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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Venice Film Festival - Festival Scope Reviews

Thanks to a great online platform, those of us unable to attend the Venice Film Festival, and many other festivals for that matter, can still see highlights from the official selections. Festival Scope makes a number of films temporarily available to the public. There are five Italian world premiere films from this year’s edition of the Venice Film Festival online right now. All but one are available today. Our War by Bruno Chiaravalloti, Claudio Jampaglia and Benedetta Argentieri will become available on September 9.

Here are my reviews of the four Italian films currently available.

Franca: Chaos and Creation
Directed by Francesco Carrozzini

Franca: Chaos and Creation is the story of Vogue Italy’s Editor-in-chief, Franca Sozzani. Directed by her son, the film takes us through her life as a child to her reign as head of Vogue Italia, exploring her talent for finding innovative photographers to whom she completely hands her trust in creating epic, unforgettable photo spreads. 

Born in 1950 in Mantua, the capital of Lombardy and Italy’s 2016 Capital of Culture, Sozzani has been referred to as “Fashion’s rebel with a cause”. Her socially relevant-themed photo shoots have explored everything from the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico to racism to plastic surgery. Her strong images put models right in the middle of controversial subjects, making Vogue Italy one of the most read publications in the world. According to Sozzani, "Italian is only spoken in Italy, so our images have to be very strong to attract attention."

Franca: Chaos and Creation shows a side of the fashion icon that we rarely see. The film begins with her walking through Central Park with her son, while he explains his reasoning behind making the documentary, primarily to get to know his mother. There are scenes with the two of them bickering and others when she teases him about his baby pictures, saying that she was worried for him as a child because he was an ugly baby and she had hoped his looks would improve as he got older. We see photos from her first marriage, while she explains that she saw it as her ticket out of her parent’s house. She had the marriage annulled a few months later. She says that she doesn’t feel nostalgia. She just looks forward to the future. She feels like a winner in life but a failure in love. At 60-years-old, she still hasn’t given up on finding that special person. 

I have followed Sozzani on social media for many years and I am always fascinated by her timeless beauty and point-of-view. As we see in the film, she is still stunning with her signature long blond locks and huge blue eyes. Her vision never gets old and her will to live and create is as alive as ever.

Il più grande sogno mai sognato (I was a Dreamer)
Directed by Michele Vannucci

If you plan on seeing this movie, don’t read this review. The best way to see it is as I did, knowing nothing and then having your mind blown at the end with the copy that comes up. 

With that said, my mind was blown several times over again after I first realized this neighborhood, La Rustica, actually exists in Rome. Then, I read that the film was inspired by the true story of the lead actor Mirko Frezza. I was surprised again when I learned that La Rustica is located just about 10 minutes away from Cinecittà, not out in the sticks somewhere.

Il più grande sogno mai sognato is the story of Mirko, an ex-con who wants to turn his life around. He grew up surrounded by drugs and crime with a father (Vittorio Viviani) who made his son an accomplice. There is a heart-wrenching scene in which Mirko pleads with his father to leave him alone and let him better himself. He says to his father, “Not one time have you ever said, good job.” His father insists that he will not be able to change- “A leopard never loses his spots.” However, in the end, it is his father who saves him from the brink of despair. The ending gave me the chills and then when I realized the film is based on a true story, it was that much more poignant.

Vannucci gave us some pretty intense moments, using long-held shots to build suspense. There were also some more light-hearted scenes, which gave us the feeling that trouble was just around the corner, and in most cases, it was. All in all, the film is a feel-good story of this ex-con with a big heart trying to feed his community and improve their standard of life. Although there is conflict and temptation from other criminals and drug dealers, Mirko has a strong support system in his loving partner (Milena Mancini), stubborn but caring daughter (Ginevra De Carolis) and faithful friend played by Alessandro Borghi, who reinvents himself again for another incredible, passionate performance. 

Upon researching the story behind this film, I read an interesting story by Cineuropa, which stated the director Michele Vannucci met the lead actor Mirko Frezza in 2012 while he was holding casting sessions for his short film, which was a graduation project at Rome’s Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. According to the article, Vanucci never forgot “the striking 40-year-old man, with his awe-inspiring physique, long hair, hipster beard, tribal tattoos and piercing eyes. He learned that he had a story to tell – his own.”

Orecchie (Ears)
Alessandro Aronadio 

Orecchie is about acceptance, learning to accept that which is different. Orecchie is a day in the life of a 30-something unnamed character who wakes up one morning with an irritating ringing in his ear. He finds a note on the fridge left by his girlfriend stating that his friend Luigi is dead and that the funeral will be held at 7pm. The problem is that he doesn’t remember having a friend named Luigi. So he spends most of the day trying to resolve the ringing in his ears and finding out how he knows this Luigi.

