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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Profile: Alba Caterina Rohrwacher

Photo by Fabio Lovino 

Actress Alba Rohrwacher has been working more than ever lately and currently has two films receiving international praise; Le meraviglie which was directed by her sister, Alice, and won the Grand Prix at the 67th annual Cannes Film Festival; and Via Castellana Bandiera which is about to be shown in New York City at the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema film series at Lincoln Center.

Born to an Italian mother and German father, Rohrwacher has taken Italian cinema by storm since her debut in 2004. With her trademark red locks and blue eyes, she does not have the typical Italian look of most screen sirens in her country, but that is exactly what sets her apart from the rest.

Born in Tuscany, Rohrwacher relocated to Rome where she studied her craft at the Scuola Nazionale di Cinema. Shortly thereafter, she began working in theater and film. Her first big screen appearances were in smaller supporting roles in films such as Carlo Mazzacurati's 2004 L'amore ritrovato (An Italian Romance), the 2005 comedy, Kiss Me Lorena and Marco Bellocchio's hit movie, Il regista di matrimoni (The Wedding Director). Each of those films earned her enough recognition to catch the attention of veteran directors, Pupi Avati and Silvio Soldini. It was her role in Pupi Avati's 2008 film, Il papà di Giovanna (Giovanna's Father) that jump started her career as a leading lady. In Il papà di Giovanna, she plays the role of Giovanna Casali, an emotionally fragile teenager who is jailed for the murder of a fellow classmate. The role earned her a David di Donatello Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role and a Golden Globe for Best Breakthrough Actress.

L'uomo che verrà
Rohrwacher has a mysterious quality about her that makes her characters complicated and emotionally layered. In a Jury's comment from the Venice Film Festival, she was described as an actress that "possesses an utterly natural skill, and each of her performances is always profound and complex." It is no wonder that Rohrwacher was named one of Europe's up and coming "Shooting Stars." She entrusts her characters with painstaking intensity and vulnerability. One role in which those qualities were thoroughly employed was Giorgio Diritti's 2008 drama, L'uomo che verrà (The Man Who WIll Come). The film is set during World War II in the German occupied territory of Monte Sole, just outside Bologna, and tells the tragic events referred to as "The Marzabotto Massacre," when villagers were forced to endure murder and torture at the hands of the Nazis during the decline of Mussolini. Rohrwacher plays the role of a protector to a little girl she is trying to save. She balances a fine line of fear and bravery while looking death right in the face.  

Cosa voglio di più
Rohrwacher's 2011 release, Cosa voglio di più (Come Undone) in which she costars with Pier Francesco Favino, demonstrates a sensual side of the actress. "Cosa voglio di più" is about two people who are in committed relationships but are wildly attracted to each other and engage in an illicit affair. The sultry love scenes and radical nature of Rohrwacher's character uncover yet another dimension of her wide acting range. In "Cosa voglio di più," she suppresses her inhibitions and delivers a passionate performance. The film marks new territory for Rohrwacher and has given the young actress even more international recognition and praise.
Via Castellana Bandiera
In Emma Dante's, Via Castellana Bandiera (A Street in Palermo), Rohrwacher delivers a fierce performance alongside Dante, who also stars in the film. The story recounts two young women on their way to celebrate a friend’s marriage when they decide to take a shortcut through town. That’s when they enter a one-way street with another car trying to get through. As both drivers are experiencing frustration and conflict in their own personal lives, they are not in the mood to give in and let the other through. So, there they stay camped out in their cars until one is forced by dire circumstances to finally move her car. The title, Via Castellana Bandiera is named after the narrow street in Palermo where the women remain, refusing to move their cars.

Alba Rohrwacher is prolific in her work, always taking on new projects to challenge her skills, making her grow as an actress. She currently has three upcoming releases in production: Hungry Hearts by Saverio Costanzo, Racconto dei racconti by Matteo Garrone and Vergine giurata by Laura Bispuri.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Anthology Film Archives Presents: The Italian Connection: Poliziotteschi and Other Italo-Crime Films of the 1960's and 70's

June 19 – June 29

Influenced both by 1960s political cinema and Italian crime novels, as well as by French noir and American cop movies like "Dirty Harry" and "The French Connection," many Italian filmmakers in the late-60s and early-70s gradually moved away from the spaghetti western genre, trading lone cowboys for ‘bad’ cops and the rough frontier of the American west for the mean streets of modern Italy. Just as they had with their westerns, they reinvented the borrowed genre with their inimitable eye for style and filled their stories with the kidnappings, heists, vigilante justice, and brutal violence that suffused this turbulent moment in post-boom 1970s Italy. The undercurrent of fatalism and cynicism in these uncompromising movies is eerily reminiscent of the state of discontent in Italy today.

