Sunday, October 26, 2008

ITALY ARRIVES BAYSIDE: New Italian Cinema 2008

Has the uncertainty of the global economy and the shrinking value of the American dollar got you down? Depressed that you couldn't afford a trip to Italy this year? Don't fret! Turn that frown upside down! The San Francisco Film Society and Pacific Film Archive—both in collaboration with the Instituto Italiano di Cultura—are bringing Italy to the Bay Area via the 12th edition of New Italian Cinema running mid-November at Landmark's San Francisco Embarcadero Center Cinema and PFA's "Moments of Truth: Italian Cinema Classics" running late November through December at Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive.

The San Francisco Film Society, New Italian Cinema Events of Florence, Italy and the Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco present New Italian Cinema, November 16-23 at Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema. This eight-day festival is dedicated to celebrating the rich cinematic tradition of Italy and bringing to Bay Area audiences the directors and films that are driving the recent resurgence in Italian filmmaking. The core of New Italian Cinema is the competitive section with seven films by emerging directors, bookended by a three-film tribute to Tuscan director Paolo Virzì, one of Italy's most socially concerned filmmakers, and the Closing Night screenings of two risk-taking films, Puccini and the Girl and Gomorrah.

"As Italian films enter a new renaissance, the 2008 New Italian Cinema festival offers a significant lineup of recent works by up-and-coming directors," said Film Society programmer Rod Armstrong. "This year's edition covers issues of immigration, aging, friendship, murder and how to make great chocolate. Our Opening and Closing Night films, including Cannes Grand Prize Winner Gomorrah, give notable historical context to life in Italy, ranging from the 18th century to the present."

The New Italian Cinema Events (NICE) organization in Florence—working with selection committee members Linda Blackaby, director of programming for the Film Society; journalists Deborah Young and Barbara Corsi; and Peter Scarlet, executive director of the Tribeca Film Festival—chose the films to present in the 2008 New Italian Cinema competition. Most filmmakers are expected at the Embarcadero for Q&As with the audiences. The NICE City of Florence Award will be decided by the combined audience ballots from San Francisco and New York and announced at the Closing Night Award presentation following the 5:15 pm screening of Puccini and the Girl on Sunday, November 23.

New Italian Cinema's Opening Night Bay Area premiere is Paolo Virzì's Napoleon (and Me) (N (Io e Napoleone), 2006), screening Sunday, November 16 with Virzì in attendance. On the isle of Elba in 1814, the exiled Napoleon (Daniel Auteuil) finds himself welcomed by most of the residents. Not so easily swayed is an idealistic and obsessive young teacher named Martino (Elio Germano) who sees his chance to assassinate the ex-dictator when he is hired as Napoleon's secretary. Complicating matters is the comely Baroness Emilia (Monica Bellucci), who is involved with the young scribe. Amid intellectual parrying and romantic pairing, the question of who is manipulating whom constantly shifts. Rooted in the tradition of commedia all'italiana and aided by terrific performances in lead and supporting roles, Napoleon (and Me) effortlessly combines comedy and historical drama with an effervescent touch. Written by Furio Scarpelli, Giacomo Scarpelli, Francesco Bruni, and Paolo Virzì; photographed by Alessandro Pesci; with Daniel Auteuil, Elio Germano, Monica Bellucci, Sabrina Impacciatore. 110 min.

That screening will be following by the 8:00PM Opening Night Reception with Paolo Virzì at One Embarcadero Center, Lobby Level (former Gallery One space). Complimentary Peroni beer, Italian wine from Siena Imports and appetizers from Fuzio Universal Bistro will be served. An encore screening of Napoleon (and Me) follows at 9:00PM.

On Monday, November 17, the New Italian Cinema tribute to Paolo Virzì continues. Before winning over international audiences with Caterina in the Big City, Paolo Virzì stunned and delighted Italian filmgoers with his work. This is a rare opportunity to see two early Virzì films on the big screen: the Venice Festival Grand Jury Prize winner Hardboiled Egg (Ovosodo, 1997) and Virzì's directorial debut Living It Up (La bella vita, 1994).

