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Thursday, August 2, 2012

New Italian Cinema in New York City

Lincoln Center in New York City was all a-buzz with Italian cinema this summer as its creators and aficionados gathered together to celebrate the newest contemporary films to come out of Italy. 

Opening weekend of the 12th edition of Open Roads: New Italian Cinema offered a diverse selection of films made by both newcomers and masters. Many of those filmmakers were in attendance and gave insight into the passion and drive behind their work. Among those in attendance was Ferzan Ozpetek, who has been a constant during the last 12 years and has traveled to New York three times to present his work at the festival.  Every time, I look forward to talking with him and participating in his Question & Answer sessions with the audience. I am always intrigued by his humility, unique vision and depth of creativity. He is a true artist in every sense of the word.

Many of the films featured in this year's program have an air of independence and stand autonomous in their messages. The filmmakers are less known in America and many of their stories are very specific to the present popular culture and political climate of Italy. So it is no surprise that Ozpetek's work stood out on opening night as his message was a bit more universal and his film was more character driven while it seemed the others were more story driven and pertained to specific events or people in Italy. With that said, the screenings were just as packed as ever and audiences stuck around to participate in the Q & A sessions with the filmmakers. The films reflected the ongoing trend of directors taking their cameras to the streets and shooting Italian life being lived beyond the borders of a home or soundstage.  Scenes took place amid the commotion of the city. Scenes took place on scooters with characters always in transit, always with somewhere to go and something to do.

A scene from "Magnifica Presenza"
Director, Daniele Vicari attended the festival to present his film, "Diaz: Don't Clean Up This Blood." The story is based on actual events that happened in Genoa during the 2001 G8 Summit. The story focuses on the controversial police raid of a temporary shelter for international protesters. Everything had reportedly been calm and quiet at the shelter that night in 2001, so there was no apparent reason for the violent raid to take place. It was a deeply troubling event that has been described as the greatest human rights tragedy since World War II, and more than a decade later, it continues to be a hot topic in Italian politics.

A scene from "Diaz: Don't Clean Up This Blood"
In a continued sign of the times, the theme of immigration was alive and well at this year's Open Roads festival with three films each telling different stories and points of view on immigration in Italy. Guido Lombardi's "Là-bas: A Criminal Education" is a sometimes dark journey into the world of African immigrants living in Naples, and they way in which they struggle to make ends meet whether legal or illegal.

At the other end of the spectrum is Andrea Segre's "Shun Li and the Poet," a more peaceful story of a Chinese immigrant and an older Slavic fisherman who strike up a friendship. The film illustrates the parallels in the diverse paths of two immigrants who are each making a new life for themselves in the Veneto region of contemporary Italy.

The international hit by Emanuele Crialese, "Terraferma" focuses on the wave of illegal immigration off the coast of Sicily. So here we have three filmmakers telling uniquely different stories of immigration in three different parts of Italy; the northern region of Veneto, the southern region of Campania and the coast of Sicily.  Each filmmaker offers a completely different viewpoint of the same issue.  

Now let's return to Ozpetek's latest masterpiece, "Magnifica Presenza" (Magnificent Presence). It seems that with every new film, he reinvents himself. Each plot is so different from the last. However there are always signature Ozpetek ingredients such as his culinary fascination. His perfectly quaffed characters are always preparing and enjoying beautifully colorful and decadent creations. This practice was of course embraced in "Magnifica Presenza" with the characters' elegance matching that of the culinary creations and sparkling candles placed upon the impeccably set dinner table. The musical scores of his films are often at the forefront, intensifying the scenes and inviting the audience to escape into his world of decadence and fantasy. That was certainly the case with the plot of this story, which takes us back in time as we watch the mystery behind the death of a 1940s acting troupe unfold. 

A scene from "Magnifica Presenza"
Regarding international distribution of these films, this article has been updated with links to the films available for streaming. Click on the title.

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