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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Museum of Modern Art - NYC presents Antonio Pietrangeli: A Retrospective

"Fantasmi a Roma"

Antonio Pietrangeli: A Retrospective
December 3–18, 2015
The Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters – MoMA (11 West 53 Street New York, NY 10019)  

The Museum of Modern Art celebrates the Italian cinema with Antonio Pietrangeli: A Retrospective (December 3–18, 2015), presented by MoMA, in collaboration with Luce Cinecittà, Rome, and organized by Dave Kehr, Adjunct Curator, Department of Film, MoMA, and Camilla Cormanni and Paola Ruggiero, Luce Cinecittà. Exploring the filmmaker’s career from the early 1950s to the mid-1960s, Antonio Pietrangeli will feature 11 feature films, from Pietrangeli’s best-known work to a number of rediscoveries.

The opening night will take place on Thursday, December 3rd at 8:00pm with the international premiere of the restored version of I Knew Her Well (Io La Conoscevo Bene) at MoMA. The film, which is also Pietrangeli’s last completed feauture, stars Ugo Tognazzi along with Stefania Sandrelli. Like an inversion of La Dolce Vita with a woman at its center, I Knew Her Well follows the gorgeous, seemingly liberated Adriana (Sandrelli) during the sixties in Rome, as she dallies with a wide variety of men, attends parties, goes to modeling gigs, and circulates among the rich and famous. "I Knew Her Well" will then open in New York at the Film Forum from February 5th, 2016. It is part of the Criterion Collection and will be released by Janus Films. 

Antonio Pietrangeli passed away in Gaeta in 1968, while he was working on the film How, When and with Whom? (Come, Quando, Perché?). His sudden death, at age 49, was a tremendous loss for the world of Italian cinema. As a major practitioner of the Commedia all'Italiana genre and a leading figure of Neorealism, Pietrangeli explored the evolving role of women in Italian society after the fall of Fascism. From the provincial woman (Irene Galter), working as a maid in Rome in his first film, Empty Eyes (Il Sole Negli Occhi, 1953), to the amazed starlet (Stefania Sandrelli), suddenly elevated from the working class, in I Knew Her Well (Io La Conoscevo Bene, 1965), Pietrangeli’s protagonists experience the promises and dangers of a new yet ambiguous freedom.

Born in Rome and trained as a physician, Pietrangeli started his film career as an assistant on Luchino Visconti’s Obsession (Ossessione, 1943), and went on to contributing to the screenplays of Visconti’s La Terra Trema (1948) and Roberto Rossellini’s Europa ’51 (in which he also appears as a psychiatrist). But as a director, Pietrangeli quickly departed from the standards of Neorealism, plunging into the social satire of The Bachelor (Lo Scapolo, 1955, with Alberto Sordi), and flirting with the postcard romanticism of It Happened in Rome (Souvenir d’Italie, 1957) and the supernatural whimsy of Ghosts of Rome (Fantasmi a Roma, 1961, with Marcello Mastroianni). But it was with The Visit (La Visita), in 1963, that Pietrangeli found his signature style, combining a relaxed pace, an anecdotal structure, and an open visual field to create a sense of freedom and possibility, even as that freedom eludes his characters. Had Pietrangeli continued his work, he would have made a crucial contribution to the redefinition of cinema in the late 1960s, yet his completed films are more than enough to earn him a prominent position in the history of Italian film.            

Antonio Pietrangeli: A Retrospective

“Io La Conoscevo Bene” (I Knew Her Well). 1965. Directed by Antonio Pietrangeli. Screenplay by Antonio Pietrangeli, Ruggero Maccari, Ettore Scola. With Stefania Sandrelli, Mario Adorf, Jean-Claude Brialy, Nino Manfredi, Ugo Tognazzi.
Pietrangeli’s best-known film stars the willowy Tuscan actress Stefania Sandrelli, who entered the movies as the 15-year-old winner of a provincial beauty contest, in a tragicomic twist on a story that might well have been her own. As the innocently sexual, minimally ambitious Adriana Astarelli, she’s a hairdresser who arrives in Rome as the protégé of a dubious promoter (Nino Manfredi) and finds herself drifting from man to man as she circles the periphery of modeling and show business. Indifferent to her own exploitation, she experiences a measure of material success without understanding what, if anything, she wants from life. 99 min.
THU, DEC 3, 8:00 T1; FRI, DEC 18, 4:30 T2

“Adua e Le Compagne” (Adua and Her Friends). 1960. Directed by Antonio Pietrangeli. Screenplay by Antonio Pietrangeli, Ruggero Maccari, Tullio Pinelli, Ettore Scola. With Simone Signoret, Sandra Milo, Emmanuelle Riva, Marcello Mastroianni.
Reluctantly liberated when a reform movement closes the legal brothels of Italy in 1958, four Roman prostitutes (Simone Signoret, Sandra Milo, Emmanuelle Riva, and Gina Rovere) are forced to take their work underground, opening a restaurant on the outskirts of the city that will, under the orders of their shady sponsor (Claudia Gora) serve as a front while they practice their former profession in the rooms upstairs. But the restaurant proves to be a success, and the women find new loves and new happiness—until the sponsor decides that respectability isn’t profitable enough. A touching portrait of female friendship and a cutting indictment of social hypocrisy. 106 min.
FRI, DEC 4, 7:00 T2; THU, DEC 17, 4:30 T1

