All things Italian!
OPEN ROADS: NEW ITALIAN
CINEMA—14th Annual Festival
IN SCENA! ITALIAN THEATER
FESTIVAL—2nd annual Festival
RUGANTINO at City Center
50th Anniversary NYC Performance
And something not-so-Italian:
JOSHUA DIXON FLY UP at the Duplex
Opposite Photo: Via
June has become a welcome celebration
of Italian culture and art--in particular--Italian
film and theatre.
As always, the Film Society of
Lincoln Center is arguably the ONLY film organization
in NYC that truly cares about movies made in Italy.
This year their 14th annual showcase of new Cinema
Italiano, proved quite strong and worthy of attention.
A plethora of fascinating Italian
theatre was presented via the 2nd annual In Scena!
Italian Theater Festival as well as the New York
return of Rugantino at City Center, one
of Italy’s most beloved musicals. Let’s
begin there, shall we?
Fifty years ago, Rugantino,
one of the most popular musicals in Italy, arrived
at the Mark Hellinger Theatre on Broadway for a
limited run of 28 performances with a translation
by Alfred Drake.
The show was written in 1962 and
originally debuted at the celebrated Teatro Sistina
in Rome, Italy with music by Armando Trovajoli,
book and Lyrics by Pietro Garinei and Sandro Giovannini.
Book in collaboration with Pasquale Festa Campanile
and Massimo Franciosa.
The show has been revived many
times in Italy and this massive production with
fifty actors, dancers and singers made its way here
for just three performances (a shame, really, the
show should have been given a longer run).
Rugantino, set in 19th
century Rome, is a curious show. At close to three
and a half hours in length, it is never dull and
feels like a throwback to 1940s Hollywood musicals,
that is until the surprising last portion which
takes a grave and somber turn daring to end on a
bleak note--something no new Broadway show would
have the balls to do today given the nervousness
of most producers who think the pandering and predictable
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is the
kind of show to strive for.
The basic plot involves the title
character, played by Enrico Brignano, one of Italy’s
most celebrated comedians, a cocky yet tentative
rapscallion who sets about to save himself from
execution by seducing the wife of a dastardly but
prominent Roman, Rosetta (the winning Serena Rossi).
From there, things take a zany route with characters
that include a sweet executioner, whores and rogues—there’s
even a dead cat!
From the audience response, this
was clearly an event for many Italian-Americans
and I thoroughly enjoyed it myself. English supertitles
were provided for the non-bilinguals.
The cast worked tirelessly. Brignano
may mug a bit much but my audience adored him. I
applaud the entire company and City Center for making
OPEN ROADS Film Reviews
All films are in the Italian language
with English subtitles and I urge you to seek most
of these films out.
Sydney Sibilia’s I Can
Quit Whenever I Want (Smetto quando vogli)
I wasn’t surprised to learn
that Sydney Sibilia’s smart, nervy comedy,
I Can Quit Whenever I Want (Smetto
quando vogli), was a big hit in Italy this
year. Borrowing liberally from Breaking Bad
and adding just the right dashes of Tarantino cool
and Brit-caper-grit, Sibilia taps into the lower-middle
class desperation to find some way to upgrade their
income bracket. And, as is often the case, the good
life leads to greed and ruin and, sometimes, redemption.
But Sibilia adds something rarely
incorporated into the farce genre: an intellectual
element. Sure he wants to deliver laughs, but he’s
also interested in making a social statement about
the current economic situation and how it effects
even the most educated of individuals.
Thirtysomething Pietro (a hilarious,
Ben-Affleck-esque Edoardo Leo) is a genius neurobiologist
whose university (Rome) grant has not been renewed
mostly because his research baffles the committee--meaning
he’s basically fired. Afraid to share this
news with his wife Giulia (Valeria Solarino), Peter
comes up with a brilliant, if lunatic, plan when
he follows one of his affluent students to a dance
club to demand back payment for tutoring.