‘The Italian Connection’ showcases the diversity and innovation found in the genre, from the gangster noir of Fernando Di Leo’s "Caliber 9" to Damiano Damiani’s political thriller "Confessions of a Police Captain," and from Carlo Lizzani’s real-time exposé "Bandits in  Milan" to Umberto Lenzi’s genre favorite "Almost Human" and Aldo Lado’s scarce "Born Winner," starring Joe Dallessandro. Featuring terrific scores by Ennio Morricone, Stelvio Cipriani, Bruno Nicolai, Maurizio & Guido De Angelis, and others, some of these gems have been rediscovered and released on DVD thanks to the enthusiasm of the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Joe Dante, but many remain under-recognized in the U.S.

Upcoming Screenings


  • Carlo Lizzani
  • June 19 at 7:00 PM
    June 25 at 7:00 PM
  • With Gian Maria Volonté and Tomas Milian.
  • Based on an actual band of bank robbers in Milan in the 60s, Carlo Lizzani’s pre-cursor to the popular crime noir of the following decade employs cinema vérité techniques to expose the underbelly of Italy’s most modern city. Tomas Milian is the detective hot on the trail of a pack of bandits led by the charismatic Gian Maria Volonté. This essential entry was selected for the 1968 Cannes Film Festival, which was canceled due to the tumultuous political events of May ’68.

  • Enzo G. Castellari
  • June 19 at 9:15 PM
    June 29 at 4:30 PM
  • With Franco Nero and Fernando Rey.
  • Widely considered the Poliziottesco that started it all, this highly stylized crime action drama from the genre master Castellari (of the original INGLORIOUS BASTARDS fame) spawned a whole generation of ‘bad’ cops. Franco Nero dazzles as the hot-tempered, trigger-happy detective who is out to bring down a powerful European drug ring while fighting the system that cripples him. On display are delirious chase sequences on the road, the roof, even a golf course, along with no-holds-barred violence, notably involving meat hooks and signature slow motion.

  • Elio Petri
  • June 20 at 7:00 PM
    June 24 at 9:00 PM
    With Gian Maria Volonté, Irene Papas, and Gabriele Ferzetti.

    Following a string of anonymous letters, a man is killed during a hunting party. A leftist professor begins sleuthing around for the truth as he becomes involved with the man’s widow and her cousin. With a sort of strange happy ending, Petri’s foray into Sicilian ways is a rarely-seen suspense/romance film with top-notch performances from Gian Maria Volonté, Irene Papas, and Gabriele Ferzetti (L’AVVENTURA).

  • Fernando Di Leo
  • June 20 at 9:15 PM
    June 26 at 7:00 PM
    June 29 at 9:00 PM
    With Gastone Moschin, Barbara Bouchet, Mario Adorf, Fernando Cerulli, and Frank Wolff.
  • Gastone Moschin (THE CONFORMIST) is Ugo Piazza, a tight-lipped gangster just released from prison. He is hounded by Rocco, the psychopathic right-hand man of a powerful Milan gang, played with manic energy by the inimitable Mario Adorf, who believes that Ugo had something to do with a large sum of money that’s gone missing. Di Leo, who got his start as one of the screenwriters for Sergio Leone, gives this film – the first chapter of what is known as the ‘milieu trilogy’ – a near Shakespearean touch. Stylized action sequences, a terrific score by Luis Enriquez Bacalov, the gritty setting of Milan in the 70s, and clever plot twists are just a few of the reasons why Quentin Tarantino has called this the best Italian noir ever made.

  • Damiano Damiani

  • June 21 at 4:30 PM
    June 28 at 6:45 PM
    With Franco Nero and Martin Balsam.
  • A police captain (Balsam) – determined to bring justice by all means to criminals who appear to be above the law – clashes with a young DA (Franco Nero) who wants to play by the book. Damiani’s disturbing political thriller is a good guy vs. good guy drama where the bad guy is the impenetrable system ruled by corruption and unsavory ties. The NEW YORK TIMES called it “a thoughtful, modest movie about the perversion of justice.”

  • Giuliano Montaldo
  • June 21 at 6:45 PM
    June 27 at 7:00 PM
    With Janet Leigh, Robert Hoffmann, Klaus Kinski, and Edward G. Robinson.

