"Around 1918, (Francesca) Bertini was probably the most powerful woman in Italian cinema. She was certainly the highest paid, and her authoritative temperament and exorbitant privileges were so well known that they could even become an object of irony on screen."
Wednesday, March 3, 2021
If Stanley Tucci's CNN series "Searching for Italy" is making you nostalgic for Italian culture, you are in for a treat as March is jam packed with new Italian arrivals.
“Brave Little Army"
Directed by Italian-Canadian filmmaker, Michelle D'Alessandro Hatt, this powerful short is the first of a trilogy. The film follows a group of girlfriends from grammar school through adulthood as they develop a bond and support each other in times of difficulty. Click here to stream it.
"The Truffle Hunters"
March 5 Sony Pictures Classics
Directed by, Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw, this highly acclaimed documentary takes us through the forests of Piedmont, Italy as a handful of men, seventy or eighty years young, hunt for the rare and expensive white Alba truffle—which to date has resisted all of modern science's efforts at cultivation. They're guided by a secret culture and training passed down through generations, as well as by the noses of their cherished and expertly-trained dogs. Click here for details.
Il Cinema Ritrovato On Tour, New Hampshire
March 5 - 8
This year’s Cinema Ritrovato on Tour in New Hampshire presents an international lineup of comedies, restored cinematic masterpieces, and documentaries sourced from Italian archives.
The festival will be virtual, with films available to stream over a four-day period. They include Federico Fellini and Alberto Lattuada’s 1950 “Luci del Varietà” (Variety Lights), Mario Monicelli’s 1960 "Risate di Gioia" (The Passionate Thief), “Grand Tour Italiano,” a compilation of silent shorts from 1905-1914, and the 2020 documentary “The Forgotten Front: La Resistenza a Bologna” by Paolo Soglia and Lorenzo K. Stanzani. Click here for details.
“Summer of ‘85” featuring Valeria Bruni Tedeschi
Directed by François Ozon, this French-Belgium production is set in 1985 Normandy as teenage writer, Alexis (Félix Lefebvre), capsizes while he’s out sailing on a stormy afternoon. He’s saved from certain death by the statuesque, mercurial David (Benjamin Voisin). They become fast friends, and Alexis starts working for David’s affectionate but scattered mother (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi). Alexis’s attraction to David soon blossoms into passion, but turns, by the end of the summer, into a deeper meditation on mortality and the unknown. Click here to purchase tickets.
“A Starry Sky Above the Roman Ghetto”
Courtesy of the Naples Jewish Film Festival, which is virtual this year, Giulio Base's latest film will be available in the United States for a limited run. Based on writings by Israel Cesare Moscati, the story intertwines the past and present as an old photograph of a little girl leads Jewish and Christian students on a search for the truth. Together they learn the powerful lesson that sometimes indifference is worse than hate. Click here for details.
Described as "a summer adventure under the Sicilian sun that soon becomes a painful love story," Massimiliano Camaiti's brand new film follows a teenage couple who fall in love at summer camp. The film is set to premiere on Netflix at the end of the month. Click here for details..
This should keep you busy for the month. Others will be added when they become available. Don't forget to check out our Lenten list that features 100 years of Italian biblical films and this selection of a few of Sophia Loren's films ranging from classic to contemporary.
Please note that with one exception, I have not seen these films yet as they are new releases, so the descriptions are from their publicity pages. Feel free to let us know what you think after seeing them.
Saturday, February 27, 2021
|Ciccio's Olive Groves|
The simple yet stunning beauty of those majestic centuries-old trees, Di Gianni’s choice of traditional music, and the play of sun and shadow during autumn days turn the film into a visual and aural symphony. The generations of women working together, with the older ones filling the baskets and the younger ones lifting them atop their heads and carrying them off, present a picture of contentment.