“La Visita” (The Visit). 1963. Directed by Antonio Pietrangeli. Screenplay by Antonio Pietrangeli, Gino De Santis, Ruggero Maccari, Ettore Scola. With Sandra Milo, François Périer, Mario Adorf. Adapted from a story by Carlo Cassola (La ragazza di Bube), Pietrangeli’s exquisite miniature describes the daylong encounter of two would-be lovers who meet through a lonely-hearts ad. Adolfo (the French performer François Périer) is a fussy Roman bookstore clerk who travels to the Po Valley to meet Pina (Sandra Milo), who works for an agricultural supply firm. Worried that their marriageable days are coming to an end, the two have already decided to fall in love with each other—but first they have to get acquainted. 86 min.
SAT, DEC 5, 5:00; WED, DEC 16, 4:30, T1

“Fantasmi a Roma” (Ghosts of Rome). 1961. Directed by Antonio Pietrangeli. Screenplay by Antonio Pietrangeli, Ennio Flaiano, Ruggero Maccari, Ettore Scola, Sergio Amidei. Cinematography byGiuseppe Rotunno. Music by Nino Rota. With Marcello Mastroianni, Sandra Milo, Eduardo De Filippo, Tino Buazzelli, Vittorio Gassman, Claudio Gora.
Pietrangeli’s star-studded comic fantasy displays the fine hand of the Roman satirist, playwright, and screenwriter Ennio Flaiano, fresh from the success of La Dolce vita. Life is still sweet for the aging aristocrat Prince Hannibal Roviano (Eduardo De Filippo), although he lives it alone among the ancestral ghosts who haunt the family mansion. But when the prince dies and ownership passes to his dissolute nephew (Marcello Mastroianni, in one of his three roles in the film), the ghosts must intervene to prevent the decaying palace from being turned into a discotheque. Their solution: recruit the ghost of a 16th-century painter (Vittorio Gassman) to whip up a hidden fresco magnificent enough to certify the building as a national treasure. 105 min.
SAT, DEC 5, 8:00; SUN, DEC 13, 5:30 T1 

“Souvenir d’Italie” (It Happened in Rome). 1957. Directed by Antonio Pietrangeli. Screenplay by Antonio Pietrangeli, Fabio Carpi, Nelo Risi, Dario Fo, Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli. With June Laverick, Isabelle Coreyu, Ingeborg Schöner, Massimo Girotti, Vittorio De Sica. Filmed in frankly touristic color and widescreen, this international co-production appropriates one of Daryl F. Zanuck’s favorite plot devices, interlacing the amorous adventures of three young women thrown together by fate (and quite a team of screenwriters). The three coins in this fountain are the British June Laverick, the German Ingeborg Schöner, and the French Isabelle Corey (the sex bomb of Jean-Pierre Melville’s Bob le Flambeur) as tourists experiencing a ravishingly idealized Italy. Their suitors, appropriate and inappropriate, include Massimo Girotti, Vittorio De Sica, Gabriele Ferzetti, and Alberto Sordi. 100 min.
SUN, DEC 6, 2:30; FRI, DEC 11, 4:30 T1 

“Lo Scapolo” (The Bachelor). 1955. Directed by Antonio Pietrangeli. Screenplay by Antonio Pietrangeli, Ruggero Maccari, Alessandro Continenza, Ettore Scola. With Alberto Sordi, Nino Manfredi, Rossana Podestà, Virna Lisi, Sandra Milo.
Pietrangeli’s second feature is a classic example of Commedia all’Italiana, starring the genre’s defining figure, Alberto Sordi, as a self-absorbed small businessman who prides himself on his dubious abilities as a ladykiller. But when the specter of loneliness finally looms, his search for a wife quickly turns desperate. 90 min.
SUN, DEC 6, 5:30; THU, DEC 10, 4:30 T1

“Il Sole Negli Occhi” (Empty Eyes). 1953. Directed by Antonio Pietrangeli. Screenplay by Antonio Pietrangeli, Ugo Pirro, Lucio Battistrada, Suso Cecchi D’Amico. With Irene Galter, Gabriele Ferzetti, Paolo Stoppa.
After a decade as a screenwriter and critic, Pietrangeli made his directorial debut with this striking example of late Neorealism, which announces most of his major themes. Celestina (Irene Galter) is a naïve peasant girl who leaves her small village to look for work as a maid in Rome, where her innocence is rapidly exploited by thoughtless employers and predatory men. She places all her trust in a handsome plumber (Gabriele Ferzetti), who vanishes the minute she discovers she is pregnant. Pietrangeli gracefully dramatizes her transition from country bumpkin to disillusioned urbanite, as she joins Rome’s sisterhood of exploited domestic workers. 98 min. 

