergio Castellitto’s
La Bellezza del Somaro (Love and Slaps)
OPEN ROADS: NEW ITALIAN CINEMA—11th Annual Festival

Written by Sergio Castellitto and Margaret Mazzantini.

Starring: Sergio Castellitto, Laura Morante, Marco Giallini, Barbora Bobulova, Enzo Jannacci, Gianfelice Imparato, Emanuela Grimalda, Lidia Vitale, Nina Torresi.
(In Italian with subtitles, 107 min.)

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

La Bellezza del Somaro translates as The Beauty of the Ass…or Donkey, for those who are offended by the double meaning. For the US, the title was changed to a the silly but more acceptable Love and Slaps, which says a lot more about Americans refusal to understand other cultures than it does anything else. Ridiculous title translation notwithstanding, Sergio Castellitto’s new film is a hilarious if occasionally uneven look at the startling and telling differences in three generations of a modern Italian family.

Described as a new millennium version of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, La Bellezza del Somaro is much more than that, it’s a comment on how today’s teens are sometimes more mature than their parents and grandparents (and yet, not…). The film doesn’t try to make any broad and wise statements as much as it simply depicts the joys and heartaches inherent in human folly.

The underage daughter of Castellitto (wearing three hats) and Morante (always fascinating to watch) arrives at a gathering with a surprise new beau. Her parents think it may be a black boy and are very understanding, that is until they realize her new suitor is fifty years older than their offspring.

Also in attendance are an odd assortment of delightful outcasts.

The supporting cast of misfits is a treat to watch, the best of the crazies being Barbora Bobulova (Sacred Heart, Anche Libero Va Bene) as one of therapist Morante’s crackpot patients—who may just be wiser than most.

Castellitto’s filmic style borrows from some mega-masters, specifically Fellini and Bergman, though his helming is nowhere near as assured or personal - it actually borders on the erratic.

An important character in the film is the donkey. Americans may not fully comprehend why but anyone who’s ever been to Italy (Sicily, in particular) will understand. The rest should travel a bit and absorb some culture.

 



Gianni Di Gregorio’s
The Salt of Life (Gianni e le donne)
OPEN ROADS: NEW ITALIAN CINEMA—11th Annual Festival

Written by Gianni Di Gregorio, Valerio Attanasio

Starring: Gianni Di Gregorio, Valeria de Franciscis, Alfonso Santagata, Elisabetta Piccolomini, Valeria Cavalli, Kristina Cepraga, Michelangelo Ciminale; Gabriella Sborgi

(In Italian with subtitles, 90 min.)

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

After last year’s gem, Mid-August Lunch (Pranzo di Ferragosto), it was hard to imagine that the writer/director had also penned the searing Gomorrah. Now, with his second directorial achievement, The Salt of Life (Gianni e le donne), actor/director Gianni Di Gregorio proves he is, indeed, an old softie with a wonderful wit and bracingly honest insights about the aging Italian male.

Gianni, once again, plays Gianni, a ridiculously obliging sixty-year old who longs for something more in his life—and of course that something more means a younger woman. Gianni must contend with a mother who spends all her money on extravagance (the amazing ninetysomething Valeria de Franciscis, whose face is mesmerizing), a nagging wife and a typically screwed up daughter who keeps taking her jobless boyfriend back. Gianni also has a neighbor who flirts shamelessly with him, but never follows through.

Can Gianni find the right girl to have a fling with? The film takes us on a sometimes hilarious, often wistful journey with Gianni as he discovers a few truths about himself.

Di Gregorio brings his self-deprecating yet charming personality to Gianni--a character that could easily be seen as a dirty old man. Instead the film delivers a poignant and sweet portrait of an endearing fellow looking for a new and exciting way to pass the usually-dull time.

The supporting performances are all a treat with special mentions to Gabriella Sborgi as the over-the-top singer Gianni hopes to romance and Michelangelo Ciminale as the slacker boyfriend Gianni bonds with.

The only thing I can find fault with is changing the literal interpretation of the title, Gianni e le donne (Johnny and the women) to The Salt of Life. I am often stupefied by the silliness involved in tampering with a perfectly good title and deciding on something deemed more marketable--in this case the choice is mystifyingly wrong.

Open Roads: New Italian Cinema has been organized by The Film Society of Lincoln Center together with Cinecittà Luce- Filmitalia and the support of Ministero per i Beni e le Attivitá Culturali (Direzione Generale per il Cinema) in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute of New York. Special thanks to the Italian Trade Commission-ICE Los Angeles, the Alexander Bodini Foundation, Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimó and Antonio Monda for their generous support.

Tickets are on sale both at the box office and on-line. Discounts are available for Film Society members. Read more about The Film Society of Lincoln Center. <http://www.filmlinc.com/>

Screenings will be held at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater, located at 165 West 65th Street, between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway.

 




Lucio Pellegrini’s
Figli Delle Stelle (Unlikely Revolutionaries)
OPEN ROADS: NEW ITALIAN CINEMA—11th Annual Festival

Written by Lucio Pellegrini, Michele Pellegrini & Francesco Cenni

Starring: Pierfrancesco Favino, Fabio Volo, Claudia Pandolfi, Paolo Sassanelli, Giorgio Tirabassi, Giuseppe Battiston, Lidia Biondi

(In Italian with subtitles, 102 min.)