    Featuring an international cast (Edward G. Robinson, Klaus Kinski, Janet Leigh), Montaldo’s suspenseful caper offers plenty of thrills typical of the genre, and much more as well. A group of international thieves band together to pull off a diamond heist during the Carnival in Rio, and the only person that stands in their way is the gem company’s icy secretary, memorably played by Leigh.

  • Mario Bava
  • June 21 at 9:15 PM
    June 28 at 4:30 PM
  • A departure from the horror master’s usual fare, this terrific thriller finds three armed robbers, with hostage in tow, hijacking a car driven by a man with a sick child. Shot almost entirely inside a moving car, there is much more here than meets the eye. Due to the death of the main investor, the production was shut down as it neared completion, and Bava never lived to see the finished film, which he himself considered his most important work. In the late 90s, the elements of the unfinished film were rediscovered and, following Bava’s notes, the film was finally completed. A decade later, an alternative version with newly-shot footage and a different soundtrack was released on DVD in the U.S. under the title KIDNAPPED. We will be showing both the first cut (on June 21 & 28) with its original Stelvio Cipriani soundtrack (available only digitally) and the new version (on 35mm) on June 24!

  • Elio Petri
  • June 22 at 4:15 PM
    June 26 at 9:00 PM
    With Gian Maria Volonté.
  • An unnamed police chief kills his mistress for no apparent reason and leaves a trail of clues in his wake. A potent satire/police procedural on the corrupting nature of power, Elio Petri’s masterpiece distills all the cynicism and rage typical in these films down to its very essence. Viewing this in the context of the genre is sure to offer a renewed perspective even to those who are familiar with the film.

  • Umberto Lenzi
  • June 22 at 6:45 PM
    June 25 at 9:15 PM
    With Tomas Milian and Henry Silva.
  • In this nonstop action thriller from the prolific Umberto Lenzi (PARANOIA, NIGHTMARE CITY, CANNIBAL FEROX), a sociopathic criminal (gleefully played by Tomas Milian) kidnaps the daughter of a rich man, and to get his hands on the loot he will kill, backstab, and blackmail anyone and everyone. As the original U.S. trailer advises, “CAUTION: Morally and sexually this motion picture may shock you. But it’s an experience in psycho-sadism you will never forget.” This is Lenzi at his most scathing and unapologetic.

  • Massimo Dallamano
  • June 22 at 9:00 PM
    June 27 at 9:30 PM
    With Giovanna Ralli and Mario Adorf.
  • When a young girl is found dead by hanging, the police find themselves on the trail of a motorcycle killer. What they uncover is a truth far more sinister and inconvenient. A perfect blend of police procedural and suspenseful giallo, this is the second installment in the ‘school girls in peril’ trilogy by Dallamano (who was formerly Sergio Leone’s cinematographer). Released in the U.S. as COED MURDERS, this socially relevant thriller is graced by a terrifically catchy score by Stelvio Cipriani.

  • Sergio Sollima
  • June 23 at 6:45 PM
    June 28 at 9:00 PM
  • With Oliver Reed and Fabio Testi.

    A prison warden’s wife is kidnapped, and the kidnapper demands the release of one of the warden’s prisoners in exchange. The plot is a familiar one, except that in this case the warden, played by the charismatic and boozy Oliver Reed, takes matters into his own hands by kidnapping the convict (Fabio Testi) after orchestrating his very escape. What ensues is a surprisingly compelling drama between the two men as they set out, through the foggy streets of northern Italy to the bohemian lofts of Paris, to uncover the truth and save Reed’s wife. Sollima considered the film foremost a drama set against a crime backdrop rather than a straight entry in the genre.

  • Aldo Lado
  • June 23 at 9:00 PM
    June 29 at 6:45 PM
    With Joe Dallesandro.

    A down-on-his-luck waiter (Massimo Ranieri) and a motorcycle racer-turned-thief played by Warhol superstar Joe Dallesandro team up for a heist, but what sets this curious blend of action, drama, and comedy apart is its focus on the two leads’ budding friendship, with a hint of homoerotic undercurrent. This rare film is underscored by the music of Fabio Frizzi (ZOMBIE, THE BEYOND) and the classy direction of Aldo Lado (THE SHORT NIGHT OF THE GLASS DOLLS, WHO SAW HER DIE, NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS).