“Fata Marta” 1966.  Directed by Antonio Pietrangeli. Screenplay by Rodolfo Sonego. With Alberto Sordi, Capucine, Olga Villi, Gigi Ballista, Anthony Steel.
Pietrangeli’s episode from the omnibus film Le Fate (The Queens)
MON, DEC 7, 4:30; WED, DEC 9, 4:30 T1

"Nata di Marzo” (March’s Child). 1957. Directed by Antonio Pietrangeli. Screenplay by Antonio Pietrangeli, Agenore Incrocci, Ruggero Maccari, Furio Scarpelli, Ettore Scola. With Jacqueline Sassard, Gabriele Ferzetti, Tina De Mola, Gina Rovere.
A teenage girl (the French actress Jacqueline Sassard) falls passionately in love with an older architect (Pietrangeli regular Gabriele Ferzetti), but finds she isn’t prepared for the depth of emotion and unwavering commitment of a real marriage. 109 min.
MON, DEC 7, 8:00; SAT, DEC 12, 2:00 T1 

La Parmigiana” (The Girl from Parma). 1963. Directed by Antonio Pietrangeli. Screenplay by Antonio Pietrangeli, Bruna Piatti, Ruggero Maccari, Ettore Scola, Stefano Strucchi. With Nino Manfredi, Catherine Spaak, Salvo Randone.
Forced to leave her village because of a scandalous love affair with a seminarian, Dora (Catherine Spaak) looks for work and refuge in Parma, where she becomes involved with a petty criminal (Nino Manfredi). Another of Pietrangeli’s bitter comedies of deracination, reflecting the sudden urbanization of Italy during the industrial boom years of the late 1950s and early 1960s. 95 min. 

“Il Magnifico Cornuto” (The Magnificent Cuckold). 1964. Directed by Antonio Pietrangeli. Screenplay by Diego Fabbri, Ruggero Maccari, Ettore Scola, Stefano Strucchi. With Claudia Cardinale, Ugo Tognazzi, Bernard Blier, Michèle Girardon, Gian Maria Volonte.
A happily married businessman (Ugo Tognazzi) allows himself to be seduced by the wife of a colleague—a meaningless affair that makes him realize how easy it would be for his young and beautiful wife (Claudia Cardinale) to betray him as he betrayed her. His unfounded suspicions grow into madness, as he obsessively imagines her in the arms of other men. Adapted from a 1921 farce by the Belgian playwright Fernand Crommelynck. 117 min.
TUE, DEC 8, 8:00; TUE, DEC 15, 4:30 T1

Ten Italian Films to be shown at MOMA NYC

New York’s Museum of Modern Art will celebrate Italy’s Rai Cinema with a screening series set to kick off on December 4 with the U.S. bow of Matteo Garrone’s English-language fantasy/horror film “Tale of Tales” segued by nine other high-profile Italo titles co-produced by the powerhouse film production and distribution unit of Italian pubcaster RAI.

Garrone will be making the trek to New York for the U.S. launch of his freaky “Tales,” (pictured) which is based on folk myths collected and published by the 16th-century Neapolitan poet and scholar Giambattista Basile.

Pic, which made a splash in Cannes, stars Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones and John C Reilly. Its U.S. distributor, IFC, has yet to announce the stateside release date. Garrone will introduce the ambitious new work, which is emblematic of Rai Cinema’s support of visionary Italo auteurs, along with MoMA chief film curator Roy Rajendra and Rai Cinema topper Paolo Del Brocco.
Titled “Italian Film, 21st-Century Style: A Tribute to Rai Cinema” the December 4-8 MoMA event, is supported by Cinecittà Studios. The initiative entails a donation of prints of the ten selected titles to MoMA’s film archives.

Italian cinema is gaining more visibility around the world and we are doing what we can to contribute to this,” Del Brocco said at a Rome presser.

The MoMA tribute is part of a wider initiative to promote Italo pics that will include a screening on December 5 in New York’s Florence Gould Hall of Italy’s gritty foreign Oscar contender “Don’t Be Bad,” a Pasolini-esque look at contempo low life on Rome’s outskirts, by recently deceased director Claudio Caligari.

The MoMA selection of ten films supported by Rai Cinema since it was set up fifteen years ago stands as testament to its commitment to the core of Italy’s cinematic culture and also to a progression in Italian cinema during this time, albeit with distinct stylistic differences, towards making more universal, and therefore exportable, films.

