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Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Life and Art of Marcello Mastroianni

A legendary actor who influenced cinema across the globe, Marcello Vincenzo Domenico Mastroianni was born in 1924 in Fontana Liri, a mountainous area  of Lazio, about an hour from Rome. 

Mastroianni spent his childhood near the Eternal City experimenting with acting in stage roles at his local church. During his teenage years, he took odd jobs in Rome, including bit parts in movies. Then during World War II, he was forced by German soldiers to work at a labor camp in northern Italy. He escaped, taking refuge in Venice until 1945. During the post-war period when war-torn Italy was recovering from the devastation it had just endured, Mastroianni returned to Rome and landed a job as a clerk with a British film company. During off-hours, he would get together with local actors to hone his craft. Then in 1947, he landed his first significant acting role in Riccardo Freda’s adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel, “Les Miserables.”

Watch this video that I recently shot on the Isola Liri, close to Mastroianni's hometown of Fontana Liri.

Within a decade of that first role, he became an international celebrity, with lead roles in some of the greatest films ever made, such as "Big Deal on Madonna Street" and in Federico Fellini’s "La Dolce Vita." Mastroianni starred in more than 100 films, many times alongside fellow cinema icons like Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren and Jack Lemmon.

A Scene from "La Dolce Vita"
"La Dolce Vita" set the stage for the destined partnership with Fellini that produced unforgettable roles in "8 ½" (1963), "City of Women" (1979), and "Ginger and Fred" (1985). Each role called on his exceptional ability to transform himself into virtually anyone as the characters ranged in diversity from a tabloid columnist to a film director with writer’s block to a retired tap dancer. He credited this skill to his roots in theater, explaining, "I made theater very important in the beginning of my career. Theater actors like to change character roles. They don't like to always do the same thing."

Set in Fellini’s Rome of the bizarre and misfits, "Ginger and Fred" is a tender satire about two dancers, played by Giulietta Masina and Mastroianni, who made careers imitating Rogers and Astaire and are reunited on a tacky variety show. Mastroianni and Masina absolutely shine together. Lifelong friends, it was the first time the two appeared in a film together and they were brilliant. 

Although he romanced dozens of leading ladies on the big screen, Mastroianni found his cinema soulmate in Loren, co-starring with her in a dozen beautiful, classic films. The majestic duo is such a pleasure to watch as the two share an unspoken chemistry and ease. Soon after teaming up, they became the epitome of the perfect Italian man and woman in love. A few of their masterpieces include Vittorio De Sica's "Marriage Italian Style," "Sunflower" and "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow," Ettore Scola's "A Special Day" and Dino Risi's "The Priest's Wife." Loren spoke of Mastroianni at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, while being honored for her extraordinary career, saying, “He was an amazing man with a great sense of humor and when we got tired, he would begin to tell jokes. It was 20 years of work and fun.”

Another of Mastroianni’s leading ladies was his daughter, Chiara Mastroianni, whose mother is the French actress Catherine Deneuve. The two starred in Raúl Ruiz's "Three Lives and Only One Death" in 1996. His performance earned him the Silver Wave Award at the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival. Then, the curtains were drawn with his final film, "Voyage to the Beginning of the World," which was released posthumously in 1997.

On the Red Carpet with daughter Chiara 
Life imitated art in terms of romance throughout Mastroianni’s life. He married fellow actress Flora Carabella in 1950, and stayed married to her until the day he died. However, he was known for romances with his onscreen leading ladies, including actresses Anouk Aimee, Claudia Cardinale, Lauren Hutton and Ursula Andress. He was involved in a serious relationship with Faye Dunaway, whom he met while shooting Vittorio De Sica's "A Place for Lovers" in 1968. The actress wanted to marry and build a life with him, but his Catholic faith kept him from divorcing his wife. The relationship lasted for three years until Dunaway finally gave up. Mastroianni didn’t stay single for long. Shortly after their breakup, he began seeing Deneuve. The two stayed together for about four years and during that time worked together on four films. In 1972, Deneuve gave birth to their daughter Chiara. In the late '70s, he became involved with Italian author and filmmaker, Anna Maria Tatò. They remained together until his death in 1996.

Mastroianni passed away at his home in Paris at the age of 72 from pancreatic cancer. The Eternal City paid tribute to him by turning off the Fountain of Trevi and draping it in black. The fountain was a key backdrop in Fellini’s "La Dolce Vita."

Stream these Mastroianni treasures on Amazon..


Monday, December 8, 2014

Paying Tribute to Giuseppe “Pino” Mango through one Filmmaker's passion for Basilicata

The Ionian Coast of Maratea in Basilicata
I have great pride in my Lucani origins. It’s a pride that runs deep through my soul and I only realized that depth when I visited for the first time in 2002. I met my cousins and walked the narrow streets my great grandparents once walked. After visiting, I felt truly to have gone home. 

Whenever I want to feel the nostalgia and warmth of the people.. or the clouds lingering over the mountains, I lose myself in the music of Giuseppe “Pino” Mango with his unique voice and regional instruments that bring me back to the land of my heart. Today, the world lost this amazing artist, but his music will live on in those who appreciate his unique talent for creating not only a song, but a memory and an atmosphere.