I talked with Pennsylvania-based, Calabrese olive oil producer Giuseppe “Pino” Pugliano who co-founded Ciccio's Olives with his wife, Laura. Their family farm is located in Vena di Máida, which is located in the province of Catanzaro. He told me about the modernization of harvesting olives and how the process has changed since Di Gianni made his film in the late ‘60s. He also shared the reasons why the climate of southern Italy is perfect for producing high quality oil and why they avoid treating the trees with herbicides. I am so grateful for his insight.
Watch "Tempo di Raccolta" on YouTube..
Friday, February 26, 2021
Ponti co-wrote the screenplay with veteran screenwriter Ugo Chiti, whose recent credits include Matteo Garrone’s “Dogman” and “Gomorrah.” Loren gives a heartfelt performance as Madame Rosa, a survivor of Auschwitz and former prostitute who cares for the children of her fellow sex workers.
The film opens with Madame Rosa shopping at an open-air market when a young boy runs up from behind her and steals her purse. When a longtime friend, played by Renato Carpentieri, pleads with her to be a foster parent for the very same boy — a Senegalese orphan named Momo — she at first refuses but then reconsiders because she desperately needs the stipend being offered for his care.
Momo and Madame Rosa clash at first, but he begins to warm to her unique family, which includes Lola, a trans sex worker and former middleweight boxing champion. He eventually bonds with Madame Rosa as her health deteriorates and she descends into paranoid flashbacks of life in the concentration camp.
Though Momo is involved with a local drug dealer, Madame Rosa cannot deny her attachment to the youngster, realizing he’s honest and reliable despite his rough edges. He doesn’t disappoint, coming through for her at the end of her life in response to one last request.
The film marks the third time mother collaborated on Ponti’s 2002 debut feature film, “Between Strangers,” and then again in 2014 on his short film, “Human Voice,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. I caught up with Ponti then and asked him about working with his legendary mother. “My father produced many of my mother’s films, so working with loved ones is natural for us. The lines of communication are already well-oiled and open,” he explained.
And what was her approach to raising her children in the spotlight? “What’s amazing is how grounded she is. She never allowed us to be seduced by her success or believe in the glamour of her profession. She is a woman who lives for her family and for her own personal growth. She has an enormous appetite to work and to tackle roles that she has not yet tackled. It is beautiful for us to look up to our mother and admire the woman that she is. She is an exceptional human being.” Click here to read our complete interview.
Loren is also the subject of a captivating new half-hour documentary on Netflix. “What Would Sophia Loren Do?” is the tale of an 82-year-old Italian-American grandmother who has looked to her screen idol for inspiration throughout her life.
The film opens with Nancy “Vincenza Careri” Kulik talking about her well-intended children offering her diet and exercise tips that include eating less fruit because it contains too much sugar and more pumpkin seeds because they’re “so good for you.” What follows is a poignant tale of love, loss and dealing with life’s curveballs. It’s a moving and charming film that concludes with an unexpected, emotion-filled ending. Click here to stream it.
If these contemporary films featuring the Neapolitan screen goddess have you feeling nostalgic, you can also catch her 1955 comedies, “The Sign of Venus” and “Scandal in Sorrento,” on Netflix. Watching these four gems will give you some sense of the monumental sweep and impact of Loren’s eight-decade career.
“The Life Ahead” has made the Oscar short list in two categories: Music, Original Score and Original Song for “Io sì (Seen),” which was written by 11-time Oscar-nominated songwriter Diane Warren and performed by Italian vocalist Laura Pausini. The nominations will be announced on March 15, with the awards ceremony set to air in April. The film was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, and it's just been announced that Loren will receive the Nastro D'Argento's ‘Nastro Di Platino’ for her performance.
-Written by Jeannine Guilyard for the March 2021 issue of Fra Noi Magazine. Click here to subscribe.