Once inside the club, Pietro sees
just how popular hallucinogens are and, before you
can say Walter White, he devises a way to make lots
of money quickly: he will develop his own mind-altering
substance that has yet to be on the Ministry of
Health’s list of illegal drugs. But to do
so he must turn to a band of misfit fellow academics
who are also financially wanting. Chief among the
group of crazies is Bartholomew (Libero De Rienzo,
who steals all his scenes), an economist and gambling
Insanity ensues. Lessons are learned
and unlearned. And boundaries are pushed to extremes.
The film is a bit formulaic but
always entertaining and quite clever.
At a certain point in the narrative
one of the guys incredulously asks: “Why does
everything we do have to have a surreal twist?”
I am so grateful to Sibilia and his co-screenwriters,
Valerio Attanasio and Andrea Garello, for the surreal
twists and smart self-reflection.
Gianni Amelio’s Happy
to Be Different (Felice chi e’ diverso)
Sure to be divisive, Gianni Amelio’s
account of gay men who grew up during the time of
Mussolini’s reign as gay men—an
unenviable feat in the uber-Catholic country of
Italy—has no real structure to speak of, but
does prove to have some pretty potent moments.
It would be easy to dismiss Happy
to Be Different (Felice chi e’ diverso),
as dated and unenlightening if it was about any
other Western European country, but Italy has always
had a homophobic lean that stems from a culture
steeped in Catholicism. Of course, as we’ve
seen with Putin in Russia, religion sometimes can
play no part in anti-gay rhetoric.
Amelio interviews a slew of now-elderly
figures—artists, designers, and the like--asking
them to recount their experiences. Again there seems
to be no rhyme or reason to the placements of the
segments—except for the very last one.
The director himself came out
earlier this year at the age of 69 and has two films
represented at this year’s Open Roads.
Some speak about the obvious difficulties
in being themselves during the Fascist reign where
Mussolini would have you sent to an island. His
distaste of homosexuals is ironic since he loved
to commission statues of naked muscled men as a
tribute to what Italian males should aspire to be
like. Guess the homoerotic part of that was lost
on Il Duce.
Some of the men tell stories of
families shunning them, attempted suicides. Some
were forced to undergo electroshock therapy. Others
married and still others were more defiant—choosing
to live their own way. One man, in particular, joyfully
recalls his sexual exploits and the enjoyment promiscuous,
anonymous sex brought him.
The brief segment on film director
Pier Paolo Pasolini proves most fascinating as his
boy-muse, Ninetto Davoli, speaks (too briefly) about
being discovered by the Maestro. A documentary about
Davoli alone would be welcome.
Happy to Be Different
stands as a straightforward account of a few handfuls
of gay lives in a country that needs to enter the
21st century, but the film never really goes deep
enough. Had Amelio chosen 5 to 10 figures (instead
of close to 20) and delved deeper--perhaps interviewing
colleagues, friends and relations, we might have
had something other than a rehash of what we’ve
seen so often in similar docs.
The movie is worth seeing since
these men do have some interesting stories to share.
And people need to know that Italy has a long way
to go towards accepting homosexuality and celebrating
people’s differences instead of shunning them
and trying to force conformity and normality—whatever
the hell that is.
Gianni Amelio’s A Lonely
The prolific Amelio succeeds more
with his oddball, affecting narrative feature, A
Lonely Hero (L’intrepido), in
which a working class man, Antonio Pane (the great
Antonio Albanese, subtle and superb) is able to
temp at various jobs for varying amounts of time,
yet still not ever have much money, is a great commentary
on the current economic crisis felt all over the
Set in Milan, Antonio at first
appears to be a bit of a buffoon, but we soon realize
he’s much more intelligent than anyone gives
him credit for. Between cleaning stadiums, driving
buses, putting up billboards, conducting, bricklaying
and a host of other (truly) odd jobs, Antonio takes
time to watch his son Ivo (Gabriele Rendina) play
sax with his band. Ivo, it turns out, is quite troubled,
but has a loving relationship with his dad. This
is Rendina’s debut feature and he proves to
be an actor to watch.