We mourn the untimely death of Basilicata’s renowned singer and songwriter, Mango, by revisiting my 2012 interview with an innovative filmmaker whose passion is writing about our beloved southern Italy.

Michelangelo Frammartino

A scene from "Le Quattro volte"
His style of filmmaking may be ahead of its time, but the message that drives his creativity stems from the theories of an ancient Greek philosopher who lived some 2,500 years ago.

Michelangelo Frammartino's work is based  on the connection between man and nature. The foundation of this connection dates back to about 570 – 495 BC when the ancient Ionian Greek philosopher and mathematician, Pythagoras lived. He believed that our soul is reincarnated four times into the bodies of humans, animals, minerals and vegetables until it ultimately becomes immortal. This theory was the basis for Frammartino's 2010 film, "Le quattro volte" (Four Times). The film is insightful and poetic in its message and visual landscape. It is raw and direct in its depiction of the connection between man, animals and nature. The New York Times described the film as "an idiosyncratic and amazing film so full of surprises - nearly every shot contains a revelation."

A scene from Alberi
Frammartino's film, "Alberi" (Trees) was recently featured at the Tribeca Film Festival as an installation. The film tells the story of an old ritual that took place in the village of Satriano in Basilicata during Italian Carnevale when the men of the village would cover themselves in leaves, transforming into mystical walking trees. The ritual started during the middle ages but was eventually abandoned by younger generations. Frammartino recaptures the ancient rite in a reenactment that won over New York audiences. According to Frammartino, “Basilicata is home to numerous arboreal rites. Trees are not just figures in the background, they are protagonists, they are the center, what gives meaning to the festival and above that, to life. I found this to be incredibly interesting.”

I caught up with Frammartino while he was in New York promoting his new film. He told me about this connection to nature and how his education in architecture influences his work.

 The Ionian Coast of Caulonia in Calabria
You come from the north, but your films were shot in southern Italy; Basilicata and Calabria in particular. What is your fascination with this part of Italy?
I was born in the north, in Milan, but my family is from Calabria. Both my parents come from a small town on the Ionian coast called Caulonia. This is where I spent my summers as a child, and where I experienced a sense of freedom and deep fusion with nature and everything around me.

Nature is an important part of your work. Tell me about this attachment that you have to nature and how it helps you to express yourself artistically.
We men tend to consider nature solely as a nice background to our events, or in the best cases, a resource at our disposal. We tend to forget the origins of nature and that it is deeply related to other species. I love to work on this unspoken bond. With this philosophy, I am more challenged to "shoot" and film scenes more creatively.

Isola di Capo Rizzuto  in the province of Crotone, Calabria
In your film, "Le quattro volte," what is the significance of the number four? Why four times?
Approximately twenty-five hundred years ago, the first philosopher, Pythagoras lived in Crotone in Calabria. A phrase that is attributed to him reads as follows:
"There will be four of us in the next life, embedded one inside the other. Man is a mineral because he consists of salts, water and mineral substances. Man is a vegetable, because as a plant eats, breathes and reproduces, so does he. Man is an animal with imagination, memory and knowledge of the external world. Man is also a rational being, because he has will and reason. We have four distinct lives in us and we should live four times."

A scene from "Alberi"
What inspired you to make your latest film, "Alberi" and tell the story of this ancient ritual?
I discovered these arboreal cults during the making of "Le quattro volte" and I was very fascinated by them. So I began to do research in Basilicata where they originate, and I found this wonderful mask belonging to the hermit of Satriano di Lucania. It was a perfect fusion of man and nature. I was never in the presence of something that so deeply represented our connection to the land and to the world.

You studied architecture in college. Does that background influence your films?
I find that there are many elements in common between these disciplines. For example, the idea of a narrative can be found in both. A movie is a place where the viewer enters and spends time, and you can say the same about a building.

Do you plan to continue with this theme of nature in your future projects?
Sure, there is the possibility that "Alberi" could evolve and become a feature film.

Michelangelo Frammartino's 2010 film, "Le quattro volte" is available through Amazon. We will keep you updated on the availability of "Alberi."

Purchase "Le Quattro Volte" on Amazon..

For now, I'll leave you with one of my favorite songs by Mango, "Mediterraneo" ...


Bianco e azzurro sei
con le isole che stanno lì
le rocce e il mare
coi gabbiani
Mediterraneo da vedere
con le arance
Mediterraneo da mangiare
La montagna là
e la strada che piano vien giù
tra i pini e il sole
un paese
Mediterraneo da scoprire
con le chiese
Mediterraneo da pregare

Siedi qui
e getta lo sguardo giù
tra gli ulivi
l'acqua è scura quasi blu
e lassù
vola un falco lassù
sembra guardi noi
fermi così
grandi come mai
guarda là
quella nuvola che va
vola già
dentro nell'eternità

Quella lunga scia
della gente in silenzio per via
che prega piano
sotto il sole
Mediterraneo da soffrire
sotto il sole
Mediterraneo per morire