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Born on February 22, 1921 in San Giorgio di Piano, a commune north of Bologna, Masina was the oldest of four children born to a father who was a music professor and violinist and a mother who was a grade-school teacher. Her parents sent her as a child to live in Rome with her widowed aunt while she attended school there. As Masina took an early interest in gymnastics, her aunt saw in her a passion for performing and encouraged her to pursue acting. So after high school, Masina attended Rome’s La Sapienza University where she was active in the theater program during the 1941-1942 school year.
In 1943, Masina landed the female lead in “Terzoglio,” a radio show about the adventures of newlyweds Cico and Pallina. The scripts were written by Fellini. Not only did she achieve popularity with the show, she married Fellini. The show lasted until 1947 and their marriage endured for half a century.
In 1950, Fellini directed his first film, “Luci del varità” (Variety Lights) and cast Masina in the lead role for which she won her second Nastro d'Argento. Upon the success of that first collaboration, Masina was given a role in Fellini’s 1952 film “Lo Sceicco Bianco” (The White Sheik) starring Sordi. She played the role of Cabiria, a good-hearted prostitute, appearing in one scene. The character inspired her next collaboration with Fellini, the character Gelsomina in his 1954 “La Strada” and of course, Cabiria in the 1957 “Nights of Cabiria.” Both films won Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars.
We are celebrating her centennial by taking a walking tour of Roman locations featured in "Nights of Cabiria." Sveva De Marinis, a Rome-born actress, singer, musician and literature graduate is our guide.
Having always been interested in art and music, De Marinis says that cinema was her first love. Passionate about movies and always wanting to know more about them, her studies gave, and still give, her the tools to not only appreciate movies even more, but to deeply understand them. She has studied in the United States and visited many times. At just 15-years-old, she studied for a month at the New York Film Academy in New York during the summer, and two years later, spent a semester studying in Florida. She also speaks French because she spent a semester in France during college. We are thrilled to welcome her as a Rome-based contributor.
Click here to read more about Giulietta Masina and to stream many of her films.
Vittorio De Sica. Polar opposites, Virginia is outgoing and confident, while Agostino is awkward and self-righteous. An endearing dance scene reflects the closeness of their off-screen friendship. The two worked together often and were clearly at ease with each other. Their comic timing was impeccable and their chemistry strong.
This interview took place in the mid-late 1990s. In this clip, he talks about how he and his actor friends didn’t have much money in the early days, so they just ate once a day and it was always prior to a performance to build up strength. During the interview, the host was insisting on talking about the beautiful women with whom he shared the screen and he seemed bashful about it, almost uncomfortable, saying that he never kissed on-screen and wouldn’t divulge the off-screen romances of his youth. Although he seems a little tired, I enjoyed this interview because his subtle sense of humor really comes through. Actually, I enjoy all of his interviews.. he was always very generous and patient with the press and very articulate when answering their questions. He really did appreciate his fans, or his “pubblico” as he often referred to him. Click here to watch the series video post on Instagram. Click here to watch the complete interview with Sordi.
The films in order are “Bravissimo,” “Una vita difficile” and “Un americano a Roma.” The first and last are available to stream on Amazon. Even though he's been gone for 18 years, all you have to do is read the comment section of his interviews and films on YouTube to understand how profoundly he is missed by people of all ages. He had the ability to reach beyond his own generation and continues to entertain the young people of today.
Click on the images to watch the films on Amazon..
In staying with the Roman theme, the song is Semo Tutti Romani (We Are All Romans) by Claudio Villa, who was also born in the 1920s in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome like Sordi. I wonder if they knew each other when they were growing up there. Sadly, Villa passed away in 1987 of a heart attack. He was very popular in the ‘50s and ‘60s, having won the San Remo music festival four times- in 1955, ’57, ’62 and ’67. The song is a famous Italian folk song. I’m not sure when it was written but this version is from a 1961 compilation of Italian songs. Click here to listen to the complete album.
Sordi rose to fame in the 1950s and ’60s in the commedia all’italiana genre and continued to work as an actor and director until his death, releasing his last film in 2001. There are numerous contemporary Roman filmmakers making important works today and you should see their films, too. Among them are Gabriele Mainetti, Paola Cortellesi, Edoardo Leo, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Sergio Castellitto, Valentina Cervi and Valerio Mastandrea just to name a few.