The Rai Cinema-supported titles that will unspool at MoMA, and have been added to it collection, are:

“The Tale of Tales,” Matteo Garrone (2015)
“The Wonders,” Alice Rohrwacher (2014)
“Sacro GRA,” Gianfranco Rosi (2013)
“Caesar Must Die,” Paolo e Vittorio Taviani (2012)
“Terraferma,” Emanuele Crialese (2011)
“Gomorra,” Matteo Garrone (2008)
“The Keys to the House,” Gianni Amelio (2004)
“Good Morning, Night,” Marco Bellocchio (2003)
“The Profession of Arms,” Ermanno Olmi (2002)
“The Son’s Room,” Nanni Moretti (2001)

-By Nick Vivarelli for Variety

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Director Gianni Zanasi presents "La felicità è un sistema complesso"

Director Gianni Zanasi is presenting his newest film this week at the Torino Film Festival. La felicità è un sistema complesso (Happiness is a complex system) is the story of Enrico Giusti’s (Valerio Mastandrea) whose job is to approach irresponsible managers who risk ruining their companies. He frequents them, he becomes their friend and he convinces them to leave their company, thus avoiding bankruptcy. It’s the strangest and most useful job he could invent for himself and Enrico doesn’t miss a trick. One morning, the parents of an eighteen-year-old boy and his thirteen-year-old sister die in an accident. The siblings are set to become the directors of a nationally-important industrial group. Enrico has to prevent this from happening: it should be an easy case, the crowning achievement of his career, but things get complicated. And the unexpected arrival of the foreign girlfriend of his brother makes things even more difficult. But actually, this is the case the man has been waiting for and which will let him change his life forever.  

In a festival statement, Zanasi explains, “I felt it was a film which didn’t talk so much about ‘chief systems’ as about something precise and tangible which I have perceived and felt as a base note in and around me over these past years: the effort of change, both from a collective and a personal point of view, and how these planes are intertwined. As they say, Happiness is a complex system.”  The film boasts an A-list cast, headed by Zanasi's usual suspects Valerio Mastandrea and Giuseppe Battiston along with actress Hadas Yaron.  

Gianni Zanasi

Born in Modena in the summer of '65, Zanasi is one of Italy's more low-key directors. He makes films at his own pace and they are usually inspired by personal experiences. I had the pleasure of interviewing him when he was in New York City presenting his last film, Non pensarci (Don't Think About It),which also starred Valerio Mastandrea. The film recounts his love of music and combines that affection with his passion for film. The product was a fast moving drama with some serious comedy relief and a soundtrack like no other. Non pensarci is the story of Stefano, a punk rocker a little down on his luck, who returns home for some R & R and finds each member of his family on the brink of a crisis. So, Stefano dives in head first and does his best to get things back on track.

When I interviewed Zanasi, he talked about the inspiration behind Non pensarci and the American filmmakers who have influenced much of his work.   

How did you come up with the story of Non pensarci?
Well, the story is mostly autobiographical and I love the idea of family, that in order to restore its own balance, needs a failed punk rocker!
So you're a musician and filmmaker, what is your first love, film or music?
Wow, that's a good question. (laughs) For me, it could be both. 

When did you realize you wanted to make films?
Well, the first films I saw when I was young made a big impression on me. I was about 10 years old and I saw them on television. There was one retrospective of American movies from the 1970's, which included the first movies of Coppola, Spielberg and Scorsese. I didn't understand them too well, but their sound and images always stayed with me. 

Valerio Mastandrea and Giuseppe Battiston in a scene from Non pensarci
Would you say those filmmakers impact your work today?
Yes, one of the interesting things about those films of the 70's is the attention they paid to the idiosyncrasies of the individual and their focus on the anti-hero because no one is really heroic in these films and they're always kind of tripped up by situations in life. What's interesting is the way they're able to take these sort of tumbles and transform them into something spectacular.  One of the best examples of this is Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  I think one of the great advantages these filmmakers had was that they were not trapped in the kind of ideological contrasts in which most European filmmakers were trapped; either having to be capitalists, communist, right-wing or left-wing. I think that by bypassing that kind of contrast, they were able to tell their stories and to focus on anti-heroes. What was great about them is that they made it through the decade in tact. I think, for example, that one of the best things about Close Encounters of the Third Kind is that it brings together the best of the European cinema of the 1970's with the French actor, Francois Truffaut, and the best of American cinema in its attention to production value and narrative force of the story, and clearly we see this with Truffaut as one of the actors in the film.  

What do you think of the films being made in Italy today compared to those of the Golden Age? Do you think they are reminiscent to neorealism at all, as they seem to be very character-driven stories that mirror contemporary Italian life?
Well the Golden age is the past. In Italy today, there's this quality about the characters and the lives of the people that is a sort of neorealism, not in the way it looks at society so much, but at psychology. By comparison to the classic view of neorealism, we have shoes, we have tv's, we don't rob bicycles. Things have changed, but what has remained of that sort of neorealistic sensibility in that we seek realism in relationships with other people and in emotions. What I try to do is take a very realistic approach to the psychology of a supposed very normal person and what comes out instead is extremely interesting. No one is normal, we are all a little crazy and I think this also makes for a very interesting story!
La felicità è un sistema complesso is in the Mobile 2015 section of the Torino Film Festival. It will make its public premiere tomorrow, 22 November at 7:30 PM. The screening will be introduced by Gianni Zanasi and actors Valerio Mastandrea, Hadas Yaron, Giuseppe Battiston, Filippo De Carli, Camilla Martini, Paolo Briguglia, Maurizio Lastrico and Teco Celio. Check here for the complete screening schedule. It will open in theaters across Italy on 26 November.

Watch the trailer..