Siedi qui
e lasciati andar così
lascia che
entri il sole dentro te
e respira
tutta l'aria che puoi
i profumi che
senti anche tu
sparsi intorno a noi
guarda là
quella nuvola che va
vola già
dentro nell'eternità

"Mediterranean Sea"

White and azure you are
With islands standing there
The rocks and the sea
With seagulls
Mediterranean Sea to see
With oranges
Mediterranean Sea to eat
The mountain over there
And the road that softly comes down
Between the pine trees and the Sun
A town stands
Mediterranean Sea to discover
With churches
Mediterranean Sea to pray

Sit down here
And glance down there
Between the olive trees
The water is dark, almost blue
And up there
A hawk flies
It almost seems it is looking down at us
Standing still
Largest than ever
Look up there
That cloud that goes
Flies down
Into eternity

That long line
Of silent people along the road
Praying softly
Under the Sun
Mediterranean Sea to suffer
Under the Sun
Mediterranean See for dying

Sit down here
And let yourself go like this
Let the Sun
Enter you
And breathe
As much air as you can
The perfumes that
You smell too
Scattered around us
Look up there
That cloud that goes
Flies down
Into eternity

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Life and Work of Monica Bellucci

Monica Bellucci as Malèna
Born in Umbria in 1964, Monica Bellucci is one of the most recognizable faces of international cinema. But she didn't always have her sights set on the spotlight. She went to college to study law and modeled to pay her tuition. Her success in the fashion world coupled with the offers that were pouring in to appear on the big screen eventually took over, changing her fate.

Bellucci made her on-screen debut in the 1990 television movie, "Vita coi figli." Just two years later, she scored her first American role in Francis Ford Coppola's "Dracula." 

In addition to her native language, she speaks fluent English and French, which has made for a smooth transition from Italian to international cinema. Stateside, she has acted in blockbusters such as "The Matrix-Reloaded,"  "The Passion of the Christ" and "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." She has also appeared in several French films, and was married to French actor Vincent Cassel. She costarred with him in the 2003 avant-garde film, "Irréversible." Set in Paris, the film follows two men as they attempt to seek revenge for a brutal attack on a woman, Alex, portrayed by Bellucci. There was a lot of controversy surrounding the film when it was released due to the extreme violence in two scenes. Film Critic Roger Ebert declared it unwatchable because of those scenes.

The role that really called on Bellucci's acting skills and proved that she was more than just another model-turned-actress was Giuseppe Tornatore's 2000 film, "Malèna." She took on the title role of a beautiful widow in small town Sicily during World War II. Her character contends with the men of the village constantly chasing her while the women torment her out of jealousy.

In 2005, she starred in Bertrand Blier's French rom-com, "Combien tu m'aimes?" (How Much Do  You Love Me?), the story of an office worker who wins the lottery and hires a beautiful prostitute (Bellucci) to live with him. The film also features Gerard Depardieu and Bernard Campan as the men smitten with her.

Bellucci had a small but pivotal role in Rebecca Miller’s 2009 “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee.” Her character, Gigi, is an eccentric, wealthy art collector. When her husband announces that he has fallen in love with another woman, she invites them both to lunch and delivers a pretty big bang of a surprise. The film is a rom-com, coming-of-age story for a middle-aged coming to terms with a few skeletons in her closet. Although Bellucci doesn't have a lot of screen time, I always enjoy seeing Italian actors in English-speaking roles. Plus, the stellar ensemble cast that includes Robin Wright, Alan Arkin, Winona Ryder and Maria Bello was a joy to watch.

In this clip that I recorded at the 2015 Rome Film Festival, Bellucci talks about her role in Guy Édoin's "Ville-Marie," which premiered there. Bellucci plays the role of an actress and mother who takes a role in Montreal in order to reconnect with her estranged son. The two end up witnessing a tragic automobile accident and become emotionally connected to the paramedic who showed up to the scene.

Also in 2015, at the age of 50, Bellucci played the role of an Italian seductress opposite Daniel Craig in "Spectre." As James Bond is forced to visit his past, scenes were shot amid the stunning backdrop of the Eternal City, making Bellucci feel right at home.

Although she loves her craft, these days she is content with skipping red carpet appearances to stay home with her family. She was recently quoted as saying, "I am at a stage in my life where, if I don't go out, I don't feel I'm missing something. I get bored surrounded by people smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol. And I'm not so interested now in going to premieres or being photographed on the red carpet. I want to be with my daughter."

Motherhood hasn't slowed Bellucci down professionally as she continues to work on both sides of the Atlantic. Her next project, the television mini-series "Radical Eye: The Life and Times of Tina Modotti" is currently in pre-production. The series is based on the Udine-born photographer and activist Tina Modotti who died at the age of 45. She was a member of the Mexican Communist Party and hung around with the likes of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Argentinian poet Pablo Neruda. 

Due to her international appeal, many of Bellucci's films are available in the United States. Click on the titles below to stream the aforementioned films on Amazon, including a special interview with her, simply titled, "A Conversation with Monica Bellucci" in which she talks about her influences and versatility in working outside of Italy.



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...