Hardboiled Egg screens at 6:15PM. Set in the city of Livorno (the filmmaker's hometown), this is the coming-of-age story of Piero, nicknamed "Ovosodo" after the part of town where he lives. Deftly weaving lighthearted comedy with indelible moments of social realism, Virzì portrays Piero's hardscrabble life at home with his mentally retarded brother, his easily annoyed stepmother and his criminally inclined father. Amid familial difficulties, school crushes and new friendships, a kindly teacher named Giovanna (Nicoletta Braschi) helps Piero find his way. With heartbreaking observations and rib-tickling vignettes, Virzì has created a pitch-perfect tale of male adolescence. Written by Francesco Bruni, Paolo Virzì, and Furio Scarpelli; photographed by Italo Petriccione; with Nicoletta Braschi, Edoardo Gabbriellini, Regina Orioli, Malcom Lunghi. 99 min.

Living It Up screens at 9:00PM. The Tuscan coastal town of Piombino is the setting for Virzì's nuanced story of economic and marital hardships among the working class. A supermarket checkout girl named Mirella (Sabrina Ferilli) marries a steelworker named Bruno (Claudio Bigagli) during a prosperous period for Italy in the late 1980s. When the economy goes into a downturn, Bruno is laid off and, seeking new pastures, Mirella takes up with a television presenter. Through reconciliations and new liaisons, Virzì's directorial debut focuses on the attachment between the two as they negotiate their way in a changing world. Written by Paolo Virzì and Francesco Bruni; photographed by Paolo Carnera; with Claudio Bigagli, Sabrina Ferilli, Massimo Ghini, Giorgio Algranti. 97 min.

Tuesday, November 18 sees the first two entries in the City of Florence Award Competition, beginning at 6:15PM with the San Francisco Bay Area Premiere of Andrea Molaioli's The Girl by the Lake (La ragazza del lago, 2007). In a small town in the Italian Dolomites, the body of a lovely young woman named Anna is found by the side of a lake. Though there are no signs of assault or struggle, Inspector Giovanni Sanzio (Toni Servillo) determines that she has been murdered and sets about uncovering the motive and culprit. As he investigates, he questions Anna's ex-boyfriend, her father and even the village simpleton. Meanwhile, the meticulous detective deals with some issues at home, including a precocious teenage daughter and a wife with Alzheimer's. Picking up an astounding ten David di Donatello Awards (Italy's version of the Oscars), Molaioli's debut feature is a scintillating whodunit shot in a spectacular locale. Written by Sandro Petraglia; photographed by Ramiro Civita; with Toni Servillo, Valeria Golino, Fabrizio Gifuni, Marco Baliani. 95 min. Preceded on November 18 only by director Francesco Sperandeo's Bab al Samah (2008). A Tunisian man's search for redemption leads him on a cathartic journey. 15 min.

The Girl by the Lake is followed at 9:00PM with the North American Premiere of Claudio Cupellini's Lessons in Chocolate (Lezioni di cioccolato, 2007). A ruthless Perugian businessman gets his comeuppance in this delectable romantic comedy starring Italian model Luca Argentero. He plays Mattia, a cost-cutting contractor who is being blackmailed by his injured employee, an Egyptian named Kamal (Hassani Shapi). At fault for the mishap, Mattia is forced to attend a chocolate cooking class in Kamal's name. When he catches the eye of fellow chef Cecilia (Violante Placido), he takes advantage of being mistaken for the put-upon, hardworking immigrant, and various amusing situations ensue as his imposture is in danger of being revealed. Cupellini's debut feature offers an extremely entertaining romp with a delicious chocolate center. Written by Fabio Bonifacci, Christian Poli; photographed by Giovanni Cavallini; with Luca Argentero, Violante Placido, Neri Marcorè, and Hassani Shapi. 98 min.