Antonio befriends a young woman
(terrific Livia Rossi) who comes with her own neuroses.
Antonio helps her as best he can.
Antonio’s ex-wife (sweet
Sandra Ceccarelli) appears all too briefly, making
us long for more backstory on this couple.
Director Amelio takes full advantage
of Albanese’s gentle, silent film actor-ish
likeability (Chaplin and Lloyd come to mind) and
takes his time with many scenes. There’s an
evocative, poetic nature about the film that keeps
it refreshing and the ending is strangely moving
Special mention must be given
to the gorgeous camerawork by Luca Bigazzi, the
production design by Giancarlo Basili and set decoration
by Benedetta Brentan.
At a certain point I wondered
if the son even existed. Amelio and his co-screenwriter,
Davide Lantieri, capture such a unique, ethereal
and enveloping mood onscreen making it possible
to wonder. Simply wonder. In today’s world
of obvious and in-your-face filmmaking, that is
a true miracle.
Giovanni Veronesi’s The
Fifth Wheel (L’ultima ruota del carro)
Elio Germano is so endearing an
actor and The Fifth Wheel (L’ultima
ruota del carro) so earnest a film, it’s
impossible not give in to the delightful confection
cooked up by director/co-screenwriter, Giovanni
Spanning the last few decades,
the film opens in 1967 with our not-so-bright young
hero, Ernesto (Germano), being disparaged by his
father and called a useless “fifth wheel.”
Dad proceeds to use his son like a slave. Ernesto
marries the lovely Angela (Alessandra Mastronardi)
and, after being inspired by Italy’s 1991
World Soccer win, decides to go into business for
himself—much to everyone—including his
best friend Giancinto’s (Ricky Memphis)—shock
and obvious misgivings.
Along the way, Ernesto is befriended
by an eccentric artist (Alessander Haber), who appears
to be the only person who respects and appreciates
Ernesto for the good, moral and ethical person he
is. While everyone around him is being corrupted,
Ernesto remains pure.
One of the key issues with the
film is that Ernesto seems to glean very little
from all the wackiness he goes through but I think
that argument misses the point. Veronesi and his
screenwriters, Filippo Bologna, Ugo Chiti and Ernesto
Fioretti, are saying that someone as honorable as
Ernesto is usually mistaken for an imbecile, but
may actuality be enlightened. He doesn’t need
to grow as much as others do. Anyone familiar with
eastern philosophies and religion will relate. Most
Americans will balk. Let them. I adored Germano
and the film.
The Italian historical events
that act as a backdrop may be confusing to many
of those outside Italy, but with a little homework
the film is even more effective and affecting.
I, myself, am so cynical, so jaded,
that when an important medical plot shift occurs
in the second hour, I immediately doubted the new
reveal and kept waiting for a twist. When I realized,
it wasn’t coming I had to rewind the film
to the moment before the shift so I could appreciate
it—instead of feeling anxious and anticipating
the worst. Bravo to Veronesi for not capitulating
to what is now the expected twist on the twist!
Bruno Oliviero’s The
Human Factor (La variabile umana)
The most disappointing of the
Open Roads selections, this grim, noir-thriller
wannabe is never as compelling as it should be.
Bruno Oliviero’s certainly
a gifted filmmaker but his narrative never grabbed
me and the performances (including lead Silvio Orlando)
were cold and detached—as is the filmmaking
style-- so I never felt invested in any of the characters.
And when the chief mystery surrounding
the murder of rich Milano sleazebag is finally solved,
I saw it coming and I really didn’t care.
Mr. Oliviero, I’d like my 82 minutes back,
Daniele Luchetti’s Those
Happy Years (Anni felici)
It is wonderful to see the great
Kim Rossi Stuart in a role worthy of his talents.