  • Mario Bava
  • June 24 at 7:00 PM

    A departure from the horror master’s usual fare, this terrific thriller finds three armed robbers, with hostage in tow, hijacking a car driven by a man with a sick child. Shot almost entirely inside a moving car, there is much more here than meets the eye. Due to the death of the main investor, the production was shut down as it neared completion, and Bava never lived to see the finished film, which he himself considered his most important work. In the late 90s, the elements of the unfinished film were rediscovered and, following Bava’s notes, the film was finally completed (as RABID DOGS). A decade later, an alternative version with newly-shot footage and a different soundtrack was released on DVD in the U.S. under the title KIDNAPPED. We will be showing both the first cut (on June 21 & 28) with its original Stelvio Cipriani soundtrack (available only digitally) and the new version (on 35mm) on June 24!

$10 General Admission
$8 Essential Cinema (free for members)
$8 Students, seniors
$6 AFA Members, and children (12 & under)
Tickets are available at Anthology's box office on the day of the show only. The box office opens 30 minutes before the first show of the day. There are no advance ticket sales. Reservations are available to Anthology members only. 
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A Conversation with Sergio Castellitto

Sergio Castellitto has made a profound impact on world cinema, both in front of and behind the camera.

Born in Rome in 1953, Castellitto graduated from film school in 1978 and credits American cinema with pushing him toward a career in acting. His work has garnered numerous accolades, mostly because of his immersive, original approach to projects in film, television and theatre. Castellitto is fluent in French and English, which have contributed mightily to his international stardom. But it's the actor's trademark brown eyes and charming everyman qualities that have lent his various characters -- even the ones that are rough around the edges-- an air of dignity other actors might not have achieved.

Sergio Castellitto and Margaret Mazzantini, 2005
Castellitto made his film debut in 1981, and just two years later found himself working alongside Marcello Mastroianni and French actress Anouk Aimée in "Il generale dell'armata morte."  Films such as "Paura e Amore," "L'uomo delle stelle," "Caterina va in città" and "Bella Martha" heralded Castellitto as a versatile artist with far-reaching abilities. But it was the success of his 2004 film, "Non ti muovere," which he co-wrote, directed and starred in, that catapulted his career to the next level. The screenplay was adapted from a novel written by his wife, Margaret Mazzantini, and earned raves from audiences and critics around the world. The film is heavy and deeply emotional on many levels. It explores adultery, representing many points of view including the husband, wife and mistress.  It touches on the relationships between a father and daughter, between a mother and daughter, uncovering the differences. It is a story of humanity; the inner struggles with right and wrong, the ability and inability to make peace with our mistakes, the challenge of being honest and proceeding through life with respect and dignity. It’s about living and dying.  It’s about love, anger, passion, choices and consequences. 

In 2008, he worked with fellow actor, Pierfrancesco Favino on the American action/adventure film, "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian." The role offered a great opportunity for Castellitto to reveal a lighter, more adventurous side, which is a departure from his more traditional heavier Italian roles. 

Then in 2012, Castellitto teamed up again with actress Penelope Cruz for "Venuto al mondo" (Twice Born). Adapted from Mazzantini's novel, the film is set in Sarajevo and retraces the story of Gemma and Diego, a couple whose relationship was torn apart because of war. Gemma returns to the city after escaping years earlier with her son, played by Pietro Castellitto, the son of  Castellitto and Mazzantini. The two are forced to face the toll that war took on their lives and they experience the power of love as it helps to redeem what was lost. The film premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. 

With Sergio Castellitto after our interview in NYC, 2005
I caught up with Castellitto at the Walter Reade Theatre in New York City where he was being honored for his distinguished career. 

What was it like working with so many icons in the early years of your career, and how have those experiences influenced you as a filmmaker?
In my career, I’ve had the privilege of working with the great directors of the past and some great actors like Marcello Mastroianni, Vittorio Gassman and Manfredi. I’ve also had the chance to work with some directors of my generation, so I’ve had both experiences.  Working with the masters has helped me to understand many things about my work. I think that I grew up in an incredible culture because Italian cinema is one of the most important in the world.

How did this latest project come about?
The film was inspired by a book written by my wife. When I started to read the book, I started to imagine the images behind the words and then I started to write the first draft of the script alone.  Margaret didn’t want to write the first draft with me because she thought that I had to be alone to choose the direction of the movie. I think that first of all, it is a love story. You know, a love story is a real stereotype of cinema but there is something that makes this story original. Timoteo at the beginning of the movie is violent, but I think Timoteo is a victim of himself and when he is in Italia’s house for the first time, he recognizes the hole he has in his soul.  In a love story, there is always a conflict.  The stronger and tougher the love story, the bigger the conflict. 