The City of Florence Award Competition Films continue on Wednesday, November 19 with the 6:15PM screening of Carmine Amoroso's Cover Boy: The Last Revolution (Cover boy: L'ultima rivoluzione, 2007) [Italian site]. A nuanced drama about the exploitation of immigrants and their labor, this film offers a memorable performance by newcomer Eduard Gabia in the lead role. He plays Ioan, a handsome Romanian immigrant endeavoring to escape Ceaucescu's depredations by heading to Rome with a friend. Once there, he scrambles to find an under-the-table job and is befriended by an older janitor with whom he discusses opening a restaurant. When a pretty photographer spots him on the street and whisks him off to Milan to model, the attractions of fame and fortune begin to tempt him. The film compellingly portrays Ioan's moral quandaries and his endeavor to retain his humanity amid a callous society. Written by Carmine Amoroso and Filippo Ascione; photographed by Paolo Ferrari; with Eduard Gabia, Luca Lionello, Chiara Caselli, and Francesco Dominedo. 97 min.

Cover Boy: The Last Revolution is followed at 9:00PM with the North American Premiere of Toni d'Angelo's A Night (Una notte, 2007). This affecting, personal drama revolves around five friends and a philosophical cabbie who traverse the nighttime haunts of Naples after a friend's funeral. After the service, refusing to call it a night, the former pals variously splinter and reform as they hit a restaurant, a nightclub, a late-night party, the beach and a bar. Conversational topics include life in the city, soccer, drinking and drugs and, of course, women and love. Romantic liaisons begin and personal confessions are made. Throughout, writer/director d'Angelo showcases the glories of Naples in the wee hours while revealing an ear finely tuned to the random discussions about life that take place between people who were once great friends. Written by Toni d'Angelo and Salvatore Sansone; photographed by Rocco Marra; with Nino d'Angelo, Riccardo Zinna, Luigi Iacuzio, and Alfonso Postiglione. 91 min.

Encore screenings of Lessons in Chocolate and The Girl by the Lake will be shown on Thursday, November 20 at 6:15PM and 9:00PM, respectively.

On Friday, November 21 the City of Florence Award Competition Films continue with the 6:30PM San Francisco Bay Area Premiere of Francesco Munzi's The Rest of the Night (Il resto della notte, 2008). This suspenseful drama follows two trajectories—one profiling an unhappy middle-class Italian family and the other focusing on two small-time hoodlums, one of whom is a recent immigrant. When the two stories converge during a harrowing burglary, the thematic issues of contemporary malaise and xenophobia come to a deadly result. Munzi, who moved New Italian Cinema audiences in 2005 with his first film Saimir, has crafted a complexly realized work where perspective and alliances constantly shift and misguided adults pass their suffering on to the children they love. Written by Francesco Munzi; photographed by Vladan Radovic; with Sandra Ceccarelli, Aurélien Recoing, Stefano Cassetti, and Laura Vasiliu. 101 min.

The Rest of the Night is followed at 9:15PM with the North American Premiere of Federico Bondi's Black Sea (Mar nero, 2008). This moving drama tells the story of elderly and somewhat bitter widow Gemma (Ilaria Occhini) and her young Romanian caretaker, Angela (Dorotheea Petre). Though fraught at first, the relationship between the two lonely women develops and they come to depend on one another. When Angela's husband goes missing in Romania, Gemma must decide how far the bonds of loyalty go and the distance she is prepared to travel in order to help her friend. Bondi's first feature precisely and interestingly delineates the differences between his two protagonists and touchingly shows how each crosses divides of age and culture in the name of friendship. Written by Federico Bondi and Ugo Chiti; photographed by Gigi Martinucci; with Ilaria Occhini, Dorotheea Petre, Vlad Ivanov, and Maia Morgenstern. 95 min.

