Award winners dominate this year's 'Open Roads' survey of new Italian cinema

ScreenerBlog

Each year, “Open Roads: New Italian Cinema” screens films that draw upon Italy’s rich cinematic heritage and that provide a snapshot of contemporary Italian life. A collaboration of The Film Society of Lincoln Center and Istituto Luce Cinecittà, Open Roads 2017 will screen at New York City’s Walter Reade Theater beginning June 1. Italophiles will want to catch these North American and New York premieres at the festival; at this writing, only one of the 14 features has a U.S. distributor.

Over half of the films screening this year are David di Donatello winners, Italy’s top film prizes. (The award is named for the bronze, nude statue of David by the Renaissance artist Donatello, a replica of which is given to the winners.) The lineup is emblematic of the subjects that have preoccupied Italian filmmakers for decades, including “la famiglia” (the family), especially that of the role of women and girls; romance and marriage; the Roman Catholic Church’s influence on Italian society; and the travails of working and middle-class Italians most affected by corruption and economic downturns.

The Best Screenplay Donatello went to one of the most compelling narrative features, and the Opening Night film, Edoardo De Angelis’ sublime fable, Indivisibili (Indivisible). The writer-director hails from Caserta, in the southern state of Campania, where the film was shot on location. Although standard Italian is heard in the movie, for the most part actors speak in a dialect unique to Caserta. Indivisible unfolds from the point-of-view of Daisy (Angela Fontana), a conjoined twin to Viola (Marianna Fontana), talented vocalists exploited by their parents—that is, until the girls’ serendipitous encounter with a surgeon. Indivisible’s score is by the great Neapolitan composer, the eponymous subject of Jonathan Demme’s documentary Enzo Avitabile Music Life (2012). Avitabile won the Best Score Donatello, as well as another for his heartbreaking song “Abbi Pietà de noi” (“Take Pity on Us”).

Marco Danieli’s La Ragazza del Mundo (Worldly Girl) garnered a Best Debut Director award for the filmmaker, who also co-wrote the screenplay (with Antonio Manca). Another standout in the Open Roads lineup, it is about a young woman’s struggle against her religious parents. The movie stars Sara Serraiocco, who makes her second “appearance” at the festival. The talented young actor led the cast in Lamberto Sanfelice’s impressive debut feature, Cloro, that screened at Open Roads 2015. La Ragazza also marks the feature debut of a wonderful composer, Umberto Smerilli, as well as a capable young cinematographer, Emanuele Pasquet.

Claudio Giovannese’s Fiore (Bloom or Flower), a wonderful depiction of a teenage girl’s search for her true identity, won a Donatello for Best Supporting Actor for Valerio Mastandrea, who plays the protagonist’s father. The movie is also distinguished by Daphne Scoccia as the “flower,” in an excellent debut performance, and by the cinematography of Daniele Ciprì, a former Donatello winner (for Vincere, 2009). Pierfrancesco Diliberto (The Mafia Kills Only in Summer, 2013) won the Youth David (for young filmmakers) as writer-director of In Guerra Per Amore (At War with Love), which not quite successfully blends a love story with a somewhat apocryphal tale of the U.S. Army’s World War II collaboration with the Mafia. The movie’s claim, that this alliance had longstanding consequences for Sicily, nevertheless has the ring of authenticity.

Among the Donatello-nominated films screening at Open Roads are Roberto Andò’s (Secret Journey, 2006) hilarious satire, Le Confessioni (The Confessions), about a monk invited to a G-8 meeting; it features Tony Servillo (The Great Beauty) as the discerning monk, and Daniel Auteuil (Fanny) as an Alan Greenspan-like figure. Also among the nominees are Marco Bellocchio’s Fai Bei Sogni (Sweet Dreams), adapted from a journalist’s memoir of his mother whose mental illness had a profound effect on his life. Somewhat melodramatic, it benefits from a fine performance by Valerio Mastandrea in the starring role. Federica Di Giacomo’s Liberami (Deliver Us), the one documentary at this year’s festival, is a disturbing portrait of an Italian Roman Catholic priest who performs exorcisms.

Irene Dionisio’s Le Ultime Cose (The Last Things or Pawn Street) garnered veteran Roberto de Francesco a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role as Sergio, a dissolute pawnshop employee. In this deftly edited film, “the last things” of the title refer not to the fur coat, the silver frame or the treasured necklace proffered to Sergio and his young apprentice Stefano (Fabrizio Falco), the film’s protagonist, but instead to the desperate souls exploited by Sergio. Among them is a grandfather who becomes entangled in a secondary market for the goods in order to buy an expensive hearing aid for his grandson—but also Stefano, whose idealistic aims of fairness are dashed by the systemic corruption of the pawn operation.

Open Roads is also screening Gianni Amelio’s La Tenerezza (Tenderness), a skillfully written story, set in Naples, of an elderly widower estranged from his children. The film is notable for several terrific performances, especially Giovanna Mezzogiorno (Vincere) as the widower’s daughter and Micaela Ramazzotti (La Pazza Gioia, 2016) as his troubled neighbor. In addition, the festival’s lineup will feature Andrea De Sica’s I Figli della notte (Children of the Night), a coming-of-age story set in an elite Swiss boarding school, and Daniele Vicari’s Sole, Cuore, Amore (Sun, Heart, Love) that charts the travails of two female friends who live in the Roman suburb of Ostia. The latter will open theatrically through Koch Media.

Marco Tullio Giordana’s Due Soldati (Two Soldiers), about a young woman who suffers a great loss, is a beautifully wrought tale that ends with a healing transformation; the film features two credible performances, including that of Angela Fontana from Indivisible. Alessandro Aronadio’s Orriechie (Ears), an offbeat comedy about a part-time academic who is more connected to his brain than his heart, is another Open Roads movie distinguished by its cinematography—in this case, the black-and-white lensing of Francesco Di Giacomo. Davide Barletti and Lorenzo Conte’s La Guerra dei Cafoni (The War of the Yokels) may appeal to fans of Peter Brook’s dystopian allegory (adapted from William Golding’s book), Lord of the Flies (1963), about the ease with which human beings resort to cruelty in the absence of legal authority.

Open Roads 2017 will feature post-screening panels and question-and-answer sessions with directors and writer-directors Edoardo De Angelis, Pierfrancesco Diliberto, Andrea De Sica, Roberto Andó, Federica Di Giacomo, Claudio Giovannesi, Alessandro Aronadio, Irene Dionisio, Lorenzo Conte and Marco Danieli, as well as with actors Angela and Marianna Fontana from Indivisible and Isabella Ragonese, the star of Sun, Heart, Love.