How was Penelope Cruz cast for the part of Italia?
There was an opportunity to do a co-production with Spain, but I was worried about Penelope when I met her for the first time in Paris. I told her that I was scared about her beauty, her glamour. I thought that it was not correct for the character, but I think she was amazing. She loved the character of the story and she was so generous and so available in every way, in every scene, also the more difficult scenes, like the scene at the beginning of the movie. It was not so easy to act at the same time as being the director.

How do you balance a career of writing, acting and directing with being a husband and father?
For me, my work is very, very important but it is not the most important thing. The most important things are my private world and my relationships. The point of reference for my work is life.  It is important in life to understand things. If you understand something in your life, you can put your experience in your work. So, there is no difference for me when I talk about a movie or a script with Margaret. We never divide the experience. For me, Don’t Move is not only a movie, but an experience from my life because I think Timoteo, the main character, is an incredible portrait of a contemporary male, a man of today.  So, I used Timoteo.  I used the movie also to understand something of myself. I am not like Timoteo, but I feel that a dark side is in everybody. A time arrives in your life when you have to deal with it, confront it.  You can’t live all of your life without seeing the truth.

At the Giornate del Cinema Lucano in Maratea, Italy
In July of 2017, Castellitto hosted a Master Class at the Southern Italian film festival, Le Giornate del Cinema Lucano. He talked a lot about his collaboration with his writing partner/wife Margaret Mazzantini. He called their relationship more than just a love story. He said it was destiny. Considering all the beautiful works they've created together over the years, one can't argue.

Sergio Castellitto is passionate and aggressive in his approach to his work. Whether he is working in television or film, in front of the camera or in the director's chair, he takes his Golden Age experience and applies it to his modern stories, creating timeless, classic films. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Open Roads: New Italian Cinema 2014.. the Most Important Edition to Date

When I talked with Marco Bellocchio on the occasion of his retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) last month, he explained to me how a director is always in a relationship with his surroundings, and how the director’s attitude and work changes as his or her surroundings change. With that said, Italy’s current crop of filmmakers has had a tough couple years, with surroundings that have indeed changed, greatly influencing their work.

Thanks to the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s generous press screenings for their upcoming film series, Open Roads: New Italian Cinema, I was able to see seven very diverse films before the series even started. The press screenings took place last week, and it was a week of Italian cinema that I was really looking forward to; films that I’ve been reading so much about during the last year, I would finally have the opportunity to see. What I didn’t expect was the emotional reaction that I would have to those films.

Since I began writing about Italian cinema back in 2004, I was always able to recognize and respect the beauty, poetry and message of the filmmaker. This year was no exception; I just had to search harder to understand the new thread, which binds these films together. That common thread, simply put, is desperation, and each director communicated that desperation in a uniquely different way.

The first work that was shown was Daniele Luchetti’s, “Anni felici” (The Happy Years). After seeing this film, I just want to say to Luchetti and his brother, Bravissimo for all that you have accomplished in your lives. The story is autobiographical, based on Luchetti’s childhood growing up in the 70’s with an artist father and a mother always searching to be a part of that world. His parents clearly loved and adored their children, but at the same time were very distracted in their own journeys of self-discovery and self-expression during a time in our recent history when soul searching was in high fashion.
The casting of the film was impeccable with Kim Rossi Stuart and Micaela Ramazotti in the roles of the parents, and child actors, Niccolò Calvagna and Samuel Garofalo who gave strong but natural performances as children going with the flow and growing alongside their parents. The film explores the presence of freedom, professionally as an artist and personally as a wife, where boundaries should exist, if they exist at all. I had a deeply emotional reaction to this film. I felt empathy for each parent; the wife for trying to manage her sadness, anger and emotions, knowing her husband was being unfaithful, and the father’s desire to be recognized and respected for his art. There are strong double standards in the film, maybe reflective of the 70’s, which made me feel uncomfortable. The acceptance of a philandering husband and the wife who should just turn away and let him “play” is an antiquated, unfair process of thinking that can only cause pain to a family, as it clearly did in this case. The innocence and curiosity of the children lightened the intensity of the struggles and complexities of life facing their parents. The film took me on an emotional rollercoaster, and my initial reaction was negative. But I was able to come full-circle and realize what Luchetti wanted to say with this film. As bittersweet as the message is, it is the truth. We all look back on our lives and realize there was a day when the innocence, and happy days ended, and usually we never realized the beauty of those days until they were over.