Buon Appetito and Buona Visione!
Tuesday, February 16, 2021
Join me in beginning the Lenten season with my favorite adaptation of one of the Gospels- Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1964 “Il Vangolo Secondo Matteo" (The Gospel According to St. Matthew) and a few classics that I recently discovered.
Considered by the Vatican to be among the best film adaptations of the Gospels, Pasolini's film was shot in the regions of Basilicata and Calabria. He cast his mother as Mary and many locals as extras. Spanish actor Enrique Irazoqui was cast in the role of Jesus. He was just 18-years-old when he landed the part. He had been in Rome at the time of casting. Acquaintances arranged a meeting between him and Pasolini. When Pasolini saw Irazoqui, he knew right away that he had found his Jesus.
I contacted Irazoqui around this time last year to ask him about his experience making the film. He suggested that we have a conversation via Skype. Although the connection wasn’t very good, it was thrilling to talk directly with this actor whose film I had been watching for at least 20 years. He was very friendly and nostalgic in his recollections especially about Elsa Morante with whom he shared a lifelong friendship. In fact, he said that meeting her was one of his best memories of working on the film. Irazoqui passed away a few months later and I believe that ours was his last interview. I will cherish it.
Watch our interview on YouTube..
If you'd like to know more about Pasolini in Basilicata, click here to read my 2015 interview with Daniele Bracuto, president of the region's Cineforum Pier Paolo Pasolini. We talked about the locations of the film, what attracted Pasolini to shoot there and the legacy of his filmmaking on the region. Also, check my 2018 documentary "Return to Lucania" in which actor/director Antonio Andrisani talks about his 2017 film "Il Vangolo Secondo Mattei" (The Gospel According to St. Mathews), a take on Pasolini's film, which stars Flavio Bucci with Irazoqui in a cameo role. The film addresses the controversial issue of oil drilling in Basilicata, a topic that interested Pasolini.
Liliana Cavani’s “Francesco” is another very good biblical film. Starring Mickey Rourke and Helena Bonham Carter, Cavani’s 1989 film tells the story of St. Francis of Assisi from the point-of-view of his followers. Tapping into her early years at RAI, the film takes a documentary approach as it reveals key aspects of the saint’s personality, including his humility, generosity, love of animals and his early inner conflict about abandoning his father's wealth to immerse himself in the world of the desperately poor.
I found several others available online. I'll be watching a few of these along with you for the first time. Spanning 100 years, these films are sure to keep us busy over the next 40 days!
Giulio Antamoro’s 1916 “Christus”
(Title boards are in Italian)
This spectacular restoration of the 1916 original follows the life of Jesus Christ from the Annunciation of Our Lady to his birth and through his early life and betrayal by Judas, concluding with the crucifixion and his resurrection and ascension to Heaven.
Roberto Rossellini’s 1975 “The Messiah”
(I could not find this film with English subtitles but as we have so many Italian and Spanish-speaking readers, I am including the versions in those languages.)
I have not yet seen this film.. but I found this commentary here. "Though The Messiah is not a flawless film, it is a great one. For one thing, since its subject is usually conceived of in apolitical terms, the inconsistencies of Rossellini's historical method are perhaps less bothersome than they are elsewhere. Furthermore, the director's treatment of the all too familiar story is refreshingly astringent, and the typical strategies of dedramatized acting and antispectacular mise-en-scène here find their perfect subject."
(In Italian with Croation subtitles)
Monday, January 25, 2021
Ten shorts by the Sicilian documentary filmmaker Vittorio De Seta are now available on The Criterion Channel in recognition of 30 years since Martin Scorsese founded The Film Foundation, an organization dedicated to preserving cinema.