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Italian Connection to Indian Cinema

Devdas (Sanjay Leela Bhansali, India 2002) George Eastman Museum
I recently read about the George Eastman Museum acquiring the world's largest collection of contemporary Indian cinema. The donation includes more than 700 Bollywood, Malayalam, Punjabi, Tamil, and Telugu films and 6,000 film posters. It's important to note that there are at least 25 different types of Indian film industries, with language being the main difference. Bollywood, the name to describe the Hindi language industry, is India's biggest, and based in Mumbai.

In 2014, this collection of Indian films was discovered in an abandoned multiplex in California. The prints had been shipped from India for release in specialized theaters in the United States. Unable to convert to digital projection, the multiplex abruptly closed in August 2013, and all of the release prints, posters, and projection equipment were left behind. If the Eastman Museum had not taken ownership of the material and provided an appropriate environment for preserving the collection, the films and the corresponding posters- plus a wide array of related audio recordings- would have been destroyed when the multiplex was demolished earlier this year. “The George Eastman Museum’s acquisition of such a massive collection of films is an event to be applauded by all those who care for cinema as an art form,” said Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, founder and director of the Film Heritage Foundation in Mumbai. “Having rescued all those prints from destruction is not only a heroic feat—it is a strong commitment to preserve and celebrate the beauty of Indian cinema as part of the world's cultural patrimony.

Visconti's Il Gattopardo
I've always been drawn to international cinema and I will never forget Madonna's introduction when presenting the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2012 Golden Globes- "The movies that allowed my imagination to run wild, that made me believe that I could dream and think outside the box were foreign films made by the likes of Fellini, Visconti... So, there is nothing foreign to me about a foreign film". I strongly identified with that statement. This story of acquisition and the preservation of "foreign" films inspired me to search for an Italian connection to Indian cinema. My search did not take long. In fact, there are quite a few connections. 

The first film that came up was director 's 1964 Rustom e Rome staring Dara Singh, an Indian wrestler-turned-actor. So I guess it's no surprise that the film has a storyline about a wrester. According to IMDB, the story begins "when the kingdom of Jamah is attacked, the emperor is killed, his wife, Anam flees with her two infant sons, but ends up getting separated from them. She tries to kill herself, but Daresh Baba counsels her, brings her home and lets her live there so that she can look after his mother-less daughter, Shabana. Years later, Shabana has grown up and is in love with a young wrestler, Arsalan, who is Anam's son. Her other son, Firdaus, is still alive, and has been bestowed the title of Rustom-E-Rome by none other than Shehzadi Ruma, who plans to marry him. Before that could happen, Firdaus is given a priceless knife and is asked to locate it's twin, and Shabana gets abducted by bandits. In the process of locating Shabana, Firdaus not only loses the knife, but also puts his, Shabana's and Arsalan's lives in jeopardy." I tried to watch this film but could not follow the dialogue. The costumes, however, are quite entertaining. 

I found a handful of contemporary Bollywood productions that were shot in Italy. Thanks to this comprehensive website,, you could click on the title of the film to see the exact locations.

Shaadi No. 1


Gargano, Alberobello, Bari  (Puglia), Rome, Venezia
Bachna Ae Haseeno
Click here to watch the VISUALLY STUNNING music video for the title song, Khuda Jane here

 Deepika Padukone and Ranbir Kapoor in Bachna Ae Haseeno
Milano, Carrara (Toscana)
Ajab Gazabb Love

Milano, Venezia
Kambakkht Ishq

Pisa, Roma


My search for Malayalam movies turned up Anish J. Karrinad's 2010 "Nirakazhcha" which stars Italian actor Vincenzo Bocciarelli along with Mamta Mohandas and Manoj K. Jayan. It's the story of an Italian painter who visits Kerala to recreate the magnificent Raja Ravi Varma paintings and falls in love with a beautiful local. The filmmakers call "Nirakazhcha" an Indo-Italian production promoting tourism and culture of both Kerala and Italy. I also found a Facebook page belonging to a distribution company that promotes Malayalam movies in Italy.

Vincenzo Bocciarelli and Mamta Mohandas in Nirakazhcha
My search for Telugu films in Italy led me to discover that a number of them were shot in Milano, including director Trivikram Srinivas' 2013 drama Atharintiki Daaredi. According to a review written for IMBD by Aashray Dhanur, the story follows the Nanda family based in Milan, Italy- a very powerful family with a huge business empire. Raghunanda (Boman Irani), his son (Mukesh Rishi) and his grandson Gautam Nanda (Pawan Kalyan) manage their billion dollar business. Raghunanda asks his grandson to fulfill his wish of reuniting him (Raghunanda) with her daughter. In the past, she is asked to get out of the house for having married a pleader without their family's consent which leads to a heated and a shocking thing, which is later revealed in the film. Gautam promises his grandfather that he would reunite him with his estranged daughter Sunanda (Nadiya) who lives far away from them in Hyderabad. He decides to travel to India and bring her back. But as he reaches Hyderabad, he come to know that his uncle (Rao Ramesh) is at the airport who returns back to Hyderabad from Chennai. His uncle in fact has a stroke while driving back and Gautam takes him to a hospital and saves his life. In the hospital, he sees his aunt for the first time. He is asked to take up the job of their driver, in their house and enters into their lives. As the story unfolds he finds out that convincing his aunt to come back isn't easy and remains a stranger to the family. In the meantime, the story also shows his interaction with the doctor (Ali) who is appointed to take care of Rajasekhar. Gautam's interactions with his aunt's daughters Sashi (Samantha) and Pramila (Pranitha) also are engaging, funny and flirtatious. Various other characters (Brahmanandam, Kota Srinivasa Rao, Pradeep Machiraju, Subbaraju and many others) enter the plot as the story unfolds.