Next was the documentary “Sacro GRA.” Gianfranco Rosi made history by presenting the first documentary film to win the Golden Lion in the history of the Venice Film Festival.
GRA is an acronym for Grande Raccordo Anulare, the very-traveled ring of highway that circles Rome. I have seen countless documentaries through the years, but this was the first in which the subject of the documentary was not addressed. I walked away from “Sacro GRA” knowing nothing about the GRA. The stories of the people featured in the film, with the exception of a medic who used the roadway to rescue people, really had nothing to do with the GRA. And again, the stories were all a bit depressing and showed a culture struggling with economic and social problems without offering much hope for the future.

People have really embraced this film. But I really think that it’s to your advantage if you're Italian and familiar with this roadway and its surroundings. I don’t quite understand what exactly the director wanted to communicate with this film. Thanks to Open Roads’ fantastic Q&A’s, the director will be in attendance. So, I am looking forward to asking him about his approach to this film and why he chose to tell the story the way he did. What I enjoyed the most about “Sacro GRA” was the feeling to have spent some time in the lives of ordinary Romans, something that is quite unique in itself. 
My next press screening was, “La mafia uccide solo d'estate” (The Mafia Only Kills in the Summer). This film is beautiful in so many ways. The pride and passion of the director for his land, his beloved Palermo was present in every frame. Pierfrancesco Diliberto, a prolific author, television host and filmmaker, also known by his nickname, Pif, was born in Palermo in 1972. His father, Maurizio Diliberto is also a director, so Pierfrancesco grew up around cinema. In the late 90’s, he worked alongside Marco Tullio Giordana as an Assistant Director on “I cento passi” (One hundred steps), which recounts the life of a political activist who opposed the Mafia in Palermo.

With this latest film, Diliberto once again tackles the subject of the Mafia. He has been quoted as saying, “One day I stopped and looked around. And that’s when I asked myself the question: How can the Mafia enter the lives of people so arrogantly in Palermo and so few say anything about it?” The story is told through the eyes of innocent victims of violence, people who were forced to sit back and watch their city being destroyed by bombs, gunfire and money laundering. Diliberto’s story begins from the point-of-view of a child who innocently looks up to the political leaders of the city until he begins to see the corruption that lurks behind the facade of power. The film concludes with the character as an adult, taking his own child around Palermo and showing him the monuments built in honor of the innocent people who lost their lives. It was a beautiful tribute to a city and culture that he loves. This is a heartfelt story and a definite highlight of this year’s edition of Open Roads.

Next up, Emma Dante’s “Via Castellana Bandiera” (A Street in Palermo). This film is adorned with a relentless cast of emotionally tormented characters with little remorse or consideration for others. The story recounts two young women (Emma Dante and Alba Caterina Rohrwacher) in a relationship together, clearly going through a tough time. They are on their way to begin celebrating a friend’s marriage, and decide to take a shortcut through town. That’s when they enter a one-way street with another car trying to get through. As both drivers are experiencing frustration and conflict in their own personal lives, they are not in the mood to give in and let the other through. So, there they stay camped out in their cars until one is forced by dire circumstances to finally move.
The film opens with one of those drivers, Elena Cotta’s character, Samria in a touching scene at the grave of her daughter. Not only is she taking care of the grave, she also feeds and shows affection to the cemetery’s stray dogs. So, we are introduced to this character with kindness and sympathy. She then lays facedown on her daughter’s tombstone and we see the emotional agony with which she lives. Then it’s no surprise that when we see the cruelty she undergoes at the hands of the other characters, the film can be upsetting to endure. Everyone was fighting and nasty to each other during the entire course of the film. However, I noticed that when it came to mealtime, that everyone made sure the next person had something to eat. This really said a lot. It showed that the hostility with which people treat each other is a reaction to the hardness of life. The hostility and meanness is a reaction, it does not define them and it does not define the culture. Even if there were some moments of comedy relief, this film is another example of the attitudes and resentment of Italians in this period with almost no mercy or hope. It wasn’t until the very last moments of the film that we saw just a bit of regard for other people. I felt very saddened after seeing this film. But that one dinner scene spoke to the tough times that Italians are going through, and how the tough times have hardened their attitudes, but not their hearts.       