The 10 shorts by Vittorio De Seta are:
The Age of Swordfish (1954)
Islands of Fire (1954)
Easter in Sicily (1954)
Sea Countrymen (1954)
Golden Parable (1954)
Fishing Boats (1958)
Orgosolo’s Shepherds (1958)
A Day in Barbagia (1959)
The Forgotten (1959)
De Seta’s work is not for the faint of heart. His films are anthropological in nature and show the authentic struggles of the people of rural Sicily, Sardinia and Calabria. His films are visually stunning and will stay with you.
In 2014, I spoke with contemporary documentary filmmaker Salvo Cuccia about his homage to his Sicilian predecessor. “Détour De Seta” was presented by Cuccia and Scorsese at the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival and has earned its share of praise from audiences around the globe.
De Seta was a huge influence on Cuccia, who appreciated the master’s "great depth of vision that is evident in his way of telling a story." Cuccia was always impressed by the eternal message in De Seta's images and how he used those compelling images to reveal the stories of workers in the South and how the poor struggled to get through each day. Cuccia considers De Seta, "a great teacher."
To mark this momentous release, I reached out to Cuccia via Zoom for his thoughts on the series and De Seta’s films. He was articulate and generous in the recollections he shared. We talked about several of the master documentarian’s works including the “The Age of Swordfish,” “Islands of Fire” and “A Day in Barbagia.” All three of these are available to stream on the Criterion Channel. Click below to watch our interview on YouTube..
Sunday, January 17, 2021
Screenwriter Cesare Zavattini was born in the region of Emilia-Romagna in 1902, earning a law degree before turning his attention to writing. In 1930, he moved to Milan to work at the Rizzoli publishing company. Five years later, he met Vittorio De Sica. They would go on to make 20 films together, including the neorealist classics “Sciuscià” (Shoeshine) (1946), “Ladri di biciclette” (The Bicycle Thief) (1948), “Miracolo a Milano” (Miracle in Milan) (1951) and “Umberto D.” (1952).
Zavattini worked on more than 80 films with many of the great directors of Italian cinema. Among them was Giuseppe De Santis, who collaborated with Zavattini in 1952 on “Roma 11:00.” A tragic story based on true events, the film follows several young women in post-WWII Rome as they answer a job listing for a typist. With 200 applicants waiting in line for an interview, the staircase they’re standing on collapses, killing one woman and injuring dozens more. The tragedy spotlighted the poverty and desperation so many Italians endured in the early 1950s. Zavattini co-wrote the script and interviewed many of the actual victims, a few of whom were cast in supporting roles. Click the image below watch it on YouTube.
Zavattini’s words graced the script of Dino Risi’s 1955 comedy “Il segno di Venere” (The Sign of Venus), which features a host of Golden Age legends, including De Sica, Sophia Loren, Alberto Sordi and Raf Vallone. The timeless tale follows the amorous misadventures of Cesira (Franca Valeri), who is frequently overshadowed by her beautiful cousin Agnese (Loren). After having her fortune told by a tarot card reader, Cesira meets a flurry of possible suitors who turn out to be more trouble than they’re worth. Click here to watch it on Netflix.
Zavattini came up with the concept for the film “L’amore in città” (Love in the City), a collection of short stories based on actual events. The 1953 compilation features one vignette co-directed by Zavattini. “Storia di Caterina” tracks the plight of a young, single Sicilian mother who leaves for Rome after being shamed in her hometown. When she loses her job as a maid, she roams the streets of the Eternal City with her toddler in tow looking for work. Desperate to provide for her son, she decides to abandon him in a park, hoping a wealthy family will take him in. He’s brought to a police station instead, where he’s reunited with his mother. The emotional impact of the story is heightened by the fact that the real-life mother plays herself.