For me, 2005’s Romanzo Criminale
(Crime Novel), should have gained him success
in the U.S. Unfortunately, the film was never picked
up here. And the only other film that made its way
over with any real publicity was the Roberto Benigni
debacle, Pinocchio (not half as bad as
critics decided it was—but not very good either).
Stuart has worked, intermittently,
since then (4 films—all solid performances)
and, now, in Daniele Luchetti’s loving, bittersweet,
autobiographical film, Those Happy Years
(Anni felici), he, once again, shows us
the complex, nuanced actor he is—a bit older
but still smolderingly sexy, btw.
It’s the summer of 1974.
Stuart plays Guido Marchetti, a frustrated avant-garde
artist who sculpts many female nudes and sleeps
with most of his models. Micaela Ramazotti is his
jealous wife, Serena, who eventually embarks on
a journey of her own, discovering things about herself
and her sexuality, she could have never imagined.
They have two sons, Dario (Samuel
Garofalo) and Paolo (Niccolo Calvagna) who get caught
up in mommy and daddy’s fighting about what
mommy assumes is happening and what daddy denies.
Guido is putting together a major
art show in Milano but does not want his wife to
attend—she does anyway with the help of Guido’s
gallery owner and champion, Helke (Martina Gedeck).
In one of many terrific sequences from the film,
Guido and four of his models enter the exhibition
room completely naked and they begin to paint his
body as a voice dares anyone in the divinely dressed
crown to shed their own clothes and join in. Serena
does just that, to an angry reaction from her husband
and shouts of contrivance from a famous art critic
(calling the work ‘passionless and naïve
Serena decides she needs some
space from her temperamental husband so she accepts
an invitation from Helke for her and her kids to
get away to a French beach. There Serena discovers
an attraction to Helke and when she arrives home,
must tell Guido.
From here the film could have
easily degenerated into cliché but thanks
to a solid script by Luchetti (whose alter ego is
the older boy with the movie camera) and co-screenwriters,
Sandro Petraglia, Stefano Rulli and Caterina Venturini,
the film shows how these flawed humans try their
best to cope with their messy realities.
Ramazzotti is a subtle delight,
in all her initial apprehension and, finally, joy.
Stuart gives Guido the perfect
blend of warmth and detachment. He is guarded but
craves love and acceptance—as most artists
do. Never getting enough love from his cold mother,
Guido demands it from others. But Stuart never allows
Guido to slip into cliché.
And then they’re the kids,
who fall into the background more often than not,
making quite the statement about the selfish type
of parenting that came out of the 1970s and continues
to exist today (and I believe has always existed).
Kids often must fend for themselves as their parents
figure out who they are and what they want. What
Luchetti gets remarkably right in this film is just
how each ecision parents make places a solid stamp
on the child’s psyche and the way they look
at the world. Stephen Sondheim wrote in Into
the Woods: “Careful the things you say,
children will listen. Careful the things you do,
children will see and learn.” Never have words
been truer. And Those Happy Years (Anni
felici) cinematically fleshes that out magnificently.
Sadly, the film has no U.S. distribution.
The Mafia Only Kills in Summer (La
mafia uccide solo d’estate)
Is it in poor taste to make a
comedy about the mob wars in Sicily?
A revered TV host and political
satirist in Italy, Pierfrancesco Diliberto has directed
and co-written his first film, The Mafia Only
Kills in Summer (La mafia uccide solo d’estate),
with absorbing, if uneven results.
Shot in Palermo (forgive the pun),
the film spans the 70s into the 90s with a Gumpian
hero taking us through the odyssey of mafia massacres
that pervaded those decades with capo Toto Riina
(a bumbling Antonio Alveario) reigned terror on
the island, culminating in the assassinations of
anti-Mafia politicos, Paolo Borsellino and Giovanni
Falcone. Those who aren’t familiar with the
history of the mob during this time may feel slightly
lost, but Diliberto does a decent enough job educating
less informed viewers.