 Atharintiki Daaredi
Also in 2013, Italy's RAI television network featured a Sunday series in which the network aired a Bollywood film every week during the months of June and July. The selection was pretty impressive with some of the biggest names in Bollywood cinema including the adored Aishwarya Rai in Bride and Prejudice. Released in 2004, the film contributed to Aishwarya Rai's international stardom. Directed by Gurinder Chadha, the film is a Bollywood-style adaptation of Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice and was filmed primarily in English, with some Hindi and Punjabi dialogue. The film was released to positive reviews in the United States in February of 2005.

Aishwarya Rai (center) in Bride and Prejudice
From what I know about Indian cinema, the biggest similarities, aside from the beautiful actors and actresses, are the character-driven stories and stunning landscapes. Like Italian directors, Indian directors also take pride in their origins and use their profession as a way to showcase the beauty of their land. And also like Italian directors, they don't have much interest in special effects. Instead they'd rather tell a simple story about the complex relationships between people. These are the qualities I most appreciate about the cinema of both countries and perhaps is the reason why Indian filmmakers are drawn to the culture and landscapes of Italy.

Click here for more information about the Eastman Museum.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Films of Sicilian Director Salvo Cuccia

Interviewing Salvo Cuccia in Rochester, New York 2014
Born in Palermo in 1960, Sicilian director, Salvo Cuccia has emerged as a documentary filmmaker who tells the stories of unique individuals making their mark on the world. Vincenzo Tusa, Vittorio De Seta and Frank Zappa are three men from different walks of life. They each have two things in common.. a passion for their cause and Salvo Cuccia who told their story.

Cuccia’s films are visually stunning, honest portraits, which present fascinating stories of people driven by their unbreakable passion. They offer introspections of people and their relationships to the environment and culture. The films, so articulately shot with subjects wildly passionate in their beliefs, transport the viewer directly to the location in which they were made. The music, mostly produced by local musicians intensifies the experience.
Among these documentaries is Oltre Selinunte, the story of Vincenzo Tusa, a leader in preserving the cultural heritage of western Sicily. His mission was to save the archaeological site of ancient Selinunte, a Greek city of the 7th Century B.C., from turning into commercial property. Through a series of recounts, archival footage and breathtaking video shot by Cuccia's production team, we learn how Tusa achieved his goal and kept the area a protected archaeological site for future generations to visit and appreciate.

Détour De Seta is Cuccia's homage to the great Italian documentary filmmaker, Vittorio De Seta. The film has earned its share of praise from audiences around the globe. Also born in Palermo, De Seta was a huge influence on Cuccia, who appreciated De Seta'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 beautiful, telling 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." Referred to in Italy as the "grandfather of documentary film," De Seta is known for his early documentaries, which focus on the daily life of Italy's poorest workers. They are strong images of real life situations which tell a story without narration. One of his most famous is "Un Giorno in Barbagia," a short film which follows the residents of Orgosolo, Sardinia from dawn to dusk, and we see firsthand how the women assumed many of the responsibilities when the men were away at work. Détour De Seta took top honors at the 2005 Genova Film Festival for Best Documentary Film and it was also presented by Martin Scorsese at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.

On the set of 1982 L'Estate di Frank
Cuccia's documentary,1982 L'Estate di Frank an emotionally-driven story that is special because in a way, it's a tribute to two fathers; Salvo Cuccia's father and Frank Zappa. What began as a very personal tale close to the director's heart, turned out to be a life-changing experience for the children of Frank Zappa. The film recounts a Zappa concert which took place in Palermo during the summer of 1982. Cuccia was on his way to the concert with his father as they drove from the north of Italy. Unfortunately they did not get there in time because the concert ended up being cancelled mid-way through due to a conflict between police and audience members. The film highlights the Summer of '82 and how it was a tumultuous time in Palermo with unprecedented violence among local mafia members. Zappa's children were invited by the director to participate in the filming of the documentary, which retraced their father's footsteps and included a visit to Partinico, the town of Zappa's Italian origins. When town officials got word of the visit, they invited Zappa's children to the Town Hall, where they made them honorary citizens and dedicated a street and classroom to the late singer. Zappa's children went on to meet cousins they never knew existed. 1982 L'Estate di Frank is a beautiful portrait of life and the discovery of where it all began for one family. 