Alessandro Rossetto’s “Piccola patria” (Small Homeland) was up next and it was the film that I understood least. “Piccola patria” is Rossetto’s first feature film after a series of documentaries and shorts, including the very popular, “Orchestra di Piazza Vittorio: I diari del ritorno.” It’s clear that Rossetto has strong feelings about illegal immigration in his country, a problem that has been plaguing Italy for years. The way in which he communicated this passion, through the story of two girls trying to escape the oppression of their small town, was tough to follow. It seemed more like a series of vignettes rather than a fluid story with a clear beginning, middle and end.” Most of the characters are quite detestable and it was not a pleasure spending nearly two hours with them, watching them lie, cheat and steal. Perhaps I was sidetracked by their lack of morals and conscience, and missed the intended message of the movie.

Fabio Mollo’s “Il Sud è niente” (The South is Nothing) is the story of Grazia, an introverted 17-year-old girl obsessed over the mystery surrounding the death of her brother. Set in a seaside town on the coasts of Calabria and Sicily, the film features exceptional performances by Karlkvist and Vinicio Marchioni as a father and daughter dealing with the loss of a son and brother. Instead of talking about the tragedy, the family internalizes their pain, bottling up emotions that eventually explode. Both actors gave sincere, intense performances, communicating their characters’ pain, frustration and confusion. This is one film that shows the desperation of a culture, but also manages to show personal perseverance in overcoming pain to find some hope for the future.
Rounding out this batch of films was “Smetto quando voglio” (I Can Quit When I Want) and what a great way to round out this series of screenings! Director, Sydney Sibilia took a different approach to communicate his version of Italy’s tough times. He did it through comedy. The story recounts a group of professors and scientists who lost their jobs and were forced to find work washing dishes and pumping gas just to make ends meet. Completely fed up, Pietro (Edoardo Leo) comes up with a plan to develop a legal drug that he could sell to club kids looking for a quick high. He enlists the help of his fellow down-on-their-luck geniuses, which include an economist, chemist and anthropologist. The group goes on to make money beyond their wildest dreams. But with the money comes a whole new host of problems. What ensues is a hilarious adventure watching these self-proclaimed ‘nerds’ take on ‘tough-guy’ roles and try to assimilate into the underground world of drugs and corruption. The combination of excellent writing, top-notch acting and a director with a clear vision, make for a contemporary classic comedy that truly deserves each of the 12 David di Donatello nominations it received. This is my Open Roads 2014 must-see film!

Cinema is not supposed to be butterflies and rainbows, and that’s why it’s so fascinating. But the reason why Italian cinema appeals to me so much is that it tends to be directly reflective of the current status of its culture. I really admire this realistic quality. Each time I see an Italian film, I feel like I am learning something and gaining insight into a far away culture, and also the culture of my family's origins. This edition of Open Roads with this selection of films reflects a culture in crisis, and an important time in Italy’s history. Therefore, it’s very important to see these films to be a part of that history and then perhaps a part of the solution. Times are changing and Italy’s directors are documenting that change by reaching out to the world with their stories. Hear their call, and see these films.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the Film Society of Lincoln Center online at

Monday, May 12, 2014

Interview: Donatella Finocchiaro

Whether she's playing the supporting role like her character in "Il dolce e l'amaro" or the leading lady in "Galantuomini," Donatella Finocchiaro has a commanding onscreen presence that makes her unforgettable. 

Finocchiaro began her acting career in theatre but quickly moved to the big screen.  Her first movie role was in the 2002 drama "Angela" in which she plays the namesake role, a wife who gets involved with her husband's dangerous and illegal business of selling drugs. Although many of Donatella's characters have some involvement with organized crime, a stereotype that has been tirelessly overplayed, she is able to portray the human side of it, the way that this life and its stereotypes destroy families and dreams. She is often cast in these parts because the intensity of her acting has such a huge impact on audiences and the effect of the movie. Her characters hurt, and that pain is expressed through her dark penetrating eyes and her passionate performances.

I spoke with Donatella Finocchiaro at the Open Roads Film Festival at Lincoln Center in New York City while she was promoting "Galantuomini." I really enjoyed talking with her. She was very articulate in answering my questions, and you can tell that she loves her work. She glows when she talks about her characters and the directors she's worked with. She has the same intensity and sincerity off camera that she does on camera. As you'll read, Donatella did not have intentions of becoming a professional actress. In fact, she originally chose a very different career path.

When did you start acting?
I started to act later in life. In college, I studied law and actually became a lawyer. After I graduated college, I went to school for one year in Catania where I studied theatre. So after I took that one course, I started to land lead roles in plays that I auditioned for. I just took the acting course for a diversion to my dry career in law! I wanted to do something different, something fun. So within two or three years, I just decided to pursue acting and I left my career in law behind.  For a couple of years though, I was actually a lawyer and an actress!  It was definitely interesting!  But once I decided to pursue acting, it all moved pretty fast.  Deciding to study acting when I was older gave me an advantage because I was more aware of what I was doing, and I already had my own life experiences.