And while it’s obvious that
Diliberto takes these things quite seriously, a
bit less clowning would have been welcome. As it
stands, The Mafia Only Kills in Summer feels
too slight to be taken as seriously as it should.
Emma Dante’s A Street
in Palermo (Via Castellana Bandiera)
Emma Dante’s extraordinary
cinematic achievement, A Street in Palermo (Via
Castellana Bandiera), has been called a satire
and a black comedy by a number of American journalists.
It is neither to anyone who has spent significant
time in Sicily. What it is, is, a rather keen and
unrelenting portrait of the fascinating stubbornness
and fervent loyalties of a particular culture.
Based on her own novel, Dante
directs and co-authors the screenplay with Giorgio
Vasta in collaboration with Licia Eminenti. Dante
also plays one of the two crazy bitch leads!
It’s another hot day in
Palermo and two cars, driven by two obstinate women,
are about to face off on Via Castellana Bandiera,
a small street in an area that has avoided modernization.
(Anyone who has visited the suburbs of Sicily will
recognize it well.)
Car number one is driven by Rosa
(Dante) with her girlfriend Clara (Alba Rohrwacher)
in the passenger seat. The couple hails from Rome
and seems to be on the verge of a split. Rosa is
accompany Clara to a wedding in Sicily, but is not
happy about being back there.
Car number two is driven by Samira
(veteran stage actress Elena Cotta), a fragile yet
steely old Albanian woman who barely speaks. In
the car with her are her loyal grandson Niccolo
(Dario Casarolo), his brutish father Saro (Renato
Malfatti), Saro’s wife and their two annoying
The two vehicles meet head on
and neither woman will back up to allow the other
The entire neighborhood soon becomes
involved in the standoff as if they have nothing
better to do (hint: they probably do not as getting
involved in everyone’s business is a major
sport in small Sicilian towns like this—trust
me!) Some even go so far as to take bets on who
At one point, Samira’s daughter
makes pasta and takes a plate out to her mom, but
also has one for Rosa. It’s the Italian way.
Neither women eat; both smash the plates—trying
to prove they’re tougher than the other.
Samira is the town loon whom most
people fear. Rosa is the angry stranger who they
think will be first to yield and backup.
Who will give in? And how?
I found this film to be totally
riveting. Gherardo Gossi’s deliberately frenetic
camerawork keeps the viewer mesmerized as the battle
of wills plays out. Both women are at the end of
their respective tethers for different reasons and
the last ten minutes are just remarkable and sublime.
One complaint. As I am quite fluent
in Sicilian, I did find a number of subtitle blunders.
To point one out, a character says: “I’ll
eat his heart out,” which erroneously translated
to: “I’ll cut his heart out.”
The literal translation has much more power and
shows just how crazy these locals can get if they
In Scena! (a selected overview)
In Scena! Italian Theater Festival
is the brainchild of Laura Caparrotti, artistic
director of KIT: Kairos Italy Theater, the preeminent
Italian-American theatre group in New York. She,
along with associate director, Donatella Codonesu,
wanted to bring Italian theater to NYC and, last
year, hosted the very first festival, which performed
in all five boroughs. This year the fest expanded
to a little over two weeks and many more venues,
proving quite the success. Performances and readings
of diverse work, in English and Italian, peppered
Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten
In Scena! opened with Hanno
tutti ragione (Everybody’s Right),
a play based on the novel by Academy-Award-winner
Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) and
adapted by and starring the amazing Iaia Forte (Trumeau
in The Great Beauty). Forte plays Napolitano
lounge singer and Frank Sinatra fanatic Tony Pagoda
in a cross-dressing, tour de force. It was a beguiling
performance and an excellent kickoff to the festivities.
