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Saturday, May 3, 2014

'Zoran, il mio nipote scemo' Starring Giuseppe Battiston- Awarded Il Premio Mario Verdone

The European Film Festival just wrapped up in Lecce, Italy. Now in its fifth edition, the festival designates a special award aimed at encouraging and celebrating young filmmakers. Named after Italy's beloved film critic, the late Mario Verdone, Il Premio Verdone is awarded each year to a young Italian filmmaker whose first or second work excelled during Italy's previous cinematic calendar year. The jury consists of Mario Verdone's children; Carlo, Luca and Silvia Verdone. 

This year, the prize went to director, Matteo Oleotto for his film, "Zoran, il mio nipote scemo" (Zoran, My Nephew the Idiot). It was Oleotto's first work. The story follows 40-year-old Paolo, who lives in a small town in the northern region of Friuli–Venezia Giulia. Described as "unreliable and with a passion for good wine," he spends his days at the local tavern with the other regulars, and takes pleasure in stalking his ex-wife. One day, he unexpectedly meets his nephew Zoran, a socially-awkward 16-year-old boy who was raised in the Slovenian mountains. Paolo is reluctantly named the boy's caregiver and shortly thereafter, discovers Zoran’s unusual talent for the game of darts.

A scene from "Zoran, il mio nipote scemo"

Giuseppe Battiston

You may recognize Giuseppe Battiston from his role in the international hit comedy, "Pane e tulipani" (Bread and Tulips) but in Italy, he is a familiar face, working non-stop on films for both the big and small screen. 

Born in 1968 in the northern city of Udine, Giuseppe Battiston was educated at Milan's prestigious Scuola d’Arte Drammatica Paolo Grassi. Upon graduation, he landed his first role in Andrea Barzini's 1990 film, "Italia-Germania 4-3." He then teamed up with one of Italy's most respected directors, Silvio Soldini. Also from the North of Italy, Soldini is known for telling stories through the poetic way in which he shoots his landscapes and scenes. The two compliment each other with Battiston lending a lighter touch to Soldini's intense and dramatic style of filmmaking. 

One of his most memorable roles, and a favorite among North American moviegoers came in Soldini's wildly successful "Pane e tulipani." Battiston has a gift for comic timing, and his portrayal Costantino Caponangeli is one hilarious performance. Costantino is your classic case mammoni, the eternal mamma's boy. He manages to leave the nest for Venice to pursue a freelance opportunity as a private detective in search of a missing housewife. The experience leads him to uncover a whole new world of adventure and love, all while fielding his mother's continuous phone calls and eating the pannini she packed for him upon his tearful departure. 

Although Battiston is a natural comedian, he pulls no punches when taking on a dramatic role, or even that of a villain. In Carlo Mazzacurati's 2007 murder mystery, "La giusta distanza" (The Right Distance), Battiston plays Amos, a seedy businessman who is a prime suspect in a murder case. The role gave Battiston the opportunity to prove his acting range goes far beyond comedy. He embraced the mystery and shadiness of his character, transforming himself into the very essence of corruption. The film was released in the United States in 2009.

A scene from "La giusta distanza"
Cristina Comencini's 2005 drama, "La bestia nel cuore," known internationally as "Don't Tell," was nominated for an Oscar in the category, Best Foreign Language Film. It gave international audiences another chance to see a great comedy performance by Battiston. The plot is heavy with the main characters dealing with haunting childhood issues. The comic dimension was a fine line to tread, but Battston approached the role with the perfect amount of sensitivity never minimizing the seriousness of the larger subject matter. 

One of the actor's most prolific years to date was 2013 in which he made four films: "La sedia della felicità," "Zoran, il mio nipote scemo," "La prima neve" and "La variabile umana." Directed by Andrea Segre, "La prima neve" premiered at the 70th Venice International Film Festival and went on to tour the world in a special film series organized by the festival to promote Italian cinema around the world.

A scene from La prima neve
In Annarita Zambrano’s French-Belgium-Italy co-production, "Dopo la Guerra" (After the War), Battiston takes on the role of Marco, a former left-wing activist, sentenced for the murder of a judge and exiled to France for 20 years. Forced to flee with his 16 year old daughter, his life changes forever, as does his family’s in Italy who has to pay for Marco’s faults. The film premiered at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival in the section, Un Certain Regard, and went on to be shown at festivals throughout the world.

His most recent project to arrive on American shores is the FX Network’s current hit series "Trust," in which he plays a shady drug dealer. For longtime fans, it was thrilling see him in an English-language role. Unfortunately, his character was killed off after a few episodes but his performance was spectacular and memorable nonetheless.

Watch a preview for Trust featuring Giuseppe Battiston...

I recently attended a press conference during the 2018 edition of Canada's Italian Contemporary Film Festival where Battiston presented his new films. He talked about the film commission in his region and all the productions being made there..

The beauty of Battiston's performances lies in his ability to treat his characters with a rare tenderness and empathy. He clearly identifies with their struggles as they face life's complexities.

- Jeannine Guilyard
(Updated June, 2018)

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