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Pippo Mezzapesa’s
Annalisa (Il Paese Delle Spose Infelici)
Open Roads: New Italian Cinema 2012
12th Annual Festival
June 09, 2012 – June 14, 2012
Lincoln Center

Written by Antonio Leotti, Antonella Gaeta, Mezzapesa, based on the novel "Il paese delle spose infelici" by Mario Desiati.

Starring: Nicolas Orzella, Luca Schipani, Aylin Prandi, Cosimo Villani, Vincenzo Leggieri, Gennaro Albano, Antonio Gerardi, Roberto Corradino, Rolando Ravello.

(In Italian with English subtitles, 82 min.)

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Annalisa opens with teen Veleno (Nicolas Orzella) hanging upside down from a tree being taunted and bullied by his fellow classmates, chief among them the cocky Zaza (Luca Schipani). The picked-on outsider and the tough guy develop an unlikely bond as they become obsessed with a young villager named Annalisa (Aylin Prandi), who is considered the town lunatic/tramp. The narrative, or what little there is of one, follows these two boys and one gal in 1980s southeastern Italy as they form an odd triangle.

Zaza is more than just a sexy, charismatic ruffian. He also goes on drug runs for his brother and hopes to be a famous soccer player. Veleno isn’t developed nearly enough. There is definitely hero worship going on…dare we say a crush on Zaza, but the filmmakers aren’t willing to go there. No surprise.

Annalisa is the most fascinating character, but we are given very little backstory beyond the knowledge that her husband died and she has tried to killer herself.

Newcomer Pippo Mezzapesa seems to want to fashion an Italian Y Tu Mamma Tambien, unfortunately, there is not enough to the script (based on a novel by Mario Desiati) that truly commands much of our interest outside of the solid performances by the trio—a shame, really, because all the right elements are there for sparks to fly—in every direction.

Michele D’Attanasio’s cinematography captures the lushness of the landscape and there are some gorgeous shots, but they do not compensate for the slim content, cliché’ characterizations and missed possibilities.

Daniele Vicari’s
Diaz: Don’t Clean Up This Blood

Open Roads: New Italian Cinema 2012
12th Annual Festival
June 09, 2012 – June 14, 2012
Lincoln Center

Written by Daniele Vicari, Laura Paolucci (in collaboration with Alessandro Bandinelli, Emanuele Scaringi)

Starring: Claudio Santamaria, Jennifer Ulrich, Elio Germano, Davide Iacopini, Ralph Amoussou, Fabrizio Rongione, Renato Scarpa, Mattia Sbragia, Antonio Gerardi, Paolo Calabresi, Francesco Acquaroli.

(In Italian and other languages with English subtitles, 122 min.)

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

As shock cinema goes there is nothing more powerful than real historic events being depicted in all their horror.

Some will bitch about balance telling these stories—never taking into account that the dramatization of human torture and injustices do not have to show “the other side” simply because the other side’s version of the story cannot explain away these tortures and injustices. To label a film propaganda (as some critics have done) because a filmmaker chooses to tell a real and documented story about how power can turn everyday people into monsters, in this case the police (imagine), is reactionary and ridiculous—and an insult to what history has shown.

The intensely graphic film Diaz: Don’t Clean Up This Blood is simultaneously absorbing and repellant—and it means to be both.

Forgiving the understandable but lousy title, there is much to admire in Daniele Vicari’s docu-like approach to the disturbing material.

Unwavering in it’s depiction of violence, Diaz sets out to show, in Battle in Seattle (a fiercely underrated film)-style, how the Italian polizia dealt with the G8 protesters in Genoa, Italy in 2001. It’s a scary tale about how, in order to edify egos, innocent people were clobbered and pummeled to near death and then arrested and humiliated—some simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time; others because they had the audacity to disagree with and make fun of the powers-that-be.

Vicari has assembled an international cast—including Claudio Santamaria-- and is most successful when he is showing the gruesome violence. Plot and characterization, unfortunately, take a backseat, so it is difficult to care about most of the characters since we aren’t ever really allowed to get to know them. There are exceptions, including Jennifer Ulrich’s Alma—since her torture is painstakingly depicted as well as Davide Iacopini’s Marco, a protester who is not at the Diaz school when the attack happens.