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

If you want some madcap lunacy with your espresso, Figli Delle Stelle (Unlikely Revolutionaries) is definitely the way to go.

Starring the ever-hilarious Pierfrancesco Favino, this film begins with a ridiculous bang and continues to up the outrageous ante as the viewer watches in delight and disbelief.

A gaggle of angry, radical Italians decide to kidnap a crooked minister and ask for a ransom that would go directly to the family of a worker that was killed because of the minister’s corrupt behavior; problem is that they abduct the wrong politico. Total nuttiness ensues.

Favino’s character, Pepe, begins to fall for journalist Marilu (a terrific Claudia Pandolfi) and starts to feel sorry for the prisoner. In a side-splittingly funny twist, the group’s numbers increase by twentyfold. As the crazy escalates, we begin to truly care about these revolutionaries.

Pellegrini does a splendid job showcasing the antics while actually saying a few important things about current Italian politics. The script is sharp, witty and occasionally unhinged. And the actors do a fabulous job of playing it straight, making the humor all the more acute.

Giuseppe Battiston, a dead ringer for Kevin Smith, is particularly demented (a good thing) as is Lidia Biondi as Pepe’s overprotective mother.

At certain times, Figli Delle Stelle reminded me of Four Lions and 9 to 5--high praise, indeed!

Unfortunately the film is only daring to a point since, in the end, Pellegrini feels the need to break with the absurdist tone and force a predicable conclusion. The coda, however, is perfect.

Open Roads: New Italian Cinema has been organized by The Film Society of Lincoln Center together with Cinecittà Luce- Filmitalia and the support of Ministero per i Beni e le Attivitá Culturali (Direzione Generale per il Cinema) in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute of New York. Special thanks to the Italian Trade Commission-ICE Los Angeles, the Alexander Bodini Foundation, Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimó and Antonio Monda for their generous support.

Tickets are on sale both at the box office and on-line. Discounts are available for Film Society members. Read more about The Film Society of Lincoln Center. <http://www.filmlinc.com/>

Screenings will be held at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater, located at 165 West 65th Street, between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway.




Luca Lucini’s
The Woman of My Life (La donna della mia vita)
OPEN ROADS: NEW ITALIAN CINEMA—11th Annual Festival


Written by Cristina Comencini, Giulia Calenda, Teresa Ciabatti

Starring: Luca Argentero, Alessandro Gassman, Stefania Sandrelli, Valentina Lodovini, Giorgio Colangeli

(In Italian with subtitles, 96 min.)

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Leonardo (Luca Argentero) is an overly sensitive young man who recently attempted suicide over a doomed relationship. His older brother, Giorgio (Alessandro Gassman) is a cad who constantly cheats on his wife. The two are a decade apart in age, have different fathers and could not be more different. But are they what they appear to be? And can the key to their true natures have everything to do with their lineage?

And exactly how much control does a mother have over the lives of her sons?

The Woman of My Life (La donna della mia vita) attempts to answer the above questions and, in doing so, give us a fascinating tale of sibling rivalry as well as maternal dominance.

Leonardo meets Sara (Valentina Ludovini), who has just left her blackguard of a married boyfriend and the two hit it off. Leonardo sees her as the woman of his life. Apparently Leonardo is the polar opposite of the man she just broke things off with. Yet, before you can say: “oh brother,” Giorgio (the blackguard) decides Sara is the woman of his life. Complicating matters is the fact that the brother’s parents are also having fidelity issues.

Luca Lucini has crafted a splendid comedy that soars for the first two thirds of its running time but seems to run out of steam near the end where too many major plot developments take place off-screen and one particular transformation is wholly unbelievable.

Still, the film is more than worthwhile for it’s incisive screenplay as well as the magnificent cast led by the towering Stefania Sandrelli, who is one of Italy’s best actresses. Sandrelli’s mother is a strong, vital woman with quite a few secrets of her own.

Gassman has now perfected the Italian cad; here he gives him a few more shadings. Argentero continues to prove he’s more than just a pretty face and body and conveys Leonardo’s angst superbly-- especially early in the film before the script forces a 180 on him.

The stunning Lodovini is simply marvelous and one of the best young Italian actresses I’ve seen in a while.

The film’s characters often quote the age of another character incorrectly (adding a year or two) as a deliberate way of antagonizing them. This touch is so marvelously Italian and goes a long way towards examining the type of envy-dynamics inherent in most Italian families.

I wish Lucini and the writers had allowed these real touches to fuel the film instead of forcing contrivances in the final reel.


Open Roads: New Italian Cinema has been organized by The Film Society of Lincoln Center together with Cinecittà Luce- Filmitalia and the support of Ministero per i Beni e le Attivitá Culturali (Direzione Generale per il Cinema) in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute of New York. Special thanks to the Italian Trade Commission-ICE Los Angeles, the Alexander Bodini Foundation, Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimó and Antonio Monda for their generous support.

Tickets are on sale both at the box office and on-line. Discounts are available for Film Society members. Read more about The Film Society of Lincoln Center. <http://www.filmlinc.com/>

Screenings will be held at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater, located at 165 West 65th Street, between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway.

 




 

 


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