Tell me about Lucia, your character in "Galantuomini."
Lucia is definitely a woman who has to rise to a lot of challenges. She's a woman who needs to create a space for herself in a world that is dominated by men and of course she struggles with it. She fights left, right and center to do that. The movie at the same time is a love story and is a depiction of what life was like during the 80's in the Salento area of Puglia. The love story takes place in the city of Lecce. It describes that historical period and the relationship between two high school friends who loved each other ever since they were kids but were separated and ended up being on the two opposite sides of the law. He became a judge and she became head of the mafia. She struggles and has a very hard life that is full of contradictions. She could almost come off as being schizophrenic. We see her in many different circumstances. Sometimes she's very harsh and hard. Other times, she's very sensual and feminine. We also see her as a mother.  We see a lot of facets of her personality. That's the ambiguity of this character that makes the movie so rich; the contradictions, layers and dimensions to Lucia. She would like to be somebody else, but the world that she grew up in turned her into this person. So the movie is about this deep conflict within her, between what she actually is and what she would like to be. For her, love would be the only way for her to escape this tragic destiny of living a life where nothing is clear and nothing is clean. However, when she does have the chance to escape, we see that her destiny is already too marked. She may end up becoming a fugitive or she may be able to leave the life she knows, but she'll never be happy.

Your performances are always very intense. What do you look for in a character that makes you want to take on that role?  
What fascinates me and draws me to certain a character is her contradictions, the idea that she can be one thing and so many others at the same time. This is what I saw in Lucia as well as many of my other characters in the past. So what I like to see is development of the character. I like to play a character that starts out in one way and ends up in another. I like when there is an evolution, but the conflict within the character is what ultimately makes me say yes to a part.  

A scene from "L'abbuffata"

How do you transform yourself into your characters?
First, I observe people that are like the character in real life.  In the case of Lucia, I observed women in the Salento region of Puglia. What I noticed the most about them was their sweetness, and at the same time, their ability to lead.  They're very feminine but at the same time, they have everything under control. You see it all in their eyes.  They have a dignity about them that comes out of every pore of their skin.  Having said that, I also look within myself for my own contradiction as a woman. I think that we have everything that we need inside of us. It's just a matter of being able to take it out and express it. That's the type of skill than an actor refines and learns to use. You learn to actually draw from all those rich resources. In real life, people tend not to do that. They put on a mask and display that one character. If they really dug deep within themselves, they would have everything they need to do whatever it is in life they want to do.

What was it like to work with Franco Battiato on "Perduto amor?"
Franco Battiato is a complete artist. He's a musician, a director, a painter. He loves to experiment with every form of art. What I really like about him is his enthusiasm. He lives and feeds off this enthusiasm but at the same time, he has the quietness and lucidity of a wise man. It's like he combines the innocence and playfulness of a child with the wisdom of an elderly man whose been through life. It's a beautiful balance, and this is what makes him such a great artist.

At the end of they day, are you happy with the path you chose, leaving law for cinema?  
Yes, I am really happy with the path that my career has taken. I can't complain because I have been offered a wide range of great roles that are very different from each other and are all very intense. I think it's true that one builds her own path based on her yes's and no's, with what you accept and what you refuse. I chose a road based on my own tastes and sensitivity.  I continue to choose roles that actually reflect who I am, what I like and my sense of what cinema should be.

Finocchiaro's most recent release, "Marina," is set in 1950s Europe. It's the story of following a dream by following one's heart, against all odds. Inspired by the true story of Italian/Belgian musician Rocco Granata who had a worldwide hit with his song "Marina" which sold over a hundred million copies over the world, the film follows a young Italian man's struggle to survive in a tough Belgian mining village. It's the account of a 10-year fight against poverty, social prejudice, cultural bias and an authoritarian but well-meaning father. But most of all, it's the romantic, compelling and warm story of a young man fulfilling his wildest dreams. The film costars Matteo Simoni and Luigi Lo Casco, and has been featured at film festivals throughout the world. Watch the trailer...

In Conversation with Director Cecilia Pignocchi

Filmmakers Arthur Couvat and  Cecilia Pignocchi It’s unusual for a first-time filmmaker to be recognized by a high-profile, international fi...