The narrative keeps going back to a bottle being tossed and shattered—the beginning of the anger felt by the police that would escalate their drive to destroy—but this moment is never fully explained to the viewer.

The biggest problem with the film is the fact that it does not go into detail about what led up to the terrible incident. Proper background info and context is vital for international audiences--and US audiences in particular --where news of the world barely receives any media attention.

I had to educate myself—via the Internet. I hope others do as well since this is a gripping piece of cinema that should be seen.

The brutality is captured hand-held-style by cameraman Gherardo Gossi. Vicari is daring the viewer to continue watching. Recent films such as Hotel Rwanda, played down the violence to make their film more tolerable for audiences. Why? Shouldn’t we be made to see what is going on in the world in this new millennium? Vicari and his team should be applauded for doing just that.

Francesco Bruni’s
Easy! (Scialla!)
Open Roads: New Italian Cinema 2012
12th Annual Festival
June 09, 2012 – June 14, 2012
Lincoln Center

Starring: Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Filippo Scicchitano, Barbara Bobulova, Vinicio Marchioni, Arianna Scommegna.

(In Italian with English subtitles, 95 min.)

Written by Francesco Bruni & Giambattista Avellino.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

One of the mega-delights of this years Open Roads celebration is Francesco Bruni’s Scialla!—which is slang for ‘take it easy,’ a phrase the teen lead often uses basically asking everyone to ‘just chill.’

In this smart and sincere comedy, Bruno (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), a failed novelist turned ghost biographer, makes extra cash tutoring high school students. One of these boys is an endearing 15-year-old slacker named Luca (Filippo Scicchitano) who is in danger of flunking out of school. Luca’s future goal is to become a successful criminal. Luca’s mom, Marina (Arianna Scommegna) pays Bruno a visit asking him to take the boy in while she goes off on an important job in Mali. When Bruno asks why he would ever agree to such an arrangement, Marina delivers the bombshell that Luca is Bruno’s biological son--and so begins an odd couple-type cine-yarn that turns into a poignant film about a father learning to actually become a father and a son choosing to become a man.

Scialla (Easy)! marks the very assured directorial debut of screenwriter Bruni (The First Beautiful Thing), who never goes too far into melodrama or allows his comedy to become too broad. There’s a solid balance here and he has cast his film to perfection beginning with the lovable Bentiviglio—who conveys just the right amount of regret and disappointment early on about where his career has taken him—and surprises himself by fitting into the father role quite nicely.

Scicchitano is quite a find and should have a great career ahead of him, perfectly blending a youthful eagerness to absorb with the—easier—teen apathy and indifference.

Both men learn from one another in surprising and believable ways.

In addition to the duo, the wonderful Barbara Bobulova puts her fabulous stamp on the role of one of Bruno’s subjects, a former porn star raising a teen boy herself. In the hands of a less gifted actress, this would have easily been a one-dimensional joke turn. As played by Bobulova, she is wholly human and deeply moving.

Finally, stealing all of his few scenes, Vinicio Marchioni is dead-on hilarious as “The Poet,” a cultured criminal who screens Truffaut films for his goons and bitches—when he isn’t pushing drugs.

Massimiliano Bruno’s
Escort in Love (Nessuno Mi Puo’ Guidicare)
Open Roads: New Italian Cinema 2012
12th Annual Festival
June 09, 2012 – June 14, 2012
Lincoln Center

Starring: Paola Cortelessi, Raoul Bova, Giovanni Bruno, Anna Foglietta, Rocco Papaleo, Lucia Occone, Pasquale Petrolo, Caterina Guzzanti, Valerio Aprea, Massimiliano Delgado, Fausto Leali.

Written by Massimiliano Bruno, Fausto Brizzi, Edoardo Falcone.

(In Italian with English subtitles, 95 min.)

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Massimiliano Bruno’s Escort in Love is a romantic comedy that could have easily come out of 1990s Hollywood starring Diane Lane or Julia Roberts. And that is a good and bad thing.