Since the lead character doesn’t have a name in the film, I will italicize my references to him. This adventure is filled with a whole host of zany characters, including a gastroenterologist, played hilariously by Massimo Wertmuller, who makes him believe that he’s a pregnant hermaphrodite, a mother obsessed with selfies and her new performance artist boyfriend, an anal retentive fast food worker and a dignified newspaper editor who wants to turn her publication into a gossip magazine.  

You have to have patience with this film. It gets off to a slow start and you may not know where it’s leading to. But stay with it. My ah-ah moment of the film happened with the following conversation from which I pulled a few of my favorite lines.. 

“I had my opportunities but I didn’t want to compromise”

“People tend to confuse compromise with acceptance”

“Acceptance is surrender”

“I suppose you think the world is going crazy.”

“That’s obviously the case, isn’t it?”

“People seem as strange to us as we probably seem to them.”

With this conversation, I understood more about the character and that he would be undergoing some kind of transformation.

The whole film comes together with the ending when he attends the funeral mass of this supposed friend Luigi. There, he meets Father Giancarlo, a wise priest and ambiguous alcoholic, who reveals that he mis-dialed the phone number. So, Luigi really wasn’t his friend. This is when his transformation is completed, and this is also where we see some simple but powerful screenwriting. Father Giancarlo tells him about his conversation with Luigi that took place on his deathbed.  

 “His biggest sin was that he hadn’t been able to get used to it.”

“To what?”

“To the world, to people. We look for a thousand excuses to avoid admitting that we’re afraid of others. Life is too short to be afraid."

The first 45 minutes of this film was slow. However, in the end, although I appreciate the message, it really is a fine line. It is true that we need to be tolerant of other cultures and ways of thinking but we cannot accept everything, including much of the inappropriate behavior we saw by characters throughout the film or his mother taking selfies in a church in front of a casket. The challenge is finding the balance on your own moral compass, and not judging others for their behavior.. but instead being more tolerant of it.

Liberami (Free me)
Directed by Federica Di Giacomo 

Liberami is a story about the practice of exorcism. The contrasts between ancient traditions and modern habits, between sacred and profane, meet in this documentary. It has been described as "disturbing and hilarious at the same time". Although, I find it more disturbing. It's a film that makes you think and assess your own beliefs and spirituality.

Every year, in Italy, in Europe and in the world, more and more people affirm to feel possessed by Satan. The Catholic Church responds to this emergency by training more exorcist priests. The veteran Father Cataldo is one of them. The film's focus is on four characters- Gloria, Enrico, Anna and Giulia, who follow Father Cataldo’s mass and look for answers and a cure to their disease.

Director Federica Di Giacamo doesn't waste any time presenting the terror of an exorcism. The film opens with a woman sitting on a chair in a chapel as Father Cataldo anoints her with holy water. He then puts his hand on her head and prays. The woman immediately begins to scream obscenities in the voice of Satan. "Leave me alone. She's mine now. Leave me alone."

Father Cataldo visits a church in Palermo. There is a long line of people waiting to see him. Many are turned away. When the faithful get their chance to speak with him, they talk to him like he's a psychologist rather than a priest. They blame their misfortunes and bad luck on Satan. In some cases, Father agrees. In one case of a depressed housewife, he tells her that her problem is more likely psychological than spiritual. He asks one man who is convinced his bad luck is spiritual, "Did you try to live in the grace of God at least when you could?". The man replies, "I try, Father, but it's hard.

Then, the priest sees a woman with a nagging cough. Father Cataldo sits with her and her family. The woman is clearly uneasy and fidgeting. As he starts to pray with them, she visibly becomes more uneasy. As he puts his hand on her head, she begins to lose control. The family members gather around her and try to help keep her still. She falls to the floor and he anoints her with holy water. She weeps, they all say a Hail Mary and she seems to be healed.

Father Cataldo then holds a public mass for all of these people and during his message to Satan to leave them alone, a boy begins to have outbursts and then it's as if the priest is speaking directly to him. "Go away Satan." And the boy screams uncontrollably. Father Cataldo responds, "Be quiet. It's God ordering you to leave." The yelling continues. "Get the cross," says Father. A cross is then held over him while Father Cataldo continues to drive the devil away. Then it happens to others and some are forced to retreat to a designating room where they are all trying to recover and regain control. At times, it's tough to watch. Whatever the cause of these people losing control, they are undoubtedly suffering very much.

The director Federica Di Giacomo said of her film: "The film is the result of a lengthy research. A strange, postmodern puzzle had begun to form in my mind, one in which the exorcist is a new healer, often considered the last resort after a Via Crucis of magicians, psychiatrists, and alternative medicine, metaphor for a society in which it is important to find a rapid and conclusive cure. Even at the cost of giving yourself over to someone who calls you “Satan.” I decided to tell this story from the viewpoint of someone who experiences it every day. Because exorcists are nominated by bishops and their life is completely transformed. The so-called “possessed” are just ordinary people drawn to the Church in a critical moment of their life. Their experience vastly differs from imagined horror and takes on a complexity in which there is a place even for irony."

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