Cuccia's films are still very active on the film festival circuit, especially1982 L'Estate di Frank, which is waiting international distribution. Much of his work is available on Youtube, including some interesting video art that he created. Oltre Selinunte is available in its entirety on There are no subtitles, but the stunning cinematography speaks for itself.  Many of Vittorio De Seta's film are available on Youtube as well, including "Un Giorno in Barbagia"  which is below. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Interview: Director Alessia Scarso Introduces Sicily's Beloved "Italo" to American Audiences

Update March 23, 2017
Alessia Scarso's Italo is in the lineup of Portland, Oregon's 2017 Italian Film Festival, which runs April 7 - 19. Click here for details. 

Based on actual events, Italo is the touching story of a stray dog adored by a small village in Sicily. Known all over Italy, Italo first appeared in the town of Scicli, located in the province of Ragusa, in 2008. Nobody knows for sure where the dog came from but he most likely belonged to a homeless man that passed away. Upon his arrival in Scicli, Italo’s presence was felt by all of the city. He frequented town meetings, masses, weddings and funerals. He was greeted tourists. He posed for selfies and protected his beloved citizens. In 2011, Italo was hit by a car. He was able to recover from the incident but the trauma combined with other age-related health issues took its toll and he died shortly thereafter. He is buried in the town and his grave has become a famous site, always adorned with flowers and notes. Thanks to Scarso, Italo’s story has crossed Italian borders and after several screenings across North America, we, too, have fallen in love with this gentle, loving soul.
While watching this film, I couldn’t help but think of Hachi: A Dog's Tale starring Richard Gere. Like that film, Italo is a tearjerker. Perhaps due to the fact that I knew the ending going into this film, I was crying all through it. I was also so moved by the performances by the young actors and their sweet interaction with the dog, I couldn’t hold back the tears. 

I can imagine there were several angles from which this story could have been told. Scarso chose to show the viewpoint of a child (Vincenzo Lauretta) who recently lost his mother, and his newly-widowed father (Marco Bocci) dealing with the challenges of being a single parent. Italo takes a liking to the boy and the two form a strong bond. Unlike Hachi’s heavy dramatic story, Italo’s is a light comedy with dramatic undertones. Perhaps because Italo brought so much happiness to the town, a drama wouldn’t have suited his memory. Scarso uses a whimsical soundtrack to accent the joy in every step that Italo brought to the people of Scicli, and in doing so, creates a charming, poignant homage.

Alessia Scarso (center) at the Italian Institute of Culture in Washington D.C.
Alessia Scarso has a fascinating story herself. She was born in Modica, Sicily and studied film editing at Rome’s Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. She has worked as an editor and post-production coordinator for investigative journalism stories, films and documentaries. She’s also directed several commercials. She shifted her focus to film directing with her debut short Uninstalling Love. It was shown at film festivals and won a whole slew of awards. Italo is her first feature-length film, and I’d say it’s a pretty impressive debut as the main characters are children and a dog.
Italo first came under my radar in 2014 when it premiered at the Taormina Film Festival. I was thrilled when I saw it begin to tour the United States, so I contacted Scarso through social media to ask her about Italo and also about her career as a filmmaker in Italy, where female directors are few and far between.
Why did you want to tell the story of Italo and this town?
Italo is the beautiful true story of a stray dog that really lived in Scicli, Sicily. He made the headlines in 2009 because the mayor of the town launched an initiative to get rid of all strays in the city due to an attack on a child. The whole town came together and fought the initiative. So, Italo became a symbol of acceptance in the face of adversity. I just fell in love with Italo’s wonderful, collective story of love.

Was your childhood dream to become a director?
The first time I stepped into a movie theater, I was 12-years-old. I expected to see a larger television set. Instead, I found myself in front of a ritual. Everything was magical- the darkness, the silence of the room. Something happened between the screen and the audience. That day I decided that I wanted to have the power to communicate with the audience through that screen. So here we are, 23 years later. 

What are the challenges of being a female director in Italy?
Recently, I read that only 4% of films are directed by women. I think it’s a great pity that the female sensibility and point-of-view is so little used. But I don’t really think in terms of showing women’s issues. I don’t’ think in terms of men or women. I just think in general terms of the stories that I want to tell. I choose to work with other filmmakers based on their work not their gender, and I have never felt discriminated against or privileged because I am a woman.

Since you directed and edited Italo, how has your work as an editor helped you in the director’s chair and vice versa?
Having the eye of an editor is truly a privilege on the set because you know right away if everything you need for a scene is right there in front of you. It helps to save resources when you’re working with a low budget. However, the editor is the one that usually frees the director’s obsessions and puts his or her mind to rest. The editor is the one with the clear mind cutting and sewing the pieces together with a renewed freedom. This is what I lacked having already directed the film. So, that’s the other side of the coin.  

Talk to me about your Sicilian pride.. do you want to tell more stories of Sicily?
There are no words to express my pride in belonging to a land so rich in beauty and absorbing its ancient knowledge. I hope be able to adequately recount this. The story of Italo gave me the opportunity of documenting a true story of Sicily with my perceptions of some of its characters and traditions. I’m sure it will not be the only story of Sicily that I tell.  