The film is quite endearing—in a manipulative and carefully plotted way. It’s so prepackaged and so paint-by-numbers—especially near the end—it is as if Bruno was following some rom-com checklist.

The movie starts promisingly enough with racist, rich snob Alice (Paola Cortelessi) losing all her money after her husband dies. She must now somehow find a heap of cash fast in order to stave off prison.

She and her 9-year-old son move into a slum area and, with the help of super-escort Eva (Anna Foglietta), she becomes an escort herself.

There are many funny moments in the film, but the predictability factor can infuriate.

What saves Escort in Love is the ensemble--beginning with Cortelessi (who won the David Di Donatello Best Actress Award). She is so delightfully nasty and then so bumbling as an escort and finally so enchanting—that she makes Alice’s transformation believable (despite the fact that the screenplay does nothing to help her).

Raoul Bova, who is scorching hot, does his best to ground things in as much realism as possible. It’s an admirable turn.

The best performance is by Anna Foglietta as Eva—with ease she steals all of her scenes and makes the viewer forgive the fact that she has been written as the stock second banana character. Foglietta’s reaction to seeing her parents for the first time in years is a priceless wonder to behold.

Director Bruno and his screenwriting team should stop watching so many Hollywood films and try developing something original instead of the sweet confection they’ve concocted that is instantly forgettable upon digestion.

Ivan Cotroneo’s
Kryptonite! (La Kryptonite Nella Borsa)

Open Roads: New Italian Cinema 2012
12th Annual Festival
June 09, 2012 – June 14, 2012
Lincoln Center

Starring: Valeria Golino, Cristiana Capotondi, Luca Zingaretti, Libero De Rienzo, Fabrizio Gifuni, Luigi Catani.

Written by Ivan Cotroneo, Monica Rametta, Ludovica Rampoldi.

(In Italian with English subtitles, 98 min.)

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Ivan Cotroneo, a screenwriter on such terrific films as I Am Love and Loose Cannons, makes his directorial debut with Kryptonite!—a solid period piece exploring one family’s paradoxical approach to the changing social and moral landscape of the 1960s and 1970s.

The time is 1973; the place Naples, Italy--when sexual freedom is being explored and drugs, like LSD, flow freely. Our hero is a nine-year-old boy named Peppino (the endearing Luigi Catani) who isn’t the most attractive of boys (he’s called ugly by certain family members upon seeing him as an infant), wears large glasses and is bullied at school for being different.

At home his mother (Valeria Golino in a heartbreaking performance) has discovered her husband (Luca Zingaretti) is having an affair so she recoils into a deep bedridden depression. Peppino’s cousin Gennaro (a hilarious Vincenzo Nemolato) thinks he’s Superman and is quickly run down by a bus (or so we are told) but continues to appear to Peppino as a spirit-guide apparition of sorts.

His family meets to discuss taking turns looking after Peppino since his mother cannot and the brunt of the job falls on Peppino’s very hip Aunt Titina (Cristiana Capotondi) and Uncle Salvatore (Libero de Rienzo) who take him to sex parties where he is given LSD…and that’s just for starters!

Sometimes whimsical, occasionally overly melodramatic and often side-splittingly funny, Kryptonite! captures the look and feel of the early 70s well—utilizing songs like “These Boots Are Made for Walkin,” “Life on Mars” and “The Age of Aquarius,” nicely. Cotroneo also insightfully explores what it was like for an Italian–Catholic family to deal with the fast changing world.

The best parts of Kryptonite! involve moments of inspired lunacy—usually involving either Peppino and Gennaro or his swinging Aunt and Uncle. There is also a running gag that involves baby chicks that had me laughing hysterically.

The final moment is lovely and the message is well intentioned—although, once again, we have another Italian film hinting at--but ultimately skirting-- the gay issue.


Ferzan Oztepek’s
Magnifica Presenza (Magnificent Presence)
Open Roads: New Italian Cinema 2012
12th Annual Festival
June 09, 2012 – June 14, 2012
Lincoln Center

Starring: Elio Germano, Paola Minaccioni, Beppe Fiorello, Margherita Buy, Vittoria Puccini.

(In Italian with English subtitles, 105 min.)