Among Zavattini’s last collaborations with De Sica before the director’s death in 1974 was the 1970 war drama “I girasoli” (Sunflower). Shot in Italy and Russia, the heart-wrenching story brings together screen legends Marcello Mastroianni and Loren for one of the most powerful performances of their onscreen love affair. At the start of the film, Antonio (Mastroianni) must leave his new bride, Giovanna (Loren), to fight on the Russian front. After a near-death experience, Antonio has a brief episode of amnesia and marries the young Russian woman who saved his life. Though Antonio is listed as missing in action, Giovanna sets out to find him in Russia, leading to an explosive reunion. The film is a great example of Zavattini’s signature writing style: a human story that tugs at the heartstrings.
Zavattini’s impact on the film industry extends well beyond the written word. In 1967, he founded the Zavattini Municipal Library, and a decade later, he created the Audiovisual Archive Foundation of the Workers’ and Democratic Movement, which he oversaw until his death in 1989. The foundation still serves as a hub for researching, collecting and storing historical audiovisual work. In 2006, Centro Culturale Zavattini was established in his honor to foster young writers and filmmakers.
Watch "La follia di Zavattini," a documentary by Ansano Giannarelli about the making of Zavattini's 1982 film, "La Veritàaaa." During the interview, Zavattini expresses some of his radically innovative ideas on cinema. Unfortunately, there are not English subtitles.
Stream Zavattini's films on Amazon..
Sunday, January 10, 2021
Netflix’s first Italian original doc series “SanPa: Sins of the Savior” follows controversial drug rehab founder Vincenzo Muccioli, and has made a splash on the platform since its Dec. 30 debut. In the last week, the series has cracked the platform’s top 10 most-watched programs in Italy, and currently holds the number 2 spot after “Bridgerton.”
Directed by Cosima Spender — whose 2015 doc “Palio,” about the storied horse race held in Siena, went to Tribeca — “SanPa” is a deep dive into the complexities of Muccioli’s rise to national prominence, and the dubious methods used at his rehab center. As promotional materials put it, the charismatic Muccioli “cared for the addicted, earning him fierce public devotion — even as charges of violence began to mount.”
Those charges included aiding and abetting the murder of one of his rehab’s residents, Roberto Maranzano, who in 1989 was beaten to death in a slaughterhouse within San Patrignano, the large therapeutic community that Muccioli founded in 1978 on a hilltop near Rimini, the central Italian city that, incidentally, was Federico Fellini’s birthplace. Muccioli, who died in 1995 before a definitive verdict could be reached, always maintained his innocence.
“SanPa” is produced by a new Milan-based company simply called 42, and is being compared by Italian critics to other standout Netflix doc series such as “Wild Wild Country,” about controversial Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho), as well as “Making a Murderer.” It features a wealth of archive materials and, besides being directed by Spender, was crafted by a top notch production team comprising chief editor Valerio Bonelli (“Darkest Hour,” “Palio”), cinematographer Diego Romero Suarez-Llanos, who regularly works with Italian doc maker Roberto Minervini (“What You Gonna Do When The World’s on Fire”), and composer Eduardo Aram (“El Chapo”).
The “SanPa” project is the brainchild of Italian journalist Gianluca Neri, who teamed up with Nicola Allieta — who, in a separate guise, is senior distribution manager at Copenhagen-based digital distributor Sweet Chili Entertainment — to bring the project to Netflix. Biografilm Festival founder Andrea Romeo and producer Christine Reinhold, who are all executive producers on the series, also came on board.
Along with Italian Internet pioneer Marco Tosi, Neri and the others also formed 42. Now, the ambitious new company, segueing from “SanPa,” has several high-profile film and doc projects in advanced stages of development. Romeo early last year left 42 to become head of the doc unit at Italy’s Palomar, the outfit behind “Inspector Montalbano.”
“The idea [behind 42] was to set up a company that could generate a type of product that does not yet exist in Italy,” Allieta told Variety. Neri added that they “want to tell big stories with top notch production values that can travel around the world.”
Follow this link to watch "SanPa" on Netflix.. https://www.netflix.com/title/81010965
Check out the trailer...
-Originally published by Variety. Click here to read the original.