What is your dream as a filmmaker?
I want to move as many people as possible through my stories and really touch their hearts. I want to feel that we can always be a little bit better than we are today.
Alessia Scorso's film is a treasure. Given the ongoing issue of abandoned animals still roaming the streets of Italy from North to South, Italo remains a very relevant and important film to see.

Check out the trailer..

Monday, November 16, 2015

Interview: Neapolitan Tenor Pasquale Esposito on Turturro, Morricone, Fellini and his Beloved Napoli

If you don't know him yet, meet Pasquale Esposito. Born and raised in Naples, Italy, he has been singing and performing for nearly his entire life. It all started when he was just 7 years old and joined a local church choir. The pastor of the church saw a special talent in Esposito and soon became his mentor, fostering that talent and guiding him towards a life in music. He spent his adolescence performing in small clubs around Naples, studying music and taking vocal lessons from renowned coaches in the southern Italian city. When he was in his early 20's, he left his country to pursue a career in America. It was not an easy road and success didn't come overnight. Esposito had to deal with the language barrier and nostalgic moments of missing his family. He persevered through those tough times and turned that nostalgia and his struggles into poignant songs and stories that he now shares with his fans.

I caught up with Pasquale Esposito during a concert in Rochester, New York. We covered so much in our short time together. He made an analogy between the streets of Naples and the set of a movie that perhaps only a native could appreciate. He talked about his favorite motion picture soundtrack, the artists who have influenced his career and most of all, his Neapolitan pride.

Which artists have have influenced your career?
I find inspiration in people like Claudio Baglioni. I find lots of inspiration in Massimo Ranieri. He's an artist that I really respect for the fact that he's a great dancer, a great actor and a great singer. He is someone that I really admire.

Do you think that being from Naples brings something special to your talent and the way you express yourself? 
Definitely. I was very impressed by a movie by John Turturro called, "Passione". You can see how the suffering and the sarcasm of that city reflects in the personalities of the people who are there. I was talking with an old gentleman there and he was saying that it's in the water. It's in what we drink, it's in the coffee, it's in the pizza and it's almost like a drug that's inside of every single person. If you walk through the streets of Naples, you will see that it's a theater. It's unbelievable. You will walk and you will see people doing simple things but it becomes a scene. It becomes acting, it becomes singing. So there is art in everything.  Going back to your question, if you ask me, what do you have? I don't know what I have but I can tell you that there is something inside that we bring just because we were born there.  It's the Vesuvio, it's the sea.. It's an amazing energy that I carry with me on the stage and I will never forget my roots. Thank God that if I'm doing ok, it's because of my roots.
Have you ever considered doing music for film?  What do you think of composers like Ennio Morricone? 
Well Ennio Morricone is the master of interpreting what you see on the screen and putting that to music. There is no question about that. But I would love to do music for film. Music should reinforce the message that the director is trying to give. That is what I look for when I see something on the screen. The music should be supporting what I am looking at.

Do you have a favorite movie where you feel the music is really supporting the images and story?
"La Dolce Vita". It is something that really inspires me, something that you can just close your eyes and listen to the string section.

Do you write your own music?
I write my own compositions, yes, and of course we do many covers. I love opera and I studied opera so my range is pretty wide. That's why my label always gets a little upset with me because I cannot focus and stick to one genre. I love jazz. I love opera. I love rock. So you will get a feeling of everything combined. On the other hand, I stay attached to my roots- and Neapolitan music is what I believe to express the best.

Moi with Pasquale Esposito after our interview
The quality I appreciate the most about Esposito's work is the connection he has to the lyrics of his songs and how they express his life, from his dream of exploring the world and finding his place in it to making that leap of faith in leaving home to the struggles along the way to the joy he has found in his success. That's why his music is so rich and so full of passion; because he has lived and experienced the words that he sings. His songs are like short films in themselves. His lyrics detail the emotions that one experiences in taking such a huge leap of faith. If I had to choose a favorite song on the cd, it would have to be "Addo' Stong' Io" from his cd titled, "A Brand New Me".  There is one particular part that I can identify with. The song is dedicated to his family and his memories of home after he left and was living in America. He recalls "the smell of my house, a little balcony with flowers and roses, a Sunday made of Church."  When I was 24-years-old, I was working for CNN and was assigned to the Rome bureau for six months  It was the first time that I was ever in Italy. Visiting the land of my origins was a dream come true and I was forever changed by the experience. However, I can remember those Sundays wandering around Rome watching families in church, walking through the neigborhoods. I could smell sauce cooking, I could hear the animated voices of family members echoing through the windows and streets, and although I had friends in Rome, sometimes I just wanted my family on a Sunday. So, I truly appreciate what he was feeling. 

Although his music arrangements and voice are so deeply rich and powerful, the sincerity of his lyrics is at the core of his songs and his talent for performing them through his singing and music bring the songs full circle, making them elaborate works of art. You can see Pasquale Esposito's work on YouTube and also by checking out his website at He often performs live, and there you can check out his upcoming dates. He is also on Facebook and updates his fan page frequently.

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...