Written by Ferzan Oztepek & Federica Pontremoli.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Ferzan Oztepek is one of the best satiric filmmakers in Italy. He’s also one of the few auteurs who dare to deal with gay themes. Italy is still light years behind the rest of western civilization when it comes to homosexuality (think Vatican influence, enough said).

His best comedies (Loose Cannons, Saturn in Opposition, His Secret Life) are grounded in real situations and nuanced characters that must deal with tragic situations.

Magnifica Presenza is a departure for Oztepek because of the supernatural elements. With Woody Allen-esque whimsy, he gives us an absorbingly surreal tale about a lonely actor-wannabe, Pietro (played winningly by Elio Germano) who moves out of his cousin’s house and into an apartment in Rome only to discover that a WW2-era theatrical troupe of ghosts haunt the premises.

Turns out the eight apparitions died under mysterious circumstances and are looking for a way to move on. Perhaps Pietro can help them once he gets over the shock.

Oztepek has a lot of fun with the blending of the old and new—especially in a scene where the ensemble of dead help the bumbling Pietro prepare for an audition.

And while the reveal is a bit too slight considering it was the time of Fascism and Nazism, the delights are found in the way Oztepek (and his co-screenwriter Federica Pontremoli) tell the story—with Fellini abandon.

My main quibble is that Oztepek plays the gay way too safe. His protagonist has little to no sexual life to speak of. There is a crush he has on an assistant director named Massimo, who, in one of the best scenes in the film (certainly the grittiest) sears into Pietro for stalking him. And the potential for some cross-supernatural fun is toyed with when the hot, young theatre writer (Andrea Bosca) advises, inspires and flirts with Pietro, but it never becomes anything more than a tease. Such a shame because that’s when we could have crossed into Purple Rose Woody territory and really explored something different and exciting.

Still the film is a delight to watch with lovely attention to period detail--and the final stunning shot of Germano stays with you long after the credits roll.

Emanuele Crialese’s
Open Roads: New Italian Cinema 2012
12th Annual Festival
June 09, 2012 – June 14, 2012
Lincoln Center

Starring: Filippo Pucillo, Donatella Finocchiaro, Mimmo Cuticchio, Giuseppe Fiorello, Timnit T., Martina Codecasa, Filippo Scarafia, Pierpaolo Spollon, Tiziana Lodato, Rubel Tsegay Abraha, Claudio Santamaria.

Written by Emanuele Crialese, Vittorio Moroni.

(In Italian with English subtitles, 92 min.)

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

If good intentions begat great films then Emanuele Crialese’s Terraferma would easily be such a film. The helmer admirably takes on the new Italian laws against illegal immigrants that are resulting in so many horrific deaths.

Crialese is the director responsible for Nuovomondo (The Golden Door) and Respiro, two of the best Italian films of the last ten years. He is obviously passionate about his subject here, but the film never quite gels.

The themes explored in Terraferma certainly resonate with Americans. We have our own right-wing lunatics wanting to build walls to keep Mexicans out—no matter the harm caused to these people.

And the film couldn’t be timelier with weekly news reports about overcrowded North African boats bringing illegals towards some of the islands off the coast of Sicily—including Linosa—the island in the film.

Terraferma gives us a portrait of a fisherman’s family struggling to make ends meet on an island where work only last for the two months of tourist season. This fascinating family is tossed into a moral and ethical conundrum of a situation when a pregnant African woman washes up on shore.

Terraferma means “solid land,” and the film not only deals with the notions of these desperate people needing to get to this ‘solid land’ but also what it now means to be a native of these lands today—doing all they can to survive despite the changing times and trying to keep their families together.

The film is certainly compelling but I wanted more. I never felt any lasting connection with the characters and that’s something that could have been fixed with a few more thought-out scenes between the family members as well as the illegals. I also felt that the film ended too abruptly. I wanted to see what the next leg of the journey was going to be.

Still I must applaud Crialese for having his heart in the right place and his design team for giving viewers a true sense of the beauty of the island and the brutality that comes from following the rules. In addition, the cast does a fine job. Filippo Pucillo and Donatella Finocchiaro, in particular, are excellent.


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