Encore screenings of The Rest of the Night, A Night, and Black Sea run on Saturday, November 22, at 1:45PM, 4:30PM and 7:00PM, respectively, followed at 9:45PM by the North American Premiere of Fabrizio Bentivoglio's Don't Waste Your Time Johnny! (Lascia perdere Johnny!, 2007). Suffused with a gentle humanism, this touching film follows the exploits of an aspiring teenage guitar player living in mid-1970s Caserta. When Milanese master pianist Augusto Riverberi (played by the director) comes to town, young Fausto (Antimo Merolillo) is hired to help him out. Though the musician is arrogant and selfish, the opportunities presented by the job may just give the hopeful strummer the break he longs for. With wonderful supporting performances by Lina Sastri as Fausto's mom, Valeria Golino as a lovely beautician and Ernesto Mahieux as an incompetent music manager, Bentivoglio has crafted a lovingly quirky comedy filled with touching moments and beguiling era-specific clothing and settings. Written by Umberto Contarello, Filippo Gravino, Guido Iuculano, Fabrizio Bentivoglio, and Valia Santella; photographed by Luca Bigazzi; with Valeria Golino, Toni Servillo, Antimo Merolillo, and Ernesto Mahieux. 104 min.

Encore screenings of Don't Waste Your Time, Johnny! and Cover Boy: The Last Revolution run Sunday, November 23, at 12:00 Noon and 2:30PM, respectively, followed by the Closing Night double-bill.

At 5:15PM New Italian Cinema screens the North American Premiere of Paolo Benvenuti and Paola Baroni's Puccini and the Girl (Puccini e la fanciulla, 2008). Visionary filmmaker Paolo Benvenuti, collaborating here with his wife Paola Baroni, fascinatingly employs elements of pure cinema in this historical depiction of musical maestro Puccini and his possible extramarital dalliance with a housemaid. In 1909, the great composer is working on La fanciulla del West in his Tuscan villa in Torre del Lago when whispers start circulating—by the musician's stepdaughter—of his supposed inappropriate behavior. As the story unfolds, all dialogue is heard in muffled tones or through letters read in voiceover as visual representation and musical moments take center stage. Based on recently discovered historical material and employing actual footage of Puccini from 1915, this film richly and indelibly reinvents the musical biopic. Written by Paola Baroni and Paolo Benvenuti; photographed by Giovanni Battista Marras; with Tania Squillario, Riccardo J. Moretti, Giovanna Daddi, and Debora Mattiello. 84 min.

A Closing Night Reception will be had at 7:30PM at One Embarcadero Center, Lobby Level (former Gallery One space), once again with complimentary Peroni beer, Italian wine from Siena Imports and appetizers from Fuzio Universal Bistro.

The 2008 edition of New Italian Cinema finishes up with the San Francisco Bay Area Premiere of Matteo Garrone's Cannes Grand Prize winner Gomorrah (Gomorra, 2008) [site]. Hard-hitting, complex and filmed in a fluid fly-on-the-wall style, Garrone's Gomorrah, adapted from Roberto Saviano's controversial award-winning book, examines in vivid detail the organized crime syndicate known as the Camorra. Focusing on the power its members wield in a northern suburb of Naples and their influence on occupations from dressmaking to waste disposal, this hyper-realistic drama pointedly demonstrates the organization's ability to destroy familial bonds as well as individual lives. Far from the glamorized portrait of the Mafia common in American films, Gomorrah is grim, gritty, almost documentary-like cinema-an exposé of widespread corruption and an impassioned demand that something be done to halt its spread. Written by Maurizio Braucci, Ugo Chiti, Gianni di Gregorio, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso, and Roberto Saviano; photographed by Marco Onorato; with Toni Servillo, Gianfelice Imparato, Maria Nazionale, and Salvatore Cantalupo. 135 min. Distributed by IFC Films.

Film tickets are each $10 for year-round SFFS/IIC members, $12.50 general, $11 seniors, students and persons with disabilities; CineVoucher 10-Packs $90 SFFS/IIC members, $115 general; Opening Night film and reception $15 SFFS/IIC members, $20 general; one Closing Night film and reception $15 SFFS/IIC members, $20 general; both Closing Night films and reception $25 SFFS/IIC members, $32.50 general. Tickets available online or by calling 925.866.9559. Open October 21 for SFFS/IIC members and October 28 for the general public.

Cross-published on Twitch.

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