Emilia Costantini’s Fallaci,
A Woman Against (translated and adapted by
Dave Johnson and Laura Caparrotti) received a reading
that brought to life the fascinating career of the
celebrated Italian journalist, Oriana Fallaci. Based
on her actual writings, the play sometimes meandered,
but Andrus Nichols, who played Fallaci, always captivated.
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Somma
One of the more bizarre, yet extraordinary
shows was RaeP, a performance-art-meets-political-theatre
piece written by Mauro Santopietro and directed
by and featuring Santopietro and Tiziano Panici.
It’s difficult to put into words what this
piece was about. Suffice to say it was a challenging,
visceral experience. Angry, quiet, loud, messy—the
show, in Italian, was a poetic hodgepodge that left
Santos, a reading of
Mario Gelardi and Giuseppe Miale di Mauro’s
play, based on the short story by Roberto Saviano
(Gomorrah) proved less satisfying but the
performances, particularly Reuben Barsky and Francesco
Andolfi, kept me interested throughout the obvious
and overlong story of four boys, who happen to be
soccer fans, recruited by the Camorra, and grow
up under the thumb of the mob. Admirable for what
it has to say, Santos, never truly gave
a sense of the stakes being high enough for the
audience to care.
The reading of the inaugural Mario
Fratti Award Winner for best play, Via dei Capocci
by Carlotta Corradi (translated by Carlotta Brentan),
was a treat and provided four actresses (the ubiquitous,
tireless and indefatigable Laura Caparrotti, Giulia
Bisinella, Carlotta Brentan and Jojo Karlin) with
some juicy roles to sink their thespian teeth into.
The play bounces back and forth from the 1950s to
today along the infamous Via dei Capocci, where
prostitutes gather, surprisingly, during the day.
Corradi has fashioned a fascinating character study
with Caparrotti excelling as the grand Madame and
Brentan proving that she’s more than just
a terrific actress, she has excellent vocal chops
Photo Credit: Luca Meola
The Festival closed with a SRO
performance of Neighbors (an anti-romantic
comedy) written and starring Irene Turri and Francesco
Meola (showcasing his great versatility balancing
high comedy with heartfelt poignancy). Turri and
Meola have translated their Italo-hit into the perfect
blend of immigrant angst and discombobulation portraying
two artists and friends who emigrate to NYC to make
some sort of life for themselves while navigating
the pitfalls of the Big Bad Apple.
has Meola as the neat and anal Leonardo, a dancer
who seems afraid of his own skin. Turri is his outgoing,
abrasive neighbor. As an unlikely bond develops,
audiences are treated to a funny and melancholy
tale of two lonely young people who represent a
perpetually confused and directionless generation.
And watching Meola’s modern dance parody is
Here’s looking to 2015 and
what Caparrotti and gli Italiani will have to offer
for the 3rd annual In Scena!
And on a Non-Italian Note:
Dixon, Fly Up Cabaret
I’ve known Joshua Dixon for quite a while
now. The actor/singer has been very instrumental
in helping me shape and form my play, Vatican
Falls, into the best it can be over the last
several years, playing not one but two roles in
the process—and doing so magnificently. In
addition, he’s taken part in a number of staged
readings of other plays I’ve written so I
am keenly aware of his talents. Nonetheless, I was
unprepared for just how impressive and extraordinary
his cabaret show would be.
Don’t misunderstand, I knew
it would be polished and professional and that his
vocals would astound—which they did. But his
ease up on stage and his ability to banter and be
so funny, charming and charismatic, without the
slightest hesitation, knocked me out.
His show, Fly Up, is
framed around painfully honest confessions about
his life, from growing up Mormon, to his coming
out to finally accepting himself and even liking
himself. Sounds corny? It’s not. It’s
heartfelt and truly inspiring.
I will not go down a laundry list
of the terrific songs he chose to sing or the WTF/wait-it-works
mash-ups, since the surprises are part of the magic
of the performance. I will say that I am uber-proud
of my friend, colleague and fellow artist, Joshua
Dixon, and that this is just the beginning…